Do cats have personalities? If you define personality as “the characteristic sets of behaviors, cognitions, and emotional patterns that are formed from biological and environmental factors, and which change over time” – yes, cats and other animals have personalities. How do describe your cat’s personality? How does personality affect how cats get along?

Studies (see Litchfield et al., cited below) of captive wild cats such as Scottish wild cats and cheetahs have suggested using personality assessments

  • to house socially compatible animals together
  • to tailor the environment to an individual animal’s needs – for example, provide more hiding places for a fearful cheetah

Can personality assessment improve the welfare of our domestic cats?

In 2017, Carla Litchfield and her research team published a study on personalities in pet cats. Litchfield’s team conducted a survey of 2,082 cats in New Zealand and Australia. The survey consisted of 52 personality items. Statistical analysis of the data found five reliable personality traits – “The Feline Five”: (citation below)

  1. Neuroticism
  2. Extraversion
  3. Dominance
  4. Impulsiveness
  5. Agreeableness

“The Feline Five” is similar to the Five Factor Method (FFM) used in human personality research. The FFM describes a person’s personality using five factors. An individual’s personality will have varying amounts of each factor. These five factors are: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience.

THE FELINE FIVE AND HOW CATS GET ALONG


Anxious or calm? (neuroticism)


Cats that score high on this factor are typically shy, fearful of people, insecure and anxious. On the other hand, calm cats don’t get as stressed when faced with changes in environment and exposure to other animals and people.

It is worth observing how the anxious cat gets along with other cats in the household. Timid, anxious cats can become the targets of more dominant cats who may stalk and chase them and prevent them from accessing resources such as food and litter boxes.

  • Providing more resources and hiding areas will improve the welfare of anxious cats.
  • It may be necessary to provide dedicated areas that only these cats can access.

The anxious cat will also benefit from consistent and regular interaction with humans following the CAT guidelines (See Touch not the cat: interacting with cats).

extroverted or introverted?


Extroverted cats are out-going and inclined to interact with people and other pets. They are sociable and curious. Introverted cats spend more time alone and are more quiet and reserved.

Extroverted cats can be energetic and prone to boredom. This can result in interact conflict – for example, a younger active cat may pick on a senior cat for entertainment. Extroverted cats can benefit from more play (hunting), foraging (food puzzles), and supervised outdoor access via leash walks or a catio.

dominant or Meek?


The dominant cat will stalk and chase other cats and sometimes humans. They displace other pets from favored positions and will steal their food. “Meek” cats are more tolerant of other cats and are willing to time-share places; they don’t exhibit the bullying behavior of a dominant cat.

Dominance behaviors are thought to occur more frequently in captive populations of cats. In the colonies of wild cats, the females raise the kittens co-operatively. There is competition between some male cats but there are also the “family toms”, unrelated male cats that affiliate themselves with the colony and have been known to protect and participate in rearing the kittens. [I. Rochlitz(ed.), The Welfare of Cats, 1-22 © 2007 Springer]

The popular “pack hierarchy” theory of wolves has been abandoned. Observation of non-captive populations of wolves show that they group together in family units, where the parents guide the activities of the group.

In the instance of a dominant cat “bullying” a more timid cat, the welfare of both the bully and the victim must be considered.

  • Enrich the “bully” – give him or her more opportunities to play (hunt) and forage (food puzzles).  If possible, offer supervised outdoor access via leash walks or a catio
  • Provide the victim with ready access to resources and safe places. This may require separation when the two cats are not supervised.

impulsive or cautious?


Impulsive cats tend to be unpredictable and may react differently to the same thing at different times. Cautious cats are not so easily stimulated by their environment and keep to a smaller set of activities that they are comfortable with. Impulsive behavior is thought to be a response to environmental stress. [Litchfield et. al]

Agreeable or unfriendly?


Agreeable cats are well-adjusted cats that are friendly toward people and other pets. Low scores of agreeableness (irritable, aggressive toward people) may be due to poor socialization, frustration, pain or illness. [Litchfield et al.]

The agreeable cat is thought to be a source of enrichment for other cats in the household.

Personality and How Cats Get Along


Personality results for Gus.

Recognizing different personalities in our cats can help us manage how cats get along in our multi-cat homes. Whereas two timid/shy cats may get along, two dominant cats can clash. A dominant cat and timid cat may suffer from a bully-victim relationship.

What are the personalities of your cats? Take the online test based on the “Feline Five” at https://www.idrlabs.com. (Search for “feline five”).

Citation: Litchfield CA, Quinton G, Tindle H, Chiera B, Kikillus KH, Roetman P (2017) The ‘Feline Five’: An exploration of personality in pet cats (Felis catus). PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183455. https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183455

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Fighting cats

If your cats get along well, they will share sleeping areas, engage in some allogrooming, and greet each other on occasion by touching noses. Well, you say, my cats aren’t very good friends but they aren’t trying to kill each other, either. What are the signs of conflict? What should we look for to avoid getting to the point “they want to kill each other”?

The 2020 survey referred to in last week’s post not only assessed affiliative behaviors, they also polled respondents on conflict behaviors. They chose seven behaviors associated with conflict. These are listed below with the frequency reported by the participants of the survey. (Elzerman AL, DePorter TL, Beck A, Collin JF. Conflict and affiliative behavior frequency between cats in multi-cat households: a survey-based study. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Aug;22(8):705-717. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19877988)

Behavior Frequency Rank
Stare daily 7 – Most frequent
Stalking daily 6
Chasing daily 5
Running away weekly 4
Twitching Tail weekly 3
Hissing monthly to never 2
Wail/Scream monthly to never 1 – Least frequent
     

How do your Cats Get Along?


