Cat behaving badly? Try these 3 steps to understand your pet
Figuring out what a cat wants is hard. They're trying to tell us, but often we don't know how to interpret their messages. Cats behaving badly can...
Figuring out what a cat wants is hard.
They're trying to tell us, but often we don't know how to interpret their messages.
Cats behaving badly can feel like a bad dream. They'll urinate in strange places — on toasters, on the bed, in your suitcase. They'll play with a human or cat friend one moment, and hiss and bite the next. They shred couches.
Cats are America's most popular pet, but they're also the pet people are most likely to give up on. They're abandoned and given to animal shelters at much higher rates than dogs. More young cats lose their lives to behavior problems than to illness.
But there are resources to help solve most cat-behavior problems.
Step one: A complete physical
"The first step is always your primary veterinarian," said Jacqui Neilson, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland. If the problem is physical, it needs a physical solution — which might be as simple as antibiotics.
Step two: Look for simple solutions
Once a physical problem is ruled out, owners must get some education. Common mistakes can be remedied, usually fixing the problem. Here are a few mistakes:
Placing the kitty litter box in a scary place. For example, many cats don't want to use a box near a thumping dryer.
Using kitty litter the cat doesn't like. Some cats don't like scented litter. Others prefer clumping litter.
Other common problems are not cleaning the box often enough, not having enough boxes (there should be one litter box for each cat — plus one) or using a covered litter box.
Sometimes cat-on-cat problems start when a new cat is introduced too quickly. The solution is to reintroduce the cats the right way. That means confining the new cat in a room and gradually letting the cats get acquainted.
Step three: When basic advice isn't enough
Some cases are too complicated. Then you need somebody like Jacqui Neilson.
Neilson had two years of a post-veterinary school residency in animal behavior and has written a book for veterinarians on dealing with cat- and dog-behavior problems. She has taught behavior courses and does behavior consultations in the Portland area.
This step isn't cheap: Neilson (www.animalbehaviorclinic.net) charges $220 an hour. Still, sometimes paying for a full range of skills is the least expensive solution in the long run.
Neilson analyzes the home environment and understands the dynamics of place, people and pets. Getting the solution right as soon as possible is important.
"Cats don't get a lot of second chances after they've peed on the bed," Neilson said.
So, what do cats want? Pretty much what the rest of us do. A safe place to live. People who love us. And when they're calling out for help, professionals with answers.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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