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.

 

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Gentle handling between 2-7 weeks helps kittens build trust with humans.

We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born in April and May, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Like any other baby animal, kittens depend on their mothers for survival. What happens if the mother is killed or trapped? What if the mother abandons her kittens?

If part of a cat colony, the mother’s sisters would take over the care of the kittens. The females in the colony share the role of parenting the kittens. Females of the same social group who give birth around the same time will nurse each other’s kittens, allowing each other a chance to go off and hunt.

Not all cats live in colonies – some live a more solitary existence. If something happens to the solitary mother, her kittens’ outlook for survival is bleak. With human intervention, some of these kittens will survive. Will the kitten raised by humans make a good pet?

Raising kittens – the role of the mother cat


Kittens are born helpless, unable to regulate their own temperature. Their eyes won’t open until they are a week old. They are dependent on their mother for warmth and round-the-clock feedings. She must lick them to stimulate urination and defecation until they are about 3 weeks old. (Bringing up a litter of kittens)

time to grow up and learn to hunt


  • When the kittens are 3-4 weeks old, the mother cat begins to bring back “dead” prey to them
  • In the next few weeks, mom brings back fatigued or injured prey. The kittens start to practice their hunting skills.
  • If a kitten loses control of the prey, mom is there to recapture it.
  • The kittens see their mother eating the prey so they eat the prey.
  • The mother cat shows the kittens how to bury urine and feces at this time. (Veterian Key)

weaning


As the kittens begin to eat solid food, the mother starts to restrict their nursing.

  • she leaves the nest for longer periods of time
  • she makes it harder for the kittens to nurse by crouching or lying on her stomach
  • she may hiss or growl at them when they try to nurse
  • she climbs out of their reach for extended periods of time.

This is a frustrating time for the kitten – he or she is hungry but cannot have milk and must find other food to eat; this frustration encourages the kitten to turn his attention to his hunting and survival skills. His first prey may be a crunchy insect!

 

the kitten RAISED BY HUMANS


Fosters of pre-weaned orphan kittens are some of the unsung heroes of the animal rescue world. In addition to feeding kittens up to 10 times in 24 hours, keeping them warm, and stimulating them to urinate and defecate before and after feeding, fosters must try to mimic the social stimulation (see below) that the mother would provide. (Hand-rearing kittens)

  • kitten being brushed
    A kitten is brushed with a soft toothbrush.

    Mother cats lick their kittens overall to clean them, provoke urination and suckling, provide comfort, and strengthen their social bond. Human caregivers may use brushing to mimic grooming by the mother cat.

  • Fosters must show kittens how to use the litter tray at 3-4 weeks.
  • Fosters must wean the kittens and transition them to solid food.
  • Fosters should expose the kittens to a variety of people and friendly pets.

The “Tarzan” kitten – The kitten raised by humans


Kitten starting solid foodA human caregiver cannot replace a kitten’s mother – after all, we are not cats. For example, how does a human foster mimic the frustration accompanying weaning that encourages the kitten to get his own food?  Kittens raised without their mothers and siblings are prone to behavioral issues – they don’t know how to deal with frustration; early separation from the mother may cause changes in brain function.

 

Some behavior problems commonly seen in orphaned kittens:

  • fear and aggression toward people and other cats
  • fear of new things
  • lack of social skills
  • overly dependent on caregiver
  • lack of bite inhibition – the kitten does not know how hard to bite
  • “wool sucking” – sucking on fabric, other kittens or human earlobes. The kitten could hurt the litter mate or person or ingest something harmful.

(Maddie’s Fund)

These behaviors often can be managed with gentle handling and training.

tips for adopting the kitten raised by humans


  • Adopt a kitten that was raised with her litter mates or other adult cats – she will learn how hard to bite, since her litter mates will bite back; older cats will also offer a response to inappropriate play behavior.
  • Adopt 2 kittens around the same age, from the same litter if possible
  • Choose kitten(s) that were exposed to a variety of people when they were 2-7 weeks old
  • Ask if the kitten(s) had different environmental experiences: car rides, television, vacuum cleaners.

