Cat Behaviorist Mikel Delgado Answers April’s Questions

ask-the-cat-behaviorist

Earlier this month, we launched our new “Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Mikel Delgado” segment. Once a month, we’ll post a reminder for you to post your questions for Mikel. She’ll answer as many of them as he can each month, and I’ll publish her answers in a subsequent post.

is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds, offering on-site consultations for cat guardians, shelters, and pet-related businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remote consultations around the world. She is currently completing her PhD in Psychology at UC Berkeley, where she studies animal behavior and human-pet relationships.

Maine Coon hates to be picked up or have his paws touched

I recently adopted a part Maine Coon cat. Loki throws a fit whenever I pick him up. He also hates having his feet touched. This is a problem because he needs his claws clipped and also his ears need to be cleaned twice a month. At 13 pounds 2 ounces he is way too big to fight.
I don’t know his background but I suspect he was adopted out and then returned because of this. The shelter was rather tight-tipped about his history. All they said was that cats don’t like to be picked up. Well, duh. Then how do they expect me to clip his claws and clean his ears at home?
At first I used to wrap him up in a blanket. I didn’t like manhandling him and pretty soon he started to avoid me, so I stopped that. I used Calm Down, but it zoned him out too much. I like gradual and gentle methods of changing his behavior. I want him to know that being held is not something he should fear. Do you have any suggestions?
(Serbella McGee)

Mikel:

Hi Serbella,

I do have some suggestions! I would recommend starting to get Loki used to handling using clicker training (or positive reinforcement training without a clicker). If you’re not familiar with training, I think Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw’s new(ish) book, The Trainable Cat, is a great place to start, as well as Marilyn Krieger’s book on clicker training, Naughty No More. The idea is that you will let Loki know that certain behaviors (such as letting you handling his feet) will lead to very wonderful rewards (whatever he absolutely goes nuts for). Training is exactly what you are looking for – a gradual and gentle way to change his behavior.

That said, I would also minimize handling and treatment to only what is absolutely necessary. I’ve never had to clean my cats’ ears – so I’m wondering why Loki would need his cleaned this frequently. I’ve seen situations where “excessive” grooming on the part of the human can cause stress and aggressive behaviors in their cats, so keep the nail trims and cleaning to a minimum. If he is amenable to vet clinic visits, perhaps a tech could trim his nails some of the time while you work on the training. Finally, for cats who don’t like to be picked up, there is really no “showing them” that being held isn’t unpleasant. Only pick him up when absolutely necessary and respect that he may not enjoy it. Some cats do love to be held but it sounds like Loki is not one of them!

Cat chews on electric wires

Dear Ms. Delgado
I live in Argentina where there is very few information about cats behaviors. I receive every day The Conscious Cat so I was lucky to meet you virtually.
All my life I have had cats since I adore them. Now I have a beautiful and sweet 4 year old calico, and I really need your wise assistance. She likes to bite wire of any kind and every night we have to disconnect all our wires and keep them out of her reach. Even so we are very scared that at any moment when we are distracted she might bite a wire and die. We love her very, very much. To lose her would be the most painful situation and of course that why I address to you.
I have made other consultations without finding a solution, so imagine how important it is for us to receive your advice. I thank you in advance for all you could do, and let me express my admiration for all you do and have done for our nicest friends. I would be eagerly awaiting your kind advice. (Hebe Martorella)

Mikel:

Hebe, nice to meet you virtually as well! You are justified in being concerned about your kitty’s behavior. Wire chewing can be dangerous both to the cat (electrocution and intestinal blockage are two risks) and the humans (frayed wires can cause electrical fires). A situation like this usually requires a two pronged approach. Assuming she has no health issues that are making her want to chew on non-food items, cats usually chew due to lack of other things to do. I recommend implementing a regular routine of interactive play, as well as making sure that your cat has plenty of other things to keep her occupied, such as food puzzles, solo toys, and perches where she can watch birds out the window.

The other part of addressing this issue is management. Cords can be wrapped in protective PVC covers, which are available online and in computer stores. Sometimes just bundling the cords is enough to help them lose their appeal, but other people even spray bitter apple on the cords to make chewing on them unappealing. There is also a citrus infused cord protector, the Critter Cord, available online! It is also possible that your cat gets attention from cord-chewing (one way to know – if she only chews cords when you are around – as opposed to chewing even when you are not at home – then attention may be reinforcing the behavior) – another reason to ramp up the enrichment.

