November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Cats Part 3


Cat-human relationships: Behaviour problems

By Dr Clive Dalton

Cat-human bond
  • Strength of the bond depends on good early socialisation of the cat by a human.
  • This is then transferable to a new human with time.
  • A cat may be more bonded to the home and its smells rather than the person - hence the problem of cats going back to an old home. The cat needs time to readjust to new environmental smells so keep it shut in for at least a week.
  • Cats will go for walks with owners and hunt. This is easier in rural areas.
  • Owners soon learn to interpret certain calls and cat seems to know this.
  • It is said that there is a stronger interaction between female humans than males with a cat.
  • It is also said that there is stronger interaction between a cat and an adult than with children.
  • These interactions are probably just based on food and who in the family feeds the cat regularly.
Cat's interaction with humans
  • Head butting
  • Rubbing cheeks on person
  • Kneading or paddling with feet and claws
  • Purring
  • Snuggling under armpit
  • Enjoying their noses and eyes covered by your cupped hand
  • If there are a number of cats in the house they need vertical space for a good human/cat relationship and will time-share these areas to avoid conflict..

Cat Behaviour "Problems"
Like dogs- cats don't have problems, as they are behaving like cats.

It's the humans who have problems because they forget the domestic contract and the five freedoms, and expect their cats to adapt to what they want. This may not be possible or will take some time to achieve.

1. Poor human-cat bond
  • A strong bond is very important to both human and cat partners.
  • The bond is formed by good early socialisation and needs constant reinforcing.
  • Death, divorce and moving house are the three greatest bond breakers.
  • Surveys show that 50% of humans suffer stress on moving and 50% of cats must do also.
  • Most upset is resolved in 1-2 weeks but some lasts for 3-4 months.
  • Many people have unrealistic expectations of their cat and they have probably have the wrong species as a pet.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Socialise all kittens before they are 2-6 weeks old.
  • Keep reinforcing the bond by regular interaction with the cat.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with skills to resocialise it, in a different environment.

2. Poor socialisation.
  • "Nasty cats" (wild, unfriendly and unreliable) for whatever reason have probably not been properly socialised to humans.
  • Always start here to work out a cat behaviour problem.
  • What happens in the early weeks can have a lifelong effect.
  • You can fix some problems later, but it will take you time and it will cost the client money.
  • Some humans are better at taming wild cats than others showing a greater empathy and skill.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Socialise all kittens before they are 2-6 weeks old.
  • Keep reinforcing the bond by regular interaction with the cat.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with skills to resocialise it, in a different environment.

3. Infanticide
  • This is seen in lions when new males oust old ones and they kill all the cubs to bring females on heat quickly and remove all previous males' genetics at the same time.
  • It is known to happen in domestic cats and feral cats where Toms will kill young kittens on their rounds if not protected by the mother or owner.
  • Preventing this is a good reason for desexing non-breeding males, and trapping and euthanasing all stray Toms.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Desex all males not needed for breeding.
  • Try to trap and euthanase all stray and feral Toms.

4. Spraying
  • Cats spray to mark their territory, their home range and any new area.
  • Once they feel safe, they don't spray.
  • They are very sensitive to a "general safe smell" of their environment.
  • It's when their lair is under threat that they may start again.
  • It happens in both sexed or desexed cats.
Possible reasons?
  • New adult cat or kitten in the house.
  • Change of status in group.
  • Visiting Tom cats staking out territory (doormats and car wheels).
  • New baby in the house.
  • Neighbours have got new cats.
  • Bereavement in the house - cat's neglected.
  • Redecorate and new smells.
  • Plastic bags from outside with alien smells brought indoors.
  • Doormat with new footwear smells.
  • Installation of cat door - outside becomes inside.
  • Visitors car (with open windows).
  • Protest spraying - to inform owner cat is unhappy.
  • Genetics - oriental breeds.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Find the cause of the anxiety - try to remove it.
  • Something needs to change - and you need to find out.
  • Don't punish the cat - or don't be caught doing it.(Try a water pistol).
  • Confine cat to safe home area - and slowly expand it.
  • Feed it near where it sprays.
  • If "protest spray" - rebuild the bond with the cat.
  • Drugs from vet
  • Rehome the cat with someone in a different environment.

