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.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting Used to Someone New

Dear Greyce, I am a beautiful, six-year-old female Ragdoll. I prefurr not to be touched by most people (though I do enjoy a morning massage from Herself). I fear loud noises (like when our roof was re-shingled) and get upset by changes in my routine. I used to live with an older cat (who was bossy especially when it came to food) but she is no longer here.

My Lovely Life: For a time, I had the house to myself. It has an open concept design (meaning that there are very few fully separated spaces, especially on the main floor). It has three floors: an upstairs where there are bedrooms, a main floor and a basement which houses my two litter boxes. On the main floor there is a kitchen, family room, dining room, living room and office which has a glass French door.

My routine revolves around my two favourite spots. During the day, I spent a lot of time in my first favourite spot: on the floor in the living room under the window between two potted plants. A cat tree used to be there but I no longer use it so it was moved upstairs (but I don’t use it there, either). When Herself goes upstairs in the evening, I follow her to my absolutely favourite space: her bedroom - and I jump on the bed. I don’t have access to this room during the day because Herself doesn’t want me to isolate myself which I am prone to do. In the morning, she gives me a long face, ear and tummy rub; I really like this time together. And if she has an afternoon nap, I get to join her again!

I don’t remember the last time I played on my own. Recently Herself bought Da Bird (a fishing-pole type toy with feather at the end) and I love it. We have a great time playing together.

So Greyce, I had my routine and everything in order and then another cat arrived!

The New Arrival: For the past five weeks, there is a new cat in the house. His name is Syd; he is a two-year-old former stray. He is very strong, loves to eat and play and uses his littler box faithfully.

Syd spends most of the day in his safe room – that office on the main floor, the one with the glass French door. Right now the door has a towel over it so we cannot see one another. I don't see Syd, just smell and hear him. I try to be curious. Sometimes I go to the door of his safe room but there is no way that I can put my paw under. Sometimes I hiss.

Most of the day, I retreat to my favourite place on the main floor (in the living room) far away from his safe room.

The door to the basement (where my litter boxes are) is very near Syd’s safe room. I have to be very brave walking by Syd’s door on my way to use my toilet. I could get there via the kitchen and family room but I would have to walk past Syd’s door. So I prefurr to go via the living room and down the hallway (which enables me to avoid his door).

Herself keeps me out of Syd’s room because she is concerned that it would be too stressful for me to explore it.

Syd comes out once a day for a few hours in the late afternoon or early evening. At that time I go to the basement or, more recently, the bedroom. But Herself does worry that I might need my litter box. Both places are safe for me because they can be secured, so there is no chance that Syd will invade.

Herself has tried to get us used to one another from time to time. For example, she put Syd in a cat carrier and leaves it near the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. Then I sit on the landing to the stairs.

Also to help me adjust, Herself has done the following:

1. To get us used to each other, Herself does scent exchange (rubbing me with a sock and then rubbing Syd and then rubbing me again).

2. Since I tend to go off my food when I’m upset, Herself moved my food dish from the kitchen to under the table in the dining room. Since then I have had no problems eating. I am a lady with good table manners; no gobbling down the food for me.

3. She was giving me Rescue Remedy (a flower essence mixture which is a dilute herbal infusion used for stress) for several days (five drops a day in wet food); but we didn’t notice any difference. Herself then talked to my vet and was given a prescription of amitryptiline (Elavil) for me. Should I use the both things together?

Problems Arising: Since Syd came, I have peed outside my litter box twice – both times when Syd escaped from his safe room and chased me. How can I get him to stop chasing me? I think we could be friends if he would just leave me alone.

Herself thinks it would help if we saw each other. She is going to put Syd in a big cage near my safe place. I will be able to see him but he won't be able to touch me. I don't think this will help because I will probably just find a new safe place where he can't see me. She wonders about covering three sides of the cage with blankets and then putting me in the cage. Being curious, Syd will certainly come to see me. Do you think this is a good idea?

Do you think Syd and I can ever become friends, or should he be re-homed? Tell us what you think, Greyce. Yours, Simone

Dear Simone, You are certainly in the midst of a grand adventure! If I understand correctly, Herself is following some of the instructions in my blog entry, May I Present? A Cat! At the risk of sounding pompous, it is important that she follow them to the letter. And that’s not because I think they are the very best (which, of course, I do) but simply because they are consistent, have a decent track record and are very conservative. This means that if followed carefully, they should result in you and Syd being able to adapt well to living together. From what you tell me, you are still in Phase One.

