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Happy, bored, playful, worried?

There are probably times when you wish you knew what your cat thinks

From purring to hissing,
from playfighting to spraying, this
fascinating book explains
why your cat behaves
the way he/she does.

What is my cat thinking?
Gwen Bailey

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Dog Behaviour Problems
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Cat Behaviour Problems: People & other animals

Nervous or scared of another cat, person/people, or dog/puppy:

Scared of another cat - cat bullying & territory invasion

Question: We have a magnetic cat flap for our two neutered male cats. Recently, a tom cat has been coming in at first it was to steal to food, but now he has started spraying in the house.

As a result of this, both of my cats have become very jumpy at the slightest noise from the kitchen and do not seem to be able to relax as normal. Also the stink this cat has made is awful, in spite of repeated cleaning.

I have made a couple of attempts to coax the cat out so that I can take him to the local rescue centre, but he is not at all responsive to humans. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

Answer: If you are a cat, having your core territory invaded by a potentially hostile rival can be very upsetting. I’m not surprised your cats are jumpy and it is lucky that they have not started spraying too in an attempt to keep him away.

There are two ways of approaching this. Either you can find out who owns the tom and try to persuade them to have him neutered.

If he is not owned, you could borrow a cat trap from your local rescue centre so that he could be caught, neutered and rehomed, or, if all this fails, even provide him with food outside so that he does not need to come inside. If controlling the tom is not possible, I suggest you buy the type of cat flap that only lets your cats in and keeps out all others.

They will need to wear a collar that has a special mechanism that activates the lock and leaves other cats left outside. You say you have a magnetic cat flap, and I wonder why this is not in use. Perhaps you left a door or window open and the tom came in that way.

Try to keep all defences intact until you have solved the problem and clean the soiled area with biological washing powder solution followed, when dry, with surgical spirit to remove the smell completely.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Question: We have two seven-month-old neutered kittens who are brother and sister. They have always played a lot together, slept together etc however recently the female's behaviour towards the male has changed.

She seems to have become less tolerant with him, although she will play when she feels like it. She often likes to go and sit by herself and then gets irritated when he comes bouncing along. She also hides from him when she wants to go to sleep.

Of more concern though is the fact that she does not want to eat next to him anymore. She will go to the bowl and have a nibble but then go away and only come back when he's gone (unfortunately he is such a pig that there's not much left then).

I have noticed that once or twice when they've been given a treat he has growled at her and guarded his treat but I have never seen him do this with normal food.

Answer: Like most males, he is probably taking longer to grow up than her and so she keeps away from him if she needs to rest or is no longer interested in playing. He may also have grown up a bit stronger and may be more rough than her until he reaches maturity and so is less fun to play with than he used to be.

Don’t worry too much about this, although you could make more of an effort to play with him yourself so that his energy is diverted into playing with toys rather than pestering her. Of more concern is the feeding.

Make sure she is getting enough to eat and he is not overeating by feeding them in separate rooms with the door closed.

Only let them out when both have finished. Growling over treats is also normal and nothing to worry about, but it does indicate who is the strongest and more confident of the two.

Question: My 5 year old cat has recently become what I can only describe as depressed. He isn't eating, is drinking a minimal amount and has lost all interest in coming downstairs.

We recently caught another cat in the kitchen and thought that this was the problem. Even though we've washed curtains, walls, floors and everything else that can be washed, he's still behaving in the same way. Help! I thought he had gone off me because I am pregnant. I need advice.

Answer: He is very unlikely to have gone off you because you are pregnant. You may smell a little different because of the changes in your hormones, but this doesn’t usually affect cats adversely. It is much more likely that the other cat invading his territory has caused a dramatic lose of confidence.

Cats don’t deal with conflict very well and most cats try to keep their distance from others. Having another come into thier ‘nest’ where they should be safe can be very disturbing. You will need to block up the cat flap by taping a piece of opaque board over it for the time being so that he can see that the breach in his defences has been sealed.

Washing any areas that the visiting cat may have soiled with biological washing powder solution and then wiping over, once dry, with surgical spirit will help remove all traces of smell.

Then you will need to help him overcome his fear. Tempt him downstairs with food and stay with him while he explores. Be patient and let him run back upstairs if he wants to.

If you conduct this process slowly and carefully enough, he will begin to realise that downstairs is safe and you should begin to notice a change in him. Play with him with toys to increase his enjoyment of life again and treat him gently until he overcomes his fears.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Question: My adult, female cat who has been spayed, is being sexually harassed by a tom cat. It seems to have made her quite anxious and she is now defecating on the veranda (where she sleeps) rather than in her litter tray.

