Aggression between Cats
Two cats engage in a spat while waiting to be fed.

In spite of our best efforts, things can go wrong and our cats confront each other aggressively. You may have adopted a new cat and he escapes the room you are keeping him in while introducing him to your resident cats. Something may startle the cats, say an outdoor cat comes to the window and one cat attacks a housemate in a bout of redirected aggression. Separation is the immediate solution to these unplanned events.

Indoor Cat Fights vs outdoors


There is nothing as dramatic as a cat fight. Two cats face off, fur standing on end, yowling and spitting. Often, one cat may slowly move away, all the time presenting his side to the other cat (to look larger); his back may be arched. Depending on the motive for the standoff, the remaining cat may just stand his ground and allow the other to leave or he may pounce, and the two cats grapple each other, biting, clawing, kicking, and the “cat ball” rolls away until it stops and both cats take a breather.

Unlike cat fights outdoors, the indoor cat fight can be more aggressive and more likely that either a person or a cat gets injured as things are in such close quarters. There may not be the ritual posturing and howling of a territorial cat fight outdoors. There may not be the opportunity for one of the cats to get away and there is not the extinction in fighting that can happen once one cat leaves the other’s territory.

How do we “break up” the indoor cat fight?


  1. Move calmly and deliberately – avoid fast or jerky movements
  2. Close doors to the area the fight is happening.
  3. Distract the cats momentarily so that you can block them from seeing each other.
  4. Herd the cats away from each other.
  5. Lure the cats into separate areas (rooms) – put a door between them!
  6. When all is calm, evaluate cats and people for injury. Seek medical attention if necessary.

Resist the temptation to scruff both cats and pull them away from each other. You will most likely get scratched, and, worse, get bit. Not only may you require medical treatment, your bond with your cat or cats will suffer.

Scruffing does not calm an adult cat and can actually injure him. Many people have been bit while scruffing a cat – the kitten reflex is long gone.

breaking up the indoor cat fight


  • cardboard barrier to separate cats
    A broom can be handy to gently separate fighting cats. It you anticipate aggressive encounters, attach some cardboard to the broom.

    Distractions: Make a loud noise – shout, clap your hands – to get the cats’ attention. If a bag of cat treats is at hand, shake it. Try scattering treats on the off-chance it may distract them.

  • Block visual contact: Try to slide some sort of barrier between the combatants. This may be a broom, piece of cardboard, or a sofa cushion.
  • Herding/Luring: Once out of sight of each other, try to direct them away from each other by tossing treats in opposite directions. If food is unsuccessful, “herd” one cat (preferably the more aggressive cat) with your barrier gently away from the other toward a place where you can separate the cats by a closed door.

A towel or blanket can be used as a barrier, albeit a flimsy one. If you can keep some tension on the edges and target the aggressive cat, this may be enough time for the other cat to get away, for example, and climb a cat tree.  You can also try and cover the aggressive cat with the towel. Be aware that fighting cats are tense and coiled like springs – they move extremely fast and may just outrun your well-aimed towel.

Be careful not to succumb to the emotion of the moment – hitting either cat with a broom, cardboard, or cushion will not be effective.

if you have help


DO ask your “helpers” to clap their hands together or rattle pots and pans. Be ready to slide your barrier in to block visual contact as soon as the cats are momentarily distracted.

DO have your “helpers” open the door to a room where you can herd one of the cats to. If there are additional materials for barriers (cardboard, broom, sofa pillows), have them herd one cat into a room while you work with the other or vice versa.

Other tools in the indoor cat fight


Spray bottles with water – these can distract some cats but be warned there are cats that will keep going even if you soak them down. The spray also means you will need to get close to the cats and may be a casualty of redirected aggression.

Noise makers – Cans with pennies can be effective to startle the cats. Avoid the use of air horns – in close quarters, these will be really loud. You don’t want the cats to associate a traumatic event with each other.

Rattling the food container elicits a positive emotion – if you scatter treats, some cats may be distracted enough to chase and eat treats. Then you can lure them with treats into separate areas.

be proactive!