Let’s take a closer look at these conflict behaviors.

THE STARE


 

A cat will stare without blinking:

  • at prey while hunting – he is aware of where that animal is and what it is doing, otherwise he may miss out on dinner!
  • during a cat fight. Fighting cats must be able to rapidly respond if the other launches an attack.
  • to discourage another cat from accessing a resource.

 

Cat blocking other cat
Zelda looks innocent but she is keeping another cat from going through the door.

If you see one of your cats fixing an unblinking stare on another, take note of the circumstances and see what happens if you intervene. For example, if one cat is staring at another cat and is sitting in a doorway, she may be blocking the other from resources through that doorway.

Interrupt the stare by opening the door wider, throwing a treat away from the doorway, or redirecting the “door-blocker” with a toy. Does this give the other cat a chance to get through the doorway? If this is successful, you may want to look more closely at how these two cats get along.

Avoid handling the cats in this situation in case they are more aroused than they appear.

 

Stalking, Chasing and Running Away


These behaviors may be associated with:

When hunting, the cat is targeting a toy or prey. It is object play. But how do we know whether two cats are fighting or playing? After all, many of the same moves in a cat fight are seen when cats play together.

Just like a football game, play between cats has distinct rules. And, like football, tempers may flare when a player challenges the rules. What starts as play can escalate into a cat fight.

invitation to play

play sequence

Cats chasing each other

end of play

Play is over

Are these cats playing?

Social play consists of an invitation to play, the play sequence, and the end of play. The rules are:

  • Claws are not extended
  • Biting is gentle without intent to injure
  • The invitation to play is often repeated by one or the other of the cats throughout the interaction.
  • If one cat declines play (there may be some hissing and growling here), the game ends.

If you see that the “rules” are not being followed, it is time to shake a bag of treats or can of coins and redirect or separate the participants. [see Managing the Indoor Cat Fight].

Check all your cats regularly for wounds from bites and scratches.  If you notice your cats having a lot of wounds from scratches or bites and they “play” together, this may not be play. It may be conflict and it is time to observe the cats, assess their environment and social status.

Twitching Tail


A twitching tail indicates that a cat is focusing on something. The tail is for balance and changing direction – the tail often twitches before the cat pounces.

  • The twitching tail + stare > pounce: Is this play? conflict?
  • Are the rules of play being followed?
  • A map of the social groups in the house can help with deciding whether this is play or conflict.

Vocalizations – Hissing


The hiss is that snake-like sound. Cats may hiss when they are:

  • afraid
  • startled
  • frustrated
  • displeased
  • You will hear it in a cat fight, often from the cat on the defensive.

Vocalizations – Wailing/Screaming


Cats will wail or scream:

  • if they are fearful
  • if they are hurt and in pain
  • if they are fighting

You must decide from the circumstances and the body language of the cat or cats if these vocalizations are meaningful. If it is a cat fight, the combatants must be separated [managing the indoor cat fight]; if a cat is hurt, you must get the cat in a box or carrier for a trip to the vet.

Don’t wait for a fight to break out. Take a few moments to determine if your cats get along and if there is anything you can do to improve things.

  • Map social groups [Social Groups of Cats]
  • Draw a house map of resources (litter boxes, food stations, water, scratchers). Draw paths showing how cats reach these resources.
  • Move furniture if necessary to make accessing resources easier for all cats.
  • Make sure there sufficient resources for the number of cats.

Next week, we’ll take a look at describing individual cats’ personalities. How does this affect how cats get along?

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Affiliated cats
Gus and Zelda are not a bonded pair but do groom each other.

 

Have more than one cat? How do your cats get along? Are they “bonded” or affiliated?

If there is a reliable source of food, free-roaming cats will often form groups called colonies. Within the colony, there are smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats are comfortable sharing resources such as food, water, latrine areas, sleeping and resting places.  Some refer to these cats as “preferred associates”; others call them bonded or affiliated. 

This post is the first in a 3 part series of “How do your cats get along?”: 1) signs of affiliation 2) signs of conflict 3) personalities in the multi-cat home.

 

 

 “Preferred associates” show affiliative behaviors.  You may find them:

  • snuggled up taking a nap
  • rubbing against each other when greeting
  • grooming each other
  • “play” fighting
  • twining their tails together

Not all cats have preferred associates. Within the cat colony may be “groups” of just one cat, who keeps to herself but shares the colony territory and resources. So, not only is there the strong bond of the preferred associates, there is also the looser affiliation of the members of the cat colony.

Multi-cat homes host ad hoc cat colonies. When I am taking a history for a veterinary exam, I usually ask guardians with more than one pet how their cats get along. The big three questions for multi-cat homes are:

  • Do your cats sleep touching each other?
  • Do they play together, with claws sheathed and taking turns?
  • Do they groom each other?

These 3 questions barely scrape the surface of how cats get along and whether or not there is potential for conflict or ongoing conflict in the home. Like human social relationships, relationships among cats can be complex.