What can I do about this? Also, how can I make this tom cat lose interest in her and keep out of her territory?

Answer: It’s very difficult to keep other cats from attacking or harassing your cat. If the tom cat is a stray, perhaps you could catch him with the help of the RSPCA and have him neutered and rehomed.

If he has an owner, perhaps you could persuade him or her to have him neutered – an offer to pay for the operation may make them more interested if they are reluctant. If the owner refuses to consider castration, perhaps you could agree to a time-share arrangement so that you are able to let your cat out safely during a set period each day.

Talk to other cat owners in your area – are they having the same problem? Perhaps they may all chip in with the neutering fee.

Apart from this, your only alternative way to deal with the problem is to make sure that she has a safe haven to come home to by making sure the tom cat cannot get into your house.

Fit a cat flap with a device that only lets your cat in if necessary.
Put her litter tray in the place where she leaves her mark at the moment so that it is easy to clean up.

The fact that she has taken to leaving faeces in a strategic place, which is a very strong signal to other cats, shows the level of distress that she is feeling. I wish you success in resolving the situation.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Question: I have two cats and a cat flap leading into my back garden.
A cat keeps coming in, eating my cat's food and spraying all over the place.
I want to be able to get rid of the smell and stop the cat coming in.

However, my cats do not wear collars and therefore cannot have a magnetic cat flap.
I am also reluctant to change the flap because it is in a difficult place.

One of my cats in particular is very jumpy and does not feel safe in the house, he usually hides in order to sleep and I think it's because of this other cat.
Do you have any advice?

Answer: I am not surprised that your cats do not appreciate their ‘safe’ nest being invaded. Cats do not deal well with conflict and find it particularly difficult to cope if their safe haven is removed.

If the other cat only comes into your house for food, it is important that you take this resource away – then he will have no reason to come in. Feed your cats small meals at set times and pick up any remaining food as soon as they have finished.

It may take a while before the other cat stops coming in, but if there is no reward, he will stop eventually.

If, however, the cat comes into the house for other reason, perhaps looking for human company or just to explore, you may have to go down the route of changing the cat flap and teaching your cats to wear collars.

No matter how inconvenient, it will be very beneficial to your cats and may help to prevent them from developing other behaviour problems themselves such as spraying in the house to mark their territory.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Question: I have read your information on spraying in cats but it does not help me.
Ellie was a stray that I took in a year ago - I already had a neutered female cat who is not confrontational with other cats.

Ellie is very aggresive towards all other cats and spends most of her time in the window or garden lying in wait for other cats. In the house she spends most of her time stalking my other cat and fighting with her when she can.
I thought the problem would settle as they became used to one another but if anything, it is getting worse.

One of her favourite places to spray is down the brass fireplace which is in the room which looks out on to the garden and against a teak cupboard next to it which I now keep covered with an old towel. She also sprays around my hall, on the turn of the stairs and against the beds.

I have just had these places redecorated and carpeted so am desperate to solve the problem. I wash with a10% washing solution and spray with surgical spirit. I have also used a pheromone spray from the vet and put down tin foil.

Apart from the latter, which has had some effect, nothing else works. I realise this is a phycological problem, it almost as if she needs tranquillizers to calm her wound up > state and I almost feel as if she needs to be treated by the equivalent of a phsyciatrist. Please can you give me any advice what to do. I love her very much but my nerves and my home can't take much more of this.

Answer: Although you are doing all the right things, there is one thing that you are not doing that will make all the difference. It is, unfortunately, the one thing you cannot do and that is to remove all the other cats in the vicinity so that she can feel secure and unthreatened.

Sadly, your cat’s fear of other cats is so deep-rooted that she cannot tolerate them, will not settle with your other cat and finds the presence of cats outside too much of a threat to cope with without trying to make herself feel more secure by spraying strategic places.

Long-term drug therapy may enable her to cope (you will need to consult a pet behaviour counsellor who will be able to help you with this) or finding her a home where she does not have to come into contact with so many other cats may be the only solution.

Question: Two cats - sisters - now 2 years old. Rosie used to look after Amy when I first had them when Amy was extremely timid (both from Cat Shelter) - roles now reversed Amy keeps chasing Rosie from the house so Rosie is now frightened to come in. Any ideas? help!

Answer: Cats can detect subtle changes in odour and usually when something like this happens, it is because one of the cats has started to smell different.

This could be because of a trip to the veterinary surgeon, the need to bath one of them, rubbing up against a strong odour outside of the house or sometimes even being stroked by someone wearing strong perfume.

