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.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tiggy's Trial

Dear Greyce,

I am an almost-two-year old, female tortoiseshell who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment in the city since I was six months old. I shared my home with an elder feline (eight-year-old male) named Oli who stayed with us for a year before returning to his purrsons. The day before he left, a hooligan named Nala joined the household. She is a feisty, three-year-old female. Since then my life has been hell.

For a few days, Nala lived in the bathroom. When she returned from visiting the vet, she was given the bedroom and I had the rest of the place. Themselves installed a screen door at the entrance to the bedroom; it was used when they were at home to help us two cats to get used to the sight of one another. But it was too much for me. I was terrified when I saw Nala and so I hid behind the TV cabinet for hours even when the door was shut!

Not too much later than that, I took refuge under the bed in the bedroom; so Themselves switched our living areas. Now I have the bedroom and that upstart has the rest of the place. You’d think this would satisfy her but she wants it all! She even ripped the screen from the door to the bedroom and attacked me. I know she wants to get rid of me.

Now the real bedroom door (not the screen door) is kept shut at all times. But she still tries to get into the bedroom anytime Themselves open the door. I have been under the bed for three weeks, though I’m now starting to perch on the furniture and sleep in other favourite spots there. I have a small cat tree but it is too low to the ground for me to feel safe here.

To tell you the truth, Greyce, I’d love to be out and about. I even scratch at the door at times. But I’m terrified of this invader. Nala sits outside and watches and sometimes scratches back

The only benefit Themselves can see in this situation is that I have become more affectionate with them.

Help me out of this mess, Greyce! Tiggy the Terrified

Dear Tiggy, My heart goes out to you. First you were brought into a household with a long-term temporary cat. At least he was a respectful elder and it seemed like the two of you got along. And then with nary a warning, the hooligan arrives and he disappears.

You aren’t even given a decent interval during which to adjust to life without him – and for your folks to assess whether or not having a so-called replacement companion was in your best interests – when Nala the nuisance takes over the household! Now your folks may have thought that a new, younger companion would be just what you needed; they may also have felt pressured to provide a home for Nala because she was immediate need. Whatever the reason, Tiggy, you have some challenges ahead.

Any cat whose territory has been drastically altered by both the disappearance of a trusted companion and then the immediate appearance of the cat from hell, has a right to feel violated. If I were in your paws, I’d be terrified to. Hiding under the bed is not a bad strategy under the circumstances.

Of course you are more affectionate with Themselves because you have become more dependent on them, both for the stimulation you no longer get from your former male companion or from the sensory feedback in the rest of the apartment, and besides their presence would give you a sense of security at a time you need it most.

The screen door was an excellent idea – while it lasted. Later on in the process I am going to recommend that it be used again IF Themselves can repair it securely; I suggest replacing the screen with metal hardware cloth (thicker gauge slightly wider screening which is much more difficult to cut with claws). Can you sent me a photo of that door? I’d like to see how much of it is screen because that will be important, later. In the meantime, make sure they start working on this repair/retrofit now so it will be ready when we need to use it.

But Tiggy, while you are waiting don’t think you can just take this lying down! You have work to do.

There are some other good signs here. I’m really pleased to hear that you are perching on the furniture and no longer hang out under the bed all of the time. The fact that you have moved from staying under the bed all the time tells me that you are gaining some confidence. Good for you!

Some cat prefurr to be near the ground with protective cover overhead. In such cases I advise making at least one other safe place in the bedroom that is not under the bed. For example, a hard-sided cat carrier or a carrier-sized cardboard box (with an entrance and a separate exit hole), or a small, low table underneath which you could crouch. Placement is critical: away from the door but with a good view of it (at ground level). If you don’t have such a view you will not feel safe. And some cats prefurr higher places. Is there a high shelf or unobstructed dressed with a view of the bedroom door, on which you perch? Your cat tree is only a few feet high; it is too low to the ground to feel as safe as a higher shelf might be. Can you give me an idea of how high off the ground you perch now?

I understand that your folks spend time with you in the bedroom and play with you. Play is VERY important because it helps you become less anxious. So insist on regular, daily play sessions with your favourite toys. You can try some interactive play with a fishing-pole toy, too.

