UNDERSTANDING YOUR CAT
Cats enjoy high places, which is why they favour windows as entry and exit points.
The social system of cats living in a wild state varies in relation to their ecological circumstances – food availability is the major influencing factor. Groups may be formed when the availability and dispersion of food allows two or more individuals to live in close proximity. Most of these groups consist of females, usually related, together with their offspring and immature males.
Females often nurse each other’s kittens and bring back prey for them all. Mature males are not part of the ‘family’ group, forming only loose, temporary liaisons with it for breeding purposes. They are not involved with the rearing of kittens.
Where food is scattered, cats live a more solitary existence. Territories are formed and defended areas contain the denning site and possibly a major food source. These are marked using scent and visual signals, such as scratch marks (claw-marking) and uncovered faeces. Cats entering the territory of others risk attack, although home ranges (areas in which hunting is done) may overlap. However, where this occurs, the cats sharing the home range rarely meet. They seem to have some sort of ‘time-share’ arrangement, which ensures that they hunt in different areas at different times.
Given the opportunity, cats will raise their young communally in a similar way to lions. Several females, usually sisters, will help with the kittens and take turns babysitting while the others hunt.
It is essential that children are taught to hold a cat correctly, with its weight supported by the holder’s hands or body. An uncomfortable cat will kick and bite in an attempt to free itself.
The cat-human relationship
Cats are flexible in their dependence on humans, as most cats are capable of surviving in a wild environment. In suburban areas it is difficult to find enough prey to support a totally feral existence, so a liaison with humans is necessary and beneficial. The relationship between cats and humans is one of mutual gain or symbiosis. Cats gain shelter, a food supply and health care. We get rodent control and companionship.
Unlike dogs, cats do not necessarily regard humans as part of their own social group. The social order of a group of cats in a household tends to involve only the cats. This does vary, though: cats raised in close contact with humans, and who have no other cats in the household, do regard humans as part of their social group, and may show behaviour such as status-related aggression toward them (see p61). Some breeds, such as Siamese and Burmese, have been selectively bred for friendliness toward humans and are often very attached to and psychologically dependent on their owners. On the whole, most cats maintain a relatively independent existence and seek human companionship on their own terms.
Kittens are born blind and deaf. Their eyes open at two weeks and they begin to play at three. At this age they hear well and have a good sense of smell, and the gape response is shown (see p58). Vision develops slowly, over 10 weeks.
Kittens are born blind and deaf and are relatively helpless before two weeks of age.
Smell is probably the most important of the cat’s senses
Cats are able to detect tiny particles of scent, which tell them about the social and reproductive status of other cats. They do this by means of the ‘gape’ response (also known as ‘flehming’) – this lip-curling expression delivers the chemicals of the particular scent to the sensitive vomeronasal organ.
Play increases in intensity from four to 11 weeks, then declines. By eight weeks the kittens are capable of killing and eating small prey. It is important that kittens socialize with humans and other cats during the two- to seven-week period, otherwise they will be fearful of human contact. If hand-reared and isolated from other cats or kittens, they may never relate properly to other cats.
The cat’s sense of smell
Cats have a keen sense of smell and have a special structure (the vomeronasal organ) that helps them detect scents. This organ consists of two blind-ending tubes that run between the oral and nasal cavities. Substances taken into the mouth are dissolved in fluid contained in the fine tubes, then sensory information is conveyed to the olfactory organs.
When cats are investigating a smell using this organ, they hold their mouths open in a sort of gaping grimace.
Scent is an important means of communication. It is used to define territory via sprayed urine or from scent deposited from facial glands during rubbing or glands in the feet during scratching. Scent is also deposited onto faeces from the anal glands. It is thought that scent conveys information about identity, social status and the reproductive state of the cat. There is also evidence for the existence of clan odours, identifying members of a group of related animals.
Scent or odour is also important in stimulating appetite in cats and in prey identification. Cats with upper respiratory tract virus infections that cause nasal congestion often will not eat, as they cannot smell the food.