It is important that you make Rosie smell familiar to Amy again. Stop both cats from leaving the house for a few days and confine them in different rooms. Collect scent from Amy by stroking her with a soft cloth, and wipe it on Rosie several times a day.

Allow them to get back together in their own time, providing separate food and litter trays until they have both accepted each other again.

Question: My 7-year-old cat, Dusty, has become very depressed and is now petrified of going outside. The problem started with a neighbour's tom cat who chases her, but she has now become scared of every cat she comes across. She shows no physical signs of having been attacked but all she does is sit in her bed until I put her out to go to the toilet. Every time I go near the door, a look of fear crosses her face. Please help.

Answer: Tom cats can be particularly aggressive and territorial unless they are neutered and gentle-natured cats in the viscinity can sometimes find it easier to stay at home than to risk going out.

Sadly, the cat who is intimidated into staying at home usually looses all their confidence and freedom to explore and exercise outside and soon becomes depressed. The solution may lie in talking to your neighbour about the problem.

They may agree to having their cat neutered, or perhaps you could work out a time-share system so that your cat can go out at certain times when you can be sure the other cat is kept at home. If you can get this agreement, gradually coax your cat out, accompanying her on visits to the garden to give her moral support.

Hopefully, in this way, she will slowly begin to build her confidence and return to her old ways. If this is not possible, give her a litter tray inside so that she does not have to go out, and try to encourage her to enjoy life again by playing with her with toys.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Question: How can I keep local cats out of my garden? I have heard that there are certain essential oils and other scents that cats dislike. Any suggestions you have would be gratefully received, it's getting to the point where my two cats are scared to go out.

Answer: Anything that keeps other cats out of your garden is also going to be unpleasant or aversive to your own cats, so I don’t think that is the answer.

Cats are naturally solitary and intolerant of other unfamiliar cats on their territory so this is a common problem. Some cats are more confident than others and if your cats are unlucky enough to be quite timid of others, they are going to have difficult time coping outside their core territory when other cats are there.

Some cats deal with this by choosing not to go outside, but this isn’t always acceptable to them or their owners. One of the best ways of helping them out is to escort them to the garden on a regular basis to build their confidence.

Make sure they have an easy route back to safety if they decide to venture further on their own. Ask neighbours if they are having similar problems and, if there is just one or two cats that are terrorising the rest, perhaps you can work out a time-share agreement with your neighbours for letting them out so they don’t come into contact with other scary cats.

If a tom cat is terrorising the rest, making efforts to get him neutered may help. Cats like to hunt at dawn and dusk so confident cats are likely to take advantage of the territory at this time. For this reason, try to encourage your cats to go out at midday when other cats may be sleeping and provide litter trays in the house so that there is no need for them to ‘run the gauntlet’ by going outside to go to toilet.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding how to deal with other cats in the territory & their effects.

Scared of People:

Question: We have had our tabby, Molly, for approximately 18 months having adopted her from the Cat Protection League. She is much more trusting of me than my wife.

She is a very friendly cat but has not allowed either of us to pick her up yet.
When I have tries she struggles and cries and clambers off me but almost always immediately returns.

We get the impression that she wants to be picked up but will not allow herself to. Other than this she is very noisy.
Should we persevere or try to increase our attempts, or is she just neurotic?

Answer: It sounds as though she doesn’t trust you completely yet. Since we don’t now what has happened to her in the past, we can only guess.

If she is friendly, but doesn’t like to be held or picked up, I suspect that she has been well socialised, but has had some bad experiences. This could have been due to children picking her up awkwardly or teasing her or she could have had more deliberate cruelty inflicted on her.

Whatever the reason, it is important that you go more slowly with her so that she gains confidence in you. Try to find out exactly what it is she doesn’t like, e.g. being restrained (try it when she has all four feet on the floor), having her front feet lifted off the floor, having her back feet lifted off, being lifted off the floor above a certain height, being placed onto you as you hold her.

Once you have found out what she doesn’t like, gradually get her used to it but making little moves towards it slowly and often until she gets used to it, but never going so far as to pick her up until she is happy about it.

Make sure you are supporting her weight with a hand under her bottom when you lift her so she feels secure, and turn her round so she can put her feet on you.

If something terrible has happened to her in the past, she may never get enough confidence to enjoy this and you may have to be content to teach her to go into a cat basket willingly so that she can be lifted in that way when really necessary.

Question: I have just adopted my female cat who is 8 months old from a friend whose young children would not leae her alone. Because of this, the cat is very frightened and nervous.

What can I do to help her get over this fear? Also, she has never been outside before, what is the best way to start introducing her to the outside world?

Answer: Time and gentle handling will help. She will need to learn to trust you and anyone that lives in your household and it is important that you do not put pressure on her by holding her or forcing her to be with you.

Give her escape routes and let her get up high or underneath things for safety if she wants to. Put her bed inside a cardboard box with a hole cut in it for access so that she can get inside and feel safe.

Let her approach you in her own time, sitting quietly while watching TV or reading and have a plate of food near to you so that her approaches are rewarded.

Avoid eye contact, but talk to her gently. Make sure she stays inside until she is very friendly with you and all your family as, otherwise, she may run off and not come back. You could try to get her used to wearing a harness for her first visits outside, but if she is shy or nervous, this may not be possible.

If not, wait until she is hungry before taking her out for supervised visits to the garden. Let her explore a little before taking her back inside for dinner. Do this several times before letting her go out alone.

Don’t expect too much from her too soon as it may take many months before her confidence begins to grow.

Question: Our cat won't let us touch her. She's always seemed scared ever since birth.
Also she won't use a litter tray. I bought a self-cleaning litter pan but this hasn't helped at all. Is there anything we can do to overcome these problems?

Answer: The temperament of kittens is very dependent on the temperament of the father, and perhaps your cat had a father with a shy, reactive genetic make-up. Cats with a shy disposition that they have inherited from their parents are particularly hard to deal with and this may be why you are having problems.

She will need you to be very quiet and gentle with her to overcome her fears. Use food and tasty titbits to temp her near to you and don’t pick her up at first until she begins to trust you more.

Try not to look at her or stare at her as this can be quite threatening for cats. Make sure the litter tray is placed in a position where she feels safe.

If you have a busy, boisterous family, she may be better of in a more quiet, sedate home. If the problems persist, you may need the help of a pet behaviourist. Contact the The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors

Question: I was recently given two kittens, one male and one female.
Whilst the female kitten has settled in very well and is friendly and affectionate, the male is aggressive, hisses and doesn't like to be handled.
What can I do to improve his personality?

Answer: He may have different genetics (even if they are littermates, they could have different fathers) or he could have been handled less or had different experiences to the female. The important thing is that he is helped to overcome it now while he is still young.

Take things slowly, never forcing him to accept handling and contact. Let him take things at his speed and encourage him to come to you for games and bits of tasty treat. Feed him little and often and stroke him gently while he eats. Don’t pick him up or restrain him until he is more comfortable with contact, but begin to do so gradually as you build up his trust.

Eventually, work hard on sympathetic handling until he accepted being touched everywhere so that he can be easily treated if he is unwell or injured.

You may have to accept that he will always be a bit more reserved and less cuddly than the female, but there is no reason why he cannot learn to feel comfortable in your presence and relaxed enough not to be aggressive if you are prepared to take lots of time and have lots of patience.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding cats & people.

Scared of Dogs/ Puppies

Question: I have recently moved in with my partner who has a cat. My dog does not seem at all bothered that there is a cat in the house, but the cat is very scared and is simply refusing to come back into the house.

We have had them in the same room together, given both animals lots of love and affection and they have both fallen asleep in the same room, but then the cat will go out and just refuse to come back in. Please help!

Answer: It is not surprising that the cat is reluctant to come back in since a dog is capable of inflicting serious injury.

Even if the dog is good with cats, the cat does not know this and is taking no chances. The best thing to do would be to give the cat it’s own territory in the house that is kept separate from the dog so that it doesn’t have to go outside where it will be cold and where it may not be safe.

Perhaps you could have the upstairs as the cat’s territory for the time being and the dog can live downstairs. Provide the cat with food, water and litter trays upstairs so that she does not have to come down unless she wants to do so (it will be quicker in the long run even though it is tempting to force the issue to speed things up).

Make use of a stair gate to ensure they are kept separate without nagging and to allow the cat to come down if it wishes. Keep up your practice of bringing them both together in the same room when you are sitting down together.

Let the cat come down of her own accord, keeping the dog at the other end of the room, and coaxing the cat with the offer of tasty treats, games and affection.

Be prepared for it to take some time, possibly up to 6 months for both pets to accept each other. Encouragement, but not force is the way to speed it up.

You may like to read What is my Cat Thinking? for more information on understanding cats & other animals.

Also see Gwen Bailey's article on Ingredients for the Perfect Puppy

Back to Cat Behaviour Problems

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The Puppy Handbook/ The Ideal Puppy by Gwen Bailey