A survey of 2492 multi-cat households published in 2020* set out to see if there was a relationship between household factors (type of house, number of litter boxes, feeding stations, scratching posts), and how often affiliative and conflict behaviors were seen.

*Elzerman AL, DePorter TL, Beck A, Collin JF. Conflict and affiliative behavior frequency between cats in multi-cat households: a survey-based study. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Aug;22(8):705-717. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19877988.

Affiliative behaviors in cats – from most frequent to least frequent


sleeping in the same room


Cats share a sunny sleeping place.Cats don’t have to be “preferred associates” to choose a spot in the sun in the same room as a housemate cat. As long as there is plenty of space, peaceful coexistence should be possible.

 Most frequently seen affiliative behavior – multiple times a day

allogrooming


Allogrooming refers to a cat grooming another cat by licking around the head or ears. It occurs most frequently among cats that are related…BUT … it is not restricted to family groups. It can be a way for cats to redirect potential aggression. A few quick licks to the head can soothe a would-be combatant, avoiding a fight. Sometimes, you will see cats who are not particularly chummy grooming each other’s head or neck.

Frequency – several times a day

Sleeping Touching each other


Two cats share a basket

I view sleeping snuggled together something bonded cats do whereas the casual touch of cats napping next to each other indicates a weaker affiliation.

Frequency- several times a day

Touching noses


Kittens at Kndergarten
Kittens at “kitten kindergarten” session

Colony cats touch noses when returning from foraging or hunting. Each colony has its signature scent that helps the members of the colony identify each other. House cats being inside all the time may not need to engage in this identifying behavior as much as their outdoor counterparts. However, a cat who has been to the veterinary hospital may not smell quite right to his housemates and peaceful coexistence can be disrupted.

Frequency – once a day

Why isn’t play in the list of affiliative behaviors?
Play between cats incorporates more than one basic behavior. Because social play between cats is “play fighting” and can easily escalate into a fight, behaviors like chasing and stalking are often categorized as conflict behaviors.  (See cats at play: a guide to mutual social play)

There are many other things that cats do that may be “affiliative” – tail-twining and rubbing up against each other – that were not included in the study above. However, this basic list can give you an idea of whether harmony reigns in your cat kingdom. Pay attention to how your cats get along and to their body language when interacting.

Next week, we will take a look at “conflict” behaviors and how frequent the survey found them to be.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

cat on counterAfter adopting a feral cat 3 years ago, I am still struggling with cats on the counter. Gus spent most of his wild life dumpster diving, and hunting mice and bugs for food. He certainly would have availed himself of any food a good samaritan left out for the community cats. Understandably, the kitchen counter is a cornucopia of food as far as he is concerned.

Counter-surfing cats – Why do they do it?


  • Cats are looking for food.
  • Cats are curious and keen observers of other species and their activities.
  • Cats like high places and may feel safer on the counter, out of reach of the family dog and children.

Strategies for Counter-Surfing Cats


The Foodie Cat


  • Have food on the counters only when you are preparing it.
  • If you need to leave during food prep, be sure and secure the food in a cabinet or unused oven.
  • Train your cat to a mat.

The Curious Cat


  • Offer your cat a place where she can monitor counter activities.
  • Train her to stay at that place while you are at the counter.

The Trapped Cat


  • Offer your cat a place where he can get away from the children and/or dog.
  • If he still prefers the counter, train him to stay in the place you offered.

Mat Training


Mat (aka station) training is popular with dog trainers. Ideally, when you tell your dog to go to the mat, he goes there and waits on the mat until you tell him he can leave. Mat training can be very handy because the “place” the dog must go to can move around – it is wherever the mat is.

Cats can also be mat trained.  Here is how it works.

 

the training matChoose a mat for your cat to sit on.

A cat interacts with the training mat

Encourage the cat to go to the mat by, say, throwing a treat on it.

A cat gets a treat on the mat

Reward the cat once she interacts with the mat.

Coax the cat back to the mat

If she gets off the mat before you tell her to, encourage her to return to the mat.

“Shape” the behavior by having her stay on the mat for increasingly longer periods of time.

Release the cat from the matEstablish a cue to let her know she can leave the mat.

Counter Control – Other Aids


Aversives – things cats don’t like

  • A non-toxic citrus spray on the counter (cats don’t like citrus)
  • An upside-down carpet runner (with the “spikes” facing up)

Punishment


  • Water guns are a traditional solution to deter counter-surfing cats…for these to really work you must spray the cat as she is jumping on the counter.
  • Motion-activated spray systems (SSSCAT) may discourage counter-surfing cats as long as the device works…but these devices can startle and frighten some cats.
  • See “How Does Clicker Training Your Cat Work?”

Counter-Surfing Cats – a Hard Case


Having been a feral cat, food is Gus’s major priority in life. He inevitably jumps on the counter if there is any suggestion of food preparation. He is always willing to get down from the counter when I point my finger to the floor but he returns to the countertop in a few minutes. He is undeterred by water guns, citrus sprays, and upside down carpet runners.

Gus easily mastered the idea of station training – sitting and staying on the mat is not problem until you start food preparation. He is fine as long as the treats keep coming. However, if I fall behind dispensing treats (when breading cutlets or some other involved culinary task), he returns to the counter again. I feel he cannot “dial back” his emotions enough to recall his training.

Solutions


  • If the cooking is so complicated that I can’t pay attention to Gus, I will put him in his “safe place” (the master bedroom) with his resources and some food.
  • If things are not too hectic, I will give him a lickimat with some baby food on it. This seems to keep him happy and contented for 15- 20 minutes.