How to keep cats off kitchen counters

Hello. I would like to ask about alternatives to keep my cats out of the kitchen counter. Thanks. (Ligia Caldwell)

Mikel:

Liglia,

ah counter-surfing. Cats love it, humans hate it! But why do cats love it? Usually for a few reason – first of all, for cats, being up high is fun. Add the bonus scraps that can sometimes be found in the sink or can be snatched away while the human is preparing food. Many cats enjoy “helping” their humans and being in the center of activity, and the kitchen is often the heart of the home.

Step 1: Give your cats a perch in the kitchen where you can give them treats for sitting there instead of the counter (clicker training is great for this). This gives your cats many of the things they find appealing about your counters: height, food, and attention somewhere that you’re okay with them being.

Step 2: Make sure to not leave any temptations in the sink. Cover the sink with a large piece of wood (such as a cutting board) if need be.

Step 3: I recommend “environmental correction” for times you can’t be watching – cover counter space with pieces of cardboard or place mats with double sided carpet tape on them. This will make it less fun to walk all over counters. You can also use the motion-sensitive compressed air cans as well. This means the “punishment” comes from the environment, not you! You get to be the good cop!

Cat is more interested in play than cuddling, plays rough

I have a one year old rescued calico who had been declawed. Poor Sedona! Cat is not a lap cat but sleeps at the foot of my bed. She follows me around the house. But touching her is dangerous. I tried to brush her in December and ended up in ER. She likes to grab my lower forearm and chew on it. She seems very bored as she cannot play with toys in her paws. My arm is her toy. Being elderly with thin skin, wow, it tears easily. She has a few toys but does not like them. She likes bendable straws the most. I gave her two balance bracelets that she carried around. She loves carrying things. Anyway, she destroyed both bracelets with her teeth. I have no clue what type toy she likes. Dangling things frustrate her, she cannot grab them. I always have had sweet, loving cats. She is loving in her own way. Just very unhappy. She has windows to look out of…and things to jump on. 7-9 pm she gets super restless. Help! She wants me to be her fellow cat. I miss my lap cats very much. They were older. I hope she mellows out. I think I am doing something wrong. Thank you. (Patti Zentara)

Mikel:

Hi Patti,

I’m sorry you’re having some struggles with Sedona. She is a very young cat, and young cats are often much more interested in play than cuddling. I’m sorry to hear she was declawed, we know that many declawed cats have issues with pain (including phantom pain) in their paws, so it might be worth checking her for any complications from the surgery. The Paw Project is a great resource for vets who are specialized in helping diagnose these complications.

There’s no particular reason (aside from pain) that being declawed should prevent Sedona from being able to play. Many declawed cats enjoy batting at, grasping, and chasing toys. They have muscles in their paw that still allow them to scoop and grip. I’m wondering if you haven’t quite found the right toy or right moves to get her excited. Remember that for cats, play is about predation, so anything you can do to move more like a bird or bug or mouse will be more enticing to her.

The most common mistakes I see people make are touching the cat with the toy, or waving the toy around with no strategy. Remember, no bird would walk right up to a cat and poke them in the face! Act like you are hiding, wounded, flying briefly then landing, and let Sedona have time to stalk before pouncing.

Food puzzles might be another way to keep Sedona busy! She might enjoy playing with those just as much if not more than other types of toys!

Finally, you mentioned that touching Sedona is dangerous. Our skin thins as we age and many folks are on blood-thinners which can make cat bites and scratches more troublesome. Try to avoid petting her for now and try safer interactions (interactive toys, reading to her). I know you miss your more cuddly cats but Sedona may never be that cuddly…or she might become more affectionate as she mellows out. But you may have to accept her as is and find other ways to show your love for her. It sounds like enjoys being with you and sleeping on your bed. I think if you try some new play techniques and experiment with toys, you will find your relationship will grow.

Weepy eyes

Hi Mikel, is a weepy eye on a cat something to be concerned about? Like teary, not colored discharge. (Patricia)

Mikel:

Hi Patricia,

I am not a veterinarian and this is definitely something that is not a behavioral issue. So please call your veterinarian about your cat’s eye discharge! I hope it’s nothing serious.