Your Action Plan

The work I will suggest depends very much on you, Tiggy. Keep in mind that you ARE the resident cat (regardless of what has happened) and all must defer to you. That means that any integration (or re-introductions) between Nala and yourself must go at the pace with which you are comfortable – regardless of how much that upstart would like it to be otherwise. Let your folks know about your level of calmness and readiness through your eyes, ear position, tail and body posture. They are NOT to proceed with the next step until YOU are ready. Scratching at the door is a good sign because it suggests that you really would like to come out – safely.

Getting Ready to Leave the Bedroom

Since you are frightened of seeing Nala, you need to get to know her better through her smell. Scratching at the bedroom door is great progress. It means you are ready to take the next step (as long as you are relaxed) AND what I propose will give you the chance to spread your smell around the rest of your territory to maintain your claim to it. Similarly, Nala should spread her smell in the bedroom. In the long run, this will help you both work out appropriate ways of sharing ALL of the space.

The challenge, as you know, is getting Nala to cooperate.

Getting to Know Nala

Before you try this, have Themselves give each of you a play session (as long as you are in the mood). One human with one cat in different rooms – both at the same time, if possible. That way, both of you cats will be more relaxed and able to handle what is in store.

Now you are ready for the next steps:

Order Herself to get your cat carrier. I assume it is a hard-sided version and has a nice towel, blanket or soft mattress on the bottom. I also assume that if Nala used it, it has been washed out (towel, too) so that you won’t be faced with Nala smell off the bat.

Have Herself help you into the cat carrier and close the door. She will transport you outside the bedroom.

Meanwhile, Himself will be with Nala. His job is to entice her into the bedroom (this might not take much enticement frankly) and once she is inside, he should close the door and remain with her and be ready to play with and/or distract her, as needed.

So here goes. Herself opens the bedroom door and carries you (safely crated) to the larger area. Once Nala is inside the bedroom with Himself, he closes the bedroom door. Then and only then, Herself can open the door to your cat carrier.

You may wish to stay in your crate and if so, do so. But purrhaps a nice treat left a few inches from the crate will entice you to leave. Purrhaps you will feel free to get out and explore. You set the pace.

Some Tips to Help This Along

In any event, keep the session short so you don’t stress out. It can be a short as a few minutes to start with; aim for three to five minutes the first time. Herself and Himself need to pay attention to the signs that either Nala or you needs to switch back: agitated tail thumping/wagging, scratching at the bedroom door, etc. If both Nala and you are comfortable with more – go for it!

To end the session, crate up. Have Herself place your carrier (with you in it) on a table or stable shelf ABOVE the ground. You should NOT be on ground level where Nala can meet up with you directly should she dart out of the bedroom when the door opens. In fact, it might be easiest if Herself put a towel or small blanket over the door to your crate, to block you from seeing Nala at all.

Meanwhile Himself will entice Nala to the bedroom door, then open it and let her out. You are ready to be transported in.

Obviously Herself’s job is to carry you into the bedroom and firmly close the door before letting you out of the crate.

After all that hard work and ONLY if you have been relaxed (rather than agitated or frightened), have a treat to reward yourself. We don’t want either of you rewarded for fear or anxiety.

Just make sure the folks time your sessions, so they can slowly increase them (one minute at a time) on a session-by-session basis. Again you set the pace. If the first session was five minutes and all went well, then try 6 minutes the next time. If 6 minutes was too much, go back to 4 – yes 4 rather than 5 - and then add another minute to the next session.

Try a session a day. Some days (especially if your folks are not working) you may feel like having more than one session. Just make sure you have a really good break between sessions so that both Nala and you can fully relax from the hard work you are both doing.

Also let your folks know that it is okay if either of you use the other’s litter boxes, water dishes, etc. However, if either of you show any signs that litter box sharing stresses you out, then have them scoop the boxes as soon as you each return to your respective spaces. Someone else's pee or poop in the litter box is unacceptable to some of us.

I want you to get up to the point of being able to be outside the bedroom for about a half hour before we get to the next step. And that step would involve that screen door – if they are willing and able to get it into shape.

Let me know when you are ready to proceed and we will take it from there. In the meantime, just repeat to yourself: I can do this! I CAN do this!

Be brave, Tiggy and show your folks what a tortie can do! Greyce

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