Whichever kitten(s) you choose, please consider training your kitten(s).


Patience, gentle handling, and training can help the kitten raised by humans become a valued member of your household.

Kitten season can be overwhelming for rescue organizations.

Want to help?

  • Adopt
  • Foster
  • Donate

What if you find a litter of kittens by themselves?

  • Keep an eye on them – the mother could be out hunting
  • Contact your local cat rescue
  • If she does not return after several hours or the kittens are in danger, you may need to act

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Trimming your cat's claws

You may notice that as your cat scratches, husks of keratin are shed, little curved “skeletons” of claws. This is a natural process –  if you provide him with a scratching post, is trimming your cat’s claws necessary?

Your cat’s claws are meant to be curved and sharp. But you may find that you need to dull the tips of these scimitars:

  • to minimize damage to your sofa
  • to avoid being scratched when handling your cat
  • if your cat does not shed her claws frequently enough and the claw is threatening to grow into her paw pad.

trimming Your Cat’s claws : not a “nail TRim”


Cats have sharp teeth and claws to hunt their prey and defend themselves. Their paws and claws are sensitive to touch and pressure – they need to be able to apply the right amount of force to keep a wriggling mouse under control.

Our fingernails are made of a hard substance called keratin, a protein that makes up your hair, skin and nails.  The visible fingernail is actually dead cells – living cells grow from under the cuticle and displace the dead, translucent cells, pushing them through the skin. Because your visible fingernails are dead, it does not hurt to trim your fingernails.

Your cat’s claws also contain keratin. The visible layer is dead cells, displaced as living cells grow from the underlying dermis. This dermis or “quick”,  contains blood vessels, nerves and other tissues. The “quick” envelops and connects to the outermost bone of the cat’s toe – our fingernails are NOT connected to our finger bones but to a matrix of tissue containing nerves and blood vessels that is separate from our finger bones.  Like human fingernails, the translucent keratin of the cat’s claw is made up of dead cells and does not hurt when trimmed.

THE BONY STRUCTURES INSIDE YOUR CAT'S TOES
WHAT’S INSIDE YOUR CAT’S TOES

Your cat’s claws are protractible, that is, they can be extended. When relaxed, the claws are hidden in a sheath of skin – your cat must extend them to use them.

what you need : trimming your cat’s claws


  • scissor-type nail trimmers for cats -or-
  • human toe nail trimmers
  • styptic powder or cornstarch, flour

 

trimming your cat’s claws: where to trim


  • protract your cat’s claw by gently pressing on her toe
  • most cats have white claws with a visible “quick”
  • the quick is pink; trim outside the quick
  • if you do clip the quick, press a pinch styptic powder, cornstarch or flour over the claw to stop the bleeding
THE RED AREA IS THE QUICK. NOTE THE BONE THAT THE QUICK IS ATTACHED TO.

Training your cat to accept “nail trims”


  1. Find a treat your cat likes. We will use positive reinforcement to accustom your cat to “nail trims”. Your cat will associate the treat he likes with having his claws clipped.
  2. Find a position that cat prefers for “nail trims”. Does your cat like to sit on your lap? Sit next to you on the sofa? If these are not options, perhaps a table with a fleece blanket on it will work.
  3. Find the nail trimmer or clippers that you will use.

 

It is less aggressive to approach your cat from behind for procedures like nail trims. For example, if she likes sitting on your lap, have her sit facing away from you.

step by step:


  1. Desensitize your cat to having his feet handled.  Offer your cat some treats while you handle his foot. Once you stop handling his foot, remove the treat. (Having someone to manage the treat plate is helpful!)
  2. Desensitize your cat to the trimmers. Touch her foot with the trimmers while giving her a treat. Remove the treat if not touching the foot with the trimmers.
  3. Trim a claw or two the same way. Work up to trimming the whole foot.