Should we get a third cat, and does gender matter?

Hi Mikel. We have 2 rescue cats, 1 male, 1 female, both approximately 3 years old. We got our female 3 weeks before our male. They get along well. She is the dominant one, though not overly. We have been thinking about getting a third rescue and wondering if the sex of the third could/would matter. If our female is the more dominant one, should we lean towards getting a male? Does it even matter? Is it more about ‘how’ everyone is slowly introduced? We really have enough love for another but are a little trepidacious as our family has a great balance currently. (Tami)

Mikel:

Tami,

sometimes it is better to not rock the boat! That said, we all love cats and we usually would love to add one or two more to our families. Just know that the addition could tip the balance in one direction or another, and could change how your cats relate to one another. Keep in mind that cats don’t have a “strict” hierarchy per se, their relationships tend to be much more flexible than one “dominant” and one “submissive” cat.

My experience is that it’s impossible to predict almost anything just based on the sex of the cat. I’d instead focus on the personality match and history – looking for a cat who has a successful past with other cats is a bonus, although not a necessity. Then – yes, you are absolutely right – the HOW is more important than the WHO. If you have the space, patience, and time to integrate a third kitty – the bonus is you are saving another life! – then I say go for it.

8-year-old cat is spraying

HI Mikel. I have a male cat, Kitty Cat, and he is about 8 years old. He has been spraying. I have had many cats and have been through this before but always so perplexing. I think it is behavioral and have tried the pheromone wall plug-ins and Feliway sprays. He is an indoor cat although we have a screened in patio which basically allows him outside as well. Nothing new has changed in home. We do have a dog and another cat but they have been together for years. I have made a vet appointment but usually find out there is nothing wrong with him. (Lynne Wyre)

Mikel:

Lynne, sorry to hear that Kitty Cat has started spraying. It sounds like this is a new behavior – in most cases there is a reason for these changes in behavior, even if we don’t know what it is. First of all, I am going to assume that you mean he is spraying on vertical surfaces and not urinating/puddling. They can mean different things so it is important to distinguish between the two.

Urine spraying is (unfortunately) a normal cat behavior. They generally use it to mark their presence in a territory. In homes, we often see spraying in response to anxiety over territory. Sometimes more resources throughout the home (including litter boxes) can help because it allows the cat to mark their turf in a positive way. Make a map of where he is spraying because sometimes that can tell you more about why your cat is spraying. Sometimes adding larger litter boxes in the most commonly targeted areas can redirect some, if not all, of this behavior.

I would look at whether there are any animals outdoors that have started coming around, because that can trigger spraying behavior. Check both inside and outside your home with a black light and clean up urine marks (Kitty Cat’s and potentially those of any outside cats) with a good enzymatic product, such as Anti-Icky Poo.
I’ve seen a lot of cases where cats who spray improve more quickly on an anti-anxiety medication. This is something you will need to discuss with your veterinarian. If the cat’s life or the client’s sanity is at risk, I would recommend exploring this option sooner rather than later, as many medications take some time to fully kick in.

Affectionate, playful, otherwise well-behaved cat is spraying

I have four male cats, all indoor-only, aged 1 year, 3 years, 8 years and 10 years old. They all get along very well with each other and they all get along well with me and my wife. Our second youngest one, Little Bill, is extremely affectionate and loving and playful and silly and very easy going. But he also has this extremely obnoxious habit of spraying – he will back up to a wall or a door or a cabinet or a piece of furniture – and for no reason, stand there and with back end right up against whatever it is and spray, all the while looking like he’s in a trance-like state, with his eyes staring out blankly, until I scold him or shoo him away to get him to stop if I catch him in the act. He uses his litter box regularly and normally, and is in every other way a wonderful, sweet, adorable and well-behaved cat. I’ve taken him to our vet, and have had tests run on him to see if there was anything wrong, but as far as the tests have revealed and the vets can tell, he’s perfectly healthy. What could be causing him to do this – on a pretty regular basis? (JD)

Mikel:

Hi JD!