Materials to separate fighiting cats
A basket holds a towel, jar of treats, and a spray bottle of water. There is a cardboard barrier behind the basket.

If you are introducing cats or trying to correct redirected aggression due to, say, outdoor cats, have some “emergency” stations set up in areas close to where aggressive encounters may occur. Stock each ER station with:

  • A piece of sturdy cardboard  – you can make a “paddle” by attaching it to a pole. This will keep you out of the line of fire as you try to herd a cat.
  • A thick, large towel
  • A jar of treats and a can of pennies
  • A spray bottle of water

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dental xrays of a cat
A cat’s dental x-rays. Top row: upper jaw. Bottom row:lower jaw. Courtesy of CatTails Feline Health Center

We humans typically have our teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year. An annual professional cleaning is also essential to your cat’s health. But what about home dental care – what about brushing your cat’s teeth? And how do you go about doing it?

What’s in your cat’s mouth


Cats have 30 teeth. These teeth are designed

  • to hold on to prey
  • to slash and tear like steak knives.

What’s up front: Canines and incisors


The large “fang” teeth help hold on to a prey animal and “anchor” the jaws to deliver the “killing bite”. The smaller teeth between the fangs (the incisors) help hold prey but your cat also uses them while grooming – you may see your cat stop and “chew” with those front teeth to remove things from her fur or break up fur that is clumped together due to dirt and oil.

What’s Behind the Fangs: Premolars and Molars


Cats typically prey on mice, sometimes squirrels and rabbits. You will see the cat tilt his head as he chews on his prey. The premolars and lower molars help slash and tear up the mouse or squirrel into pieces the cat can swallow.  Unlike human molar teeth, these pointy teeth do not have flat surfaces for grinding and chewing food.

Home Dental Care: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


Regular brushing reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth and helps remove plaque, the bacteria-laden film that forms on the teeth and hardens to tartar in 72 hours. Cats, like humans, are also susceptible to the bacteria in plaque that migrate into blood vessels after infecting the gingiva or gums. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can effect major organ systems such as the heart and kidneys.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: what you need


  • Pet specific toothpaste: The VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) recommends the PetSmile brand,that works by dissolving the bio-film that forms on your cat’s teeth with hydrogen peroxide.  Virbac CET enzymatic toothpaste contains lactoperoxidase, and is designed to boost a naturally occurring anti-bacterial process in the saliva. These toothpastes do not contain fluoride and can be swallowed.
  • Toothbrush: There are a number of pet toothbrushes available. You may need some trial and error to find the one that works for your cat.

Although there are videos on the Internet showing cats having their teeth brushed with electric human toothbrushes, most cats will prefer a manual toothbrush. Human toothbrushes are designed for much larger teeth.

Toothbrushes for cats
What you need to brush a cat’s teeth: left to right: a cat specific toothbrush, a pet toothbrush, toothpaste, gauze squares

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Where to brush


Premolars on cat's upper jawPlaque and tartar tend to accumulate on the buccal (facing the lips) side of the cat’s upper premolars. Focus on these surfaces.

Your cat’s tongue has backward-facing barbs on it to help remove tissue from prey by licking.  We don’t often see tartar on the inside surfaces of cats’ teeth during a professional, anesthetized cleaning. The barbs on the tongue may act like a brush, reducing tartar buildup.

Four Steps to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


  1. Accustom your cat to having his head handled. Rub his chin with one hand and gently hold his head with your other hand. Your thumb will be on his cheekbone, your second and third fingers betwBrushing the Upper premolarseen his ears and your 4th and 5th fingers on his opposite cheekbone. Hold briefly, then reward him with a treat.
  2. Once your cat is comfortable with you handling his head, introduce him to the toothpaste. Let him lick this off your finger.
  3. The next step is to rub some toothpaste on his upper premolars with your finger while you hold his head and lift his upper lip. Make sure to reward him.
  4. Introduce the toothbrush. Focus on those upper premolars. Press lightly as if you are “coloring” a picture. Use a back and forth motion. Finish up with a reward!