Once your cat is comfortable with step 1, proceed to step 2; proceed to step 3 when he is ready.

If your cat is clicker-trained, you can “click then treat” each behavior. For example, handle the foot, click, then treat. Your cue for step 1 could be a light touch to the paw before handling;  step 2 cue may be letting your cat smell the trimmers.  Always remember to reward kitty!

Be patient and take your time. You will find that trimming your cat’s claws does not have to be an ordeal and can save you a trip to the vet or groomer.

If your cat seems painful when handling her feet or her toes appear swollen, infected, or discolored, consult your veterinarian before attempting to trim her claws.

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Clicker training your cat pairs the sound of the clicker, a small handheld gadget, with a treat or some other thing the cat likes. When the cat hears the click, he knows that a treat or something good is on its way. If the cat sits when he hears the word “sit” and hears a click as he sits, he will look for his expected reward. If he receives the reward, he will be more likely to “sit” next time upon command.

At the core of clicker training your cat are two learning processes: classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Let’s look at these two ways of learning.

Classical Conditioning – An involuntary response is associated with a stimulus


Pavlov meme
During the 1890’s, a Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov was studying digestion in dogs, measuring the amount of saliva produced by a group of dogs presented with meat.

Pavlov noticed that:

  • the dogs would drool when food was placed in front of them
  • they would also drool before they received the meat, when they heard the footsteps of the assistant bringing the meat.

This started a series of experiments using lights, metronomes and, of course, bells to stimulate the drooling.  Pavlov had discovered the learning process that we now call “classical conditioning”, where an involuntary response like salivating is associated with a stimulus, the ringing of a bell.

Operant conditioning – A voluntary behavior is associated with aN outcome


Likewise, snapping the lid off a can of cat food can help call the kitties to dinner. The dogs connected the ringing of the bell with food; your cats may be accustomed or conditioned to associate the sound of  the can opening with being fed. This is another example of “classical conditioning”.

Your cat has heard the can opening. Now, he must decide whether he is going to come for dinner. Most of the time, he makes the decision to come when “called”, anticipating a dinner of cat food. This “voluntary” response is the learning process called operant conditioning – the cat has control over whether he comes or not.

Folks who study behavior have identified 4 different scenarios in operant learning: 2 that increase the likelihood that the behavior being trained will be repeated and 2 that decrease the likelihood that the behavior is repeated.

operant conditioning – 4 scenarios


INCREASE THE BEHAVIOR


POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT


Treats to reward cats

ADD a good outcome – the cat is likely to perform the behavior again.

We ask the cat to “sit” and when he sits, we give him a tasty treat. We REWARD the behavior of sitting.

DECREASE THE BEHAVIOR


POSITIVE PUNISHMENT


cat on counter

ADD something unpleasant to discourage a behavior.

Your kitty jumps up on the counter and you spray her with water. She jumps down. You have added an unpleasant spray of water (punishment) to getting up on the counter.

negative reinforcement


TAKE AWAY something unpleasant- the cat is likely to do what stops what’s unpleasant.

You are trying to trim your cat’s nails but the moment you touch her foot with the clippers, she growls and hisses and you stop. It is likely next time, she will growl and hiss to stop you from trimming her nails. You are reinforcing her behavior of hissing and growling at nail trims by “removing” the unpleasant nail trim.

negative punishment


TAKE AWAY something the cat likes to discourage a behavior.

Your cat wakes you up at night to be petted. You put her outside the bedroom and close the door. You are removing the opportunity for some stroking that your cat enjoys with the hope that your cat will not wake you up in the future.