Sometimes it’s the sweetest, friendliest, “easy-going” cats that are the most anxious about their resources (which includes territory and human attention). As I mentioned already, spraying is part of the normal behavioral repertoire of cats. We are very fortunate that spaying and neutering usually eradicates this behavior. But not always.
I would take a hard look at where he is spraying (make a sketch of your home and mark those locations) and what that tells you. Do you have plenty of resources for a 4-cat household? Litter boxes, feeding stations, vertical space, scratching posts? Sometimes you can change the nature of a cat’s relationship to certain areas after thoroughly cleaning up the spray by offering scratching options, play, and treats in those areas. But some cats will just move on to another area to spray if you haven’t addressed the root cause of the spraying in the first place. More enrichment and exercise are stress-reducing, but some spraying cats need more pharmaceutical assistance, for which you would want to talk to your vet.

Why is Kitty Kitty so  mean?

Dear MD. We share a cat called Kitty Kitty with a neighbor, so half of it is ours. Our half likes to play ruff and bite and scratch my wife who is brave enough to pick him up. I just stare at him and once in a while pet him with a leather glove on. Why is he so mean? We feed him and buy him jerky by the pound, but still he acts like a cop dog attacking a man in a training camp. What can tranquilize this T-REX in fur? Kitty Kitty is fixed but still sprays in the house once in a while. He is not a street cat so He get flea spray or collared. We both us and other half owner’s take good care of Mr KK. When will he slow down and be nice? Your picture looks very good, I am proud that you found something that you like to do. We love you take care, (Uncle Louie and Nanci.)

Mikel:

Hi Uncle Louie and Nanci!

Thanks for the kind words about my career choices and picture. Family reunion online!

As far as why Kitty Kitty behaves the way he does – I would encourage you to not see his behavior as mean, but as learned “bad habits.” Rather than trying to pet him or pick him up, try engaging him with a feather wand or other interactive toy, so he can take that rough energy out on something besides your hands. Sometimes cats have been previously played with using hands, and have learned that when someone touches them, it is going to be rough. Those cats can quickly go into a defensive mode and often bite and scratch quickly. For some cats, that is the only way they know how to play. The best way to work with this behavior is to stop engaging with them in a rough way. This helps them learn they can bite and scratch toys, but that hands will always be gentle.

Cats also do better with handling when they call the shots. Let him come to you and keep petting brief. If he really loves those jerky treats, sneak in one or two gentle pets while he gets the treats. Focus on areas that most cats enjoy petting, such as the cheeks and forehead, and avoid typically sensitive areas like the lower back and belly.

Spraying can be complex, but see my responses above about some ways to start teasing it apart and working on it!

Resident cats want nothing to do with new rescue

My sister adopted a male feral kitten named Seri. Seri is in his own room and has been reaching out to the two adult resident cats, who want nothing to do with him. My sister has tried to feed all the cats by Seri’s door (two gates, one on top of the other), but the two residents won’t have any part of it, even if their favorite foods are served. Seri is still too skittish to be held, so my sister wouldn’t be able to get him back into his room if she let him out. Seri is not happy being cooped up in one room all the time. How can my sister help Seri? Thank you. (Amy Allen)

Mikel:

Amy, it sounds like there are two issues that need to be addressed separately – Seri needs to be socialized to humans. Clicker training and pairing handling with treats are two ways. I also love interactive playtime as a way to build confidence in fearful cats. But it is important to work on these issues now while Seri is young. Plan for his future – he will need to go to the vet and get medication sometime during his life!

As far as the introduction to the other two cats is concerned, slow and steady is key. Feeding the cats their regular meals by the door may not be enticing enough, so I’d recommend feeding something the cats go NUTS for. Start at whatever distance the cats are willing to eat the food. Even if that is down the hallway at first. Gradually (meaning over the course of days or weeks) move the dishes closer to the door where Seri is spending time. Eventually it would be good to switch things up so that Seri comes to the door where the resident cats are, but it sounds like he needs more socialization first! For some cats, interactive play or brushing are more motivating than play, so your sister may want to try some other activities to entice her resident cats.

In a case where there are multiple issues in the household, I do feel like a consultation with a professional consultant is always going to be most helpful! As one behavior issue (undersocialization) changes, it will effect the other one (the cat introduction), and a cat behavior consultant can help you modify a plan as the household dynamic changes.