My Cat Won’t Use a Toothbrush


If you can get through steps 1-3, your cat will still get some benefit. A recent study by Watanabe and colleagues found simply applying the Virbac toothpaste to the teeth reduced plaque, although not as much as brushing did.

Another way to clean teeth without a toothbrush uses gauze squares. The toothpaste is applied to the gauze and the teeth and gums are rubbed lightly with these “toothpasted” squares. There are also purpose-made cleaning wipes for dogs and cats.

Dr. Melissa Guillory, a former feline vet turned dentist, has a few tips for brushing your cat’s teeth:

  • Brushing seems to work best when instituted at a young age.
  • It’s nice to get the lingual (tongue) surfaces [of the teeth] but buccal (cheek) surfaces are most important – that’s where the most plaque and calculus accumulate.
  • Use a pet specific toothpaste (fluoride can cause GI upset)
  • It only takes 72 hours for calculus to form so daily brushing or every other day is best 🙂

 

A yearly professional dental cleaning under anesthesia with x-rays is essential to your cat’s health.  Between cleanings, keep brushing your cat’s teeth to maintain her dental health.

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Cat using food puzzleWhy slide a block aside to uncover food when there is food freely available in a bowl nearby? Psychologists call the behavior “contrafreeloading” – it refers to animals (and people) preferring to work for food when there is freely available food.

This behavior sounds counter-intuitive – after all, you would expect an animal to choose the option that requires the least effort. But psychologists and behaviorists propose that contrafreeloading is a manifestation of the SEEKING system – one of the seven basic emotional systems proposed by Jaak Panksepp, the father of “affective neuroscience”.  Affective neuroscience studies how the brain produces emotional responses.

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.

So the action of SEEKING can be more enjoyable than finding what you’re looking for. Think about those travel advertisements that tell you that “getting there is half the fun”!

Dogs, mice, rats, birds, monkeys and even humans have been found to engage in “contrafreeloading”.

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


A recent study by Mikel Delgado and colleagues enrolled 20 domestic cats to observe this behavior. They investigated the behavior of cats eating from a food puzzle versus eating food from a tray.  Cats eating from a food puzzle have to manipulate the puzzle to get the food out.

The cats were first trained to the puzzle by having increasing amounts of their food in the puzzle and decreasing freely available food on a tray.

  • At first, only 25% of their food was in the puzzle.
  • Once they started to eat some food from the puzzle, the amount in the puzzle was increased to 50%, then to 75%.
  • Three cats refused to eat any food from the puzzle and were dismissed from the study.
  • Cats were exposed to the equipment for 4-12 days before testing.

Cats underwent 2-4 trials a day, no less than 2 hours apart. The puzzle and the food tray were placed next to each other, and were the same distance from the cat. The cat’s daily food ration was divided equally between trials. In each trial, the food was divided up equally between the puzzle and the food bowl.

Cats are freeloaders!


Half of the cats ate less than 10% of their food from the puzzle. All of the cats ate most of their food from the tray – no cats were strong “contrafreeloaders”. Eight cats were definitely “freeloaders” – the rest seemed willing to do some contrafreeloading. Although a number of cats approached and sniffed the puzzle first, all the cats ate from the tray first. 

Cats seem to be one of the few species that does not seem to be inclined to work for their food in a captive environment. But cats have been known to STOP EATING to hunt prey – that certainly involves working for food!

why are cats freeloaders?


Cats eating from a food puzzle are engaging in “foraging” behavior.

Cats are solitary predators

  • They must conserve their energy for the energy burst needed when hunting
  • They are not above scavenging a free meal
  • Maybe it makes sense to a cat to eat some of the “free food” first before putting energy into foraging?

Is hunting more “fun”?