THE PROBLEM WITH positive PUNISHMENT

  • It is difficult to get the timing right – you must spray the cat as she is jumping on the counter otherwise she may associate something else (you) with the spray of water
  • Punishment does not remove a behavior.  There is an immediate effect – kitty jumps off the counter – but she may continue to jump on the counter if you are NOT there to spray her. 
  • Devices like a SSSCAT (a motion-activated spray system) may keep her off the counter as long as they are working.  A concern with these devices is injury if the cat is startled and falls off the counter.
  • Punishment can put the cat into an anxious, fearful state, anticipating a consequence (punishment) the cat does not understand. 

“Classical” conditioning and “operant” conditioning with positive reinforcement form the core of clicker training your cat.

  • The cat learns to associate the “click” of the clicker with food or something he values.
  • He will choose to perform a behavior, like sitting upon command, anticipating a treat.

Positive reinforcement is the most successful training technique because the cat will not be fearful or anxious but will be in a positive emotional state, ready to learn – after all, something good will happen!

 

A POSTSCRIPT


What to try if your cat hates nail trims

Positive reinforcement!

  1. Start by handling her feet and giving her a treat for each paw you pick up.
  2. Move on to touching her feet with the nail clippers, and give her treats for each paw.
  3. Work up to trimming a few claws at a time, and of course, reward her!

Counter Surfing

With kitchen counters, the drive to seek food is strong and difficult for a cat to suppress. Also, cats instinctively, “go for the high ground”, especially if they are avoiding something they are leery of.

  1. Is your cat jumping on the counter to get food or avoid the dog and the toddler? You may need to control the dog or toddler.
  2. Keep food off the counters unless you are preparing it.
  3. Find a place (preferably high) for kitty to sit while you are working at the counter and reward him for sitting there.
  4. Sometimes, using “aversives”, things cats don’t like, may help. For example, using a non-toxic citrus spray on the counter or using an upside-down carpet runner (with the “spikes” facing up) may deter jumping up on the counter.
  5. If your cat is driving you crazy or may get hurt, put him in a safe place with all his resources while you prepare food.

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Owning a cat does not mean that your arms and legs should be covered in bites and scratches.  Is there anything you can do if your cat gets aggressive when playing?

 First of all – understand “Play” for a cat is hunting practice and it is serious business.

Hardwired to Hunt…


Your cat is good at detecting fast motion – his eyes can process over 60 visual images per second. By comparison, we are able to process 20-30 images per second. Your cat is designed to detect the quick, rapid movements of mice and other rodents. Motion is what attracts him – if the prey “freezes” for long enough, it may get away to live another day.

A successful hunt ends with the capture of the prey. Sharp teeth and claws put an end to the game.

Aggresive play

Why your cat gets aggressive when playing…


It may seem cute to let your kitten climb your legs, and pounce on your hands and feet. When your kitten grows to be a large cat, fully equipped with sharp teeth and claws, this kind of play can be dangerous.

Even if you use gloves and let your cat bite and scratch the gloves, she is still viewing YOU as PREY.  After all, your arms are connected to the rest of you!

Cat bites and scratches easily become infected. Make sure to clean any bites and scratches with plenty of soap and water. Seek medical attention for bites  and scratches that break the skin.

So, you feel your cat gets aggressive while playing.  What can you do when he wants to play rough?

  • Use toys that keep your hands and feet away from him.
  • Don’t play games that have you pretending to be prey – if you want your cat to run after you, drag a string along behind you so that the string, not you, is the focus of his attention. 

    cat with wand toy
    Zelda plays with a toy mouse on a wand toy.

What if your cat initiates “rough play”?

What is happening?


  • Stalking and attacking your legs and feet?
  • Wrestling and attacking your hands?
  • Stalking and pouncing on you or the kids?

When does it happen?


  • When you arrive home from work?
  • When you are working and not able to pay attention to your cat?

Where does it happen?


  • Does the behavior occur in a certain place in the house?

THE PLAN: DISTRACT YOUR CAT BEFORE THE  “ROUGH PLAY” STARTS


Some examples…

Your cat attacks your legs and feet when you come in the door from work.


