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

Monday, October 7, 2013

Helping Nyx the Cat Who Howls Before Dawn

Dear Greyce,
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Nyx enjoys rest
I am a handsome adult black cat and have spent my life as a mostly-outdoor cat. When my purrsons moved, they left me behind and I stayed in the neighbourhood as a stray. The neighbours left food for me but it was a battle to get it because I had to invade the territory of their primarily-outdoor male, Shamus, who is orange and grumpy and thinks everything belongs to him. He always goes after me and I have battle wounds to prove it.

My very new, new home is an apartment on the top floor of a two-storey building next door to Shamus.  It has a bedroom and main area; and there is a back porch to lie out in the sun during the day. I now live with Herself and Himself and their six-month old female calico kitten called Luna. I still have my manhood but Herself says I cannot stay this way. Why I cannot is a mystery to me.

My folks rise around 10:00 a.m. because they work late hours. Bedtime is between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. I am okay during the day and at bedtime. When they are in bed, I curl up at their feet. Once the lights are out and things get very quiet, I get nervous and start to cry. But if they ignore me, I settle down. The problem beings in the pre-dawn hours. 

At 4 a.m. I begin my opera lessons. I prepare Themselves for a concert by pacing up and down the bed, then by Herself's side of the bed, then going to the door and the hallway. I get in their faces. And I let forth my golden tones to the tune of a lament.

I will not stop until they do something. They would give me pets and calm reassurance but the minute they stopped I started to sing again. So they put me out of the bedroom and closed the door! Well Greyce, I attempt to entice them by singing at the door, starting with soft cries and building up to something truly spectacular. But since they ignore me, I settle down in about 30 minutes.

Because of their lack of music appreciation, I am banned from the bedroom until the morning.

Themselves would prefurr that 'morning' be considered as 10:00 a.m. when they usually wake. I'll admit that they did try to let me in earlier, but then Himself tried to snuggle with me and give me pets and I would cry when he stopped.  He must have realized he was poor at customer services because he started to feel guilty and blamed himself - of course, as he should. The massage and snuggle service left something to be desired, if you ask me. Then Herself got worried, thinking my behaviour relates to a fear of being abandoned again.

Themselves wonder if I sing in the early hours because I want to go outdoors. As mentioned, I'm used to the outdoors. I have tried escaping from time to time when the door is open.

They are very concerned about me going back outdoors, even for a while. First there is the Shamus factor. The bully lives next door with his sister, Flannery. Two cat resides in the apartment below me, but never venture out of doors. And there is another cat who comes around from time to time. Second, I can't just stay in the yard - large though it is, because it is not completely fenced. Third, we live in a college area and not far from two bars. They are concerned about pranksters or those with even worse intentions who might do me harm - particularly since I am black and Halloween is coming. Fourth, Herself had a kitten who was killed while being outdoors. She does not want to repeat the experience.  Fifth, Luna is terrified of the outdoors so they would like me to become an indoor-only cat, too.

What's a guy to to?

Greyce, I am a new-age sensitive male who is quite timid. I am very loving and thrive on cuddles and pets, so much so that I don't want my purrsons to stop. I crave attention and purr when I get it. It makes me very happy to be told how handsome I am and how well I take care of my coat. I am curious (though Luna is more so) and not particularly energetic; lying on warm blankets or snuggling with purrsons is more my style.

For the first few days in my new home, I showed little interest in play. Themselves would bring the toys (ropes with stretchy things on them, balls, and a laser pointer) and Luna would go wild. I couldn't get near the toys when she gets wound up, so I would sit and watch.  It took quite some time before I would participate. And I shun the laser pointer completely and have only a mild interest in catnip. Play sessions last around an hour. 

In a matter of days, I am changing my tune. Today for the first time since moving in, I really played. Herself tossed the ball and I ran after it until Luna jumped in and stole it from me. But I got her back!

We have been chasing each other and tackling playfully. Luna loves it and I'm starting to like her. I've been rubbing up on her and sneak attacking her when she isn't looking. You can tell that she is very energetic. And frankly there are times when I have to swat her, because she can become annoying. But we are becoming good friends.

Oh by the way, I have a few other, minor issues related to scratching and eating.

I try to scratch the chair and Herself has put smelly spray on it to put me off. And then she bought a scratching post with a dangling toy on it. I haven't really expressed interest but Luna really likes it. Suggestions would be welcome.

I do eat fast - like I won't get to eat again. I'm getting better at slowing down, but I still gulp my kibble once in a while. What's with that? We free feed, mainly kibble though sometimes we get wet food. It has taken me time to get used it to because it is a brand with which I am not familiar. Themselves let Luna and me share the bowl and fill it up when it looks empty. We also get a few treats a day; if Himself had he way, we would get more.

