Stressed by the stray cats who visited the outdoor areas of his home for feeding by his animal-loving purrson, he would then attack both his purrson and the other cats in his household to the extent that everyone was very fearful - for good reason. Well-meaning friends advised that he be 'put down' for the safety of all. Instead he contacted me and we worked out a plan to help the household. But it wasn't easy. There were times of progress and times of discouragement. Yet persistence paid off. Timmy and his purrson kept up the work and it got results.
In 2012 the household changed with the addition of a dog; new problems manifest. Take heart.
It's a 'good news' story that starts in March 2011 and continues for several years. By compiling it in one place, I hope to give cats and their purrsons a better idea of the timeframe and evolution of behavioural problem management; as well as to alert them that household often have complicated problems that evolve over time.
FIRST CONTACT: MARCH 19, 2011
Most of the time I am a laid back and loving cat. But every so often I ‘snap’ and when I do, I scare everyone in the house. Can you help me? Of course you’ll want the details, so here goes.
All About Me
I am a six-year-old, neutered male of robust stature with a short, black coat. Because I was part of a large rescued litter, my purrson tried to re-home me. After the second unsuccessful try, I came back to live with her. I was 1 ½ years old.
I live with my brother, Mihijo, and an elderly, spayed Himalyan called Athena. We boys used to enjoy chasing her (she is small and scared). But now I don’t bother with her too much. Besides she is much older (16) and just sleeps all the time.
We live in a three-bedroom, half-duplex bungalow with an undeveloped basement. We have a big, tall pole in the living room (though I am too big to fit through the hole). We also have numerous rubber scratch mats around the house.
Oh yes, I have a purrson too – whom I adore. I follow her wherever she goes. My purrson loves animals. She feeds all the homeless cats in my neighborhood and rescues animals and supplies food to homeless animals in countries to which she travels.
I am very curious and sniff everything that comes into my house. Like most cats, I sleep a lot; but when I am in the living room I like to look out the window. I chase laser beams and enjoy playing with binder twine; I get about 15 minutes of interactive play every day.
All in all life is pretty good here.
So now to my problem. It all began about six months ago - last summer. I became agitated – either when I saw a strange cat come up the sidewalk or when I was out in our fenced backyard and smelled another cat who had been there; my memory of the event is a big foggy. Whatever started it, I became so angry that I tried to attack Mihijo.
Herself grabbed a broom to separate us and I kept trying to attack both of them. Then she grabbed Mihijo, took him with her to the bathroom and closed the door. She kept peeking out of the bathroom door to see if I had left.
When I went into the living room for a bit, she crept out and grabbed Athena. I saw her and chased them back to the bathroom. I made sure to stay by the door for several hours. Then I went to the living room and if anyone came near it, I went after them and tried to attack.
I carried on like this for at least a week. Then I calmed down and was put in a separate room.
The Current Situation
I will still go after my brother, so we have been separated since then (about six months). I tried to stay in a big cage in the living room so that I could still see my brother. But I got very upset at being caged.
Now we time-share the house. In other words, I stay in my room while he roams the house and then for another half of the day, I roam the house and he stays in his room.
From time to time – anytime, anywhere, I become a wild and angry cat. I start screaming and hissing. I spit, bare my teeth and generally look like wild. I stop and scream really loud and then I start running after anyone who is near me. I will pounce if necessary. Everyone runs away because I am big and strong and very scary
I get especially upset when I see my purrson come in the front door. She feeds stray cats outside and I can smell them when the door opens. But sometimes I just go wild for no reason. I also attack my vet when I go to the clinic.
I don't settle down unless I am locked in my room for a few hours; but sometimes I need to be kept by myself for as long as three days. When I calm down I give pathetic little mews and my purrson takes me out and cuddles me. I really am a lover.
I am quite healthy, though somewhat overweight. I have had a lot of problems with crystals building up in my urine, so I have been on special food for about a year now. This loosely corresponds to when my aggression episodes started.
What Has Been Tried
I already mentioned the large cage (which I didn’t like) and the time-sharing.
I am on Prozac which seems to help a bit.
My purrsons likes natural cures so I am also taking St. John's Wort (I hate the taste) and a new herbal remedy called Stress Control by Natural Pet Pharmaceuticals. The latter seems to be helping. I tried Rescue Remedy (a flower remedy) and I have also tried tranquilizers. They didn’t work.
Herself is getting better at recognizing when I’m about to have an episode. I get a particular look on my face and if she looks at me I will attack; so she has started ignoring me which calms me down.
When I behave, I have freer rein of the house and lots of cuddles and more treats (though I have to watch my weight).
My purrson has become afraid of living with me. I adore her. And frankly Greyce, I don’t have a lot of options. So what’s a cat like me to do?
You have a complex problem. For the benefit of other readers who may have a similar problem, I will divide my response to you into separate blog entries.
Today I’ll write about two things:
1) the role of the precipitating event (your attack of Mihijo), and
2) your medications.
In the next blog entry, I will deal with your arousal level and what you need to do to manage it.
After you have made progress, we will talk about re-introducing Mihijo. And I also want to deal with how to make Athena more comfortable. But those two cats are a lower priority right now. We need to help you get back into shape!
The Role of the Precipitating Event (Your Attack of Mihijo)
Obviously the event that seemed to start it all was your attack on Mihijo and Herself. We know that your spotting a strange cat in your territory was what set you off. And this is not unusual for us felines.
As you know, territory (the places we sleep, eat, rest, and hunt/play) is the most essential element of our well-being. In the wild, the territory of a male cat would be sufficient only to support him and him alone. So any change in territory can signal a change in resources that could threaten survival.
When we become pets, we are usually in a situation where resources are sufficient we are able to share with others of our kind. AND yards and areas we can view from our windows are part of our territory.
When an invader enters our territory in the wild, there is considerable sniffing and marking (scratching, deposits of urine usually through spraying, and possibly deposition of feces). It’s like leaving a business card, for we can tell the other cat’s gender, sexual status and general health from such marks. As well, we can tell how long ago they visited (because such scents degrade with time). And because of this degradation, both we and the invader usually feel the need to re-mark valued areas.
We will defend our core territory (where we eat and sleep) very fiercely. Most of us will allow the rest of our territory to be used by others on a time-share basis. So it isn’t unusual for one cat to use a particular area early in the morning and another to visit it in the afternoon.
Most of us want to avoid fights because they can be life-threatening. We usually manage the situation with various kinds of marking or if we actually see the invader, with various kinds of non-verbal communication (through our eyes, ears, tails and overall posture).
To humans it appears like we are just sitting in a crouch and staring at each other and then looking away (purrhaps licking a paw) from time to time. Little do they realize that we are engaged in high-level negotiations! Should that fail, we start to howl and if neither of us backs down, all hell can break loose.
What Happened in Your Case
You saw an invader. You became aroused (that is, your anxiety level started to rise). You wanted to get rid of the invader BUT the invader could not be confronted – either because you were in the house and couldn’t get out, or because he had left his scent very recently and you were in the house and couldn’t track him down. Bottom line: You got very anxious.
When your arousal levels rise and you can’t get at your desired target, you then go after the first thing that moves nearest you. This is called redirected aggression: You take your aggression out on the available being because you can’t get at your real target. I bet that is what happened with Mihijo and then Herself when she attempted to use the broom.
For whatever reason (and likely shock and fear had something to do with it), Herself was unable to use the broom to direct you to a bedroom (or room with a door) and put you there. So instead she retreated with Mihijo to the bathroom. The problem is that she reinforced the fact that you were the winner of that battle!
We cats have no inclination to bow to the wishes of others of our kind; we are not pack animals like dogs. So when something disrupts the bond that we have, it is severed. And it is very difficult to re-instate unless appropriate action is taken quickly. That is why you no longer get along with Mihijo.
In most cases of this nature, if the beings involved are separated long enough for all parties to calm down completely AND then (and this is very important) re-introduced to each other slowly (meaning for short periods of time under supervision – less that 5 minutes to start with and then increasing the duration slowly), everything soon gets back to normal.
In your case, I suspect two things make your problem worse:
1) The re-introduction was much faster than I was talking about (and thus failed).
2) Your arousal level is much higher than anyone anticipated and continues to plague your relationships with others.
At the present time, any discussion of how you and Mihijo might get back on tolerable terms is for another day – after we have dealt with you.
The medications (pharmaceutical and herbal) you are taking are Prozac, St. Johns Wort and Stress Control.
The recommendations I will make on your medications are based on two assumptions:
Assumption #1: You are taking Prozac at your veterinarian’s recommendation.
Assumption #2: You are taking the other two without your veterinarian’s knowledge and consent. (This is a common occurrence when humans are involved.)
IF my assumptions are correct, then I would like you to do three things:
1. Continue with Prozac as instructed by your veterinarian.
2. Stop taking St. John's Wort.
3. Stop taking Stress Control (for now).
If my assumptions are NOT correct, let me know immediately.
Here are the reasons for my recommendations.
1. Prozac (the brand name for fluoxetine) is an anti-depressant developed for humans and is one of several drugs used for cats with issues related to aggression and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Like all drugs, it may interact with other medications (even those you may call natural) especially if those other medications are anti-depressants as well. And in some cases, one of the side-effects of this drug can be aggression. Don’t focus on this just now; if it had led to increased aggression I think you would have noticed it by now.