Cats have excellent night vision, which is partly due to the tapetum cellulosum, which reflects light back onto the retina.
Cats have good stereoscopic vision and are excellent at detecting movement. Their ability to detect light is three to eight times better than that of humans. Their visual range extends from 25 cm (10 in) to 2 m (6.5 ft), and they have excellent depth perception and blue-green colour vision.
Cats are able to see well in the dark, thanks to a special structure (the tapetum cellulosum) that reflects light back onto the retina.
Many Siamese cats have poor stereoscopic vision, and reduced close vision and flicker detection as a result of an inherited defect. Many of these cats have obvious squints.
A human sees from side-to-side – a total of 150°– of which 145° is binocular overlap.
A cat sees from side-to-side – a total of 275°– of which 130° is binocular overlap.
A dog has a total vision of 250–290°, with 80–110° of overlap – much less than that of humans.
Cats are very sensitive to high frequency sound (60 khz), which enables them to detect rodents’ ultrasonic squeaks. They are good at judging the height of a sound’s origin, and the mobile external ear (pinna) helps in sound localization.
In addition to their acute hearing, cats have vibration detectors in their feet, which are able to detect 200 to 400 hz – but only for short periods of time.
This cat’s confident body posture with an upright tail indicates a willingness to ‘communicate’.
Cats scream when attacked or frightened, yowl and wail menacingly when warning off intruders, miaow loudly for attention and chirrup a greeting to familiar animals and people.
Purring usually occurs during pleasant experiences, such as suckling or being stroked, although it is sometimes done during times of stress or severe illness. Cats never purr when they are asleep.
Like we do, cats give away their ‘feelings’ by the expressions on their faces
A: A happy cat – the ears are upright and the whiskers relaxed.
B: Quite content – eyes half closed and whiskers relaxed, this cat is probably being stroked and patted.
C: On the alert – the cat takes on an expression somewhere between content and nervous.
D: Feeling nervous – the ears begin to move back and the whiskers move slightly forward.
E: Angry and frightened – the ears are flat, the eyes are narrow and the whiskers are forward.
An arched back and fur standing on end indicate fear or aggression. This is designed to make the cat seem larger and therefore more intimidating. Kittens practise these postures in play.
The feline socialization system is very effective, and cats rarely exhibit seriously problematic or aggressive behaviour, unless they have not been de-sexed or are in overcrowded conditions.
Nevertheless, where cats do exhibit behaviour problems, it is usually possible to deal with them effectively.
Some cats are dominant by nature and need to feel in control. They will often growl at or bite owners for no apparent reason. Often this happens while they are sitting on the owner’s lap, being patted. They will suddenly tense up, their pupils will dilate, their tail may lash and they will bite or take hold of the owner’s hand in their teeth.
These cats are also likely to attack if the owner has been patting them and then decides to place them on a chair and move, or just decides to move position while still sitting with the cat.
Watch for the signs of impending aggression. Stop patting the cat as soon as it appears tense, stand up without touching it and let it fall to the floor. A water pistol or foghorn may be used to startle it out of attack mode.
There is no way to prevent status-related aggression from developing. You will have to accept that these cats will never be cuddly – they will always need to be in control.
Cats are masters at ‘taking it out’ on others. If a cat sees another intruding onto its territory but cannot access it to drive it away (for example, if it is inside and sees the intruder through a window), it will redirect its aggression onto whoever is close to it – very often you!
If you approach the cat while it is growling at the cat intruder, it is likely to attack you.
Redirected aggression can also happen if the cat is frightened; if something falls off a shelf and scares it, and at the same time you enter the room, the cat may associate you with the frightening experience and attack you.
Dealing with redirected aggression
The best thing to do is to walk away and leave the cat to calm down. Do not attempt to approach or pacify the cat, as it will remain reactive for a long time in these situations. If the cat continues to react negatively towards you, you may need the help of a behaviourist to overcome the problem. Anti-anxiety medication may be required, along with a behaviour modification programme.
Preventing redirected aggression
Avoid approaching your cat if it is reacting to something outside. Never rush to comfort your cat if something has fallen near it or if it has had a major fright for any reason.