So Greyce, can you help me?


Dear Nyx,
Congratulations! You must be very clever and endearing to have found such a good home with purrsons who are concerned about your welfare and has provided an amenable feline companion. Well done! And hisses and a hairball to those irresponsible cretins who left you to fend for yourself. There are words for people like these but I am too refined to use them.

You have obviously done an excellent job in getting the folks to do you bidding, in a very short time. Unlimited petting, snuggling and general attention do not seem to be lacking. However in my experience, purrsons get really put off when one decides to exercise musical talent at what they deem to be an unseemly hour.

I must admit to the 4:00 a.m. wake up aria as well: A recent phenomenon begun in my household because of a drastic alteration in my schedule due to sewage backup (believe me it's a long story and you don't want to go there). I am in the midst of re-adjusting. I'm now at the point where I begin at 5:00 a.m. and - so Themselves say - they are working toward 6:00 a.m. which is considered a decent hour in my household. At that time I get access to my completed cat-fenced-in backyard and that suits me admirably.

But enough about me.

You are already on the way to having your problems solved, even without my very fine and wise advice.

First, Themselves are setting boundaries by using the bedroom door to regulate your access. This suggests that they are beginning to take charge. And at least in this way, you are learning the rules of the household. As a cat, I'd prefurr you to make all the rules; unfortunately you don't pay the rent and that means they get to call the shots (within reason, of course).

Second, Themselves are learning to ignore your fine vocal purrformance. As you are learning, there really is no point in continuing one's song without an attentive audience. IF they continue to behave in this way (that is, ignoring your pre-dawn vocal exercises after you have been banned from the bedroom ) each and every time, you will soon save your voice. They must ignore you each and every time; if they vacillate and bend the rules, it will only make your need to burst into song get stronger and more difficult to extinguish.

But I am not without ideas of ways to help you sleep more soundly in the night. So here goes:

1. Get fixed (Luna, too).

2. Change your routine.

3. Consider going for a walk.

Let me explain.

1. Change Your Routine

You need a more stimulating routine. A cat who is confined indoors with purrsons who are either absent or asleep for long periods of time, is a bored cat. Particularly if said cat has had the challenge and constant stimulation of the outdoor life (with micro-climates, time-sharing changes and the need to hunt for survival.) Bored cats get antsy. And antsy cats do things like start to sing at 4:00 a.m. They want action!

You need a better workout  - but the right kind of workout at the right time(s). I could go into a long song and dance about predatory cycles and the like. Instead I'll just say this: have a knock-em-out interactive (meaning with purrsons) play session just before bedtime. Please follow the instructions on my page (at the top of this blog) called Interactive Play Therapy, to learn about predation and how it can be simulated with human help.

You have already indicated that play sessions with purrsons last about an hour and that is great. I just don't know when they occur. If they are earlier in the evening, and I suspect that they are, I suggest that Themselves divide the time in half; that is, a 30-minute session at the 'regular' time and a 30- minute before-bed session. Make sure to follow the instructions on winding down as it nears the end so that you won't be left in an excited state. We want to tire you out, to help you sleep through the night.

A few days ago, when you were reticent to play, I would have suggested that Herself take Luna to one room for a play session and Himself take you to the other - so that you would play in a more confident manner. But now I think you are starting to adapt to your new household and relaxing into playfulness. So that is likely not necessary.

After hunting (known to humans as the play session) you will need a satisfying snack, which leads me to my suggestions about feeding. Right after that play session(s), I want you to have a small meal. 

At present, you eat from a shared bowl that it topped up when it looks to be on the empty side. I want this to change.

Keep the kibble but reduce the quantity (because I want you to make wet food a daily menu item, too).

Make sure that when the bowl is topped up, it is rinsed out in hot water and dried first and then the new stuff is put on the bottom and the old stuff sprinkled on the top. Kibble has fats sprayed on the outside to make it palatable. Fats exposed to air become rancid. And it's easy to have a rancid bunch of stuff at the bottom if you just put the fresh on the top.

Please also consider the delivery of some portion of your kibble via food puzzles. This will provide more challenge and stimulation for the both of you. It would be an especially good idea to have some portion of kibble available like this, to hunt for after the folks have gone to work for the day. Consult my recent blog entry to Mihijo (9/19/13) which has more information on that.

Add some wet food to your daily diet: Same brand, different form. Why? Wet food is higher in protein which is far more satisfying to cats than the higher carbohydrate content of kibble. And that means less chance of going overboard trying to get the protein you need. Don't believe me? Mihijo's entry provides the evidence. Besides wet food by its very nature has very much higher water content and I want you to be well-hydrated to avoid potential urinary tract problems.

