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.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eli the Cat: Unhappy? Lonely?

Dear Greyce,

I have a lot of questions for you:
1.  Am I normal?
2.  Is there anything you can suggest that would better my situation?
3.  Do you think a new kitten is a good idea . . . for me?
4.  What should I do about those toms who come into MY yard?

Of course, you'll want some background. So here goes: I am a robust, hirsute, black-and-white neutered male of 2.5 years. At a very early age I spent time wandering the streets, all grubby and scared. Thankfully I was rescued.

For the past 2 years I've been king of a two-floor, two-bedroom home with a cat flap for brief outdoor forays to do my business. Yes, Greyce, I have a litter box but I've never really enjoyed using it when there is lovely earth outside that suits my purposes so well.

I am well attended by two purrsons, Herself 1 and Herself 2. #1 works full-time away from home; #2, part-time. They give me plenty of attention in the evenings and on weekends.

My interests are eating and sleeping. 

Kibble is my passion. My veterinarian believes me to be overweight. I'm a mere 6 kg - only 13 pounds American, and so I'm on a paltry 60 grams (2/3 cup) a day of Hills R/D crunchies. Instead of being allowed to freely indulge (in which case I'd just hoover the whole thing up at once), I'm fed three times a day at set times. When Themselves are away during the day, my food is dispensed via a timer.

About two hours before feeding time, I become grumpy and jumpy. My ears go back and my pupils widen. If Themselves are in the living room, I start lightly scratching the sofa corners, even the area behind my scratching post. Then I pause with claws still in. If they are in the dining room, I start on the wicker chairs there. 

I know they are going to say something as they don't want me wrecking their furniture. I hear a sharp, short, and loud "AH" or they start of more (maybe just slightly). When I hear Themselves approach or They move ever so slightly, I run to my food bowl with a cheerful wrruupp and sit patiently. When They don't come, I go back to the scratching spot and try again. 

They don't give in. So I just wait until it's time to be fed and then purr while I eat. Once I'm fed I retire to the nearest lap or resting place.

By the way: I have an allergy which (depending upon whom I've consulted) is related to fleas (in spite of the appropriate precautions) or something else. I take a tablet a day of an antihistamine and so no longer gnaw the fur around the base of my tail . . . much. And when I do, Themselves distract me and I am fine.

Oh yes, my other interest is sleeping. 

Basically I am sedentary. I like to sit on laps. I do play on occasion though I usually don't demonstrate strong interest. And I don't indulge in those energetic bursts that many cats have. The only thing I will run for is food!

I have a penchant for the colour red, and so Themselves have provided a fishing pole toy with red ribbons. I also like red straws (my favourite). The straws are short which means I sometimes accidentally scratch Themselves instead of the straws. But mostly I just watch the straws being moved, rather than trying to grab them now. 

With my interest in food, you might thing I'd enjoy a treat ball. Instead I made Themselves use it and I just follow along and vacuum up the food. New toys may interest me for one round and then I will have little or nothing to do with them. You can keep the laser pointer and catnip for all I care. Empty boxes don't interest me, either. A new bag is something that merits a sniff before I leave it alone forever.

My favourite thing is my bed. And a close second is sneaking into the bedroom and curling up at the bottom of the bed. 

And yes, I watch out the windows. I like to watch. Sometimes I just stare at Themselves and they think I'm plotting some sort of devious plan - especially when I sit upright and stick out my manly chest.

Except for my small eating problem, all is well.

A New Cat

About a year ago, Indie arrived: a tortie kitten with bundles of energy and lots of affection. I was less than impressed. 

Once she came, I wasn't interested in playing or being cuddled. I was grumpy towards Themselves, slept most of the day, and avoided the newcomer. However I did enjoy sneaking her food.

Indie died unexpectedly at age 10 months; after about a week I started to return to my old self. So here I am - feeling better as the only cat in the household.

Now Herself 1 wants a more affectionate cat to cuddle and pick up. I other words, she wants a kitten. She says I could use a companion but Herself 2 is not as convinced. She is worried that the newcomer might upset me. She'd like me to be a happy cat who is interested in life and likes to play. Right now she would characterize me as a sedentary loner. And she wonders if this is normal.