Some cats will attack people as if they were prey – they stalk and attack quite savagely. The behaviour is especially dangerous when directed toward elderly people or children.
Dealing with predatory aggression
When the cat begins to stalk, startle it using a foghorn or a water pistol. Try to avoid situations that are known to provoke it, such as wiggling toes inside socks or sandals or children wearing dangling ribbons or untied belts.
Some cats will lie in wait for owners coming to breakfast or following a regular routine. Try to vary your routine so that the cat cannot predict where and when you may pass by.
Preventing predatory aggression
Do not encourage predatory behaviour in kittens – for example, do not play games of ‘hide and seek’ or encourage your kitten to chase you.
This kitten is preparing to pounce on a playmate – a posture also seen in hunting.
Place a bell on the cat’s collar so that you may be warned of its approach. (This is not infallible, though, as cats can learn to move without ringing the bell.)
This is seen most often in hand-reared kittens. The lack of contact with litter-mates means that they do not learn to inhibit their biting and sheath their claws while playing. These cats can bite hard enough to draw blood, although they have no intention to injure.
Dealing with play aggression
When the kitten or cat starts to elicit play, by batting at your hand or jumping at your feet, redirect the attack onto a toy. If the cat insists on body contact, use a water pistol to discourage rough play. Squirt the cat in the face and say ‘ouch’.
Reward quiet, gentle play with treats such as pieces of cheese or cat biscuits. Never encourage these cats to chase hands or toes, even if these are hidden beneath blankets, as they will probably bite straight through.
Preventing play aggression
Ensure that young kittens are socialized with other kittens or adult cats. Discourage play involving human body parts.
Cats or kittens that have not been exposed to humans early in life are often fearful of people and may be aggressive when approached. Such a cat will back away, crouch or lie over on one side and hiss with ears flattened and pupils dilated. It will attempt to escape contact, but will bite if this is prevented.
This sort of behaviour is often seen in kittens from wild colonies that people decide to adopt, and in cats that have belonged to one elderly owner who has died and the cat is being re-homed. Cats may also show fear aggression when taken out of their home environment, to a vet clinic or cattery.
Kittens develop physical skills through play and practise techniques required for self-defence in later life.
Dealing with fear aggression
With wild-born kittens or re-homed isolated cats, fear aggression can usually be overcome with time and patience. However, some wild-born kittens are genetically fearful and may never be cuddly pets.
Fear aggression is shown by this cat’s crouched posture and flattened ears.
Keep the cat in a room with a litter tray, a bed, a dish of water and plenty of toys. Spend time in several sessions every day just sitting in the room beside the cat or reading. Reading aloud often helps. Take tasty, strong-smelling cat food with you and attempt to hand-feed the cat. At first you will probably just have to drop the food nearby, but gradually the cat should move closer and closer until the food is taken directly from the hand. Avoid eye contact at this stage.
Do not attempt to touch the cat until it is relaxed when eating from your hand. Gradually entice the cat to play, using paper and string or a flexible stick. Most cats will respond within two to four weeks. Once they can be petted and are relaxed in your company, they can be allowed access to the rest of the house and finally to the garden.
Do not attempt to pick up these cats until they are very relaxed, which will probably not be before three months after adoption. In severe cases, they may need anti-anxiety medication.
With pet cats in strange surroundings, it is best to try to desensitize the cat to the whole experience.
Firstly, ensure that the cat is comfortable with its carry cage. Feed it in the cage from time to time, and reward it for allowing you to place it in and remove it from the cage. If your cat responds to the herb catnip, place some in the cage. Play with the cat’s favourite toy in and out of the cage.
If the cat is fearful of the vet clinic, arrange with your vet to bring the cat in regularly and allow it to investigate the rooms and be fed there. If the cattery is a problem, see if the owners will allow you to do the same thing there. Most cats will eventually learn to tolerate, if not enjoy these necessary visits.