Cat with anger management issues

Hello! One of my cats, Monsta, may have hanger-management issues. Late in the evening, he knocks everything off the coffee and end tables. Everything!! He’s broken several wine glasses, practically ruining a fav rug with my glass of Cabernet, and also broken several ceramic and glass items. He will stare at my husband and literally swipe at whatever is available, knowing he is being watched. I now have practically bare tables except for magazines, which I pick up every morning! Interestingly, he doesn’t do it when David is out of town, maybe because I go to bed earlier and am not in the living room to see his antics?! His obnoxious behavior typically stops once David feeds him, but not always as sometimes he will do it after eating his late night snack. He was a tiny, hypothermic kitten that a good citizen dropped off at work (at 3 weeks old, estimated) and I bottle fed him for weeks, he is now 10. Can you offer any insight and advice on how to stop his bad habit? Thanks!! (Sharon)

Mikel:

Hi Sharon,

I have a soft spot for cats like Monsta because they are often bored and resort to “obnoxious behavior” because it is very good at training humans to give them attention!! He is waiting for your eye contact to tell him he’s got you where he wants you. In Monsta’s case, you need to turn the tables on your relationship with positive reinforcement training (such as clicker training). This allows him to do things YOU LIKE for rewards, not the naughty things he currently does. It tells him the behaviors you like, and when you reinforce those behaviors, you will see he does them more often.

I’m also a big fan of making cats work for their food. My friend and fellow behavior consultant, Ingrid Johnson and I put together a website, foodpuzzlesforcats.com that walks you through all aspects of this very powerful aspect of environment enrichment, including puzzles that can be used with wet food! Since he is very excited by food, he will likely be very motivated to use them. They will also slow down his eating which can help cats realize they are satiated before they gobble everything down. Give him a play session in the evening – pre-empting his witching hour – then follow that with a food puzzle!

Cat doesn’t like to be brushed

I have an inside cat that that will not let me brush her at all. She never did like it, but now when she sees come with the comb she hides. I am very gentle with t her and never hurt her. Vet said she is fine, just hates the combing? (Lee)

Mikel:

Hi Lee,

some cats are very sensitive to being brushed. All cats are equipped with very sensitive skin cells that help them detect touch – which can be helpful if you are escaping prey or navigating through rough terrain, but not so helpful when your human wants to groom you!

It may be your grooming tool – some of them are a bit pointier than others and can even cause “drag” on your cat’s skin. You could try a different style of grooming tool – such as a soft human hair brush, or a slicker brush and see if your cat prefers that. If she absolutely needs regular grooming than I would recommend slowly getting your cat used to brushing by pairing it with her favorite treat. Try just one small stroke, then offer her the treat – something really special! Over time, you can build up to larger strokes, and increasing the number of brush strokes you can get in!

Ocicat with very strong hunting instinct

I have a 3 -year male Ocicat, whose instinct to hunt is very strong. We have a 40 acre farm so the opportunity is there for him, my question is how to discourage this? As I am concerned for his health at 3 mice a day. Any ideas? (Marie)

Mikel:

Hi Marie,

cats would normally eat 8-10 mice a day, and I’m guessing on your farm the mice are pretty clean living, so the health risks are probably not too serious. That said, I understand you don’t appreciate the hunting behavior. You also have chosen a hybrid cat, and his instinct is as you said, very strong. Cats are predators and until we breed hunting behavior out of them (not something I advocate for!) we have to accept that they are meant to kill! We also know that hunger is not the only thing that influences hunting. For cats, the instinct to hunt is so strong that they will even keep hunting while they are eating. Survival dictates, kill while you can because there’s no way to know when that next mouse will show up.

You can try the cat bibs/collars that are meant to slow down a hunting cat. I get mixed reviews on how effective they are, but it may be worth a try. Your other option is to transition your cat to indoors only, or outdoors only on a harness.