Strangers in the Yard

Admittedly, there is a concern about the number of toms who visit MY territory.  Mostly I just watch them. However Herself 2 is concerned that one of them might join me inside, through my cat flap and then . . .?
 I've had a few growl exchanges but nothing major, yet. But Themselves are worried that I might become afraid to go outside in my own yard.

So Greyce, have a look at those questions I posed at the beginning and get back to me when you can.

With thanks,

Dear Eli,

For a cat who doesn't like much other than eating and sleeping, you are certainly full of questions. And you have, of course, come to the right place for answers. I'm going to focus on your first two questions in this blog entry. I'll respond to the others later.

You asked: Am I normal?

Well dear, of course you are. Just like humans, we cats come in a variety of shapes, energy levels and purrsonalities. You ARE a cat. You behave like a cat. You are eating well (okay, purrhaps, too well). You are in good health. You have an interest in life (albeit somewhat limited). What more is there to say?

Well, I suppose I should expand so you can share this information with your purrsons.

Who you are is the product of many influences:
- Genetics which is why I always say, 'choose your parents wisely'.
- Your Mom's nutrition while you were in her tummy and when she was feeding you.
- Your own nutrition early in life
- The kind and amount of stimulation you received from your environment, your siblings and Mom, at least for the first 12 weeks or so of life.
Scientists aren't certain about which factors contribute the most to the resultant purrsonality and we don't know much about your background - though I gather you may have been on your own far too soon.

Those who study our superior species say that each of us has a behavioural style that can be classified along a number of dimensions:
Emotionality - from highly reactive (nervous) to mellow (relaxed).
Sociability - from very unfriendly to very friendly (with respect to humans and with respect to our fellow cats).
Activity - from sedentary to active, alert and curious.
Coping Strategy -  from passive means (such as withdrawal) to active (confrontation).

Based on this I would say that
- you are neither highly nervous nor completely mellow,
- you are somewhat friendly to your purrsons though you lack a strong interest in others of your species,
- you are very sedentary, and
- when faced with challenges you tend to use passive coping strategies, such as withdrawal and avoidance.
This is just who you are.

The problem is that purrsons often have a different idea of what a cat is like. One the one hand, most would like a feline companion who needs lots of contact with people, likes other cats and is generally relaxed amongst his or her human and non-human peers. You, on the other hand, are a more discerning cat who limits his human enjoyment to one or two purrsons and isn't much interested in forming bonds with others of your species. I'll bet that the more you purrsons try to give you affection, the more you withdraw. Again, that's just who you are.

In such situations, it is not unusual for any of the following to happen:
1. Your humans conclude that you must be unhappy because you are not behaving in a manner in which they expect, especially when they shower you with fine resources (such as toys) and loads of affection.

2. Your humans assume that your lack of interest in the world around you (minus, of course, your passions for food and bed) means that you are missing the companionship of one of your own kind. And so they propose a cat companion.

3. Your humans would prefurr a more sociable pet. And knowing that you are not going to become more so, they propose a cat companion.

What to do?

Regarding 1 (above): Tell your humans that you are who you are and you are purrfectly happy being so. Encourage them to bond with you on your own terms. Encourage them to get a copy of Claire Bessant's  The Cat Whisperer: The Secret of How to Talk to Your Cat. It is an excellent introduction for humans to our world and offers a host of tips by which to improve the human-feline bond.

Here are some strategies your purrsons can use to increase their bond with you:

Bonding through Food

Usually one would suggest that your purrsons offer you more frequent, small meals since you adore food and that would make them more attractive to you. I, too, have munched on R/D so I weighed 20 grams of it (one of your portions) and counted 190 individual kibble bits. "Aha!" I exclaimed. This is worth purrsuing.

When they are at home they may wish to try the following:

Reserve individual kibble from your upcoming portion. Purrhaps start with 30 pieces and work up to 60 later. They can offer you the reserved kibble by the piece. They may place them on the floor one at a time or throw one near you or hand feed. Whatever works for all of you.