Aggression towards other cats
Cats are territorial by nature, and will naturally threaten and drive off intruders. It is not really possible to modify this behaviour, but you can reduce the chances of your cat being involved in territorial disputes by keeping it indoors at night and in the early morning and late evening, as this is when most disputes are likely to occur.
These two cats are involved in a typical aggressive encounter. Note how the cat on the left is more dominant – its ears are less flattened and it has a more upright posture.
Aggression towards other cats in the household
Cats living together in a household frequently have minor disputes that are settled by a hiss and a swat with a paw. Usually they can sort it out and will at least form a truce, if not a loving friendship.
Some cats do become very attached to each other, and wash and groom each other and sleep together. In other cases, though, there is constant and extreme aggression shown towards a cat by one of its housemates. This may or may not be associated with defence of territory (an area that the cat defends as its own). It can also result from redirected aggression.
Dealing with inter-cat aggression
Where cats are showing extreme aggression, it is necessary to separate them. Confine them to separate rooms, and swap them daily so that they remain in contact with the scent of the other cat. Teach them both to accept being in a carry cage and feed them in this. Play with each cat at a set time every day, and offer treats.
Kittens love to play with wool and fabric, but unfortunately some develop a habit of eating the material as well. This can cause digestive upsets and should be prevented.
After a week, bring the cats out at feed time, in their cages. Place them at opposite ends of a room (not one of the rooms in which they have been kept) and feed them both in their cages. At the first sign of reactivity, remove the offender from the room. Once the cats accept being caged at a distance in the same room, gradually move the cages closer. Once they can quietly sit and eat at a distance of 2–3 m (5–10 ft), feed them out of their cages.
If all goes well, then place them both on harnesses and leads and sit in the room with them at a distance from each other. Any sign of aggression should be reprimanded using a foghorn or a water pistol, and calm behaviour should be rewarded. If they are coping, start a series of play sessions using their favourite toys and involving both cats. Eventually they will be able to remain free in the room together, preferably with toys and definitely under supervision. Any aggression should be instantly reprimanded. With time the cats should be able to coexist happily or at least without constant fighting.
Dealing with redirected inter-cat aggression
Redirection of aggression towards other cats occurs in the same way as described for redirection towards people (see pp61–2). The difference is that the cat against whom the aggression is redirected tends to become terrified of the aggressor. When the two cats meet, the victim shows signs of fear, which reinforces the aggressive response in the other cat. These cats should be dealt with as described for inter-cat aggression, although the victim will probably need anti-anxiety medication to stop it from behaving in a way that triggers aggression in the other cat. The aggressor sometimes also needs medication. This situation can be difficult to deal with and the advice of an animal behaviourist should be sought.
Most cats are fastidious in their eating habits, and are reluctant even to try new foods. Some cats, however, can develop bizarre tastes, and the most common of these is for fabric.
Fabric eating is most frequently seen in Siamese cats – it seems that there is a genetic predisposition. The behaviour has also been associated with early weaning, and may be triggered by a traumatic event such as moving house. Fabric-eating cats often steal woollen clothing from neighbours, drag it home and suck and chew at it. They may eat large amounts and as a result can suffer digestive upsets and blockages.
Dealing with fabric eating
Try to prevent any access to woollen fabric, and perhaps encourage these cats to rip up cardboard. You could also give them bones or rawhide to chew on.
Some cats stop eating fabric if you use aversive substances such as chilli on the fabric. It also helps to increase the amount of attention you give to your cat, and provide more stimulation such as games and new toys.
Some vets believe that these cats may suffer from an underlying neuro-chemical abnormality, so medication may be required.
Preventing fabric eating
Try to avoid using woollen bedding for kittens. Provide plenty of stimulation and activity and avoid early weaning of kittens. Avoid purchasing kittens from fabric-eating parents.
Many people experience problems with house soiling during their cat-owning lives. There are several possible causes.
Any cat living inside should have access to a litter tray. If it is free to enter and leave the house at will, it may never use one, but if the weather is cold and wet, or for some reason it feels apprehensive about venturing outside, it is useful to have a litter tray available.
