Arden Answers- Cat Behavior Problems

May 8, 2008 | By Jill R. | Category: Behavior & Training

According to a nationwide study, almost 30 percent of cats were surrendered to animal control because of behavioral problems. This means that learning to curb your cat’s behavioral issues may keep her out of the shelter. From inappropriate urination to aggressive behavior, Pet Behavior Expert, Arden Moore, tells ZooToo how you can prevent the three catastrophic cat sins.

Q What are the three most deadly behavioral sins of cats?
Inappropriate elimination (boycotting the letterbox and urinating and/or defecating on the carpet or other places), clawing and biting people when attempted to be picked up or held in a lap, and scratching and destroying sofas, chairs and drapes.

Q Why are behavior problems bad?
Bad behaviors take a toll on everyone – the cats and their owners. It creates frustration and anger in people and causes a sense of uncertainty and confusion with the cat. Unchecked, it can be very expensive to people to replace destroyed items, consult behavior experts and risk possible lawsuits if their cat bites or injure someone. For cats, it can be a death sentence by being surrendered to animal shelters and euthanized if not adopted. Or worse, be tossed out on the streets and forced to try to survive on their own.

Q What are common signs that would indicate that your cat has a behavior problem?
Behavior problems do not typically surface overnight. They take time to grow and intensify. That’s why is it vital to set up household “ground rules” early – when the cat is first adopted and make sure that everyone in the home knows and follows the pet rules. To explain further, let’s examine three behavior scenarios:

Inappropriate elimination: Cats who fail to use the litter box and urinate or defecate on the floor or beds (even pillows) are prime candidates for losing their homes. One must be vigilant and maintain a clean litter box located in a cat-welcoming place in the home (not near a noisy appliance or in the damp, dark corner of a basement). Always work with your veterinarian and rule out a medical cause first before assuming this is due to a behavior reason.
Biting and Clawing: Frisky kittens who are encouraged to leap and pounce and nip hands and feet during play do not realize that these fast-moving “objects” are now off-limits when they become strong adults.
Scratching Furniture: Recognize that cats need to scratch to keep their claws honed. They also scratch to send out feline “emails” – scents from their glands. Avert the scratching-the-furniture syndrome by providing sturdy scratching posts and scratching trees for your cat and encourage her to use these items by sprinkling them with catnip.

Q What should someone do if they suspect their cat has a behavior problem?
Seek the help of a professional animal behaviorist. There are various levels of expertise available. For mild to moderate problems, consult a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org). For more severe problems, ask your veterinarian to recommend a certified applied animal behaviorist in your area.

Q How can I learn more about pet behavior problems?
Many common – and quirky –cat behavior problems are addressed in my book, The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey Books). This book was voted the best training/behavior book this year by the Cat Writers’ Association.

Q Can you tell us about a successful treatment of a cat with a bad behavioral problem?
A retired couple from Madison, New Jersey adored their 16-year-old cat, Winston. But lately, Winston seemed to be boycotting the litter box and eliminating on the living room rug. The couple couldn’t understand why Winston was suddenly “acting up” and were getting tired of cleaning up his messes on the rug. In questioning the couple, I learned that Winston’s eye sight was fading and that he was showing signs of arthritis. I also learned that the one and only litter box was in the basement in a dark corner of their two-story home.
Whenever there is a litter box issue, always first book an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a possible medical cause, such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). But in the case of Winston, the problem could be pinpointed to his fading eyesight and his fading inability to maneuver the narrow stairs down to the basement to use the litter box.
To avoid most litter box problems, heed this easy equation: one litter box per cat plus one extra. Always place a litter box on each level of your home. You want to make litter boxes easily accessible to ensure that they will be used. In the case of senior, arthritic cats, they need – and deserve – to have a feline bathroom that is convenient to reach on every floor.
Also pay attention to where you locate the litter boxes. Cats like their litter boxes in quiet locales that provide them with privacy – not in dark basements or near noisy appliances like the clothes washer. Select unscented, clumpable litter. Cats detest certain smells like citrus. Finally, scoop the litter boxes clean once a day. Cats are very fastidious and like clean bathrooms.

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