Do NOT stop taking it suddenly! I don’t want you to develop a resistance to the drug by going on it and then off it and then on it again. And I strongly urge you to continue with your veterinarian’s advice regarding the taking of this drug.
I’m not a veterinarian and have no authority when it comes to prescribing and dispensing drugs. Besides, I will be giving Herself and you a behavioural program. We need to determine how that program works with the drug you have been prescribed.
2. St. John's Wort is an herbal anti-depressant. It is used in cats with mild depression, like grief or separation anxiety NOT aggression. It, too, can interact with other medications most particularly anti-depressants.
I have some good news. You mentioned that you didn’t like the taste. Rejoice! Just stop taking it!
Because it is an anti-depressant, I strongly advise that you stop taking it unless it was prescribed by your veterinarian as part of your treatment along with the Prozac (and I suspect that it was not). Two different anti-depressants is NOT a good thing unless monitored by a knowledgeable professional (your vet)!
3. Stress Control (a homeopathic remedy made by Natural Pet Pharmaceuticals) doesn’t list the ingredients on their website. But because it is a homeopathic (rather than an herbal preparation) the chances of it interacting or affecting other things that you are taking is likely minimal because it is so dilute. But again, for right now I think it would be a good idea to stop it.
At a later point after you have consulted with your veterinarian about whether or not it is a good idea to take it with Prozac, we can discuss continuing it. But I have other solutions in mind.
Other Medications You Have Tried
You mentioned that you were on tranquilizers but since you haven’t told me their names I can only say that true tranquilizers (Valium/diazepam) will sedate you BUT will do nothing to stop your aggression; they inhibit your ability to learn while you are taking them. In other words the minute you go off them, you revert to your old ways. And I have seen at least one case where a colleague was on Valium and became even more aggressive.
Other drugs used to deal with aggression - a series of them known as tricyclic anti-depressants (TCAs) including Elavil/amitriptyline - may have a sedative effect at first (they make you sleepy). If you are one of those cats who is sensitive to TCAs so that the dose would have to be lowered so much (to avoid lethargy) that it would be ineffective, then I can understand why that wouldn’t work.
You also mentioned trying Rescue Remedy which is a flower essence combination. It works better in much milder cases than yours. In other words, a possibly good idea but not strong enough.
Why Medication Has Not Solved Your Problem
What I understand has happened – medication-wise - is that the Prozac has not been completely successful, so Herself decided the layer another medication on it in the hopes that the combination would prove fruitful. And when that hasn’t brought the desired result, she has added another one to the mix. That is a very normal human reaction to dealing with a difficult problem.
Please let Herself know that NO medication (drug, herbal, homeopathic or otherwise) will solve your problem in and of itself. The drug is used to lower your arousal level enough that you have the chance to learn how to deal differently with situations that set you off. And that is the key: Learning. That is why a behavioural program (in concert with medication) has a much better chance of success).
So hang in there, Timmy, because we will be moving on to that topic in my next blog entry.
MARCH 20, 2011
Timmy, let me continue helping you with your problem – aggression that manifests in unanticipated attacks on others, namely your purrson (since that cat you’d most likely attack is kept separated from you).
Why You React The Way You Do
I’m sure you are wondering why you react this way when many cats do not. That is not easy to answer but I can point to some fundamental sources of the problem aside from medical issues (which, since you are under the care of a veterinarian, I have ruled out).
Some of the problem may be genetic.
Even if your mother was a mild-mannered queen you could still inherit an irritable or reactive disposition from your father. And since any self-respecting queen will make sure that many fathers are involved in the production of one litter, it is very possible that Mihijo had a different dad and/or a different toss of the genetic dice, and is thus of a milder disposition.
You mentioned being conceived in Venezuela and that your Herself is involved in animal rescue. For all I know, your mother may have been one of the cats Herself rescued. If your mother was a rescued stray, she may have had difficulty getting proper nutrition before you were born. It is not unusual for cats with poor pre-natal nutrition to become aggressive.
Regardless of those two potential contributing factors, there is a third which is important: stress.
You mentioned that you have had a lot of problems with crystals building up in your urine and thus eat special food. The onset of this problem loosely corresponds to when your aggressive episodes started. While there may be other factors involved, stress is often one of the culprits in urinary tract disease. It may or may not contribute to the onset of it, but it most certainly contributes to relapses. I believe that in your case, stress is a factor.
Undetected stress is a common factor in many pet households because we are masterful at hiding it (as in the wild, any animal in less than in top condition can easily become prey). And this means that your stress levels (arousal) could have been building up, undetected, for some time before you really ‘blew’.
All About Arousal Levels
We are designed to have arousal levels that rise and then lower through the act of hunting. We are by nature, predators. In the wild, we would spend a considerable portion of our waking hours hunting and eating small meals. And arousal levels suitable to predation are part of our nature. The rise in arousal levels contributes to our desire to hunt. And the act of hunting – that is, of stalking, chasing, and killing prey – is what reduces our arousal levels.
This can be problematic for the pet cat, particularly one confined primarily indoors. The arousal level builds over the course of the day but there is nothing to dissipate it. Purrhaps at dawn or dusk (the times we would normally hunt), we chase about the house for no good reason (according to humans) in order to expend this energy. But that may not be enough.
And if the arousal level does not lower enough, over the course of time it will continue to build until we can no longer control it. At which point, we ‘snap’ – seemingly without provocation.
So we need to help you to manage those arousal levels and to reduce environmental stress.
Lowering Your Arousal Level
For the pet cat, there are many things that can be done to lower arousal level.
Interactive play is really the simulation of predatory behaviour. You mention that you enjoy the laser pointer and binder twine. Instead of one 10 to 15 minute session, I’d like you to have two a day. (For further tips, readers may after refurr to the page at the top of my blog called Interactive Play Therapy.)
Since I doubt that your purrson is willing to awake at dawn just to entertain you, suggest that she reserve some time exclusively to play with you at dusk, in addition to your regular play time.
Intellectual stimulation. Someone like you, who has a Rubenesque figure, is likely bored. To both reduce your anxiety and for something to do, you eat. Believe it or not, this is also a common problem for humans.
Why not try a food puzzle? Go to www.frederickcatvet.com/foodpuzzle.html for inexpensive ideas. Your purrson could use a portion of your daily food ration in this way.
Why Your Current Treat Program Does Not Work
The way you receive treats (which you are well-behaved) is NOT helping. Unfortunately humans, being an inferior species, do not often understand how we learn. While we learn best by rewards (treats being one example), we only connect that reward with a particular behaviour if and only if the reward is dispensed within 30 seconds of the onset of the desired behaviour. That is a very short time frame for humans to deal with. And frankly they are not very good at it. We are much better at training them!
When humans deal with other humans, they can talk. So they can say things like, “Johnny you have been such a good boy all day” or “Sally you were very nice to your sister this afternoon” and then follow it with “that’s why I’m serving your favourite dessert tonight.”
But to suggest to one of us that we get a reward hours or even minutes after the behaviour they want us to manifest, puts us in a situation in which we have no way of connecting that behaviour with the reward! And we both end up frustrated.
Treats are obviously a way Herself builds a bond with you. Tell Herself to go easy – very easy – on the treats and dispense them with no thought that they are a reward to you. Remind her that one treat (one piece of kibble) is equivalent to one cookie for a small child. I hope she is using the special treats that are suitable for cats prone to urinary tract disease and obesity. If not, your veterinarian could recommend one.
Send Herself to Cat School
You have already said that Herself is getting better at recognizing when you are about to have an episode - a particular look on your face especially if she stares at you. Let's get her to improve even more:
She needs to learn how to detect the signs that your arousal level is rising and/or that you are about to engage in aggressive behaviour. So send Herself to cat school via the public library for any or all of the following books. They have lots of big, colour photos to show exactly what a particular behaviour looks like. That will make it easier for her to identify and for you to communicate with me exactly what is going on.
|Bear says, |
"A picture IS worth 1,000 words!
Understanding Cat Behavior (by Roger Tabor). See especially sections on Affection and Aggression, Cat Chat, and Common Behavioral Problems – Aggression.
100 Ways to Better Understand Your Cat (by Roger Tabor). See especially pages 43 – 58 on cat communications, page 77 on stress busting, and page 93 on aggression.
Once she has mastered her cat communication course, I want you to report to me exactly what non-verbal signals you give her and the order (if relevant) in which they play out. We can build on that.
The ignoring of you to calm you down seems to be working. In your case, I would not recommend that she say ‘no’ when she sees you about to get aggressive or that she make any attempt to carry you to your room – unless she is already successful at it. I think it is far too dangerous right now.
Induce Yourself to Relax
While play suggestions are important, I suspect that you are still too highly strung for them to be totally effective. Therefore I am also going to suggest touch. Touch, especially used therapeutically, can induce relaxation. And you need to learn how to relax, especially in a situation you find stressful. And since Herself and you enjoy cuddles, this should be easier to implement. (Interested readers can consult the page at the top of my blog called Touch Therapy.)