Counter-surfing cats are often looking for food, a good place to monitor activity in the house, or a way to escape the family dog or a busy toddler. Decide where you want your cat to be and see if you can train her to go to a mat in this place. If all else fails, put your cat in her “safe place” while you fix meals, work on projects, or entertain guests.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

Art by Kal Meyer

Imagine being suddenly snatched up by a giant from your favorite chair. You are lifted up into the air, your legs flailing as you try to maintain your balance. Scary, huh?

Some of the more exciting scenes in fantasy movies include the hero or heroine being snatched up and taken away. In the Wizard of Oz, a troop of flying monkeys swoop down and grab up Dorothy and her dog, Toto, taking them to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. A giant ape carries Ann Darrow up the Empire State Building in the movie “King Kong”, as the audience shrieks and squeals.

Picking up your cat can be frightening for him. He often has little warning before he is airborne. He feels helpless and scared. But, you say, I pick my cat up all the time and he does not seem to mind.  In certain circumstances though, he might redirect his fear as aggression and  bite or scratch you, if you try to pick him up, say, to move him away from the vacuum cleaner.

Okay, so maybe you can coax him to go where you need him to by using treats or a target stick. But there still will be times when picking up your cat is necessary – for example, you may need get him out of the way of a car. What can you do?

Picking Up Your Cat Step-by-Step


The “Pick Up” behavior was a by-product of training Gus, a feral cat caught in a live trap when he was three years old.

When you picked Gus up, he often would thrash and flail in your arms, biting and scratching. He responds well to clicker training so I wondered if I could teach him to be picked up, in the same way he learned to sit and target.

We broke the behavior of being picked up into the following steps.

  1. Kneel next to him on the floor and touch him where I would if I were going to pick him up. Give the verbal cue “UP”, then, click and treat.
  2. Slide my arms around him like I was going to pick him up. Give the verbal cue “UP”, then, click and treat.
  3. The next step was to actually to start to pick him up briefly, lifting him off the ground, with the cue “UP”. Click then treat.
  4. Finally, I would pick him up off the ground for a few seconds while saying “UP”.  I would click when he was off the ground, then treat him when I placed him back on the ground.
  5. I “shaped” the behavior by picking him up and holding him longer and longer, always rewarding him afterwards.

 

Unlike most of the time we train our cats, “UP” does not require the cat to actively choose to do something. It involves a passive response. The click marks that the cat is being lifted up and will be rewarded in the near future. But, the “click” can also make your cat feel good.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, who salivated when they heard a bell, the “click” is a classically conditioned response.   Once the click has been consistently associated with food or another reward, it ultimately triggers the same pleasurable emotions as the reward.

The “Pick Up” command was so successful that I taught all my cats this. Gus still squirms sometimes when the hold is taking him somewhere he does not fancy going… but, the biting has stopped! And he is rewarded for his patience with treats or head rubs when we arrive at our destination.

Although your cat is not in control of the situation when being picked up, if he hears the cue and the click, he knows what is going to happen, and can anticipate something good which should reduce his fear and anxiety.

 

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

At the vet clinic where I work, we see quite a number of “fat cats”. Estimates of the prevalence of feline obesity cluster around 50%.   Why are our cats getting fat? (See How Do I Tell if My Cat is Fat?)

Your cat has evolved to eat a diet rich in protein found in meat. His stomach is small and his GI tract is short. 

Some experts estimate that a cat’s stomach is about the size of a ping pong ball but it clearly must stretch – when a cat eats a mouse, he often eats the whole thing, tail included!

When cats moved indoors, they gave up a free-roaming life in exchange for the safety of our homes and a consistent food source. Let’s look at the differences between cats in the wild and housecats.

Cats in the wild


Cat hunting
A cat pouncing on a mouse.
  • Cats in the wild hunt during the late afternoon to early morning hours when their prey is active
  • They sleep during most of the daylight hours.
  • A feral cat has about 3 hunting sessions – late afternoon, midnight and early morning.
  • He probably eats about 6-8 mice a day (180-240 kcal)
  • Most of his waking hours are spent on the prowl, foraging for food. 

housecats


A cat plays with a toy near closed door during a cat introduction.
  • Some domestic cats live an indoor-outdoor life. These cats may supplement human-provided meals with mice and other things they catch outside.
  • Many cats live exclusively indoors.
  • Most housecats adopt their owner’s schedule and are awake during the day.
  • Housecats are either meal fed at set times or free-fed.  Dry cat food may be left out, allowing the cat to “graze” during the day.

Housecats don’t have to expend time and energy to get their food – it is provided for them. When viewed this way, it is not surprising that there are many indoor fat cats. They don’t move around as much as their outdoor counterparts and don’t burn as many calories.

 

get fat cats moving: food and emotions


Neuroscience identifies 7 basic emotional systems: SEEKING, CARE, PLAY, and LUST are considered “positive”. FEAR, SADNESS, and ANGER are viewed as “negative”.

The SEEKING system is thought to be the strongest of the primary emotional systems. It’s what gets animals out looking for food, looking for a mate, looking for other resources.