In multi-cat households there should be one litter tray per cat, and one extra. These boxes should be changed daily if soiled. Types of litter include bark, sand, sawdust, recycled paper pellets and granulated absorbent pellets. Perfumed substances are sometimes available.
Litter trays should be big enough for the cat to turn around in comfortably, and contain sufficient depth of litter to allow digging. They should also be stable, as if they wobble the cat will feel insecure.
Litter or sand trays should be clean, roomy and placed in an area allowing some privacy.
Soiling near the litter tray
This is usually a problem related to the type of litter in the tray, or to an association of pain or unpleasantness with using the litter tray. Often the paper around the tray will be scratched up in an attempt to dig and cover.
Dealing with soiling near the litter tray
Check that no other cat has been using the box, as most cats resent sharing, and ensure that the box is kept clean and fresh. If there is no apparent problem, have the cat checked by a veterinarian. It may have a bladder or bowel problem that has caused it to anticipate pain with getting into the box. If it is an old cat it may have arthritis, making it uncomfortable to climb into the box and balance.
If the cat is healthy, consider changing the type of litter. Offer the cat several types of litter in different boxes and see which one, if any, it uses. Place the boxes in different areas to which the cat has ready access and in which you would be happy for the litter box to stay permanently if need be. Rotate the litter types so that you have tried all types in all possible areas. The reason for this is that it may not be a litter problem – it may be that the cat has been chased by another cat or otherwise disturbed while digging in the box and so is afraid to climb into it in that area. If you cannot solve the problem, consult an animal behaviourist.
Preventing soiling near the litter tray
Ensure that there are always enough clean litter trays for each cat, plus one extra.
Urination in the house
Cats may urinate in other parts of the house because:
ο they have cystitis (a bladder infection)
ο they have a litter aversion (see p66)
ο they are afraid to use the litter tray because it is in a high-traffic area
ο another cat has used the tray or another cat is intimidating them when they try to approach the tray
ο they are marking part of the house as their territory.
Urine may be sprayed or deposited from a squat.
Spraying is not usually associated with ill health. It is usually marking territory or a way of expressing aggression by cats that do not have the confidence to engage in direct conflict. Cats that are spraying or urinating in the house are often very anxious.
Dealing with urination in the house
Take the cat to the vet for a check-up. Confine the cat to one easily cleaned room when you cannot supervise it, and provide a litter tray. If the cat doesn’t use the tray while in the room, treat as described for soiling near the litter tray.
If the cat is using the litter tray in the room, gradually reintroduce it to the rest of the house, having cleaned all previously soiled areas with an enzymatic cleaner. Do not allow the cat to be anywhere unsupervised. If it attempts to dig, squat or spray, squirt it with a water pistol or alarm it with a foghorn, but do not physically or verbally abuse it.
If the cat is marking territory, it may be that the social relationships between the cats in the household have somehow changed. Marking is often seen when a new cat is introduced to the household. In a single cat household, marking may be done in response to a visitor staying for a few days or a new partner moving in. It can also occur in response to the presence of cats outside the house, and as a reaction to strange cats entering the house. Try to identify any major triggering factors. For example, if the cat is urinating or spraying on the windowsill it is probably reacting to the presence of a strange cat outside. Fitting blinds to the window and keeping the cat out of the room when these are not closed may solve the problem. If you have seen strange cats hanging around, invest in a cat door that is electronically operated by a trigger on your cat’s collar. This ensures that no other cat can enter.
If you feel that the cat may be stressed by changes that have occurred within the household, try to provide it with extra attention and some stability by playing a game with it at a fixed time daily. This helps to reduce anxiety.
These problems can be difficult to solve and you may need the help of an animal behaviourist to correctly identify the cause of the problem.
Preventing urination in the house
Ensure that strange cats cannot enter the premises. Provide adequate numbers of clean litter trays. Try not to change the home environment suddenly. Introduce the cat to new flatmates before they move in and take things slowly. Take care to introduce new cats or other new pets to the cat gradually, too. Provide some routines and ensure that each cat has a special place to which it can retreat such as a shelf on a cat tree, cupboard or cardboard box.