Younger cat annoys older cat

I have 2 rescue cats, one that is 7 years old that I’ve had for 2 years and one that is a year old that I’ve had for 5 months. After the initial introduction period they were getting along fine. In the last two months, the younger one started attacking the older one. She hides under the bed and waits for the older one to come in the room and then pounces on her back, which really upsets the older one. I’ve had her checked out by the vet and she says there’s no underlying medical issues and thinks it may just be jealousy, playing or domination and suggested I buy the Feliway diffuser to calm things down. That has not helped at all. In very concerned about this and don’t know what else to do. There have been no other changes in our home, schedule or environment. The older cat is already very skittish due to being abused by a previous owner and being put in a shelter 2-3 times before I got her and since this started she seems to be going backwards in her comfortableness and fear. Both cats are fine with me, but afraid of anyone else because of their being in the shelter I’ve been told. So unless we make a trip to the vet, they are only ever around each other and myself. Please help. I really need this behavior to stop so that my older cat is relaxed again and they can go back to being friends. Thank you. (Robin)

Mikel:

Robin, it is very common that a young cat is annoying (or threatening) to an older cat. Your cats are at very different life stages, and they have different needs. For your new kitty, the priority is probably wrestling and chasing, where your older cat would probably prefer to relax in the sun. Every cat integration situation is unique, so keep in mind these are very general suggestions. I would block off hiding spaces that allow the younger cat to ambush the older one, and make sure you have plenty of vertical space, including cat trees and perches, to allow them to share space without having to travel the same pathways as each other.

Your younger cat probably needs a lot more exercise and mental stimulation. Right now the most interesting thing going on may be pouncing on your older cat. I also recommend giving your older cat a break from the younger one by separating them for a few hours a day. This will at least give the older cat some breathing room – and she may not mind being confined if you set up a comfy space for her with everything she needs. Interactive play for her while she is away from the younger cat will help reduce her stress and boost her confidence. I often find that older cats can’t play in the presence of younger cats due to the younger one wanting to take over! People often misinterpret this as the older cat not wanting to play, or preferring to “just watch.” That is not usually the case! Good luck, and you may want to find a local cat expert who can help you out with a home visit.

Bully cat picks on other cats

How do I deal with a bully? I have 9 cats and one of them likes to pick on other cats. Usually it’s just one cat in particular that he picks on. She is the mom to his best cat friend and she gets so scared, and if I hear them I get very angry. He is a wonderful cat aside from this. Loving, vocal, he says mom but when he starts picking on the other cat I want to just scream. (Wendy Mourning)

Mikel:

Wendy, please also see my response to Robin! I would first say that getting angry is pointless – your cat is doing what is instinctive to him – whether that is play or chase (I don’t have enough information from your comment to know for sure). Cats can have different motivations for bothering other cats, from boredom to territorial behavior to stress – but we do know that setting up the environment for success is important. That means plenty of resources (separate feeding stations, litter boxes, scratching options, vertical space), lots of exercise and building positive associations through “treat summits” – bringing your cats together for their favorite treats once or twice a day.

Sometimes more management is helpful (giving the cats a break from one another). We also tend to focus on the “bully’s” behavior (usually by getting mad!) but we often need to boost the confidence of the victim in order to fix this type of problem. That usually also means more play for the picked on cat.

Young cat likes to attack senior cat

I have a 4 cats, all male ages 2, 5, 11 and 18. The issues is with the 5 year old, we adopted him 2.5 years ago. He likes to attack and annoy the 18 year old. If the 18 year old, Bailey, is waiting by the door to go out on the deck, Finn the 5 year old, will go over and swat at him and sometimes jump on him. Finn is large and strong and Bailey is getting frail and I’m worried that he will get hurt one of these times. We try to play with Finn to wear him out, he also plays with the 2 year old. We will also squirt him with water when he’s bothering Bailey but that doesn’t affect him much. We are now trying to use Feliway diffusers. What else can you recommend to help? I don’t know what else to do and it’s very frustrating. Finn is a nice guy most of the time, except with Bailey. Thank you. (Katie)

Mikel:

Katie, see my responses to Robin and Wendy as your situation is similar. I can tell you one thing – the water bottle will not help – and you might accidentally nail Bailey while trying to “punish” Finn. Because of his age, I would recommend a break for Bailey from the other cats. I’d also look for patterns – such as time of day – that this behavior tends to happen during and see if you can pre-empt some of those negative interactions by giving Finn more play time or other activities (food puzzles or even an automatic toy like a HexBug?) before those problematic times of day.