  • Have a basket of toys on a table near the door.
  • Direct her attention to a wand toy or catnip mouse BEFORE she starts to attack you.
  • If your cat does manage to complete the pounce, FREEZE – don’t run away, she will “hunt” you

Your cat pounces on you when go through the hallway


  •  This often starts as playing “peek-a-boo” around the corner. It usually goes away on its own, but some more bored cats may make a game of it.
  • Have a cache of toys nearby  or some treats that you toss BEFORE you get to the corner to distract him.
  • Or have a laser pointer in your pocket if this behavior happens at different corners
  • If your cat does manage to complete the pounce, FREEZE.  Do not reward him by acting like a prey animal trying to get away.

Your cat attacks your arm and hands while you are on the sofa watching TV


  • Have a cache of toys on a table next to the sofa
  • If you can intercept your cat before he launches on to the sofa, toss a treat or toy and direct him to it with a laser pointer.
  • If he gets you in a “clawed” embrace, FREEZE.  By not moving,  he should lose interest in you.

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT

A sturdy sheet of cardboard and long pants/sleeves, socks  and gloves can shield your legs, feet and hands during the “re-training” period. “Protective gear” will make staying still a bit easier.

Your cat gets aggressive when playing…Other things you can do.


 Keep your cat busy and happy.

  • Consider meal-feeding her with food puzzles – she can hunt for her food and not you!
  • Have a regular play time around the same time every day.
  • Set up a “safe place” for your cat to go when things are getting too stressful

Planning ahead – Set up a “Safe Place” for your cat

A safe place should be a place your cat feels secure
A safe place should have all her resources in it
It could be a spare room or hallway with the doors closed

Put your cat in her safe place

  • when you are working
  • when there is just too much going on
  • when she becomes overstimulated

Your cat is a superb hunter. Make sure that he does not view you, your hands or feet as prey.  Seek professional help if the simple strategies outlined here don’t work!

 

 

I have seen a lot of advertisements and posts recently on social media about taking your cat for a walk. This can be a source of enrichment for your cat; it is also be a great time to take photos of your friend and bond with her more.

Just like many humans, cats don’t like surprises. If you want to try taking your cat for a walk, be prepared to spend at least a few weeks preparing him.

 

What you need


 

  • A harness made for cats – these should be adjustable with comfortable padding to distribute the pressure on his neck and chest if he pulls against the harness
  • a leash – a leash about 4-6 feet long will work. I use an extendable leash with a bungee leash on the end in case my cat goes after a rabbit or mouse.
  • “treats for the trail”

cat with harness front view

 

Cat from the bacj

Training for the Trail: The Harness


  • Let your cat smell the harness.
  • Slide the harness over his head. Click, treat and remove.
  • Work up to clipping the back.
  • Leave the harness on for increasingly longer times.
  • MAKE THIS FUN – MAKE SURE TO REWARD HIM.

Training for the Trail: Walking Indoors


  • Practice walks inside – using the leash
  • if your cat has been trained to a target, get him to walk along for short distances on the leash following the target
  • Alternatively, toss a treat in front of him to get him to move forward

Taking Your Cat for a Walk: Choose the Place


  • A back yard or enclosed area is an ideal place to start
  • Choose a QUIET time for his first walks

Taking your Cat for a Walk: Venturing further Afield


  • your cat is a small animal who is a predator but is also prey
  • you must provide a safe place for your cat if predators or unwanted people show up
  • If you walk on sidewalks and paths, a pet stroller can be a wise investment
  • If you are more adventurous, a backpack can be a solution.

Cat in backpack

 

A Cat enjoys a walk in a stroller

Both backpack and stroller are best introduced to your cat with training. Your cat will soon figure out the stroller or pack means safety from dogs and sunshine.

Hazards of the “Trail”


Cat Fights


Strange cats: Feral cats are most likely not going to be around when you are out – they avoid humans and typically hunt during the evening and night time hours. Free-roaming pets or community cats present more problems. This is when you want to have your cat leashed.