Defecating in the house
Cats use faeces as a territorial marker – this is known as middening. Faeces are coated with a secretion from two glands situated on either side of the anus, which contains information about the cat which other cats will receive when they sniff at the faeces. Where disputes are happening it is not uncommon for cats to use faeces as well as urine to make a point. Other reasons for defecating in the house include litter aversion, ill health and poor house training.
Dealing with and preventing defecation in the house
Follow the same protocol as for urination in the house. There may be underlying stress factors that need to be dealt with, and an animal behaviourist should be consulted if the problem continues.
Cats are natural predators. Even kittens that are hand-reared in total isolation may still grow up to be effective hunters. Prey includes birds, rodents and lizards. It is not uncommon for cats to bring their prey home to present to their owner. Many people find predation by their cats unacceptable. This is especially true in areas where cats may prey on endangered wildlife.
Dealing with hunting
Since cats do most of their hunting early in the morning, in the evening or late at night, keeping them confined at these times will greatly reduce their predatory behaviour.
The only way to completely prevent it is to keep your cat confined inside continuously. Cats can and do adapt to this lifestyle, provided they are provided with plenty of stimulation.
Other methods of reducing predation include placing a collar and bell on the cat and the application of startle tactics such as foghorns whenever the stalking cat is observed. These methods are not very successful, though. Cats soon learn to position themselves in such a way that bells will not sound during a stalk, and although startle tactics may prevent a cat from targeting the bird table they will do nothing to reduce predation in other areas when it is far away and out of sight.
‘Liberator’ collars produce a series of beeps in response to a sudden leap by the cat, but have not proved to be completely successful either.
Ensuring that cats are well fed before going out may reduce the amount of predation slightly. However cats are still likely to hunt when well fed – they just won’t eat the prey and may play with it for longer prior to killing it.
As this is instinctive behaviour, cats cannot be taught not to hunt. The only way to prevent hunting, unfortunately, is to deny access to prey.
Try not to apply ‘human morality’ to cats and regard their instinctive hunting tendencies as cruel – cats are simply honing their inherited hunting skills.
Jumping onto high surfaces
Cats enjoy vertical space. Most love to climb and to be up high. Benches, shelves, tables, fridge tops and mantelpieces are appealing to cats for this reason. Not only are they able to survey their territory from a vantage point, but they are also able to satisfy their curiosity about everything. This is not something that most owners welcome.
Dealing with jumping onto high surfaces
Cats can be trained not to jump onto forbidden surfaces. Try squirting them with a water pistol as soon as they jump up, or startling them with a loud noise. Placing something sticky all over the surface (try honey) may act as a deterrent. A smooth piece of plastic or card that slips easily and will fall off when the cat hits the surface can be very effective, too.
Cats are naturally curious and love to explore table tops, especially if they might find food there.
Preventing jumping onto high surfaces
ο Train your cat from kittenhood.
ο Don’t tantalize your kitten or cat by preparing its food on the counter while it watches hopefully from the floor or nearby chair. Prepare the food before the cat arrives, ready to place in its feeding area.
ο Provide your cat with vertical space of its own, such as a cat tree or a high shelf with its own special bed from which to view the world.
Cats scratch as a means of marking territory. The marks provide a visual signal, and scent from the sebaceous glands in the feet is deposited during the scratching process. Favoured sites are usually vertical wooden surfaces. Outside, tree trunks and fence posts are often used. Inside, furniture will do nicely.
Cats prefer to scratch their claws against an upright feature, but if none is available, the horizontal arms of your furniture will do.
Dealing with furniture-scratching
Cats often like to scratch as soon as they wake up, so it is a good idea to provide a scratching post near to your cat’s sleeping area.
Scratching posts come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials – cats seem to enjoy the ones made of wood and covered with carpet. Others combine a serrated dense card which can be shredded, or use hessian as a covering.