When the SEEKING system is activated:

  • The brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure.
  • It is the rewarding feeling you get when you are looking for something and find it.
  • Once you’ve found the object of your desire, the brain shuts off the dopamine and other emotions are activated.

the hunting cat


Cats are skilled hunters. Hunting is an expression of the SEEKING system. The cat finds this activity pleasurable (dopamine is released) and rewarding (he enjoys the positive emotions that accompany eating). By providing your cat with food, he still enjoys the positive feelings that come with eating but the pleasure felt while hunting is not there.

Sedentary indoor cats with nothing to do may become bored  and anxious.  Many turn to eating as a self-soothing behavior, consuming more calories than needed – now, we have fat cats.

The seeking system is strong in the hunting cat – cats will stop eating to pursue new prey!

get fat cats moving for health and happiness


  • Divide your cat’s food into 4-5 meals –  this gives the cat something to do and look forward to.
  • Make small meals a “hunting” experience!

 

FOOD PUZZLES


Although cats are born “freeloaders”, they can be persuaded to work for food using food puzzles.  A food puzzle allows a cat to engage in foraging behavior, like the wild cat picking up the odd insect or lizard on his prowl.

Food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

HAVE FUN – TOSS A MEAL!


Toss your cat’s dry food, a piece at a time, down the hallway. He will have to chase the kibbles, using his hearing, sight and paws to bring down the “prey”. Older kitties may do better at catching kibbles if you “skid” them along a hard surface – skidding gives the cat a longer auditory signature to locate the food. (See “Cats Avoid Fighting Over Treats“).

WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT HOME


Timed Puzzle Feeder
This Cat Mate feeder can accommodate a food puzzle.

There are timed feeders like the Cat Mate that can accommodate some smaller food puzzles such as Doc and Phoebe’s no-bowl feeders. Alternatively, a Lickimat can be cut to fit into a timed or microchip feeder. Silicone ice cube trays or candy molds can also be cut to fit a feeder and promote foraging.

Hi Tech options: There are now feeders that will toss treats. You can start the sessions remotely through an app on your phone. The PetCube has a camera and microphone that you can use to talk to your cat and watch him. The Pet Cube is perhaps more geared toward tossing treats – it works well, though, with larger cat kibble such the dental diets and Greenies dental treats.

Of course, there are other reasons your cat may put on weight, for example, steroid therapy can be accompanied by weight gain.  Your vet is your best resource to advise you on an appropriate calorie intake for your cat.

But it is rarely a mistake to pay attention to your cat’s behavioral health – take advantage of his superb hunting skills to get him moving!  He will be healthier and happier.

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Sometimes when your cat behaves “badly”, you are able to address what triggers the misbehavior and life goes back to “normal”: you add a new litter box and the house-soiling stops; you start taking your “bully” cat for walks on a leash and everyone settles back down again. Problem solved!

Other times, you feel you’ve taken care of what triggers the misbehavior but your cat continues to, say, pee in the bathtub. And in still other instances, you can’t eliminate the stressors triggering the behavior, and the behavior persists. For example, you just don’t have the finances to get a bigger house but you don’t want to re-home any of the cats.

Anxiety and misbehavior in your cat


When your cat is stressed, he can become anxious and fearful. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and helps the cat respond to perceived danger.  One way your cat may let you know she is anxious and fearful, is by “misbehaving”.  She may avoid her litter box and or hide and strike out at you when you try to pick her up.

Your vet might recommend a behavior modification plan and an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medication to deal with the anxiety and misbehavior in your cat.  Behavior modification aims to give the cat a way to cope with the stress that is giving rise to the “misbehavior”.   Anxiolytics reduce your cat’s anxiety and put him in a positive emotional state, making him more receptive to behavior modification.

Fluoxetine: Rx for anxiety


Let’s take a look at Fluoxetine, a medication that is frequently prescribed by veterinarians to treat anxiety.

In human circles, fluoxetine is more commonly known by the brand name Prozac.  It is a “selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor” (SSRI).
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries “messages” between neurons. Neurotransmitters are typically reabsorbed in the neuron once the “messaging” is done but SSRI’s keep serotonin from being reabsorbed, resulting in more serotonin being available to carry messages between neurons. Serotonin is thought to regulate mood, digestion, and sleep among other metabolic processes (see SSRIs mayoclinic.org).

Your cat should be calmer and less anxious when taking fluoxetine.

House-soiling and aggression toward people are two of the more common behavioral problems in cats. Let’s take a quick look at two cases where  fluoxetine and behavior modification helped manage feline anxiety and misbehavior.

Susie, a 13 year old female cat


Problem Behavior: House-soiling in variety of locations with chronic diarrhea

When Susie was 11 years old, her feline house-mate passed away and her owner adopted a younger cat. Susie began pooping outside the box. After most of a year, the owner felt the cats got along OK but house-soiling and diarrhea continued. The owner found Susie “aloof” and difficult to handle. Susie was surrendered to a veterinary clinic when she was 13 years old.

A Plan for Susie

Medical plan: treat the diarrhea

Behavioral plan:

  • Desensitize Susie to interacting with people
  • Gradually introduce Susie to the other cats in the clinic

Susie’s Timeline:

  • Susie is surrendered to the vet clinic in  mid-May 2021. She is fearful and reluctant to interact with people and other cats and is placed in a “room of her own”.
  • In early July, Susie begins taking a steroid medication and also starts fluoxetine. The diarrhea starts to resolve in the next few weeks.
  • By early September, Susie is becoming less fearful and is interested in coming out of her room. She starts to accept being handled by the clinic staff.  She is not pooping outside the litter box as much.
  • In November, Susie starts having supervised visitations with staff and other cats outside her room.
  • By next March, Susie is able to be out unsupervised in the clinic during working hours.  House-soiling is better – she poops right next to the litter box and not in random locations.