  • Is the SEEKING system stronger for cats when they hunt compared to when they forage? 
  • Do their brains release more dopamine when they are stalking, pouncing and chasing?
  • Do their brains release less dopamine when they are foraging?

cats eating from a food puzzle


Does this mean you should not bother offering your cat food puzzles for enrichment? No – food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

training your cat to use a food puzzle


  1. Start by offering 25% of the meal in the food puzzle and 75%  in a bowl or tray. 
  2. When your cat is eating some of the food in the puzzle, increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 50% and decrease the amount in the bowl to 50%.
  3. Increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 75%; decrease the amount in the bowl to 25%
  4. When your cat is eating most of his meal in the puzzle, offer him the puzzle only.

A demonstration can help your cat learn. Cats are able to mimic the actions of humans and they are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies.

selecting a food puzzle


Cats using a puzzle feeder
Two cats using the Catit Food Tree.

 

There are many food puzzles you can make or purchase. Start your cat with a “beginner” puzzle and see what he likes to do. My ex-feral cat, Gus, easily mastered the Catit “Food Tree” but it was almost a year or so before he was willing to try a flat panel puzzle where he had to move pieces to uncover the food.

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

You may want to make some puzzles first to find out your cat’s preferences before purchasing one. Visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com!

 

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Giving your cat a pill can be a challenge for many cat owners. Often, the pills are bitter or seem too big. The veterinary staff demonstrates the technique but when you get home, you end up with a cat under the bed and the pill on the floor!

I had medicated cats before I became a veterinary technician, using a plunger style pet piller. In tech school, I adopted a 3 yr old Birman cat, Marley, who needed a daily dose of medication for anxiety. It was a daily struggle giving that little blue pill, which could end up in his mouth, but I often found it under the bed or in the hallway on the floor.  Marley would see the pet piller in my hand and run.

Giving your cat a pill – daily medications


So, I cringed when my cat Athena was found to be hypothyroid after radioactive iodine treatment. She needed thyroid pills twice a day. She is a cat who could be difficult to handle alone. However Athena liked the soft treats the pill was hidden in, and life was good, for a time….

After a while she tired of the pill treats and we were back to the drawing board. I turned to some low stress techniques –  I first offer Athena a treat, then the treat-coated pill, and follow with a few more treats.  When I adopted Zelda and Gus, who will eat anything that is not locked up, I finally trained all the cats to sit in a circle and stay, while Athena takes her medication. Then all the cats get treats!

I still have to “pill” Athena occasionally – she does not like having something slid down her throat and quickly goes back to eating the pill by herself. 

cat whispering – pill training


Giving your cat a pill for a chronic condition can be different than medicating her when she does not feel well. Say she is diagnosed with pancreatitis or an upper respiratory infection. Either one of these can reduce appetite and then your cat is not interested in treats. This is when having done some “pill training” comes in handy.

If you are doing a treat time every day or a treat time a few times a week, mix it up a bit and give some treats using “pilling” techniques.

A Pet Piller to give medication
A pet piller with a hard treat.

Treats by Pet Piller

  • Start by offering your cat the pet piller with a lickable treat on it.
  • Then try offering hard treats using the piller
  • Get your cat accustomed to having you behind him while giving treats.
  • When your cat needs medication and he is not well enough to take it in treats, the pet piller will be familiar.

 

Giving your cat a pill – think outside the box


Sometimes, you need to think outside the box when giving your cat a pill. A few months ago, my youngest cat, Gus, got loose with his harness and leash on when we were hiking. After 2 hours, we found him – his harness and leash were gone, and he was painful when walking. An MRI of his spine showed lots of inflammation but fortunately, no nerve damage. He was so painful that he would growl when he changed positions. His appetite was down and taking a pain medication in a treat was not an option.

I considered using the pet piller since he is familiar with it but then decided to try a technique I had recently seen at a conference on senior cat care. This technique uses one of the popular “squeeze up” treats for cats that come in tubes (Delectables, Churu).

Cut the end of the tube so that you can squeeze the paste up for the cat to lick.

Put the tablet or capsule in the opening.

Squeeze the tube and the tablet goes up into the cat’s mouth with the paste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

giving your cat a pill – practice makes purrfect!