Have them start with the smaller amount of kibble and dole them out over a period of time, so you get used to getting a kibble or three and then having to wait say for at least several minutes and maybe up to 15 or so. They should NOT distribute the kibble in the room where your food dish is.

Now they will have to think this through carefully because we don't want you getting rewarded for scratching. So they can only do this when you are NOT scratching and NOT poised in scratch pose.

And that brings to mind the question of when they should do this. Well it could be when you start to get grumpy (a bit in advance of that, to try to head it off). Or it could be when they have the time to spend doing this (probably a better idea). Have them think this timing through carefully in terms of its long-term implications.

This MIGHT take the edge of your fussiness and it MIGHT make you do a bit of work for your meal.

You might also consider having at least one of your daily meals in the canned variety of r/d (or in combination with the dry. The reason for this is that canned food has less calories by volume. Dry food is calorie-dense because it contains so little water. Wet food has a very high percentage of water. The advantage is such cases as yours, is that wet food will make your stomach feel fuller on less calories. And if you can get Themselves to mix it with a bit more water to make it like pudding, then you get even more water and a greater sensation of fullness!

If you would consider this, then you would have to consult with your vet to learn the equivalent volume for your current dry ration. And Themselves would have to get you used to wet food s-l-o-w-l- y, purrhaps by starting out with a teaspoon of wet which is covered by dry kibble, and then gradually changing the wet-dry proportion.

And if you like wet, they could use quarter- or half-teaspoonfuls as a treat (just like I mentioned about the individual kibble). But tell them not to throw it on the floor for you to chase it! (too messy). Instead they could offer it to you on the end of a spoon or on a small plate, so you could lick it off. Of course, you'd have to come to them for the treat and that would strengthen your bond.

Bonding through Cat Kisses

When you stare at them, I hope they don't stare back. Direct stares are quiet aggressive and disconcerting (as they, themselves note). Instead, ask them to return your stare with a slow blink of their eyes. And then they should move their gaze away from a direct stare. This is polite in cat culture and is known as the cat kiss.

Bonding through Breath

When you deign to sit on a lap, the lucky recipient could do the following:
- Start to breathe in a deliberate slow and deep pattern to increase the relaxation of both parties.
- Focus on you (NOT by staring into your eyes but purrhaps by gazing softly at your lovely fur and then just observing you in all your handsome-ness.
It takes real concentration for a mere human to keep said attention focused for more that a few seconds. But it is good practice for them. It's a form of meditation. And as such, both of you will benefit from the stress release and positive mood it can engender.

Flower Remedies

Flower remedies can assist those of us who are in emotionally difficulty. And since you live in the UK, you may be aware of Bach Flower Remedies. If you are game, you can get them from your local chemist or herbal products store.

Try a mixture of Holly (the key remedy related to love and affection), Star of Bethlehem (key to undoing any damage from past shock and trauma) and Water Violet (the loner's remedy).

Since you would have to buy separate small bottles of each remedy, you can use them most efficiently by combining them as follows: Get a 1 ounce dropper bottle from your local chemist (that's pharmacist to us across the pond); fill it with filtered water and then add 3 drops of each of those remedies. Mix it by gently (very gently) shaking the bottle. Since there is no preservative in the mixture, you need to keep the bottle in the refrigerator and throw out any unused mix after one week; then make a fresh batch. Don't worry, you will have lots of supplies for many, many bottles so you will not run out.

To take the remedy mixture: Start with 1 drop, once a day and work up to 4 drops twice a day  - for a month or more. Most of us prefurr to receive the drops on pieces of kibble or mixed into wet food, rather than getting them directly in the mouth.

 Regarding 2. and 3. Know that the chances of getting a cat companion are very high unless any differences of opinion between Herself 1 and Herself 2 is a deal breaker, meaning that one of them says to the other, "Either I get my way on this or we're through." Surely we can head this off at the pass and understand that a feline companion is on the horizon.

Therefore I will recommend - in another entry - a suitable approach to the acquisition of said companion. Regardless of your political purrsuasion, it will be a very conservative approach because it will be the one with the greatest chance of success in your case.

To be continued . . .