Again I’m depending on you to tell me her reaction to the suggestion of touch therapy and to specifically tell me which of the therapies you are interested in, so I can provide direct you to a practitioner, if need be.
Make Your Territory More Comforting
I strongly recommend installing a Feliway diffuser (available from a pet supply store or your vet) in your private room. And when your purrson can afford it, tell her to also install one in the common area of the house you most prefurr when you are allowed to roam about.
Feliway is the synthetic version of the pheromone in our cheek pads that gets deposited when we rub against things to mark our territory. It is our way of making us comfortable and has a relaxing effect. Once it is installed in the common area, it should be helpful to your other cat companions as well. For more information, check my blog entry, What Good Is Feliway for information links.
Remove Stressors From Your Life
You mention that Herself feeds stray cats in your neighbourhood. In my experience, it is next to impossible to get a dedicated animal lover to stop such behaviours BUT they can be modified.
I assume she feeds these cats in your yard. I don’t know enough about your particular residential situation to offer specific suggestions. But see if she could arrange to feed them outside of and away from your yard. For example, is there a sympathetic neighbour whose yard she could use instead? Or a nearby small green space or park? That would encourage other cats from staying away from your territory – in part.
Does she pet those cats? Or do they mill about her, rubbing against her legs? Or does she stoop down and they gather around her? I bet she does at least one of those! And as long as she is a cat feeder, contact with other cats will continue.
So I want her to remove the smells of her contact with these other felines BEFORE she has contact with you.
Here are the specifics:
1. Ask her to wear a stray cat feeding outfit that is used exclusively for that purpose (including pants, jacket or coats, and gloves; non-permeable gloves or mitts made of nylon or leather or similar material are very important – fleece or wool will not do). If she has a separate pair of shoes or boots for stray cat feeding all the better. Otherwise she is just tracking all the smells of potential invaders into your home.
2. Ask her to think of ways she could remove the offending clothing, put it into a plastic bag(s) and store it where you will not have access – like a storage bin or closet - BEFORE she sees you. She may have to buy a plastic storage bin with a close-fitting lid.
3. Ask her to consider changing her stray feeding schedule and/or your free roaming through the house schedule, so that you are not roaming about the house when she is feeding the strays. That way, when she returns, she has the time to safely divest herself of all offending clothing and put is away before you encounter her.
4. Ask her to clean her hands with a hand sanitizer (and allow a few minutes for the alcohol to dissipate) either before she comes back in and/or sees you after stray cat feeding.
5. Since you get agitated when she comes through the front door, is it possible for her to enter through the back?
The Vulnerable Front Door
You mention that you get particularly agitated when you see Herself enter the front door after feeding the strays. Major entrance ways like the front and back doors (along with windows) are places we think of as particularly vulnerable to invasion – regardless of the presence of doors, locks or window panes.
Is there a scratch mat near the front and back doors? If not, consider installing one (or a scratching post) near each of these places. That will give you the opportunity to mark the passage and the satisfaction of warning invaders off the property.
It may be that strays (or other roaming cats) come to your front or back door. And if so, they are likely to mark it. Herself needs to inspect these doors for any spray signs. Make sure that Herself cleans these doors with a cat urine cleaner that has a scent-laden repellent (citrus scents work well) to discourage them from marking (if they do).
Well Timmy, I think you have enough to keep you and Herself busy. By following my instructions with commitment, I think we can improve the situation in your household a great deal. Let me know if I am right.
MARCH 27, 2011
Thank you so much for giving my problem attention. Here are the steps we have taken so far:
1. My purrson has already ordered the books on cat communication you mentioned from the library.
2. As for her feeding stray animals, she has removed all the plates and bowls from the front porch and sprayed the front door down with citrus spray. This seems to be really helping because she doesn't stink of those intruders so bad. So I haven't even attacked her once this week.
3. We have stopped the St John's Wort but are a little hesitant to stop the Stress Control because it really seems to be making a difference.
4. She hasn't tried Feliway yet but she did try a calming collar the pharmacist said worked the same as Feliway (Sentry HC Good Behavior Pheromone Collar). She bought one for all three of us and it did absolutely nothing.
You were interested in my rooms. I have two for purrsonal use - both with windows, beds and dressers. One has a boring view and the other, the backyard. But I usually just lie on the bed waiting to be let out of the room.
When I'm out and about I sit so i can look out the window. Herself used to open it so I could smell the fresh air but since my problems she doesn't do that anymore because I go nuts.
Now for my behaviour:
As you can see from #2 above, I have improved. But . . . I did have an incident. Herself had some visitors and we all sitting around the table (actually I was on the table) and her male friend whom I know was petting me. I was purring like crazy and kept rubbing against his hand to be petted. All of a sudden, I don't know what came over me but I hissed and then scratched his arm up.
Herself raised her voice and said "Timmy, NO!" and then I just jumped off the table and strutted around the kitchen. They just ignored me which was fine with me and after a couple of minutes Herself put me in my room.
To be honest, I think the guy who was petting me was overdoing it. He was petting me a little hard and petted me longer than I wanted; so I think he shares part of the blame.
I only nailed him once and didn't carry on for a long time like I have been doing in the past. I was just trying to tell him I had had enough. I let herself pick me up with no problems. But I guess it wasn't good enough for Herself because she was mad at me.
Any suggestions? I have a LOT to learn!
Congratulations on your excellent progress.
Cat Chat: I am eager to learn how Herself’s cat communication lessons are coming along. She really must learn to be bilingual.
Stray Scent: Thank goodness Herself took action about feeding the strays. As you know, I’m not against feeding them but when their presence in your territory and their residual scent sets you off, then she needs to find alternative ways to meet their needs. Good work! And she is obviously getting rewarded for it because you didn’t feel the need to attack you.
You see, Timmy, you are what would be considered a highly reactive cat, that is, one who reacts to certain signals (in this case, scents) in an agitated way. And because you can’t whop the tar out of those critters you do the next best thing and attempt to whop the tar out of your beloved person who happens to be carrying their scent on her.
Once I get feedback on the cat communication that has been learned, we can proceed to the next step – which will be to help you become less reactive. But first things first.
Medications: I’m glad you stopped the St. Johns Wort. If you are comfortable on the Stress Control along with the Prozac and your vet has no objection, then who am I to say otherwise? As for the Feliway, you can hold off a bit, since even some basic measures (regarding the strays) seem to be improving the situation.
I’m looking into that collar you mentioned, because I am not familiar with it. But the bottom line is that it didn’t work for you. So you stopped it. Enough said.
Your Behaviour: Now let’s get to your most recent so-called naughty incident: scratching the guy who over-petted you. Well Timmy it is NOT your fault!
What you are demonstrating is known as Assertion or Status-Related Aggression. If often happens during petting and is a way of saying ‘leave me alone.’ And it is different from the Re-directed Aggression that you first wrote about.
Of course humans are curious. Why does Timmy do that? They will wonder. The best human analogy I can give is from my Herself.
Every so often Herself gets an itch on her back and asks for it to be scratched. Himself gladly complies. Sometimes she will tell him it is enough but he will persist. The scratching which was such a relief then starts to become irritating and she is apt to snap. And if humans can react this way, surely they cannot expect cats do behave differently.
It never seems to occur to most of us to just leave the situation. But frankly I think it behooves our humans to understand us and set a context that makes it easy for us to behave in ways they find acceptable. After all in cat society, if you were being groomed by a companion and it got to be too much, a good smack would get the message across.
Learning from Others
My colleague, Cathryn Twinkletoes, behaved in a similar way to you when she was being petted or groomed. She would enjoy it for a short while and then seemingly-suddenly and seemingly without provocation, she would swat (claws out and hard). Not a very pretty sight for the humans involved.
Her humans started to observe her carefully. They wanted to note any signals she might be giving that she had enough. Sure enough, they found her purrsonal signal! At some point, Cathryn would raise a front paw about an inch off the surface on which she was seated. She would then make a starfish (spread her paw pads) with her paw. Shortly thereafter, she would swat.
Then they timed about how long it took before Cathryn started to make a starfish. It was about 50 seconds.
So they began training her to accept longer sessions – but always stopped before she made a starfish. They started with 30-second sessions – well within the time limit. They also were careful to observe her paws, just in case the starfish started. If it did, they stopped immediately.
Over a period of months, they gradually increased the daily petting time – increasing about 5 seconds every week. Again they were mindful of the starfish, and if the starfish happened they backed off immediately. They also noted the time at which the starfish happened and then reduced the next several petting sessions to below that time limit, accordingly.
This way both Cathryn and her humans found the petting sessions to be positive. Cathryn got to the point where she could tolerate about 3 minutes of petting. She couldn’t last any longer. But that was fine with everyone now that they knew her purrsonal signal.
A Plan for You
Now Timmy, you may not be making starfish but you will be giving some sort of signal that you are becoming irritated. Here are some examples:
- Your tail may start to flick,
- Your ears may flatten,
- Your pupils may become large,
- You may hunch your head,
- You may unsheathe your claws,
- Your may become still, or
- You may growl.
So here is the re-training plan.
Step One: Herself can observe and figure out your purrsonal signal(s).
Step Two: Figure out your time limit. How long can you be petted BEFORE you give your purrsonal signal?
