When I tell people that I offer a behaviour advice service just for cat owners, some people look at me like I am a little bit mad. Which probably isn’t too far from the truth!
In 2014 I completed my first year of COAPE’s diploma in companion animal training and behaviour. Whilst most people think of a pet behaviourist helping problem dogs, many are surprised to learn we also deal with problem cats! Common problems include:
- ‘Inappropriate elimination’ – going to the loo in the wrong place.
- ‘Interfeline aggression’ – cat fights.
- ‘Human directed aggression’ – cats becoming aggressive to their owners.
- Scratching and damaging furniture.
- Over-grooming, resulting in bald patches and sores.
- ‘Pica’ – chewing and eating non-food objects, such as wool, which is dangerous.
- Night time disturbances and excessive vocalization.
Whilst many dog and cat owners will wonder just how bad cats can really misbehave, for those cat owners who have experienced these issues, you will know all too well just how problematic and upsetting they can be.
Cats are incredibly sensitive creatures and small changes in their environment can be extremely upsetting to them. This often perplexes owners, as they struggle to see how such a small and often seemingly unrelated change could possibly have such an affect on their cat. For example…
Several years ago, whilst living in a flat, I yearned for a cat to cuddle up with at night. But I had no outside access for a cat and wasn’t sure how I could possibly offer a good enough home for a cat. I contacted the lovely Cats Protection who told me that actually I might be the perfect home for a cat with FIV (Feline HIV). Cats with FIV are not contagious to humans and the virus cannot be passed on to other cats via humans, the only way they can transmit the disease is through biting other cats, therefore cats with FIV are recommended to only live indoors. So a few weeks later, the gorgeous Charlie moved in with me.
Charlie had a tough life, he had been shot at with an air rifle as a kitten and had lost one eye, had partial vision in the other eye and was missing a leg. He was perfect and I loved him. As all cat owners are told to do, I introduced him to the home gradually, initially he stayed in the living room whilst he adjusted, with his litter tray in the corner – he had no problem at all using it. Then I extended his access to the rest of the flat and decided to move his tray from the living room to the bathroom. And Charlie gradually stopped using it. He decided that behind the wardrobe in the spare room was the perfect place to go.
Not being a behaviourist at that time I was very surprised and quite upset when I caught him one day. I shouted at him and he scarpered quickly, but despite my chastisement he kept doing it when I wasn’t there and I was worried I would have to rehome him. That weekend, whilst cleaning the bathroom, I moved the tray into the hallway and to my surprise, Charlie used it, immediately. I watched out of the corner of my eye and when he finished and walked off, I fussed him and gave him an extra tin of Applaws food (his favourite). I puzzled over it for a short while, until I realized the difference. Carpet. Poor Charlie struggled to get the traction he needed to get in and out of the litter tray safely on the bathroom lino. In the living room and hallway there was carpet, which meant our three-legged wonder could easily jump in and out of the tray without slipping or sliding around. It seemed so obvious in hindsight!
The field of cat behaviour is not quite as large or varied as dogs, and options to sort a behavioural problem tend to be much more limited, however, that is not to say that it is not possible to make a difference and to find a workable solution to a problem that an owner is facing with their cat. The trick is finding someone trained and experienced in cat behaviour to talk to about your problem, and in implementing a plan in a methodical manner so you can see what works (and what doesn’t). Often owners are tempted to ‘throw the bathroom sink’ at a problem, with everything they’ve read on Google and this only exacerbates the issue or terrifies the poor cat.
As a qualified behaviour advisor for dogs and cats, I am able to help. We offer help for cat behaviour problems in 2 stages:
- A 15 minute telephone appointment to discuss the issues you are facing with your cat and see if there are any simple solutions that you can try before a full consultation. We will send you brief notes after the call of our recommendations and contact your vet if needed to relay our thoughts.
- A home visit and consultation to meet you and your cat(s) and discuss the issues you are having. You will then receive a report outlining our recommendations and have 2 follow up telephone sessions to review your progress. More sessions can be booked if needed.
Our home visit is only available on ‘veterinary referral’ which means that you will need to see your vet with your cat first and request a referral to us for behavioural therapy. This is a very important part of the process as the source of many feline behaviour problems is medical, not behavioural and this must be ruled out before behaviour work can begin. If you are unsure as to whether this is necessary or not, you can book a telephone appointment (free for ForPaws cat sitting customers who have used our services in the past 3 months) with us to discuss the problem you are having and we can help you work out the best approach for you and your cat.
Our behavioural therapy for cats (and dogs) uses modern techniques and approaches, including assessing the underlying mood and emotional states of your cat. Often these can be affected by an ongoing issue and this approach enables us to tackle the issue holistically and systematically and gives us the best chance of a lasting resolution for you and your cat.
So, can you train a cat? Absolutely! You just need to know how!
For more information on our cat behavioural advice service visit our cat behaviour services page.