Bengal cat acts as if he’s chewing on air

Dear Mikel,
We have a 2-year-old castrated male Bengal cat. In early January he stated to act as if he was chewing on air. Sometimes it looks as if he’s eating invisible grass (more head movement involved) or then just chewing gum (only jaws move). He does this now almost every morning right after he wakes up, but also quite often in the evening. He is able to stop e.g. if we offer him cat candy. This never occurs when he’s doing something but only when he’s idle. He’s been to vet and animal neurologist. His mouth and throat have been checked, his blood tests (three times) are OK, he performs normally in neurological tests (twice), and his brain MRI was normal. We’ve tried drugs for heartburn and for epilepsy (Levetiracetam). The latter helped for a few days, then no effect. As almost everything else has been ruled out, he was diagnosed with obsessive compulsory disorder and neurologist prescribed Prozac. We haven’t tried Prozac yet because we’ve been slowly quitting giving Levetiracetam as was advised. He is our only cat but we try to provide him with activities: we take him out on a leash for at least for an hour every day, and play with him inside. He loves toys with Actinidia polygama plant so he has them aplenty. We love him very much and want him to be happy and healthy. I’m not sure if this is a behavioral issue, but he’s physically healthy, thank God. We’d be very grateful for any advice or comments on this situation. There’s a (bad quality) video of the chewing on Dropbox (Tytti)

Mikel:

Tytti, I’ve seen a few cats with compulsive air-snapping or tooth grinding behavior and it is very distressing to watch. I’m sorry you’re going through this, and I’m glad you’ve gone the extra mile to have your kitty checked by your vet and a neurologist. I did want to run your case past my dear friend, Dr. Kris Chandroo, who has also been answering medical questions for Conscious Cat readers. Here’s what he had to say:

“So I looked at the video as well. What a beautiful cat he is! The instantaneous, first three thoughts after seeing the video were 1) Resorptive lesions (can be undetectable by looking, need dental x-rays), 2) Masticatory Muscle Myositis (but I’ve never seen a cat with this, it would be very rare) and 3) Neurological. It would be good to know that what your cat is doing isn’t being influenced by pain or inflammation. Sometimes a trial of pain medication is the only way you find this out, so it’s worthwhile to have this discussion with your vets. If this is a neurological / OCD problem, then it sounds like you are on the right track.”

dr-kris-mikel-delgado

As I’m not a vet, I can’t make specific recommendations about medications. It is possible that your cat needs more enrichment to keep him busy (you do have a Bengal, and they are kitty+, and may require more interactive play, exercise and mental stimulation than your average domestic cat). He may also benefit from clicker training to allow you to attend to his calm, non-chewing behaviors. A lot of guardians accidentally reinforce behaviors they are concerned about by giving them attention or trying to interrupt them (such as with the cat candy).

If you’ve already tried enrichment and training and aren’t seeing a change, then I personally think that working with your vet to try anti-anxiety medication is worth it. A lot of my clients are hesitant to use the medications their vet has prescribed them, but instead of thinking of psychopharmaceuticals as a “last resort,” sometimes we should accept that there’s no time to waste if it means stopping our companions from suffering. Keep in mind that some medications can take a few weeks to take effect. The goal is to reduce the compulsive behaviors, implementing new routines of exercise and training, and give him “coping mechanisms” for his compulsions that will hopefully allow you to eventually wean him off the medication with the help of your vet, without a return of the chewing behavior.

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10 Comments on Cat Behaviorist Mikel Delgado Answers April’s Questions

  1. patricia LeBlanc
    May 10, 2017 at 5:36 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I am becoming sleep deprived! My Kat wants my attention all during the night, yowling and pushing at me. Could close door but she doesn’t like closed door. She refuses to play at bedtime to tire her out..I need my sleep!

    Reply
  2. Karin Moore
    May 9, 2017 at 4:35 pm (3 weeks ago)

    Dear Mikel,
    I adopted 5 yo littermates Bo & Ellie last summer (days after saying goodbye to my 19 yo Evi). Their daddy, who’d raised them together from the age of 6 weeks with a ton of love, was being shipped overseas and they were in desperate need of a home together, so in they moved.