Step Three: Start the petting sessions at a reduced time limit.
I want her to start well below your threshold (time limit) because that will help her stay in control. Right now you are in control and she (or the visitor) is victim; we need to change that relationship.
If during the course of your training, you give your purrsonal signal even before the time limit, then she MUST stop the irritating behaviour immediately and stop giving you attention. Then you can recover your equilibrium and all will be well.
Step Four: Slowly increase your time limit (as long as you tolerate it). I’d say about 5 seconds a week would be a decent goal.
As For Other Discipline
The "Timmy NO!" was a good idea. It got you to stop in an emergency situation. But further anger probably just gave you attention (and even negative attention IS attention).
As for learning from the incident by being put in another room: She left it too late. Cats only learn by actions delivered with 30 seconds of the ONSET of an undesired behaviour.
Now don’t go berating Herself. She IS trying her best. And if you were making a pest of yourself (I’m not sure exactly if your strutting was also an attention bid), then removing you from the situation allowed her to calm down and the visitor to recover. And that’s not a bad idea. It just didn’t teach you what she would like you to learn. The re-training plan will.
Notes for Herself
Please pass the following along to Herself: When the human is a visitor who may not know you as well as Herself, tell Herself to be observant and to regulate the visitor’s contact with you. Simply saying something like “Timmy can only handle about a minute of petting before he retaliates,” should be enough. If the purrson persists in spite of the warning, then the purrson gets what he or she deserves!
I find that some people who pet cats long and hard (especially down the flanks and back end) are asking for trouble in two ways. First, a lot of reactive cats store tension in their hind ends and when the hind end is touched, they snap. Best to pet head and shoulders of such a cat, rather than risk it. Second, being touched in that area is reminiscent of having sex (cat sex that is) and sets off a level of arousal I don’t even want to talk about.
And yes, that is true even in neutered males. Just ask any human male with a vasectomy if he still has sexual feelings. Enough said.
Suggest to Herself that she encourage visitors to pet you gently, instead.
I look forward to your next progress report.
Timmy wasn't the only cat with these problems. By the end of March 2011, I received a letter from another cat who took the advice I gave him.
Your recent posts on feline aggression were a godsend.
I am a 13-year old, spayed black and white female, and have been flying off the handle over the years. My most recent episode was the worst ever. My purrson had to corral me back into her bedroom with a long stick. She kept the door shut for three days (she was forced to sleep on the couch).
Despite my best efforts to intimidate her by growling, hissing and making all sorts of freaky weird un-cat-like noises, she was able to get my litter box and some food into the bedroom. At least I think that was her. I didn't actually see her face - just an arm with an elbow-length leather glove that quickly opened the door, shoved everything into the room as I tried to rip it to shreds, and then slammed the door shut again.
Usually when I have these meltdowns, I'm okay after a few hours by myself. This time I wasn't back to "normal" after sleeping it off. I don't know what to say, I just was so stressed out that I couldn't calm myself down. I'm pretty sure it wasn't my fault, though.
It's true I had already been feeling a little touchy for a few weeks, acting out a bit by scratching and biting Herself on various occasions. I was getting more upset more often, and was so sure that the way to comfort myself would be to eat more wet food. But my constant begging was falling on deaf ears, which made me feel even worse.
That's when Herself started thinking maybe something was wrong with my thyroid, so she started giving me a supplement to help with that. I was feeling better for a few days but I don't know much about these things - maybe it was actually aggravating the problem and I just didn't realize it.
All I know is that on the night of the super full moon something snapped in me! I went ballistic - absolutely bonkers - for no apparent reason.
I attacked Herself's feet with a vengeance, like I always have when these uncontrollable feelings come up in me.
Usually my fury is triggered by seeing another cat near my house, but I don't remember seeing one this time. Instead I think I just reached my limit with lots of little things: not getting the food I wanted when I wanted it, not getting enough attention from Herself, plus I think my sensitive little body started rejecting those funny little green pills.
I can't really tell you the reasons for my frustration, but I do know that I had no way to vent my feelings.
I used to get to go outdoors now and again and loved hunting mice and lizards. Then five years ago we moved to the woods; now it's not safe out there. And when I do go outside, I seem to forget my indoor manners when I come back in.
Well I can't help it! I always did find the sight and smells of other animals infuriating and overwhelming; and there are just lots more of them out there now. When it comes to staking out and defending my territory, I don't mess around. And I don't make exceptions, not even for Herself.
I think it's an admirable quality; but I guess I can't blame her for thinking I'll accidentally maim her or one of our nice neighbors by mistake.
Anyway, back to my story.
Things seemed hopeless a week ago when I was in the throes of my nervous breakdown. Then Herself got on the internet and started doing some serious investigation into our problems. A miracle happened! She came upon your blog where you were giving advice to another cat named Timmy.
It's hard to believe that you wrote back to Timmy right at the same time that we were having all of these similar issues. Even though my story isn't exactly the same as his, you gave him some advice that got Herself thinking. Since then things have really turned around for us.
The first issue we dealt with was how to actually integrate me back into the whole house. You see, every time Herself opened the bedroom door I was still threatening to mutilate her feet. Thank the cat goddess that we have no other roommates, so this issue of figuring out how to share our space again was just between the two of us.
Well, there is Himself, her companion. And he does spend an awful lot of time here and has for many years. But he has his own place and was more than happy to let the two of us work things out on our own.
So after Herself read your blog, she realized she needed to slowly get us used to each other again. She's kind of busy, so it worked for her to just open the door to the bedroom and immediately leave the house. That way I was able to come out and roam freely all day.
When she came back home, we were both nervous. I noticed she kept her shoes on at all times. But we really do like each other, so we just tried to give each other space as we quietly went about our business.
When I started to feel touchy again - hissing and such (sorry, it’s beyond my control); she herded me off to the bedroom again. But that was okay. At least we had a little drama-free time together.
This went on for a few days, where she would let me out when she left the house. And each day when she came back, I was a little more happy to see her and we could spend a little more time together.
And then something really great happened.
Herself read what you said about how those of us who stay indoors all the time really miss getting to hunt. Wee. he realized that she had been missing the boat all along! Clearly she needed to help me find a way to get my pent-up frustrations out.
And so she read another one of your blogs about toys and rummaged around in a drawer, and ended up putting one of my favorite little white furry mice on the end of some elastic and attached it to a stick. Then she started playing chase-the-mouse with me around a chair in the living room.
I was a little skeptical at first, but then I really got into it and started having a blast! Now we do this for about 10 minutes several times a day and it's so much fun!
She's getting good at recognizing when I'm starting to feel cooped up and then out comes the mouse on a stick and away we go. I think she thinks that I think it's a real mouse, but of course I know it's fake. But it doesn't matter because she does a pretty good job of making it seem real, just like you describe in your blog.
And really that seems to have made all the difference in the world.
And another thing: She changed my eating schedule. Before, she was portioning out my dry food and then making me wait for the wet food (my very, very favourite) at the very end of the day. Now she keeps my dry food bowl full at all times and feeds me little portions of wet food (did I mention that it is my very favorite?) a few times a day.
I do have a tiny weight problem, but I don't feel as frantic about food as I did. And I think I'm proving to Herself that I can manage my diet on my own.
So I'm happy to say that things are working out great so far, and we've started having nice snuggles again.
I think I'll always have a tendency to be overly-sensitive and high-strung. But now Herself is much more aware of my moods and needs - and, well, so far so good! Although I did also overhear her saying to Himself that she's going to get a lunar calendar and keep an extra close eye on me as the full moon approaches each month.
Thanks again, Precious Greyce. You're a lifesaver!
A thousand purrs of thanks for your kind words and explicit details of how my amazing and superb advice worked for you. As a member of the superior species, I have great confidence in the quality of advice I provide. Yet still, it is wonderful to hear that it is being well-received.
In writing a blog I sometimes feel like I’m sending my pearls of wisdom into the void. And then, lo and behold, a sensitive feline such as yourself, who has been frustrated with human misunderstandings for years, finds a way to make a breakthrough. Whisker kisses all around!
As you know, many of us get the heebie geebies when our predatory needs are not met. And some of us, who are more finely-tuned, are considerably more sensitive to this lack.
Even more so in temperate climates, as winter turns to spring. Something about increased sunlight and our pineal glands seems to make all mammals extra frisky at that time. Even more so in temperate climates, as winter turns to spring.
Many times it is the pure escalation of anxiety to levels beyond our control.
The situation can be complicated if you are one of those whose mother suffered from poor nutrition (either when you were in the womb or until you were weaned) – conditions that would tend to make you more aggressive.
And those who have been hand-weaned by well-meaning rescuers often have great difficulty in managing frustration. You see, at a certain point, cat mothers withdraw their teats from their young from time-to-time (on a random basis) to get the kitten used to not always having her own way. That is how we begin to learn to handle frustration.
But when we are hand-weaned, we are often bottle fed on demand until we are completely weaned. Since we didn’t get that critical opportunity to learn how to cope, we find frustrating situations that much harder to deal with. And when it comes to food, the combination of anxiety and an inability to handle frustration just makes matters worse!