Why wait until your cat is sick to come up with a strategy for giving your cat a pill? Do some “pill training” – set aside some time to accustom your cat to different ways of taking “pills” (disguised treats).  When the time comes to give that pill, your cat will be familiar with the pet piller or squeeze-up treat and you will have had some practice with pilling.

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About a week ago, we had invited family members to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Appetizers had been set out to snack on prior to the main meal. There was a cheese and cracker plate, with an open box of crackers on it, where folks could serve themselves, taking a cracker and a slice of cheese.

As we were eating dinner, I happened to look over to the counter with the cheese plate. Gus had gotten up on the counter, and was helping himself to a cracker. He very carefully selected a single cracker with his mouth without disturbing the other crackers, the plate or the box. He then carefully backed away to nibble on his prize.

What struck me was that he only took one cracker, he did not paw at the box or knock it on the floor. Had he been watching us? Can cats learn from us?

Trial and Error Learning


A cat presented with a treat ball containing treats for the first time will examine and smell the ball thoroughly, then perhaps nudge it with her nose while continuing to smell the ball. If some treats come out, the cat may then try nudging the ball again or try pawing at it. With each trial, the cat will refine her method of obtaining treats.

Social Learning – Can cats learn from us?


Cats can also learn by watching other cats do things – kittens watch their mother attentively as she manipulates prey and chooses things to eat. Their later success as hunters and the food preferences they develop reflects this instruction.

For the cat, other species are worth watching too – for example, humans, dogs and raccoons may give some invaluable lessons in manipulating doors to reach food or desirable places.

A cat will learn to use a microchip feeder or food puzzle faster if a patient owner sits by with treats and demonstrates the feeder or puzzle operation, speeding up the trial and error process.

“Do As I Do”


“Do As I Do” is a fairly new training method for dogs developed by Claudia Fugazza at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. In the “Do As I Do” method, an owner will demonstrate a behavior to her dog and then ask him to repeat it.

Can a cat “Do As I Do”?


In 2019, Dr. Fugazza decided to test this kind social learning in a cat. Her subject was an 11-year-old female cat, called Ebisu. Ebisu lived with her owner, Fumi Higaki, in Ichinomia, Japan. Fumi Higaki is a professional dog trainer, experienced in the “Do As I Do” method for training dogs.

Training Ebisu was a two-step process:

  1. First, Ebisu learned that the “Do It!” command meant that she should copy what her owner had done. The owner used three behaviors that Ebisu already knew to train the “Do It” command. For example, the owner would twirl around, then give Ebisu the “Do it!” command and also give Ebisu the verbal cure to twirl around.
  2. Next, the owner demonstrated three other behaviors that Ebisu was familiar with and gave her the “Do It!” command without the verbal cues. Once Ebisu successfully imitated her owner, she was ready to learn some new behaviors by copying her owner.

Ebisu successfully learned two new behaviors through imitating her owner:

  1. Sliding a lid on a container to open it – Ebisu succeeded on the first try!
  2. Placing her forearms on a book.

At this point, Ebisu was judged ready to be tested and two new behaviors were assessed in 18 test trials:

  1. Placing her paw on a box
  2. Rubbing her face on a box

During these trials, Ebisu mimicked her owner 80% of the time.  Fumi would put her hand on the box (or rub her face on the box).  She would then tell Ebisu to “Do It!”, and Ebisu would put her paw on the box (or rub her face on the box).

So what do we learn from this?

  • Cats are able to mimic the actions of a human.
  • They are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies – for example, the human touches a box with her hand and the cat touches the box with a front paw.

So, it is worthwhile for us to demonstrate the operation of food puzzles, automatic feeders, cat doors…to help our cats learn how to use these devices.  It should speed up the learning process!

Back to “cracker snatcher” Gus…can cats learn from us?


I really don’t know if Gus learned to pick out a single cracker by watching people but it’s fun to think that he did. And, not having opposable thumbs, he was not able to pick out the cracker with a paw but instead extracted it with his mouth, adapting the action so that he could perform it successfully!

Here is Gus with the box of crackers. Enjoy the video!