    The problem is the habit dear BoBo has of meowing ever so loudly outside my bedroom door every morning starting around 5:30am. I’ve been sleep deprived since they moved in. Sadly I must keep my bedroom door shut because I’m allergic to cats. I adore cats, have always had cats, will always have cats, but I have to sleep in a “clean room” to prevent attacks of allergy-induced asthma. These kitties always slept on their daddy’s bed, so being shut out of the bedroom now must make them feel sad, lonely, forlorn, confused. I’d hoped they’d just get used to the new normal, but nothing’s changed in 9 months. I leave plenty of food out before I go to bed, and there’s usually some left in the morning, so it’s about attention, not food. I do give them a long play session at night to tire them out. Earplugs fall out by morning. I tried to just ignore it and stay in bed, knowing that if I got up when the meowing started then I was just cementing this bad habit — but he won’t stop meowing (I waited 90 minutes once!), and eventually I do have to get up for the day — so of course he’s learned that if he continues meowing, mama will get up.

    Apparently they’re 1/2 Siamese (and 1/2 Maine Coon), so that might explain some of the vocal volume.

    Help! I’m sooooo sleepy. Thank you!

    –Karin

    Reply
  3. Karen aseltine
    May 1, 2017 at 3:59 pm (4 weeks ago)

    Hi – I have a question for Mikel – I have a small colony of feral cats that I care for and have my own indoor cats that go outside. A male cat joined the colony early this year I had him trapped and neutered but 4 months later he has become very aggressive with the other ferals and my own cats as well – I have the feeding stations on the perimeter of my property but now he will stalk me and my cats near the front door. Is there anything that I can do short of relocating him to tone down his aggressive behavior?

    Thanks, karen

    Reply
  4. Cindi
    April 28, 2017 at 8:04 am (4 weeks ago)

    Hi my name is cindi and we just got a kitten and i think he was whined to early he suckles and kneeds on everything including us(me my fiancé n my 9yo son) also how do i get mittens to stop bitting n clawing us it getting bad we tryed the use toy instead of fingers thing and still bites us all the time thank you

    Reply
  5. Samantha Sandy
    April 27, 2017 at 12:47 am (1 month ago)

    oh if only you could get my cat to stop screaming. She wants her way…to overeat, go outside, whatever…it’s always something….mostly food. She was about double her ideal weight when I got her 4 years ago. I cut back on her food, let her roam outside when I was at home and the weight came off in about 9 months. Now the neighbor got a sport’s car with a cover and she ripped through 3 of them that I had to pay for…so now she can’t roam free outside. I try to walk her supervised every day for a bit before one of her 3 mealtimes. That is the only way to get her back indoors…she is so food driven. But she screams constantly about 2 hours before her next meal. It is driving me crazy so I try to outscream her…send her to the bedroom but she just screams in there! What can I do to get her to stop? I have NEVER had this issue with ANY of my other cats before. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Rebecca
    April 27, 2017 at 12:30 am (1 month ago)

    I have a 21 year old female, Chloe. Chloe doesn’t play anymore. The vet says she’s healthy. I’ve tried several kinds of toys, the feathers, a ball on a stick, catnip mice (she used to play with those.). I just can not get her to play. Is it age related? How can I give he the mental stimulaton she needs?

    Reply
  7. Lorraine Anderson
    April 26, 2017 at 11:59 am (1 month ago)

    After I scoop the litterbox my cat Bandit likes to go roll in it. Why does he do this and is there anything that I can do to stop this behavior?

    Reply
  8. Bernadette
    April 26, 2017 at 9:51 am (1 month ago)

    Wow, everyday issues and answers, purrfect to share. I listened to an interview of Mikel Delgado with David Feldman just yesterday, full of information.

    Reply
  9. Tanya
    April 26, 2017 at 9:01 am (1 month ago)

    Hi, I recently adopted 3 yo Peanut the cat from a rescue. We think he use to have a home but got lost or dumped at a feral colony. He is confident (tail always high in the air) and curious. He doesn’t mind being picked up tho he is very independent (not a lap cat) and sleeps at the foot of the bed. I would love to leash train him and I think he has the right personality but when I tried it once (no issues wearing the harness) he growled whenever I touched him while he was exploring (but he wasn’t pulling away). It concerned me enough that I took him back inside and he fought me (no injuries). Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on how to make this work?

    Reply
  10. Jean McCormic
    April 26, 2017 at 5:05 am (1 month ago)

    This is my first time reading your column, and I felt very educated by your responses. Thank you for giving well thought out replies to these concerned cat parents!

    Reply

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