Susie had a long history of house-soiling. Treatment of her medical problem and reducing her anxiety has improved her quality of life. She remains on a low dose of fluoxetine which helps her cope with the stress of interacting with strange people and cats that come to the vet clinic.

Gus, 3 year old male feral cat


Problem Behavior: Aggression toward people

Gus was an intact male cat that was trapped in a live trap. He is positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and was not eligible to be released after being neutered.

Behavior modification plan for Gus:

  • Desensitization to people
  • Clicker training for appropriate social behaviors toward people

Gus’s Timeline:

  • Early March 2019: Gus is trapped with a live trap
  • March 5: Gus is neutered. Gus is fearful, fighting and biting when handled.
  • Late March: Gus starts taking fluoxetine, to reduce anxiety and misbehavior.  He takes the daily fluoxetine tablet in a treat. At first the drug makes him sleepy but this passes in a few weeks and he is exposed to a variety of people.
  • Clicker and leash training begin in early June.  He learns simple commands to sit, follow a target on a stick, wear a harness and allow humans to pick him up.
  • Gus is adopted in early August. Owner continues clicker training and outdoor walks.
  • Gus is weaned off fluoxetine by the end of November, after 7 months of drug therapy. He tolerates people and no longer tries to bite them.

Anxiolytics combined with behavior modification can help you deal with anxiety and misbehavior in your cat.  In some cases, a cat can be weaned off the medication while in others, continuing to give a low dose helps when the stressors causing the misbehavior cannot be eliminated.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

outside the box

 

When your cat thinks outside the box, it may be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. In the two previous posts, we considered some of the medical and environmental issues that can give rise to house-soiling. When your cat thinks outside the box, we must also consider his social environment: are his interactions with people and other pets positive?

 

 

 

When your cat thinks outside the box: the social environment


People and pets other than cats


Positive and predictable interactions with people are a key element of a healthy feline environment. Our cats should expect that we will:

  • allow them to choose whether or not to interact with us
  • pay attention to their body language
  • handle them in a way they accept

Following these simple guidelines can help reduce a cat’s anxiety and insecurity. Making your cat feel secure and confident can go a long way to avoiding house-soiling problems.

Do ask family and visitors to follow the CAT guidelines .

Do not punish your cat for house-soiling even if you catch him in the act. Most likely, he or she will not make the connection. Punishment will only increase his or her stress and may increase the motivation to pee or poop in less obvious places (ISFM House-Soiling Guidelines). Punishment may also cause your cat to be afraid of you.

Do consider restricting children and dogs from the litter box areas using baby gates and gadgets such as a “door buddy“.

Be proactive and try to anticipate how your cat will handle new situations: For example, if you are going to have house guests, think how your cat will react to these strangers. Say you have a litter box in the guest bath – you may want to close your cat away from that area when guests are visiting in your home and provide a litter box elsewhere.

dealing with Inter-cat issues


CATS OUTSIDE THE HOME


Neighborhood cats coming into your yard can impact your cat’s behavior. These cats may mark your doors or yard with urine

They may come to the windows and look in. In response, your cat may mark or soil near the doors and windows that lead to the outside. Cat doors may trigger a similar response.

In  the previous post, When your cat thinks outside the box: the environment, we talked about noting house-soiling incidents on a map of your house.

If the “x’s” on your house map are near outside doors and windows, neighborhood cats may be a problem.  (House-Soiling Guidelines)

Taking Action: Secure Your Cat’s Territory!

  • Move your cat’s food and water stations away from doors and windows
  • If necessary, block your cat’s view of the outside by using window film, cardboard, paint… so he cannot see the intruder.
  • If you see outdoor cats in your yard, consider a motion activated sprinkler or critter spikes (for fences) to discourage the neighborhood cats from coming into your yard.

CATS INSIDE THE HOME


Where are the “x’s” on the housemap?

If the “x’s” are in hallways, stairways, doorways leading into rooms (in the interior of the house), your problem may be coming from inside the house – other cats. (House-Soiling Guidelines)

Cats are socially flexible. They do very well on their own but can live with other cats if there are enough resources and if these are spread out.

Diagram social groups cats
There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.

Social Groups of Cats

Within a cat colony, there are often smaller groups of 2 or more cats that prefer to spend time together. These cats will often:

  • sleep together touching each other
  • groom each other
  • rub against each other
  • “play fight”

These social groups are comfortable sharing resources: food, water, litter boxes, sleeping and resting places. (See Social Groups of Cats)

Most of the time, things go smoothly and different social groups will take turns using the resources. However, occasionally a cat or cats will “pick on” a particular cat. In a wild setting, this cat could move on, joining another colony or living a solitary life. These options are not available to the indoor cat.

Is your house-soiling cat being picked on by another cat? Does your other cat:

  • stalk and track the house-soiling cat?
  • stare directly at her?
  • attack him? (do not mistake aggression for play: see Cats at Play)
  • block her from using critical resources – litter boxes, food, sleeping places?

 

The house-soiling cat may feel safest on the owner’s bed and use the bed as a litter box.