If your cat insists on using the furniture as a scratching post, there are two main options: either train the cat not to scratch except in certain approved areas, or protect the furniture by decreasing the amount of damage that the claws may do. A cat’s claws may be trimmed in much the same way as a dog’s toenails, and if this is done regularly from kitten-hood cats accept the procedure quite happily. Ask your vet to demonstrate how this is done. You will need to trim the claws every four to six weeks. An alternative to this is to apply plastic sheaths to the claws – these are glued on much the same as false fingernails.
Cats need vertical space, and if they are not provided with climbing apparatus such as ‘cat trees’ or a garden, they will often resort to climbing the curtains.
To train your cat not to scratch furniture you need to be vigilant, and the cat must not have unsupervised access to the house. Keep a water pistol handy and squirt the cat as soon as it attempts to scratch, or use a foghorn to startle it. Other methods include booby-trapping areas with small balloons, which will pop when scratched and alarm the cat.
Encourage your kitten to use a scratching post – suspend a toy from the post, or place catnip around the post as an incentive (not all cats are susceptible to catnip, though).
This must be regarded as an absolute last resort. Declawing is the surgical amputation of the first joint of every digit on the cat’s forefeet. It is a mutilation that causes much post-operative pain, and it is possible that declawed cats experience phantom pain during life.
This procedure is illegal in some countries, for example the United Kingdom.
Declawing should never be necessary if owners are prepared to put the time and effort into training their cat not to claw furniture and regularly trimming the claws.
Yowling and crying
Some cats can be very vocal and seem to ‘talk’ incessantly. The Oriental breeds are more likely to behave in this way than other breeds. These cats become very attached to their owners and need company, and they are naturally vocal.
Unspayed females of any breed will yowl and cry when in season, and un-neutered males have a special yowl when seeking a mate.
Where vocalization has become excessive or has suddenly started in a previously quiet cat, there may be an associated health problem such as hyperthyroidism or, in an elderly cat, cognitive dysfunction or ‘feline Alzheimer’s’ disease. If the cat is otherwise healthy, it could be a sign of anxiety. If the cat yowls when out of sight of the owner but is quiet in the owner’s presence, it could be suffering from separation anxiety (see at right).
Dealing with yowling and crying
If the problem has started in a previously quiet cat, take it for a complete health check.
If all is well, consider if there have been any major changes in your cat’s surroundings or lifestyle that may have upset the animal.
If the cat is yowling and rubbing around you but is quiet when you are not there, it is seeking attention. Try to reserve a special time to spend with the cat each day when it has your undivided attention, is given treats and is played with. At other times ignore the yowling and pet the cat when it is finally quiet. Provide plenty of interest for the cat in the form of toys for times when it is alone.
If there is no improvement as a result of these tactics, consult an animal behaviourist.
Preventing yowling and crying
ο Ensure that food is freely available from a cat café (automatic feeder) throughout the day.
ο Take turns at feeding the cat and playing with it.
ο Install a cat door so that your cat does not have to demand to be let inside.
ο Don’t rush to the cat whenever it cries.
ο Give your cat quality time with you every day.
ο If you are a busy person, consider keeping two cats as company for each other. It is best to get two kittens rather than introduce another cat or kitten to an adult animal.
Cats may become extremely attached to their owners to the point that they are unhappy if left alone. These cats need to have constant owner contact. They cry incessantly when left, even if the owner is in an adjacent room. The condition is seen most commonly in Oriental cats and cats that have been hand-reared.
Dealing with separation anxiety
ο Encourage the cat to relate to more than one family member.
ο When the cat must be left alone, provide lots of environmental stimulation such as new toys and meaty bones to chew.
ο Do not give in to demands for constant attention; choose when you wish to pat the cat and ignore it at other times.
ο Create as much stability and routine in the cat’s life as possible.
ο In extreme cases, anti-anxiety medication may be required.
Preventing separation anxiety
ο Ensure that all family members have contact with the cat.
ο Do not give in to attention-seeking behaviour, supply affection on your terms.
ο Do not carry hand-reared kittens around continuously, but give them time alone with a stuffed toy and hot water bottle.
ο Some cats will show this behaviour no matter how they are brought up.