You are right to suggest that you may always be high-strung. Purrhaps you are a diva of the cat world. And now that your purrson is coming to terms with the appropriate etiquette for such a special being, things can only get better for you.
My dear, thank you so much for sharing your experiences. You have now inspired me to think through a blog entry (or two) on the whole subject of food (and purrhaps drink).
You are an inspiration to us all.
P.S. By the way, if you really had a hyperthyroid problem, behavioural solutions would not be working for you. So maybe it’s a good thing that you rejected those ‘little green pills’ – unless, of course, they were given to you at the direction of your veterinarian (who knows more about your medical status than I).
Now back to Timmy
APRIL 2011Hi Greyce,
When we first implemented your advice, we were both excited by the positive changes in my behaviour. Herself was even fantasizing about reuniting my brother and me. Well it looks like that won’t happen any time soon. You see Greyce, this past week has been VERY disappointing.
It all started when Herself went out the back door to check on something in the back yard. She hadn't used this door since last summer. When she came back in the house I was waiting for her. And I went into my old routine of screaming, hissing and trying to attack her.
She immediately grabbed me by the scruff of my neck, ran with me to my room and tossed me on the bed. I was so shocked that I didn't even have time to twist around and attack her! She left me there for about 3 hours.
When she let me out I was as loving as could be and she played with me. She let me sleep on her bed and it turned out to be a good night.
Since then, however, I have been continually acting up - though not attacking.
Herself has observed that since last Tuesday my pupils have been as big as saucers, my claws are ALWAYS unsheathed (even when sleeping), and if she looks at me my tail flicks and my ears flatten. If she ignores me, I will let her be; but if she comes near me I assume full defensive mode.
Greyce, I truly feel that the problem has to do with more fresh air in the house as we come into spring. I can smell all those intruders who have been in my yard throughout the year. Herself is worried that she is going to have to start living in a bubble without ever opening the windows. She doesn't think she can live like that.
I may not make it through the summer because Herself likes to garden and will be in and out of the house all the time. She will not put up with me attacking her every time she comes in the house.
We all agree that I am a highly reactive cat. Herself watches me very closely and feels that she can handle me when others are around. But she worries when the two of us are alone.
Should I be put in my room the whole time my pupils are large (which seems to be an indicator that I am antsy and might go "off")?
I am really sorry that I seem to have regressed but I thank you so much for sticking by me and trying to help. I will look forward to hearing from you.
It is not unusual to note good progress when you first implement advice. But for many of us progress does not happen in a straight line. Often it is a case of three steps forward then two steps back. To keep going forward, we need careful analysis and patience.
It’s true that the possibility of reuniting you with your brother is a long way off, if it happens at all. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by envisaging the future and then being disappointed when the future is not now.
I believe you live in my regional area. For readers from elsewhere take note: Edmonton (Canada) still has lots of snow and it is only recently that the faintest hints of spring are beginning to show. It has been a very long winter for all of us. With the onset of spring, many intact cats who roam are getting ready to reproduce. The males are strutting their stuff (and spraying to beat the band) in order to advertise for queens. And the females are getting ready to send pheromonal signals that they are ready to be put in a family way. Even though we may be ‘altered’, we are still sensitive to this signaling system.
Moreover other critters are becoming more active as well. Themselves found this out when they kept the patio screen open so I could go in and out of my enclosed back yard through my cat door. When I returned one evening, Himself noticed something odd about my mouth. There was a head out of one side and a thin tail on the other. My mother never trained me to deliver a killing bite, so I as about to release the little mousy into the living room.
Instead, Himself ushered me back out the door, closed it and encouraged me to release said victim – who proceeded to scamper behind the drain pipe and disappear under the deck. So close . . . and yet so far!
My point is that spring IS in the air and we all have spring fever. Our pineal glands are sensitive to changes in light and I think we all get the message that it is time to be frisky.
Timmy, right now you need an environment in which you feel secure and which has a sense of certainty about it. You like to have things under your control and go ballistic when they vary. You obviously feel very threatened.
You strike me as similar to some people with autism who find any change in environment or routine so overwhelming that they have a meltdown. To the outsider, the meltdown looks all out of proportion but to the person experiencing it, it is as if one’s world has come apart.
However I think Herself is at her wit’s end and worries about her safety and long-term ability to care for you. Finding the best way to calm you down and keep you calmer, is the best way of ensuring that your bond to her doesn’t break: Because it is very difficult for a human to remain commitment to a pet who threatens her safety.
So what would I do in your case?
If your pupils are continually as big as saucers, claws unsheathed even when asleep, and tail flicking, then it means you are very, very anxious and highly aroused. Under those circumstances, you need to chill out. I doubt that you are interested in play and thus I wouldn’t recommend interactive play at this time. You are probably too wound up to be able to enjoy play games.
Instead you need to be put in a quiet, secure, confined space with food, fresh water, litter box and maybe something (thing NOT being) to snuggle on or be with. Feliway in that room would help give you a sense of comfort. And I would strongly recommend that you be sequestered until you are fully calmed down.
So here is my advice to you.
First and foremost: Remain in your retreat room until you are well and truly calm – normal-sized pupils, claws back in, tail not flicking, etc. When you are like that you don’t need contact with others. You need security and quiet. So a room with your litter box, your food, your water dish and something (not being) with which to snuggle, is what I suggest.
Second: Return to your room each and every time you are in ‘about to go off’ mode.
Third: Buy a Feliway diffuser and install it in your retreat room. (I’ve made other Feliway-related suggestions but they are optional. This one is not.)
I was holding off on Feliway because of the expense of a diffuser but I think you need one installed in your home. If you can only afford one (and that is okay), then install it in your retreat room. If you can afford two, put the other one in the area you like to hang out in most, when you are given freer rein of the house.
Fourth: For the next 4 to 6 weeks can you ask Herself to help you by keeping your environment the same as it always has been, as much as possible? This includes the routines, the schedules, the furniture arrangements, etc. And for now, keep those windows closed. The one big change will be the continued use of your retreat room for periods as long as necessary and for as often as necessary.
Many humans find this incredibly boring and even confining. But many of us cats find that familiarity spells c-o-n-t-e-n-t-m-e-n-t.
Herself probably feels very cooped up and thinks she will be shut away for life. Assure her that this is unlikely to be the case. Remind her that I’m not asking her to do it forever. But I’d like her to do it for the next 4 to 6 weeks so we can see what difference it makes (or doesn’t make) for you.
As for her gardening plans, please tell her to be patient. I’d rather her go out the front door (even to go to the back yard) for now, if the variation in routine upsets you. Or she can wait until you are safely in your own room when it shouldn’t make much difference to you.
Remind her about cleaning her hands and clothes when she has been outside. Alternatively, she could try a spritz of Feliway on both pant legs and possibly her shirt cuffs – but that is another expense right now and not essential.
If this doesn’t start to curb your reactivity, then either one of two things are at work:
1) there is another factor which you haven’t shared (you may not even know that it is a contributor) and it is feeding the problem; or
2) there is a medical issue that is contributing to your problem – in which case further veterinary consultation is in order.
Timmy, I’ll keep my paws crossed for you.
Thank you again for continuing to try and help me. I relayed you info to Herself and she is fine with it all but it may time some time to afford Feliway. All other suggestions will be followed to a tee.
I do have a question though: When I get to sleep in Herself's bed the bedroom window is wide open and that does not bother me at all. Why would that be when the open living room windows upset me? Is it because most of the interlopers come up from the front walk?
Oh, I do have another question: If I bang on the bedroom door to be let out of my room should I be let out even if I appear 'iffy'?
You are a chatty little gaffer today.
I realize Feliway is expensive and it is okay to save your catnip allowance until you have enough for its purchase. Sometimes that is just the way the world works!
I think you have already figured out the difference in your reaction to the bedroom versus the living room window being open.
There is one big guy in my neighbourhood who insists on walking up my sidewalk and he makes me very agitated. I'd like to beat the tar out of him, he is so brazen! And when he walks around the side of the house, I insist on going into the backyard - even though it is completely surround by a cat fence and he cannot get in. But I like to be sure he has gone!
Have Herself inspect the area around or under the offensive window for spray marks and the like. And if she finds some, have her use that citrus stuff to get rid of the odour. She will have to do it on a regular basis because the offender will come back periodically for a top up. But after the discouragement, purrhaps said cat will find somewhere else instead.
Now about that banging on the bedroom door situation: Detail please.
Does it take some time before you do this, or soon after you have been put in retreat?
Are you amenable to play with a fishing-pole type toy (or some such) at the time?
If you are let out in this kind of a mood, where do you usually got? What to you usually do?
What does 'iffy' look like?
Yes, I AM a curious cat. But the more information you provide the more likely I will be able to be of help.
Purrs to you,
Hello to the Sweetest Cat on Earth - You Greyce!
In answer to your question about what 'iffy' looks like: I sometimes stomp out with my ears back and give dirty looks to Herself.
You see, Greyce, the problem is that I really want to get out. I bang on the door to try to get it open.
I found that if I drag or push a stool or chair over to the door I can open it; all I have to do is push the handle down while getting my paw under the door. I was able to get myself our anytime I wanted until Herself figured out what I was doing.