Be attentive to your surroundings – your superior color vision can sometimes pick out strange cats before your cat is aware of them.  You may be able to put her in her stroller or pack  or take evasive action before there are any hostilities.

Monitor you cat’s body posture (tense, alert?) and vocalizations (low growl?) – these can indicate the presence of a strange cat.  Once your cat is aware of the stranger, AVOID picking him up.  Encourage the stranger to go away, while keeping a firm grip on the leash.

I have had a cat stalk us while I was walking Gus. I did encourage the strange cat to go away, verbally and with a well thrown pebble while keeping a firm grip on Gus’s leash.

Dogs


When I started walking cats around my townhome, I very quickly learned that many dogs are not well-trained – they escape their owners, leashes flying the breeze and make a beeline for your cat.

Offer the stroller or pack to your cat as a refuge.  Training your cat to sit when dogs approach can be helpful – if  your cat does not run, the dog usually will not chase them. 

Be calm and assertive to the approaching dog – firmly command them to “sit” or “down” or “stay” (common commands the dog may know).  Don’t turn your back on  on the dog; don’t stare directly at him.  Back away slowly. More tips..

Cars


Cars are terrifying – we need to get kitty into a safe place.

Train your cat to be picked up  so that you can hold her or put her in the stroller or pack. Cue is “up”, click  while lifting, and make sure to reward when you put her down.

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In my job as a veterinary technician, owners often tell me  “I can’t train my cat – food does not motivate my cat ”. ” My cat won’t eat his medication in a treat – he doesn’t like treats”.

Like people, cats are individuals – some are grazers and others will eat at any time. BUT… all domestic cats share common ancestry -Felis Libyca, the African Wildcat – and they have inherited a certain physiology.

The Behavior of Feeding


 

 

Cat on the Prowl
Marley looks for critters in the bushes

 

  • Cats have small stomachs and a short GI tract designed to digest meat.
  • They cannot wait until they get hungry to hunt – they will starve if they do.
  • Their lifestyle is one of being on the prowl most of their waking hours, looking for food
  • CATS ARE HARD-WIRED TO HUNT
  • “NEW PREY” IS A STRONG MOTIVATION

The free-roaming cat eats up to 8-10 meals daily.  The number of meals depends on the size of the meal – it will take a bit longer to digest a rabbit than a few bugs!

You say “Food does not motivate my cat”? What if we try to mimic the prowling feeding style of the wild cat?

Feeding 4+ Meals a Day


How much to feed?

Daily meals for a cat
A cat’s daily food ration – 2 meals of canned food with two puzzle feeder meals of dry food.

 

What your cat will eat in one sitting.

  • watch your cat – pick up and measure the food eaten when he leaves the bowl -OR-
  • offer a “2 mouse” meal of about 50 kcal

Feeding 4+ meals if you are not home during the day

  1. AM: meal feed: canned or dry food
  2. DAY: (2) food puzzles  with dry food
  3. PM meal feed: canned or dry food
  4. Snack at bedtime: Treats for training or play

How to Do It:

Use puzzle feeders/timed feeders

  • each puzzle has a “two mouse” meal
  • timed feeders with “two mouse” meals
  • some feeders can hold ice packs for canned food
  • “timed” puzzle feeders

 

Avoid leaving large amounts of food out.  While it is convenient just to top up the bowl, you don’t know how much your cat is eating.  Boredom can lead to self-soothing behaviors such as over-eating and over-grooming.

Food Security in Multi-Pet Households


My dog will eat the food puzzles

  • Food puzzles in boxes
  • Food puzzles in closets
  • Feed on counter or high places

My other cat will eat all the food 

  • Use a microchip feeder  Surefeeder
  • Feeding on different levels
  • Isolate cats when not at home
Move the puzzles and feeders around when you can. Once your cat is prowling to dine, he will be more interested in training treats and treats for medications.  Train and medicate BEFORE meals.  Find the treats he values or use his regular food as treats.