5. Defaecating

  • Cats normally bury their faeces. When they don't it's generally deliberate and is called "maddening".
  • It's another way for cats to mark territory.
  • It happens when cats are in panic mode - e.g. if locked in the house or may do it on the bed when owners are on holiday.
  • Kittens that have been poorly trained by the mother in the nest may develop the habit.
  • Punishment is not very effective and it must be instantaneous and from afar, so the cat doesn't associate it with you.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Find the cause of the problem and remove it.
  • Never rub the cat's nose in the mess. It achieves nothing.
  • Build up animal's self esteem.
  • Go back to principles of toilet training.
  • Feed the cat where it has defaecated
  • Rehome the cat with someone in a different environment.

6. Toilet training
  • Kittens are taught by their mothers not to soil their den, so use this principle.
  • Take the kitten outside on to soil or litter after feeding to encourage elimination.
  • Put newspaper down where you feed the kitten and gradually extend this "feeding territory" so it will not eliminate there.
  • Shut off areas where it has started soiling and confine it to approved areas.
  • Feed the cat where it has eliminated.
  • Never rub its nose in the mess.
  • Scratching furniture.
  • This is partly claw care and has a trimming action.
  • It's also scent marking from glands in paws.
  • Used to mark territory.
  • Done as a dominance gesture, often in presence of other cats.
  • Cats get cunning and will do it on the beds to avoid reprimand.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Always be on the watch - think like a cat.
  • Keep cats out when you are out.
  • Provide a scratching post in house.
  • Put it in front of the damaged object.
  • Use a reprimand. It must be instant and from a distance (eg water pistol).
  • Hitting the cat won't work - don't try it.
  • Some smell deterrents may work.

7. Attacking other cats
  • Can vary from the occasional scrap between cats in a household, to serious attacks on all cats on sight - indoors or outdoors.
  • This is a natural way to sort out hierarchy and territory.
  • May be caused by poor social contact between cats when young
Possible cures/prevention
  • Keep aggressive cats inside at night.(This will also benefit wildlife).
  • Reintroduce new cats into group gradually in protected cage.
  • Distraction - bring new cats together at feeding time.
  • Neuter all Toms.
  • Your vet may recommend hormone treatment for the aggressor.
  • Euthanasia could be a final option in New Zealand, but take veterinary advice on this. You may be legally liable for any damage your cat causes.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

9. Attacking people
  • This is a nasty habit and can be scary and dangerous for the uwary (visitors and kids).
  • This is usually "play aggression" that gets out of hand.
  • "Defensive aggression" is caused by poor socialisation.
  • It may be encouraged by some family members and then others suffer.
  • It may be "fear aggression" so ignore the cat and allow it escape routes.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Know the cat's likes and dislikes - and warn guests.
  • Provide toys and encourage the cat to play with them.
  • Provide another cat or kitten for it to play with.
  • Ignore the cat and don't play with it. Tell others of the plan.
  • Experiment with changing diets.
  • Don't provide catnip.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.
  • Euthanasia may be considered necessary in New Zealand, as you are legally liable for damage. But talk to your veterinarian first.

