An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bully Cat Jack: Suzi' Series 4

Dear Greyce, You know I don’t like Jack. He beats me up and I am afraid of him. I would like him to leave. But I would like him to be placed in a good home. So I need to tell you more about his problems.

I think you might have the impression that Rijko and Jack are littermates or that they came to our home together. They are NOT littermates. Rijko came to our home first (and stayed in the guest room) and Jack joined about a month later (and stayed in the bathroom). Jack was so scared that he did not leave his cat carrier for two months! Then Herself decided he needed to join the rest of us or he would never be socialized. But unfortunately, that just added to my troubles with another bully on the loose.

Even though he has coordination difficulties because of cerebellar hypoplasia, he can climb to the sofa, the chairs and the bed. He cannot climb to the top of the kitchen cupboards (which is one of the reasons I feel safe there).

I think that Jack believes he is playing games but his games are very rough. He just rushes at his target and then he and his play buddy become a furious ball. For example, sometimes Rijko and he stand one against the other, stare and make male sounds, and their tails start to swish back and forth; next thing you know they have formed a ball and are rolling around on the floor together.

When no one plays with Jack, he roams the room making horrible sounds as if he is calling someone. Does this mean he is musical?

Herself assures me that Jack will be leaving but she has a dilemma. Since he attacks/plays rough with Rijko, should they be adopted out together? Or should Jack go by himself? Rijko is friendly and gets along with everyone. Jack is not well-accepted by cats but if he is adopted as an only-cat, will he be lonely?

And by the way, Jack loves to play with anything that is small and can roll.

Dear Suzi, You are a very compassionate cat to be so concerned about someone who bullies you. But you are right, Jack does have special needs. Thank you for letting me know that he came to your home alone, rather than with Rijko. He was obviously very insecure because he stayed in his cat carrier so long.

As you know, Jack has cerebellar hypoplasia, a lifelong condition. Such cats have poor coordination, abnormal gait and problems with perception. In other words, they may be wobbly, run in a zigzag fashion rather than in a straight line, have slight shakes or tremors, and have problems with vision. (Readers interested in the challenges related to this condition can consult a website in which people whose cats are so afflicted share tips.) Because of their difficulties, they are often nervous or unsure in new situations which probably was the reason he stayed in his cat carrier so long when he arrived at your home. This is a situation in which the Feliway diffuser would have been helpful. Herself could have plugged it in the room he was staying in, and it would have given him a sense of comfort and in this way encouraged him to start exploring his environment. Tell her to keep that in mind, that is, to use the diffuser in the guest cat room when new cats come to stay. It will help them adapt.

Jack’s difficulty in getting along with other cats may be because of his disability – especially if he falls over other cats when he is near them or has such poor coordination that it is difficult for the others to predict his movements. But I have read of several such cats who live in multi-cat households and get along with everyone, too. So there may be other reasons why everyone avoids Jack.

Jack is not a musician. I assume the noises he is making are what I would call mournful yowls – a most unpleasant sound. You mention that he does this when no one will play with him. That is because he is looking for stimulation. As you know, we have excellent sensory systems built for predation in the wild. While indoor environments offer us security, they need to also provide stimulation so we can exercise our senses and our brains. We are intelligent and get very bored and/or restless when we are not intellectually challenged. The solution in Jack’s case is to provide more stimulation for him in a way that doesn’t put the rest of you in danger.

At the present time, the only way Jack can get this stimulation is to chase and pounce on one of you. And that quickly becomes a fight. All cats can tell the difference between play fighting and real fighting. With play fighting, the cats take turns – one chases the other and then they reverse roles; they are friends right after play fights; and they never harm one another. In real fights, one cat is the aggressor and the other is the victim; there may be growling, hissing or screaming; claws are out and cats can be injured – there are tufts of fur lying about and sometimes blood; and after such a fight, the cats avoid each other. So there is a big difference between play fighting and real fighting. You know, I’m not so sure that Jack is just play fighting but time will tell.

I think we need another solution for Jack: play. But he may be hampered by his disability, which might make certain kinds of interactive play more difficult for him because he lacks coordination.

Here are some suggestions to consider. You mentioned that he likes small things and rolling things. He might also enjoy rolling a cardboard tube (the kind that is in the middle of a roll of toilet paper or waxed paper) along the floor. He might also enjoy straws or pencils because they are things that can be rolled as well. I made some other suggestions in my blog entry, Guys Just Wanna Have Fun (11/0/09) which might give you ideas. And instead of rough play, Herself might entertain him with a laser pointer (NEVER pointed at the eyes) or a flashlight. He could follow the pattern of the light as it travels the floor, wall, or furniture – as long as it is safe for him to do so.

At this time because of Jack’s behaviour toward other cats, he seems more suited to being placed in a home with no other cats. And since he is not used to other pets (like dogs) he should probably be by himself. He may be one of those cats who prefurrs his own company – as long as he has enough stimulation from a purrson and/or his physical environment.

I do not think it would be fair to Rijko to have to live permanently with a cat who always fights with him UNLESS Jack can learn better manners BEFORE they go to a new home.

While he stays with you, suggest to Herself that she take the opportunity to teach him proper manners. That will help him when he goes to a new home, regardless of whether or not there are other cats about.

I assume that when he is with the other cats in your home, he runs after one of them (probably mostly Rijko or you – likely because the others are either confident enough to put him in his place without fighting, or because they know better how to keep out of his way).

My guess is that you cats know when he is up to no good because he gives you plenty of signals (with his eyes, his ears, his tail and is general posture). However I think that either Herself may be busy with other things and doesn’t notice this, or purrhaps she isn’t aware of the subtle signals you cats give each other that are warnings that you are getting ready for a fight. And maybe she is at a loss about how to intervene before the situation becomes a fight. So make sure she reads my entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort. Urine Marking #4 (Jan. 26/2006). In it I explain the signs of aggression (before they become a fight) and what a purrson can do to prevent a fight from happening. If she needs more information about what cat signals look like, have her refer to Sarah Hartwell’s article, Cat Communication - Body Language ( ).

If Herself is willing to learn cat signals and intervene appropriately, I’m sure Rijko (and you) will be grateful. And it will be good practice for her in dealing with Sissi when you are ready to face her again. Don’t worry about that right now - that is part of a larger plan and you do not have to deal with her yet.