A timed puzzle feeder…

To train your cat to do a new skill, you will need to set aside a time and decide what you are training that day.  However, training should not always be something you do at a scheduled time with specific goals.

Training is a way of communicating with your cat, so training is a part of your  cat’s day.

My kitties wake up to a medication session. My oldest cat, Athena, is medicated twice daily. After having Zelda, the Maine Coon, dive in, snatch and swallow Athena’s medication, I decided to make training work for me.

Two Cats sit and stay

Medication Etiquette

  • I prepare the medication (getting the treat box and wrapping the pill in a treat)
  • Marley, Gus, and Zelda COME and SIT on the floor by the dining table.
  • Athena is directed to the dining table.
  • Marley, Gus and Zelda are then asked to STAY.
  • Athena is given her tablet which she eats most of the time. If not, I give Marley, Gus and Zelda a REWARD and repeat the STAY command
  • I take an extra minute to pill Athena.
  • Marley, Gus and Zelda are REWARDED for the stay.
  • Athena is REWARDED for taking her pill.
  • I give all cats the ALL DONE signal.

The medication etiquette uses 4 skills the cats have learned.

  • COME when called
  • SIT
  • STAY
  • ALL DONE

It is a real time-saver when medication has to be given and I need to get to work.

Other times training is a part of your cat’s day…

Off the table!

You can ask your cat to move from place to place with your finger or a target stick. Let’s say that your cat jumps up on the table when you don’t want her to. You ask her to jump down; she does and gets rewarded with a treat.

Cat waits for food

Sit and wait for dinner!

You can ask your cat to SIT and STAY when you are fixing his food. You may need  a few treats to keep the STAY going until his dinner is ready.

Behavior when you don’t want it

Sometimes, you turn around in a minute or so, and your cat is back up on the table waiting to jump down and get a treat. When training, we repeat skills several times to see if kitty has gotten the idea.  So, it is not all that surprising when kitty repeats his skills when not asked, hoping to cash in on more treats.

It may be better to ask him to jump down, treat, then have him sit and stay for the count of 5. Then, give him a treat and the all done signal to let him know the session is finished.

The all-done signal is very important – it means that you will walk away and there are no more treats for the moment.

All Done
The “all done” signal marks the end of a training session.
Of course, you must have reasonable expectations. For example, if kitty really likes seafood, it may just be better for everyone if you ask him to go a room and close the door while you fix the fish or shrimp!

Outdoor cat

Bringing a Wild Cat Indoors – A cat tale


This is a story about bringing a wild cat indoors. This is the story of Gus, a cat who was wild in a previous life.

Gus’s story starts in a neighborhood in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a young, intact male who wanders around hunting, fighting with other cats, and seeking mates. He is what we call a “community” cat – an outdoor, free-roaming cat who does not have a guardian.  He hunts mice and rabbits but also will eat food that some of the neighbors leave out for community cats.

Gus’s Timeline


  • Early March 2019: Gus is trapped with a live trap
  • March 5, 2019: Gus is neutered. He has a weak positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and needs to have an indoor home.
  • March 25, 2019: Gus starts taking fluoxetine, for anxiety and aggression due to anxiety.
  • Clicker and leash training begin in early June, 2019.
  • Gus is adopted on August 2, 2019. Owner continues clicker training and outdoor walks.
  • Gus is weaned off fluoxetine by late November, 2019.

Gus’s Caretaker at the vet clinic says…

“At first he was absolutely untouchable. I couldn’t enter his room without using a flattened cardboard carrier as a shield to protect my legs from his vicious attacks. As I moved through the doorway, Gus would try his hardest to escape by lunging, striking, and biting at me. Once I was inside, he would rapidly alternate between seeking affection and getting over stimulated. He would often rub up against my leg, become overwhelmed at the sensation, and then hiss, yowl or bite me in response.”