What to do:

  1. Diagram the social groups in your multi-cat household using the criteria above.
  2. Note on the house map where different social groups hang out.
  3. Draw the paths cats have to follow to reach food, water and litter boxes.
  4. Which social group does your house-soiling cat belong to?
  5. Does he or she have an open path to reach the litter box? Can a “bully cat” hide behind furniture and ambush him or her?

Taking Action – Make the house-soiling cat feel confident and secure again


  • Separate the different social groups.  Make sure that each group has all their resources (food, water, litter boxes, cat trees). 
  • Set up a time-sharing scheme for different social groups to use the common areas while you are resolving the problem.
  • Make sure that there are enough resources so that cats of different social groups do not have to share.
  • Move furniture if necessary to eliminate ambush spots in the litter box areas and on the way to the litter boxes.
  • Your vet may prescribe medication for the cats involved.

Taking Action: keep the “bully” cat busy and reduce boredom


  • food puzzles
  • regular play time
  • outdoor access on a leash

Once your house-soiling cat is using his or her box again, you can consider gradually reintroducing him or her to the other cats (see Introducing Cats). If he or she is the victim of a “bully”, be sure to go slowly and supervise the interactions between the bully and victim. This may not be successful and cats may need to remain separated or be re-homed.

This is the final part of “when your cat thinks outside the box”. These three posts only scratch the surface of a complex behavior that can be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. Your first resource should be your veterinarian. Do consider making a house map and, if you have a multi-cat household, a social diagram. These simple tools can provide you and your vet insight into why your cat thinks outside the box.

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

What can you do when your cat thinks outside the box?

Whether you are waiting for an appointment with your vet or are in the process of treating a medical condition, accepted guidelines (ISFM house-soiling guidelines) recommend that you do an environmental and social assessment of your cat and where he lives. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at your cat’s environment and what we might change  to resolve the house-soiling.

When Your Cat Thinks Outside the Box: First Aid


REDUCE THE TERRITORY OF THE HOUSE-SOILING CAT


The “core territory” is where the cat can rest, has shelter and feels safe from predators and other cats.
Consider temporarily confining the house-soiling cat to one or more rooms with all the cat’s resources – litter box, food and water stations, cat trees. This can make an anxious cat feel more safe – from the feline purrspective, he does not have as much area to defend from other cats, pets, and people.

DON’T HAVE THE SPACE?


  • Restrict this cat’s access to the soiled areas if you can.
  • If that’s not possible, try placing a litter box where the house-soiling is occurring.
  • If the cat starts to use the box, keep it in place for at least 2 weeks (ISFM house-soiling guidelines)
  • After two weeks of consistent use, you can gradually move the box to a more suitable location. Go very slowly for best results!

DAMAGE CONTROL


  • Use an enzymatic cleaner to clean the soiled areas.
  • If your cat is spraying, set up a spraying station: a litter box oriented vertically. Line walls and floor with plastic to minimize damage to wallboard and flooring.
  • There is a risk of a cat marking the cleaned area, so “clean and cover”, as described above.

When your cat thinks outside the box – A CLOSER LOOK AT YOUR CAT’S ENVIRONMENT


  • Sketch the floor plan of your house.

    House Map
    A house map showing areas where house-soiling has occurred.
  • Mark the location of doors, windows, stairways, closets and major pieces of furniture. Mark the location of litter boxes, feeding areas, water stations, scratching posts and sleeping areas.
  • Mark where and when (extra credit!) the house-soiling has occurred.

ELIMINATION: SOCIAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL?


The house map can give us an idea of whether the elimination problem is due to your cat’s environment or if the elimination problem is social, arising from negative interactions with other cats, pets or people.

WHERE DOES “X MARK THE SPOT”?


  • Near door and windows where outdoor cats come? social?
  • Right next to the litter box? environmental?
  • On laundry piles or bath mats? environmental/social?
  • On your bed? social?
  • Quiet corners? environmental/social?
  • Near a noisy appliance? environmental?

AN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT: The litter box


ENOUGH BOXES?

  • Even this question is not straightforward. But let’s start with the commonsense basics. There needs to be more than one box even for one cat.
  • Some cats prefer to use one box for urine and the other for feces.
  • In a multi-story house, there should be a litter box on every floor the cat frequents.
  • The rule of thumb is #litter boxes = # cats + 1 but this is not a hard and fast rule.
  • Litter boxes need to be separated – cats view litter boxes next to each other as a single litter box.

SIZE MATTERS


The litter box needs to be large enough for your cat to turn around. This box is large enough for Gus.

How big are the boxes? Cats may turn around a few times before eliminating. The litter box needs to be large enough to accommodate this motion. The rule of thumb here is 1.5 times the cat’s length from nose to base of tail.

CLEAN ENOUGH?


A study sponsored by Nestle-Purina found that cats prefer a litter box free of clumps of urine and pieces of stool, so scooping the litter box frequently may avoid house-soiling problems. If you do not scoop the boxes daily, you may need more boxes and/or larger boxes.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION


  • Litter boxes should be separated and not in areas a cat can be “trapped” in. Avoid high traffic areas frequented by lots of people and other pets.
  • Avoid areas with noisy appliances. Remember that cats have one of the broadest ranges of hearing of any land mammal, hearing the low tones of the human male voice and the ultrasonic squeaks of mice. Even our electronic gizmos may be emitting sounds that can make a litter box area unpleasant.

ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS


To break the house-soiling habit, we need to REWARD the cat for using the litter box. We can do this by making the litter box more appealing and pleasant to use.

Offering a new litter box is one way to break the habit of soiling in an inappropriate place.

  • Consider larger boxes with a cut out to allow easy access.
  • High-sided boxes will work for cats who spray or stand up to urinate.
  • It is best to ADD litter boxes at first. Once the cat has accepted the new box, you can remove the older one.

LITTER BOX CAFETERIA


  • Putting several litter boxes side by side with different fillers (include the original) can give you an idea what kind of litter your cat prefers.

KEEP IT CLEAN!


  • Consider having a “Litter Genie” or other disposal system next to each box so that it is convenient to scoop the box frequently.

THE BATHROOM IS SAFE!


  • Some cats respond positively to pheromones. The “Feliway” Classic or Comfort Zone calming diffusers give a message of security and calmness.
  • For cats who are spraying or marking, these analogs of facial pheromones tell your cat that this place is already marked.
  • You can also collect your cat’s individual scent and apply it to the area around the box – wood moldings, walls…

NO SNACKS IN THE BATHROOM!


  • Locate food and water away from the litter box. Cats do not eat where they eliminate and a litter box near food may discourage its use for elimination.

House-soiling can be a difficult puzzle to solve. When your cat thinks outside the box, it may be due to medical, environmental or social issues or a combination of these. A house map can help you locate the problem areas and optimize your cat’s environment. In the next post, we’ll use the house map to look for social problems that may be why your cat thinks outside the box.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

A common complaint of cat owners is that their cat does not always use the litter box. This can be a nuisance – cat urine can have a strong odor particularly if the cat is not neutered or spayed. Soft stools can be a challenge to clean up. I am always surprised at how many people accept the “out of the box” incidents and use potty pads or towels to manage the mess. What can you do if this happens to you?

Why your cat thinks outside the box


There are  a number of reasons cats may think “outside the box” and don’t use their litter boxes.  Sometimes, it is a marking behavior.  Other times, the litter box does not meet feline requirements, the cat is sick, or another cat is “guarding” the box.  These are just a few of the reasons that may lie behind feline house-soiling.

Marking


Cats use urine to mark territory, advertise for a mate or let other cats know that Mr. Fluffy has been here (feces may also mark terrritory but urine is more common in domestic cats). The urine mark not only gives information as to the sexual status and general health of the marker, it also has a “time stamp” indicating when the mark was made. Cats, being solitary hunters, avoid confrontations to reduce the risk of injury. This “time stamp” may help cats avoid encountering each other.

Such urine marking is often but not always sprayed on vertical surfaces. It is typically characterized by small amounts of urine. This is usually a behavior of intact males and sometimes females but can occur with neutered or spayed animals. (Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery 16(7):545, 10.1177/1098612X14539085)

PROBLEMS WITH THE BOX


  • Box is too small
  • Box is in a busy location near noisy appliances or in a high traffic area
  • Box is located near a window where neighborhood cats come
  • Box is not clean – remember to scoop at least once a day

A research team at Nestlé Purina found that cats prefer to use unused litter boxes. However, this preference for unused boxes did not seem to be due to odors. Cats did not seem to care whether or not the litter box smelled of urine or feces. But cats did not want to use litter boxes with actual urine clumps and feces nor did they want to use litter boxes with simulated urine clumps made from salt solution or “faux feces” made of gelatin. Ultimately, it appears that it is important to scoop frequently, removing physical obstructions from the litter box.

“Does previous use affect litter box appeal in multi-cat households?”
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2017.02.008

MEDICAL PROBLEMS


Pain and discomfort when eliminating can result in a cat associating the litter box with pain. Ongoing pain can be frightening for a cat and cause him to be anxious, exacerbating urinary and gastro-intestinal problems.  The cat may choose not to the use the litter box he associates with the painful elimination.

When your cat thinks outside the box, it could be due to medical issues, including:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Bladder stones
  • Arthritis – can make it difficult for a cat to squat or step over a high side to get into the litter box
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Cognitive dysfunction in older cats ( Cat Dementia: How Can We Manage It?)
  • FIC (feline idiopathic cystitis) – (see “Is My Cat Sick from Stress”)
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease

Social problems


  • The litter box is being “guarded” by another cat
  • The family dog is coprophagic and “haunts” the litter box
  • A toddler wants to “play in the sandbox” too
  • A house guest kicks his shoes off and they hit the wall; the noise startles the cat in the box

When your cat thinks outside the box – make an appointment with your veterinarian.  Your vet can:

  • Assess your cat’s overall health
  • Collect blood, urine and stool samples for diagnostic screening
  • Take X-rays if there are concerns about bladder stones or arthritis
  • Prescribe pain medication
  • Prescribe anti-anxiety medication while house-soiling issues are being resolved

It is wise to act promptly when house-soiling issues arise. When house-soiling continues for a long time without resolution, we run the risk of “coping behaviors” becoming habits. For example, a cat may choose to urinate in the shower or bathtub, defecate in a quiet corner in the front entryway, or eliminate right next to the box. Once these behaviors are established, it is sometimes difficult to break these “bad” habits.

Our next post will look at what you, the cat guardian, can do to encourage new habits and help remedy house-soiling, when your cat thinks outside the box.

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe