Cat Behavior Problems...

“Our experts offer solutions to top feline behavior problems”

by Arden Moore

Hilary Platt's favorite photograph took three years, some Prozac and lots of loving patience to create. At first glance, you see a happy person and her cat sharing a sofa and staring back at the camera lens. A closer look reveals the true dynamics: Platt's smile is one of relief. Vera the cat conveys a look of tolerance as her body leans away from Platt.

"This marked the first time in nearly three years that Vera allowed me to get close to her. This photo marks our major breakthrough," says Platt, who lives in Meridian, N.H., and had been the target of Vera's hissing, growling, scratching and biting attacks since she rescued the cat as a frightened, starving stray kitten along a rural roadside near her home.

Desperate to stop these unprovoked attacks, Platt contacted Myrna Milani, DVM, an animal behaviorist in nearby Charlestown.
"It was to the point that Vera was clawing me [all the time]," Platt says. "Yet she adores and worships my husband, Jim. I never encountered a cat like this."

Dr. Milani's solution: put Vera on Prozac temporarily and give her the cold shoulder. Ignore her. Other than feeding, watering and cleaning the litter box, the Platts were instructed to even avoid eye contact with their temperamental feline. Gradually, they gave Vera small doses of affection as her temperament softened.

"Dr. Milani taught us leaders initiate and followers react," Platt says. "I stopped being a follower and took charge of the situation. When she growls or hisses now, I don't yell. I don't say anything. I just walk away. Vera will never be a perfect little kitty, but each day she shows improvement."

Do you have a problem cat? One you love and adore, despite its drive-you-batty behavior? Does your cat create more mayhem, mischief and madness than you care to tolerate? Are you running out of options?

CAT FANCY solicited the help of leading national cat experts to resolve the 10 most common feline problems. The challenge, they said, is to find out what triggers the behavior and treat the cause, not merely the symptoms. Although each situation presents its own set of circumstances, our experts offer these remedies:

Catty Behavior No. 1: Avoiding the Litter Box

If your cat suddenly sidesteps the litter box and defecates on your favorite Persian rug or takes aim at the living room wall, get it to the veterinarian's office for a medical checkup. It may he allergic to the litter or have a urinary blockage.

If no medical problems are detected, your cat may be acting like a little stinker because the litter box stinks. Scoop out the contents daily. If the behavior continues, switch litters and boxes. And, don't overfill the pan. Keep the litter no more than 2 inches deep.

"Some cats hate those enclosed litter boxes because the urine smell gets trapped inside and they are vulnerable to other household pets that stalk them while they are going to the bathroom," says Roger Valentine, DVM, who specializes in cats at The Pet Allergy Center Veterinary House Calls practice in Santa Monica, Calif.

Other tips: switch locations and for easy scooping, spray the bottom of the litter pan with a no-stick kitchen spray before pouring in fresh litter for easy scooping, Dr. Valentine says.

Cats that spray walls and dampen carpets arc marking their territory. They may feel threatened by a new cat in the family, a taunting outdoor feline trespasser or heightened household stress. If you can't pinpoint the cause, put your cat in a large crate with enough room for food, water, blanket and a small litter box while you are away from the house, Dr. Milani says.

Clean up messes promptly. Stay away from cleaning products that contain ammonia because urine contains ammonia compounds that attract cats and encourage them to return and repeat a mess. Finally, place the cat's food and water bowls near the targeted spots because cats typically don't like to eliminate where they eat.

If you catch your cat backing up against a wall with a quivering tail, calmly walk over, push the tail down at the base with your finger and distract it with a play activity, says John C. Wright, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist in Macon, Ga.

Catty Behavior No. 2: Clawing the Furniture

Cats claw to spread their signature scent, shed dead nail tissues and to express anxiety, says Larry Lachman, Psy.D., an animal behavior consultant in Carmel, Calif. They aren't purposely seeking out your most expensive — or treasured — sofa or chair to curb their urge.

"Redirection and prevention are the keys to resolving this behavior problem. If you catch your cat in the act, startle it by shouting, 'No scratch!' or by shaking a can with pennies inside," Dr. Lachman says. "Wait a couple of hours and then redirect your cat to a scratching post sprinkled with catnip. Reward your cat with treats and praise when it begins to claw. Your cat will soon figure out that it gets rewarded for working the scratching post."

During this transition, heighten your chances for success by applying double-sided tape to the targeted furniture. Cats hate feeling anything sticky on their paw pads, Dr. Milani says.

Recognize cats want and desire something they can call their own. Donate an old chair, buy a durable scratching post or give your cat a thick log with bark for sharpening claws. Place the log vertically because cats like to stretch upward when they claw, Dr. Wright says. "Forget about those dangling scratching pads because they sway too much for the cat to get a good grip," he says.

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