 

Medication and Behavior Modification


At first, fluoxetine just makes Gus sleepy and dopey.

Cat on behavior med

In a few weeks, he is allowed to roam freely around the veterinary clinic.  He is exposed to people coming in and out of the vet clinic.

Gus takes well to clicker training.  He begins to enjoy lunchtime walks several times a week.

Cat with Harness outdoors

Gus Today…


Gus is a member of a 4 cat household. He has been weaned off fluoxetine – his final dose was in late October, 2019. He is a little grumpier now that he is off fluoxetine. However, he is not aggressive toward his owners and visitors to the house.  He goes for once to twice daily walks on a harness with or without a leash.

Gus is different from his three house raised feline roommates – he does not sleep on the bed; he does not greet his owners with a face rub; he does not sit with his owners but prefers to nap in a back room.

Bringing a wild cat indoors is not always successful. What went right for Gus?


 

 

  1. Gus tolerated the behavior drug well. It reduced his fear and anxiety and made accepting his new surroundings easier. He got used to a variety of people at the vet clinic.
  2. Clicker training gave him a way of knowing what people would do. Leash training helped him grow accustomed to indoor life with some exposure to the outdoors he grew up in.
  3. Finally, Gus was a still a young cat when trapped. This gave him flexibility (social learning in cats continues up to 3-4 years of age). He also has a practical and unflappable nature which helps him with new experiences.

Cat Accepts pet piller

 

 

The easiest way to avoid the drama of giving your cat pills is to train your cat to accept medication. Establishing a daily “treat time” can be fun and rewarding for your cat. The idea here is to get your cat accustomed to accepting “fake pills” – treats that are wrapped in pill pockets, cheese, or liverwurst. When your cat needs medication, she is already used to accepting treat-wrapped things.

Getting Ready


  • choose the place and the time – try to go to the same place every day around the same time.
  • cats don’t tell time, so pay attention the household routine – maybe treat time should be after dinner time or before bed time.
  • Have everything ready when giving the “pill”. Have a chair or stool nearby to park treats and “prepared” pills on.  If you are giving a capsule, have some butter to lubricate the capsule.
You may want to train your cat to a particular mat or blanket that is used just for treat time!

Method 1 – Starting from Scratch


  • Lure your cat onto the mat or blanket using treats or a toy.
  • Once on the mat, reward with several treats and head rubs.
  • Work up to having your cat accept a “blank” pill in the stream of treats.
  • The next step is make a “fake” pill – break a treat into small pieces. Wrap one of these pieces in the pill treat, cheese, or liverwurst.
  • Put the doctored treat in the stream of the treats.

   Method 2 – Using Previously Trained Behaviors


 

 

 

If you have trained your cat to target and sit, it is easier to train your cat to accept medication.

  • Using your target stick (or chopstick or laser pointer), direct your cat to the “pilling” spot and reward her with a treat.
  • Ask your cat to sit and again offer a treat.
  • Offer your cat the “blank” pill followed by a treat
  • Work up to offering the fake pill.
  • End session with the all done signal and another treat.

Method 3 – Train Your cat to Accept Medication Using a Pet Piller


I find the piller particularly useful when you are faced with giving a capsule.

  • Start by offering a treat on the piller – you can start with having your cat lick some baby food or pureed treat off the piller.  This will get him used to having the piller in and around his mouth.
  • Offer hard treats using the piller; work up to using the plunger to put the treat in your cat’s mouth.
  • Accustom your cat to getting the treats off the piller with you behind him.
  • Give a stream of treats with the “fake” pill in it.
  • End the session with a reward and the all done signal.

Something to consider: If the medication you need to give is bitter, putting it in a capsule lubricated with some butter or petroleum jelly avoids risking your cat biting into a bitter pill.

It is a good idea to have your cat get used to you being behind him when offering the treat on the piller. This gives you more control when offering the pill and kitty will be more focused on the treat than on you giving the pill.