Now she ties one door handle to the one across the hall so I can no longer get it open. As a result I just bang on the door. I usually don't start the door banging until I have been in my room for at least six hours or whenever I feel like I would like a bite to eat.
To be honest, it's usually because I'm hungry because I don't want to eat the medicated food (just awful Greyce) that Herself leaves in my room. This medicated food is for my chronic urinary tract problem. But I just don't like this food - either of the two brands I have tried, wet or dry. I prefurr my elderly companion's (Athena's) food instead.
So my question is: What are my options here, Greyce? I'd really like regular food. Is there some way I could have that instead? How about just adding cranberry capsules to the food I really like? I've heard it works for urinary problems.
If I am hungry I come out of my retreat room demanding something GOOD to eat. After I have been sated with something YUMMY, I sniff around the whole house to see if anything has changed while I was away. And then I usually like to play a little with the fishing pole, especially at night.
If I am let out before I start banging (because it is my turn to have the run of the house) I don't sniff around so much and am more interested in playing.
Please solve these problems for me Greyce.
Dear Door Banger and Discriminating Gourmet,
It is always a good thing to ask for more information when you are uncertain about what to do. I would much rather you do that than take things into your own paws and have a setback.
Question 1: Should you be let out of the retreat room when you are 'iffy' (in terms of body signals and attitude to Herself)?
My answer is a bit complicated.
Is it possible for Herself to provide you with a yummy snack after a certain number of hours in your room? And then follow it with some interactive play in your room? And if so, will that settle you down? Then I'd say, okay, go out of your room AFTER this point.
I am concerned about the differences in your behaviour between being let out before you bang on the door and after; it seems that there is a difference in your anxiety levels. From your point of view, it should be a bonus if you get to go out from retreat before you've reached the boiling point.
If instead Herself lets you out when you are in door-banging mode, it means you get reinforced into the following sequence: door banging leads to going outside the room and having a yummy snack and roaming privileges. All bow to your command. And while this might work for you, it means that you have become the boss of the house and everyone must dance to your tune. Not a good thing if Herself is paying the rent!
To create a win:win situation here, you will have to re-train Herself. To the extent possible, I would like Herself to let you out before you feel the need to bang on the door. That way, you can be let out when your anxiety levels are lower (making it safer for all involved) and not be reinforced for demanding behaviour. Herself remains in control of the situation.
Question 2: What palatable food is safe for you to eat?
It certainly is an awful situation if you have to eat food you don't like AND know that someone else in the house gets yummies.
There are two possible solutions:
1. Getting those other yummies put away (or less accessible to you) when you are out and about, so you are less tempted - a very partial solution, at best, because you will still be anxious about being hungry and wanting something tasty.
2. Finding a food that is safe for you AND that you find tasty.
While you have told me the foods you have tried, I've made as complete a list as I could for the benefit of all readers. A website search of conventional veterinary foods specially formulated to deal with urinary conditions (and usually only available from a veterinary clinic) yield the following:
From Hills Pet Foods
CD Multicare Feline Bladder Health (dry, canned; dry & canned with chicken, dry & canned with seafood)
S/D Dissolution (dry, canned) - no longer available in Canada to the best of my knowledge.
UR Urinary St/OX (dry, canned)
This formula may increase the amount of time you use the litter box as it is designed to keep your bladder clean through repeated emptying. So frequent cleaning of the litter box and constant access to the box are necessary.
From Royal Canin (which also took over Medi-Cal and Walthams)
Preventive (dry, canned)
Urinary S/O (wet, dry, and chunks and gravy).
Have a look at the list and see what you might not have tried. And then you MUST discuss it with your veterinarian, because some formulations (though excellent) may not address the exact nature of your problem. But I'm betting that there is at least one formulation made by each of these manufacturers that could be right for you.
Some veterinarians prescribe herbal remedies such as the cranberry capsules you asked about. It depends not only on the veterinarian but also on your particular urinary problem, because not all cats respond positively to such measures. This is a veterinary matter and you need to discuss it with your veterinarian.
If you like wet food, consider becoming a largely wet food cat because lack of sufficient water intake can trigger urinary health issues. And wet food has a much higher water content than dry. In this respect, the solutions are:
1) a special diet largely of wet food,
2) a special dry and wet diet with the wet food being mixed with extra water to make a pudding-like consistency, and
3) catering to your water needs, which is the reason for my question: Do you drink a lot of water? Tell me how you prefurr it (fresh, in a bowl, running from the tap, cat water fountain, cold, room temperature, added to wet food, etc.).
IF you are able to try another of the foods on the list (with your vet's consent), then make sure Herself grades it in s-l-o-w-l-y, because one of the biggest difficulties we cats experience is associated with accepting a new food.
Frankly familiarity spells contentment for us. Some of us might jump at the chance to try something new - for a time or two but most of us revert back to the familiar as soon as we get a chance.
Trying A New Food (or Accepting One You Don't Like)
In your case, you need to let your veterinarian know that you detest your prescription food and being forced to eat it (or go without) is making you more anxious and aggressive - because you become hungry and then demand yummies. Let your veterinarian know what food IS palatable to you and check that it is okay to begin with a mix that includes it.
Step One: Start by mixing the new/prescription food in with an existing, palatable food (the stuff you really like and the vet says is okay for a mix). Start with 75% existing food and 25% new/prescription food. If you are okay with this, then eat this mix for a week. If you are not okay with this, reduce the proportion of the new/prescription food that is added (say by half, that is to about 10% or so) and then see if the mix is acceptable. The idea is to find what proportion of new/prescription food (up to 25% of the total mix) is acceptable.
Step Two: Once you have found an acceptable mix and have been eating it well for one week, it is time to increase the proportion of the new/prescription food in the mix. I would proceed slowly. If you were okay with 25% for a week, then try 50%. BUT if you have been fussier (or shall I say, more discriminating) and are now at 25% after several weeks at lower proportions, then just increase it by 10% or so (in other words, to about 1/3 new/prescription and 2/3 existing).
All Other Steps: The deal is this. Every week, you increase the proportion of the new/prescription food in the mix, taking care to ensure that it is still acceptable to you. If it is not, you reduce it again until you find an acceptable proportion and let another week go by. If it is acceptable and you've been eating that proportion for a week, you increase the proportion of new/prescription food again.
At some point you will either be happily eating 100% prescription food OR have reached a point at which any further increase of new/prescription is UNACCEPTABLE to you. If you reach that limit, then consult with your veterinarian. Depending upon the proportion, it may be possible for you to continue with a mix indefinitely and not compromise your urinary health. But that is a veterinary matter and one which requires veterinary consultation.
And yes, trying to keep Athena's food bowl out of sight when you are roaming about is desirable. But I'm not sure about how possible this is in your situation.Do think about it and let me know.
Wishing you happy eating,
There has been a change in our household dynamics. Athena is no longer with us. She died. And Herself is VERY upset. Now it is just me and my brother here.
Just thought I'd let you know,
I am SO sorry to hear about Athena.
I am so proud of myself because I have been doing well. For the past month I have had no major aggression episodes.
Herself has followed your instructions to a 't' and things seem to be working out. She now lets me out of my sequestered room before I start banging on the door, and I really like that.
Yet I also like being in my room when Herself is going in and out of the house doing yard work as I'm less able to smell whatever it is she tracks in. It's a better arrangement for both of us. Herself continually sprays the outside of the house with lemon juice and it seems to keep away all those guys that make me so mad.
I did get a little upset the other day when she came inside after raking the lawn. I sniffed her up and down. Then my ears went back, my pupils enlarged and I started small growls. She put me straight back in my room and when I came out a few hours later, I was a happy camper.
I have even seen my brother through a crack in the door. We touched noses and it didn't freak me out! And I don't even beat up Athena anymore.
Don't get me wrong, I am still not purrfect but things are getting better.
Now can you help me re-unite with my brother?
You ARE the cat's whiskers to me!
You have made impressive progress of which you are justly proud - as am I.
Before you consider re-uniting with your brother (and we CAN consider it), I would like you to have another couple of months with the current regime. This will help solidify your progress. Moreover during the next few months, there will be the new smells of summer (and possibly more roaming cats) in your neighbourhood. And I want to make sure you are handling that well, BEFORE we start thinking about re-integration.
Rest assured that I am not ruling out re-integration by any means. I just want you to do s-l-o-w-l-y.
So please keep me posted and send me a reminder in a few months times. Then we can take it from there.
I'm so proud of you!
I hadn't heard from Timmy in quite a while. So I asked if he'd mind updating me on his progress. Here is what he wrote.
It's been a long time since we've written each other but I'm sure you will remember me. Timmy . . . very angry Timmy the attack cat who sometimes snaps for no reason . . . or because of seeing or smelling other cats outside. I still live with my brother, Mihijo and my beloved human who travels extensively from time to time. And I am better behaved, especially now that Herself knows how to keep me calm and when to let me settle down in my private room.
Life unfolds as it should. My purrson just came back after a month's absence. I got a great report card from the lady who runs the cat hotel at which I stayed. She said I was much better this year. When Herself came to take me home, I even let her pick me up . . . and and then I walked right into my carrier to go home. Sweet, eh?