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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!

 

 

Your cat’s carrier should be his castle. His carrier should be a place of safety and comfort, a little piece of home away from home. Cats are territorial and are attached to their territory.  When your cat travels, the stroller, backpack or carrier is part of his territory – it has his scent and is a “safe place” for him.

You may need different carriers depending on what you are doing.  Strollers and backpacks are more suited to walking or hiking with your cat. A kennel-style cat carrier is better for extended car travel and veterinary visits.

Cat in hard kennek
The top comes off this hard kennel, making it easy to load Gus in the carrier.

There are many kennel-style cat carriers that you can buy. Here are some tips when choosing a cat carrier that you plan to use for extended car travel or vet visits.

  • the carrier should be large enough for your cat to stand up and turn around.
  • it should have a rigid frame so that it does not collapse on your cat.
  • it should be easy to take apart or have more than one opening where you can easily remove your cat from the carrier
  • easy to clean
  • make your cat feel safe and secure – like a wildcat’s den

Tips for Choosing a Cat Carrier for Car Travel and Vet Visits…


Hard, plastic carriers


  • come in lots of sizes.
  • many have detachable tops which makes getting your cat in and out easy
  • they are easy to clean
  • can be covered with a blanket or towel to make your cat feel secure

Flexible, fabric carriers


  • attractive and are not as bulky as the hard plastic ones
  • some of these carriers tend to collapse in on your cat and are not as comfortable for him to stay in for longer periods of time
  • more difficult to clean than the hard, plastic kennels

Even if the carrier is rigid and has a top panel that zips open or unlatches, it can be difficult to put the cat in when he doesn’t volunteer to go in on his own. It can be hard to fit your cat and your hands through the top panels. Some fabric carriers have a zippered front and side mesh panels, making loading and unloading a bit easier.

Choosing a cat carrier that comes apart into two sections – a top and a bottom – can be really handy. If you need to get the cat out of the carrier, you can remove the top half and gently pick him up out of the bottom. You can put him back in the carrier in the same way. Your veterinarian can examine your cat in the bottom half of the carrier, where he feels safe. The bottom half can double as a basket to sleep in.

Fom the feline purrspective… being dragged bodily out of a place you are sheltering in is confusing and frightening. Be aware that a cat may feel threatened if you have to drag him out and may strike or even bite.

Choosing a Cat Carrier…Make your Cat’s Carrier His Castle


 

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME


Leave the carrier out at home and let your cat nap and play in it. Place it in a “neutral” area – away from food and litter boxes.

 

PURRSONALIZE THE CARRIER


Place a towel or blanket that has your cat’s smell in the carrier. Put some of his favorite toys and treats in the carrier.

 

FUN AND GAMES


You can also play games with your cat in and around the carrier. If your cat is fond of “treat toss” (tossing treats that kitty “hunts” down), make sure some treats go into the carrier during the game.

 

TAKE KITTY FOR CAR RIDES THAT DON’T END UP AT THE VET.


Start with short rides, maybe just around the block. Work up to longer rides to pleasant places – if you have a cat stroller you could work up to going for walks in the park. Remember, always move at your cat’s pace – if he is hunched and hiding, slow down and shorten the length of the ride until kitty is comfortable. Ask your vet about treating carsickness if your cat is prone to it.

 

CLEAN AS A WHISTLE


Clean your cat’s carrier regularly. When you are finished, spray the carrier and the bedding inside with Feliway, a synthetic feline pheromone that tells your cat that this a safe place. Make sure to give enough time for the alcohol in the spray to dissipate before using the carrier – 20 minutes should do the trick!

A Cat in his carrier
Marley is “king of his castle”!

Car travel – where to put your cat’s carrier in the car

The Center for Pet Safety recommends placing your cat’s carrier behind the front passenger seat or driver seat.
Crash tests have shown that the seatbelt used to secure a carrier can actually crush it in an accident.
Unless the manufacturer can show you that the carrier survives a crash test buckled up, don’t use the seat belts with your cat’s carrier. 

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!