10. Petting and biting syndrome
  • It's where the cat allows so many strokes then gives a controlled bite or nip.
  • Three strokes then a bite are typical, or not allowing certain body parts to be touched.
  • It is often tolerated by the owner so is not cured.
  • May get worse with age - could be physical problems.
  • Certain parts of the body are more sensitive than others - the back end.
  • It often happens in older cats and gets worse with age.
  • Some cats will tolerate adults but not children stroking them.
  • Can't do much. Leave the cat alone and warn others, especially children.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Recognise the habit and avoid triggering it.
  • Warn guests or remove cat when they arrive.
  • But it may make the cat more cunning when biting.
  • Talk to vet about drugs.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

11.Over-grooming and self mutilation
  • Cats regularly groom their flanks or backs when they are confused, or when upset after a threat.
  • It seems a displacement behaviour resulting from anxiety or stress.
  • It can get out of hand and is difficult to stop.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Check for any problems of the skin.
  • Protect the affected skin area - cat will probably shift attention to another.
  • Check for diet allergies.
  • Find the cause of the distress and remove it.
  • Provide toys for stimulation.
  • Reduce the number of cats in the house.
  • Don't punish the cat for other offences - fix those problems first.
  • Treat with drugs for anxiety.
  • There may be no cure if it becomes serious, but take veterinary advice before considering euthanasia.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

12. Hair ball
  • This is a problem of long-haired breeds that are not regularly groomed.
  • This is a very common feature of cats.
  • It's not a problem until they come into the house from the garden to be sick.
  • Thought to be a means of assisting digestion.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Make sure grooming is adequate and the animal is kept clean.

  • This is the eating or sucking of a wide range of non-nutritional items and can cause health problems.
  • Sucking and kneading wool items is most common.
  • It's thought to be need for dietary fibre, a depraved maternal behaviour snuggling up to dam's belly or natural trait of prey catching/eating.
  • It often occurs in cats weaned too young.
  • Severe stress can trigger it.
  • Poor early socialisation is a likely cause.
  • Some breeds are worse than others, eg Siamese.
Possible cures/prevention
  • Provide toys to increase stimulation.
  • Check diet for fibre.
  • Try aversion tactics - water pistol, or noise.
  • Provide favourite fabrics to save others.
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

14. Eating plants
  • Thought to be a nutritional deficiency.
  • The cat often knocks the plant over and breaks the pot in the process, adding to the problem.

Possible cures/prevention
  • Remove the problem materials from cat's environment.
  • Try different diets
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

15. Thieving
  • Cats have an inquisitive nature so this habit can be a self gratifying experience.
  • It can be part of pica syndrome - stealing favourite items to eat.
  • It's part of the behaviour of bringing kill back to the den for the tribe.
Possible cures/prevention
  • There is little point in chasing it to get it back - you add to the fun.
  • Try to remove the opportunity for the cat to steal things.
  • Completely ignore it when it brings items home
  • Rehome the cat with someone with cat skills, in a different environment.

Cats in modern society - the 5th freedom

  • Changes are coming in man's relationship with the domestic cat in New Zealand.
  • We have a love/hate relationship with cats as we do with dogs, but cats are inherent hunters and it's now being realised the effect their hunting as on our endangered native wildlife - as it has done in Australia.
  • The average age of a cat in modern society is 3.5 years. Euthanasia is the main cause of death. Thousands of kittens are euthanased each year.
  • Just about every family in NZ has a pet dog or cat and many have both. Cats are more popular than dogs and are easier to get and dispose of (legally or illegally).
  • Hundreds of thousands of cats are euthanased each year and Christmas is the peak time for this being the peak kitten season.
  • The SPCA struggle to get the message across about desexing and "pets are not just for Christmas".
  • There are now plenty of data now to show how much wildlife the average domestic "moggy" cleans up in a year. It is in the region of 20 birds/year.
  • DOC in New Zealand are having a big campaign against the cat.
  • Some people are very upset about this, blaming owners for irresponsible cat care.
  • There is no welfare code for cats but this will be done sometime.
  • Australia has brought in rules against cats in some areas where they must now be confined.
  • "Keep your cat inside at night" will have to be the catch cry for future.
  • New Zealand will have to face this in future as public concern and sympathy changes towards our native fauna - the impact of TV is massive. There are changes ahead for the Kiwi moggy with cat-free areas being accepted.
  • Desexing feral cats releasing them back into the environment is a crazy idea.

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