I want you to have a wet pre-bedtime/post-hunting meal and, if possible, a wet breakfast. If you have two daily play sessions, you can be given a few treats or some kibble for the first session; but the pre-bedtime one should comes with wet food - because it's volume will fill your tummy more and thus last longer.

It might make things a lot easier for Themselves if you could receive a breakfast-type snack while they sleep. That would require the purchase of a special, timed feeder that could be set, say, for 8:00 a.m. It could keep your wet portion chilled overnight. Of course, that likely means two feeders (so Luna gets her share). So maybe when they win the lottery, they can put this on the list.

In the meantime, offering you wet food at a set time in the morning (even if it is after they get up) would be quite rewarding. If the cost of cans cannot be easily accommodated into the family budget, then keep the wet food to the pre-bedtime, post-hunting snack for now.

And about that gulping of food like there is not tomorrow: That's natural for a cat who has been a stray and had to hunt for food. In such situations there could very well be no food the next day. Moreover with Shamus about I'd gulp food down myself - just to have a feed before he comes to beat me up! So I think your speedy eating should decrease in time, as you adapt to your new home. And to slow you down a bit more, consider those food puzzles I mentioned - for a portion of your kibble. That way you will learn how to savour your food. 

2. Get Fixed

Why do I say you should be fixed? Because you don't want to father kittens. 

On the one paw, you say you have your manhood which I believe means that you still have testicles. On the other paw, you are timid and you don't look like you have the manly neck ruff of the intact male. (Sorry, I'm unable to post your photo just yet.) But then you get into fights with Shamus. And so I wonder.

You see, there are two ways to lose your manhood. One is to be castrated which means that your testicles are cut off. If you had this kind of operation, there would be no testicles left. You would not be able to father kittens. After about three-weeks your hormonal level would lower considerably and you would be less interested in defending territory and engaging in fights. The other way is to have the equivalent of a vasectomy, a snip job that leaves your testicles intact. As described on this link, the testicles of the intact male tend to be larger and hard; whereas the altered male's become smaller and soft. You keep your sex drive (and interest in females) without the ability to father kittens; your territorial urges remain unchanged. Themselves may not be interested in feeling you up to find out, so I think a trip to the local veterinarian for a preliminary exam would be in order. Better safe than sorry!

For a cat destined for an indoor life, castration may very well be the prefurred option. This would definitely lower any wishes on your part for large territories and the need to defend them. You would not be influenced by the hormonal surges of intact females who may wander the neighbourhood.

I hope Luna is fixed, too. The female kitten starts going into heat as early as five months and as late as nine. In heat she will be after any intact male (or equivalent such as the pant legs of humans) to rub up against and encourage mating. Cycling in and out of heat can, over the longer term, pose a health hazard to her. Besides, need I say that she doesn't need to become a teenaged mom?

3. Consider Going for A Walk

If you continue to hanker for the outdoors or show evidence of needing more stimulation that the folks can provide, I suggest you take a walk. Not just any walk but one on a leash and harness with a purrson.

Given the nature of your yard, your neighbourhood and the surrounding cats, it is not in your best interests to be allowed to wander at will. And putting you in the yard on a leash (but tethered) would invited Shamus to beat you up without you having any chance of escape. Cat fences are expenses that do on work well with rental properties. No, no, no!

Since you love human touch so much, you might find it easy to adapt to a harness to which a leash can be attached and in that way, explore your neighbourhood with one of your folks. Given your folks' busy schedules, you might find it suitable to have a walk instead of a 30-minute play session. Of course, you'd still need that pre-bedtime play session.

Feel free to consult some of the entries I wrote related to going outdoors - safely:  Tied Down (4/19/10) which describes the differences between being tethered and not; Harnessing Facts (4/26/10) about the correct harnesses; and Going for a Walk (5/3/10).

As you may know, I have a cat-fenced-in backyard. I can't get out. Other cats cannot get in. But still, I hanker for front yard privileges and the chance to patrol the area. So Themselves take me on leash and harness. I saunter down the steps, go past the deck to check out the scent signals others leave behind, sniff the bushes and then stop for a rest. As soon as Themselves think we are ready to go inside, I change my mind and veer in another direction. Of course, walking with a cat is so different that walking with a dog. 

About Scratching Furniture

So you are not that interested in the new scratching post? Tell me, where is it located in relation to the chair that is your current target? What is the chair made of? What is the post made of? How tall is the post? (I assume you are a vertical scratcher; if not please let me know). Answer these questions and I'll get back with more advice.

Looking forward to hearing from you,