Please keep the following two points in mind. First, since you are the older and the resident cat and the most distressed by the new arrival, all change must go at your pace. Herself needs to pay careful attention to what you tell her by your behaviour and your body language. (If she needs help decoding your language have her look at my entry, The Pungent Scents of Comfort: Urine Marking #4. It is part of a series. Have her scroll down until she sees the section on body language.) You will show her you are comfortable when you do not react to Syd and/or you tend to ignore him – for example, when your pupils are not dilated (enlarged) as a result of his presence, when he and you are not engaged in staring contests, when your fur remains smooth (rather than on end), when your ears are in a relaxed or alert position rather that aggressively pointed up as per the body language sketches, and when you tail is not swishing back and forth or raised with fur on end. The introduction process goes in a series of phases. Before you go to the next one, you need to show Herself that you are quite relaxed. Simply put: If you are not relaxed, then you are not ready for the next phase.

My second point is to follow one plan and one plan only. It is very easy for humans to consult a variety of references and people and try to make their own plan by sorting through all the advice. And while that sounds like a great idea, it can backfire if the human in question doesn’t fully grasp cat behaviour and understand the principles and assumptions behind each recommendation. So please make sure that your human takes care in implementing the plan. And if you have any questions or things you would like to add, remove or change feel free to ask me before you implement them. Otherwise the plan will not work and we will both be raising our paws in frustration.

Where You Need to Start, Now

From what you have told me, you and Syd are not ready for prime time – meaning a face-to-face interaction in the main area of the house (even if one of you is in a cat carrier or large crate) because you are far from relaxed even when he is behind a glass door.

To get you both ready, I suggest we start with the towel over the door to Syd’s room. You have some curiosity and I think we need to build on it, safely. So start by raising that towel to allow about an inch of viewing area at the bottom of the glass in the French door. This will enable the both of you to see each other – but just a bit. If either of you becomes distressed by this amount of viewing space, then have Herself lower the towel back down for a few more days, and then try to raise it that one-inch again. Take your time.

Once you are fine with the towel being raised by one-inch, ask Herself to raise it another inch. Again if it is too distressing, the towel should go back to the previous level. When you are fine with it raised by two inches (and by fine with it, I mean there is no negative reaction from either you or Syd for at least two or three days after it has been at two inches), then raise it by another inch. Proceed in one-inch increments as directed, until the towel is high enough that you both have a full view of each other. Until then, I would not put you in the same room together – even if one or both of you is in a cat carrier or large crate.

In the best of all possible worlds, you will get accustomed to seeing him on the other side of the glass door. And in time, it won’t bother you in the least. You may even walk past the door, easily. That is the time when you can proceed with the next phase.

Now I know what Herself is probably thinking, “Simone already avoids that French door. This will only make her avoid it more.” And she is probably right for the first while. But given time, your curiousity is likely to get the better of you; you may even be brave enough to venture by. If after a week of raising (or trying to raise) the towel by that first inch, you are still reluctant to allow it, then see if Herself could gently play Da Bird with you near Syd’s door to entice you into the area. Of course it would be wonderful if at that time, someone else could be playing with Syd on the other side but I have no idea if that is possible.

Meanwhile continue with allowing Syd access to the main floor when you are in a secured space. It is important that he spread his scent around so you get the idea of shared territory. And if (and only if) Syd can be placed in another secure area (or taken to another room in a cat carrier and kept in it for a short while), you should be allowed to go into his room for a sniff and explore session, if you wish. That will help you become more comfortable with his scent, by mixing it with yours.

Also, during this time it is very important that both you and Syd get individual time with your purrson(s) on a daily basis. And I mean both a good play session (or workout) to help you both lower any anxiety you may have, and also a calming session (pets, massage, quiet talk) to help your distress. (And by the way, don’t worry that you don’t play by yourself much. That is typical of older cats. The older you get, the less interested most cats are in playing alone.)

Other Suggestions

Stop Scent Rubbing
At this point there is no need to continue with scent exchange via rubbing yourselves with socks. Your scents are mixing from time-sharing space. Besides if you are upset and Herself rubs your body, you will likely give off a pheromonal code that says, “I’m upset and anxious” rather than “Hi, I’m Simone” and that won’t do anyone any good.

Find A Way to Prevent Syd from Escaping.
I am not completely clear on how Syd managed to escape from the office. If it occurred because he ran out when someone opened the door, then I have a possible solution: Insist that your human use a large piece of heavy cardboard (a piece about 2’ x 3’ either cut from a cardboard box or purchased from an office supply store) should do the trick. Have your human put it in front of her as she opens the door, to prevent him from running out. It takes some practice to learn how to manage the cardboard and then enter or leave, but it can be done.

Now if that isn’t the problem and Syd escaped because he was let out and Herself thought she could control him - that is another matter entirely. I would advise that he be let out this way only when you are secure in a safe place (like the basement or the bedroom) where there is no possibility that the two of you will come into contact, or that he be taken out of the room in his cat carrier (or on a leash and harness IF and ONLY IF he is already used to one).

As for Syd chasing after you: I get the impression that he immediately ran after you. Did you do anything to provoke him?
How About Giving Syd the Use of the Cat Tree?
I wonder if you are not using the cat tree because there was no longer another cat in the house. Sometimes “only cats” aren’t interested in trees – especially if they tend to be scared and submissive; some such cats prefurr to stay near the floor.
So could let Syd have the cat tree? Either by keeping it in the family room where there is an interesting view to look at, or purrhaps even better, by putting it in his safe room and located where he can have a view (either out of a window and possibly through the French door). If you go for this, then I suggest that you continue to keep the French door covered but use a piece of cardboard instead of a towel. That way, you can keep the upper part of the window uncovered, so he can see out of it - but only when he is at the top of the cat tree – and still it should not bother you because you won’t be able to view that area. Again you will know better whether or not this will work, because you know your house and household better than I do.

Check with Your Vet
You asked about Rescue Remedy and Elavil. Your veterinarian is the purrson to whom you should defer on this matter.

Rescue Remedy can take a while to take effect. The usual dosage for cats is to start with one drop and work up to a maximum of four, and to start with that dosage once a day and work up to a maximum of four times (though most cats I know are fine with twice daily). So I am not sure if you gave the Remedy the time it needed.

Nevertheless if you are taking Elavil, then it would probably be best to take it by itself. It is highly unlikely that taking both at the same time will be better than just taking the Elavil by itself. And at least you would know exactly how the Elavil is or is not working for you and not concern yourself about any potential interaction.

Bottom line: check with your veterinarian and follow the instructions so given.

Re-think the Bedroom
As I understand it, Herself’s bedroom is your very favourite place in the house. While I can understand Herself’s concern that you not turn into a hermit by hibernating there for long periods of time, it may be the least anxiety-provoking space in your home at this time. So if you want to use it (and she is okay with it), by all means do so. BUT have her install a litter box there for your use – either in the bedroom or in the ensuite bathroom (if there is one). Because you don’t react well to change and are already stressed, it would be a great idea if Herself could buy you a new litter box for this purpose, rather than using one of the basement ones (because then you might worry that you only have one box downstairs where you are used to two). And don’t forget to have a water dish (or access to fresh water) in that room.

If the both of you (meaning you, Simone, and Herself) go for your using the bedroom more often, then it would be possible for you and Syd to time-share the rest of the house. He could stay in the office when you are up and about. And you could stay in the bedroom when he is up and about. Now I know you do that now (by having you stay in the basement or bedroom), but he only gets two hours at large. Depending upon household schedules and your own prefurrences, it may be possible to allow him more time at large while still keeping you feeling safe and protected. Think about it. It might make is easier on all concerned, at least in the interim.

Postpone the Large Crate: You Are Not Yet Ready
The large crate idea you mentioned is a sound one – but you are not ready to try it yet. When you have passed the raised towel at the French door test successfully, contact me and I will guide you through the use of the crate in detail. At that point we can determine who would be most suited to residing in the crate for the introductions.

Simone, I’ve given you a lot of detail and I know it will take some time for you to think it through. You can do this if you are treated with patience. Progress may start out very slowly but in time, things should get better. In any event, please feel free to ask for clarification or more information if you need it. That way we can modify the plan of action in a consistent way.

In any event, know that I am thinking positive thoughts for you and for Syd. Yours, Greyce

No comments:

Post a Comment