I still spend most of my time in my safe room. It was redecorated with lots of neat climbing and scratching stuff and I can look out the window.
Quite a few times, I venture out of that bedroom. I have even spent entire days with Mihijo, under supervision, of course - though I still cannot tolerate him for a full day.
I get to sleep with Herself every night. At times I have the run of the house while Mihijo stays in his room. I also have the run of the house every Sunday while Herself is away.
On the whole I have come leaps and bounds from where I was, thanks to your help. Even my Prozac dosage has been reduced. I still get into extreme stress mode at the vet's - where they still need to put on big leather welding gloves to handle me. Guess that's what they get the big bucks for!
I think that you, the Prozac and my sentence at the kennel have really turned me around; but Mihijo and I are still not allowed to spend the day together unsupervised when our human is at work. Herself says that she would welcome any suggestions that you have because you have been such a wonderful help but, I myself, am VERY proud of my behaviour.
I am still misunderstood by many people. They think I am crazy and should be put into sleeping beauty mode but without the princely wake up. Fortunately my purrson knows what a good guy I am, deep down. She believes in me and I reward her by being very loving to her. I have not even hissed at her in over a year.
Your brave friend,
Shortly after that, another e-mail arrived.
Oh Greyce!You have made such extraordinary progress that it is worthy of a full bowl of catnip in celebration. Excellent work!
I would welcome any suggestions you have to further my progress especially seeing as summer is coming and the windows will be open and you know how I get upset with the smell of other cats in my yard. Maybe you can give me some advice on how to not run away from that dog, too. My brother (Mihijo) doesn't run away from that dog and they seem to be very good friends. I kind of feel left out.
Oh Brave One,
You will never guess what big change has happened in my life. My human FINALLY got back from being abroad again. You won't believe what she did: She brought back a DOG with her!
My purrson set up a gate to separate the hateful dog (Jigger) from me and my brother. Mihijo seems to like the dog but I am not sure I am ready to meet him. So when he is in the house I go to my "safe place" which is Herself's bedroom. And I always get to sleep with her while silly Mihijo spends the night with that dog.
I even walked through the gate into the room Jigger was in. Unfortunately, the hateful dog woke up and started chasing me so I ran away; but at least I didn't go into breakdown mode like I used to.
Today that hateful dog was at daycare so we cats spent almost two hours of supervised time together. We sniffed each other from one end to the other and tussled a little but when Herself said, "No" we went to our separate corners. All in all, I think I did wonderfully considering my past history. What do you think?
I would welcome any suggestions you have to further my progress especially seeing as summer is coming and the windows will be open and you know how I get upset with the smell of other cats in my yard. Maybe you can give me some advice on how to not run away from that dog, too. My brother (Mihijo) doesn't run away from that dog and they seem to be very good friends. I kind of feel left out.
Also I should tell you that I have progressed to the point that I sit in the open window (with screen) and the smells don't bother me much anymore. The one good thing about having a dog here is that now there are not so many cats coming to my door.
Greyce, you are the best and I have missed meowing to you. I have to go now because my purrson says she wants to go to bed and I am not allowed to use the internet without supervision.
Greyce, you are the best and I have missed meowing to you. I have to go now because my purrson says she wants to go to bed and I am not allowed to use the internet without supervision.
Bye for now,
Now to your question about your reactivity in the spring. I know you are sensitive to the strange smells of summer and react by becoming highly aroused and aggressive.
As I understand it, Herself did take my advice to change the place at which she feeds stray animals that drop by. She removed all plates and bowls from the front porch (a source of concern for you) and, I believe, sprayed the front door down with citrus spray (to remove any possible strange cat marks and to act as a cat repellent, since most cats detest the smell of citrus). I requested that she change her route to the back door (since you are agitated at the front entry).
I assume that her stray feeding area remains away from the front porch. I suggest she give the outside of the front door a thorough cleaning and possibly spray it again with something citrus - just to keep other felines away from it. If there are other outside doors or windows that other cats come into contact with and that you look out of, I suggest they get the cleaning and citrus spray treatment as well.
I requested that Herself change clothes and thoroughly wash her hands (and any other part of her that could have come into contact with other critters) after she feeds strays or spends time outside and before she has contact with you. I now also mentioned that whatever she washes with should be a soap that is familiar to you (i.e., one that she usually uses so you already recognize it).
Did she ever install a Feliway diffuser in your room? It would enhance your sense of comfort during this seasonal change. It might also be a good thing to install in whatever main room you hang out in - when you are out and about - again to offer comfort. Yes, the diffuser can be moved from one room to another.
Also, I would suggest that she not open the windows in your safe room when you are in it. If she feels she needs to air it out, she could try doing it when you are elsewhere in the house. She might also consider closing windows in the area you hang out in (when you are out of your safe room).
Another possible thing to consider is the purchase of an air cleaner with a HEPA filter - one that removes odours. These are usually available from department stores, hardware stores or even drug stores in Canada. If you are so inclined, look for a model that is very, very quiet so it disturbs you the least. And our latest one has washable filters so we don't have to buy new ones.
We have three (one for each floor of my home including the basement) to help those visitors who are allergic to me. But they also came in handy when there was a problem with sewage lines in the neighbourhood; the relining process really made a vile smell in the middle of winter! But the air cleaners soon fixed that.
This could be a way to air out your room without opening the windows. Alternatively, she might also use it elsewhere in the house after windows have been opened a while and she shuts them. It would remove external smells.
Should you decide to get one of these, make sure Herself places it where you will find it (not your safe room just yet) and can get used to it. Then use it at first at the lowest (quietest) level, so that you can get used to the sound.
Now to answer your question about how to stop running from Jigger. It is not usual for some cats to be afraid of dogs. I am. I don't want to be anywhere near them, thank you very much - probably because I was not properly introduced to them as a kitten and also because I was likely chased by them for the month that I spent as a stray on the streets. So I truly understand how you feel.
As you noticed when Jigger is about, your brother, Mihijo, doesn't run away and so Jigger does not chase after him. There is much to be learned from this: 1) Jigger has to learn not to chase you, and 2) you have to learn not to run when you see Jigger.
We need to put you in a situation where Jigger is present but cannot give chase (either being confined or on lead) and we need to help you relax in such a situation so that you will not run. But before I go into detail, I will need some answers. So my questions to you are:
1. Does Jigger also bark when chasing you? Are you afraid of the bark or only the chase?
2. Is there a cat tree or shelf to which you can run for safety, in the room that Jigger is in?
3. Does Jigger know and obey the 'stay' command or the 'sit' command?
4. Is it possible for Jigger to be placed in a dog crate and then you let into the dog's area?
5. Is it possible for Herself to enlist the help of another purrson so that one could keep Jigger on a lead away from you, and Herself could be with you - starting at the gate and later on (after many small steps) in the same room?
Let me know the answers to these questions and then I can provide more detail.
All in all, I'm so very proud of you Timmy. You are an amazing cat!
I feel so important having you address my problems on your blog. Hopefully there are others out there who will now know they are not the only ones with such issues.
As you know, I wrote you about that pesky dog, Jiggers, who lives with me. While he is confined to the living room by a baby gate, every time I enter the room (through an opening in said gate) he chases me. That scares me out of my wits. As I mentioned before, my brother, Mihijo, is never chased; he just walks by!
Sure Greyce, I could keep out of the living room. But I prefurr to go wherever I want. I enter through the opening in the baby gate and the chase is on.
I have always known that if Jigger would stop chasing me, my life would be even better. That way I could just ignore him. And so I asked for your help.
To assist, here are the answers to the questions you asked in your previous entry:
Does Jiggers bark? I guess you are trying to figure out if it is the noise that gives me the willies. But Jiggers barks very seldom, as he is mostly Basenji. He does make sounds like a yodeller. Do you think his ancestors were from the Swiss Alps?
My biggest problem with Jiggers is how fast he is. When he chases me, I am afraid he is going to get me. He make think he only wants to play but he scares me.
Truth be told, Jigger is a real wuss. When Herself first met him in Africa, he would always chase cats. But if he cornered a cat and said cat hissed at him, he would quickly give up.
But frankly, I don't want to be chased. I don't want to be cornered. And I don't want to have a hissy fit!
You asked if there is a cat tree in the living room where Jigger hangs out. There is a large one. And you are probably thinking of making sure I have a safe place (up high) to retreat. I do.
Now getting back to Jigger. You asked if he knows commands probably because we could then pair some obedience training with those commands and teach him NOT to chase me - since he obviously thinks that cats should be chased (except those who do NOT run, like Mihijo). Well Jigger knows 'sit' and very slightly knows 'stay' but because he was a wild dog for the first 3 of his 4 years, he usually chooses not to obey.
And your asking about the possibility of putting Jigger in a crate during our training process will not work. Because he spent 33 hours in a crate traveling from Africa, he is terrified of them. It was an horrendous experience. So no deal, Greyce.
Finally, you asked if Herself had someone who could help with the re-introduction/re-training process. Sorry but she doesn't have anyone available. She did try tying his lead to a door knob and he just about ripped the knob off.
So what now, Greyce?
Yours in puzzlement,
Ironically, the most useful information you provided is something I did not ask for, but you mentioned anyway: Jigger is a Basenji. And this is the key!
I did a bit of research on this breed. Here are some facts which have bearing on your case:
- Basenjis will chase after any fast moving object they see because they enjoy chasing and hunting.
- Basenjis are very intelligent and independent. This means they are difficult to train because they will decide whether or not obedience is worthwhile, on a case-by-case basis. Such a dog's purrson needs to be quite confident and patient, for harsh methods will backfire (not that I'm an advocate of such methods, by any means).
- Basenjis love their freedom (which is why they tend not to enjoy crating - even when they don't have a 33 hour plane ride).
I could go on and on.
Several websites I looked at suggested that Basenjis not live with cats unless they were introduced to each other when the dog was a baby puppy. Others suggested that Basenjis know the difference between cats who are family members and those who are not, and tend to by okay with family members. However others suggested that it depends on the cat. According to the Willamette Valley Basenji Club those cats who are bold and friendly get along well with Basenji dogs. I bet Mihijo is one of those. However, a timid cat or a reactive cat (who is prone to run away) is another matter. And that is you, my dear. Such cats can expect to always be chased and to be pestered, and pestered, and pestered again!
These are VERY challenging circumstances Timmy because at fundamentally, Jiggers and you are 'wired' to be incompatible. And since Basenjis are long-lived dogs (with an estimated longevity of 12 to 17 years) you are in for a long haul.
We could change your purrsonality and make you into a friendly and confident cat. Frankly, you have made great strides and I am very proud of you. But to ask you to stop running in the face of Jiggers' interest is asking for the moon and stars and the sun. Transforming you into another cat entirely is well beyond my purview.
We could change Jigger's breed. Ha! Ha! That makes about as much sense as trying to change your purrsonality.
So now that we've put miracles aside, here are a few things I think you could try, that might moderate the situation a bit.
#1 Put the onus is on Jigger and Herself to do the work, rather than you. To that end I suggest the use of Tellington T Touch which has produced impressive results on various species (domesticated and wild) on a variety of issues. Check out the website which is loaded with relevant information about how it is done, the kinds of results it gets and even shows some dog videos.
Then send Herself to the local library for a copy of Getting in Ttouch with your Dog: A Gentle Approach to Influencing Behavior, Health, and Performance. Make sure she gets the latest (2012) edition.
Once she has looked at that, encourage her to call a practitioner in her area (information on the website will direct her) and arrange for a home visit. Even if all she can afford is one session, it would be worthwhile. The practitioner could review the process with her (help her learn some of the basic touches to implement with Jigger herself) and provide some tips for the process.
Herself would need to commit to regular sessions (which she would do, not the practitioner) with Jigger. She might even try some of the touches on you!
The point of this is to try to get Jiggers to become more responsive to her commands. Then we can see if she can direct him to stay calm when you enter; and if you are able then, just to walk in, rather than run.
#2 Consider some environmental modification. While Jiggers scares you silly you are obviously not so traumatized that you refuse to enter the living room. Depending upon the living room entryway and overall design, it may be possible to rig up a high cat walkway to which Jiggers cannot get access; that would allow you to have safe use of the room from above. (It depends on how you use the space, how the space itself is organized, and what Herself thinks of the possibility. It also depend on how high Jiggers can jump.) The link I've shown has several images to provide some inspiration for this idea. Because I know nothing of the layout of this room, I am unable to provide further details.
Do let me know what happens.
I need more advice. This time about those terrible cats that walk the alley and go up to my front door! They drive me crazy!
But first, let me give you the news about Jigger (the pesky dog).
Herself is now at the computer right next to the baby gate between the living room and the rest of the house. She decided to let Mihijo and me roam about this morning with the gate up. Jigger was sleeping in the living room so I just trotted right in. He woke up and trotted up to me making those weird noises of his. I just hissed at him once and then he wanted to to the other side of the gate. So now I am on my cat stand in the living room (Jigger's room) and Jigger is in the kitchen staring at me through the baby gate. Ha! Ha!
You asked if I'd had any Jigger-related meltdowns. Nope. If I don't go up on my cat stand, I just walk about the living room until Jigger sees me and then I leave back through the baby gate. I usually go back to my safe room or down to the basement where it is nice and quiet.
You suggested a possible cat walk to keep me up high from Jigger. However we live in a rented house and would not be allowed to make changes like that. But Herself did take your advice to heart about Tellington T Touch and has contacted a practitioner and arranged to obtain a copy of the book your recommended. So maybe, just maybe, the relationship between Jigger and me will have a chance to improve.
So now, for my next area in need of advice: those roaming cats.
Last year I'd mentioned my distaste of seeing cats outside and asked for your help. Thanks to your advice, Herself stopped feeding strays outside! She did this just for me - so as not to upset me.
But the problem remains: Those darn pesky trespassers just prance by at all hours of the day and night - in the alley and sometimes up to my front steps! Of course, this is because we have so many strays where I live and they are always searching the garbage for something to eat. I can see the alley from the living room. And while I don't get to see them as much because I'm not out in the living room much, I still get VERY upset.
Herself sprayed down the front door, steps and planter with lemon juice yesterday; hopefully it will act as a repellent.
Herself does keep the window closed during the day when I am in my safe room (so I don't have to smell 'them'), but she opens it at night when she goes to sleep. It doesn't bother me too much then because Herself is there and I just curl up around her head, while Mihijo sleeps at the foot of the bed.
(I have taught Mihijo his place).
Any further advice on dealing with roaming cats - cats I see from my window, would be appreciated.
From all you have told me in previous correspondence, I get the impression that Herself adores animals and has a very big heart when it comes to animal rescue. So you must be very loved for Herself to give up feeding stray cats. I hope you give her some very loud purrs for Mothers' Day.
I think the use of repellent on the front door, steps and surround is important. And I agree that citrus scents make a good repellent. However lemon juice is too weak to have much effect. Instead I recommend using either a good commercially available cat repellent or a homemade recipe based on essential oil.
Either of the following commercial cat repellents seem to have received the best reviews. (Sorry, I have not used either purrsonally.) One is called Shake-Away and consists of granules made of coyote and fox urine; it is available in Canada and the USA (and possibly elsewhere). Another is called Silent Roar and is made from lion dung. It is available in the United Kingdom (and possibly elsewhere) and because of European Economic Community regulations is sold as a fertilizer rather than as a cat repellent - even though that is what it is for. I had no luck finding a Canadian or American source, but the link is to its on-line site from which you can have it shipped. In both cases, the products are made from predator waste thereby giving us felines the willies, because we think a predator is lurking about. And so we stay away.
The biggest problem with using such a repellent, however, is to ensure that your purrson reads the instructions carefully and is consistent about application (that is, you cannot just put the stuff down once and think cats will stay away for the entire season and you have to be mindful after it rains, which washes the scent away).
A product such as one of these would be good to sprinkle at your property boundaries, to keep cats away from your yard. However, it will not stop them from using the alley itself - to which, you must admit they ARE entitled. Unless you expect Herself to buy lots of the stuff and sprinkle the entire alley!
Alternatively you can consider homemade repellent made with essential oil. The VetInfo site has a recipe for such repellent in its entry, Using Citronella Oil as a Cat Repellent. You can buy this essential oil from a health food store and often just from a regular pharmacy (though you might have to ask for it because sometimes they keep it behind the counter). I have not made this recipe up but I can assure you that I detest the smell of citronella!
Because I don't know all the details about your yard, I will refurr you as well to another article written from a landscaper viewpoint that deals with the issue of keeping pesky felines away from your property: 10 Cat Repellents. It reviews various means including ultrasonic devices (not recommended for your case because it will likely affect you, too) and motion-activated sprinklers. NOTE: the article recommends the use of some plants which I would NOT - lavender (which many cats adore - so much for it repelling them!), rue and pennyroyal which can repel cats and are toxic to them. So I surely don't recommend those. Ditto with the suggestion about mothballs. And I do NOT advise the use of cayenne pepper or ammonia because I do not think them humane for this use at all. So read the article keeping these concerns in mind.
If you want to try planting something in the front planter or along the backyard border, then I suggest trying to source the plant Coleus Canina which is also known as the 'pee-off plant' which is considered safe (though abhorrent to our sense of smell). Try several garden centres (including speciality ones - in addition to big department and hardware stores with seasonal plant sections). I am going to look for it, and if I find it here I will let you know.
If seeing these cats is bothersome during the day when you are in your safe room and the windows are closed, I assume you still look out from the blinds or drapes. You might consider window film which would obscure your view but allow light in (though you might find this very boring). You can find this at paint and decorating stores, hardware stores and department stores with interior decorating sections. They stick to the window without glue, so there should be no concern about them being in a rental property. And you could always just try it on one section to see if you can tolerate not being able to see outside.
If your yard is fenced but you can still see critters through it, Herself could consider obscuring it with sheet of Coroplast (available from hardware stores); just punch holes where you need to attach it to the fence and then bind it to the fence with long electrical ties. I've used this solution to avoid dealing with cats would come around my side yard and used to peek through the slats in the fence. The Coroplast has been up for several years and works just fine.
And don't forget to refresh yourself with the tips from my magnificent entry, The Invading Stranger (1/17/10).
Let me know what works for you.