Welcome to our regular “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 she can each time, and I’ll publish her answers in a subsequent post.
Mikel 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 obtained her PhD in Psychology at UC Berkeley, where she studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships. Mikel is co-author of Jackson Galaxy’s newest book, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat.
Does my cat not like our other cat because she doesn’t have a tail?
I have 4 cats and 3 dogs all together. My 1 1/2 year old Maine Coon Mix does not like my 4 month old Calico Bobtail Mix at all but she gets along with the other two cats and the dogs. I was wondering if my Maine Coon Mix could not be liking my Calico Bobtail Mix because she doesn’t have a tail. Does my Maine Coon Mix know that the Calico Bobtail is a cat? I’m just trying to figure out why my 1 1/2 year old cat absolutely despised the kitten. Please help!! She attacks and chases the kitten constantly. (Jennifer Falbo)
Much to my chagrin, there’s no way to really know what our cats are thinking. 🙂 Since we are so visual, we think that vision is the most important thing to how other animals perceive the world, but that is probably not the case. We know that for cats, other things are important, such as olfactory signals.
Now cats with stubby or missing tails are not able to display one important signal between cats – the “tail up” – that tail held high with a question mark at the top. That is a classic sign of “I come in peace” – a cat who is sending a friendly signal to another. So while I don’t think this missing signal would make or break a relationship, it could be just one more thing working against your Maine Coon Mix liking the kitten.
I wish it were guaranteed that just because a cat likes some animals, they would like all of them. But similarly, do you like every new person you meet? Probably not. A lot could depend on how the animals were introduced, as well as individual personalities and energy levels.
What I can say with some certainty is that you should start over and reintroduce the kitten and your Maine Coon Mix, controlling their interactions and building positive associations. Ongoing fighting and chasing is a sign of stress and of two cats that need some help!
Cat vomits after eating too fast
Our baby boy is 6 years old and his name is Smokey. He seems to vomit very randomly and sometimes its consecutive for a few days at a time. We asked our vet about it about 6 months or so ago and he said, Smokey is gorging his food at times and that’s why he’s vomiting. Or it could also be hairballs? He is a healthy and happy cat otherwise. I just thought I’d get your take on the situation because I don’t want something to happen later on down the road, when he could have an illness. He eats both wet (fancy feast gravy) and dry (Purina indoor cat chow), and I feed him twice a day. He also loves temptation and Sheba chicken sticks treats. We try not to overdo it with the treats too! Once or twice a day we give him a few pieces at a time. Appreciate your feedback! We love our boy so much and hate seeing him get sick like this. (Tracey S.)
I’m not a veterinarian, but I do believe that the current thinking about vomiting in cats has changed – and we no longer consider it “normal” cat behavior. If Smokey is indeed gorging on his food, then food puzzles may be helpful! They can slow down his eating and keep him mentally stimulated and occupied. There are puzzles you can use with both dry and wet food – just check out foodpuzzlesforcats.com for suggestions! Cats who eat wet food too fast can also be slowed down if you spread the wet food very thinly over the surface of the bowl or plate (“frost” the plate with the food).
However, if the vomiting continues, I would recommend seeking a second opinion from a veterinarian, perhaps an internal medicine specialist, who can help you pin down any potential medical issues, such as allergies or digestive problems, that are causing the vomiting.
Indoor/outdoor cat stopped coming inside
4.5 years ago I adopted a two year old female cat from the local shelter (ACC). I met her at Petfood Express, the summer I visited about once/ week for a “kitten fix.” I sat on the floor with the kittens and Rosie, who was good with them and so allowed out of her cage while they were playing. She came and sat near me. She didn’t want to be petted more than a stroke or two, she definitely did not want lap time. She’s so beautiful, I kept thinking, she will soon be adopted. (I already had two senior cats at home and was not looking to adopt another.)
But 2 months went by, and she was sent back to the shelter because no one had adopted her. Another month went by, while I checked the website every Monday hoping to see she had been adopted over the week end. Didn’t happen. I finally couldn’t stand her being in jail any longer and went to get her out.
I learned Rosie had been living in a feral colony and was brought into the shelter by a volunteer who was feeding the colony and TNRing the cats. At the shelter, people thought she was friendly enough to get adopted. She was friendly. But when I got her home and spent more time with her I understood why she had spent so long in the shelter. She had feral traits which most people wouldn’t have patience with for long. She did NOT want to be picked up and would make that Known immediately. She has never decided she wants to be in a lap or even petted much. But some. On her terms. I had spent a year making friends with a feral cat who then moved in with me, so I wasn’t put off by Rosie’s behavior.
She easily made friends with the two male cats already living with us. She obviously liked other cats.
She went outdoors thru the catflap in the back door. It’s a safe outdoor area, and she insisted she absolutely had to go outdoors. For 4 years, she came and went as she pleased (except for the few days she had a vet appointment). She came in to eat and sleep, occasionally playing with a toy. When she wanted canned food, she would come in and come to me to tell me. She made friends with the male cat the same age who lives on the first floor in the apartment under ours on the 3rd. The two of them play and travel together. Often, if we call one, both come.
Last summer, Rosie stopped coming indoors to eat and sleep. I take food outdoors to her. She will still, sometimes, come upstairs with me on the indoor stairway. But when she comes into the apartment, she goes directly to the back door to go out the cat flap. I’ve tried a few times to keep her in for a little while, thinking perhaps if she sees that nothing “bad” will happen to her, she’ll get comfortable indoors again. Nope. She stays right by the back door and cries until I let her out again. One evening recently, her best friend came up with her. Xing Xing has been in and out of our home since he was very young, and he was comfortable — ate, played, napped while Rosie continued to sit by the door crying off and on until I let them go out again.
I don’t know what happened to cause Rosie to move outdoors. I don’t know how to get her comfortable coming indoors again. It’s raining now, I thought the rain would bring her in. Not happening. I think she’s sheltering in the cave like space under one of the buildings in our apartments block.
I understand this is long. Perhaps, Mikel, you would like me to make an appointment with you? I’m in San Francisco, and I think you’re in the SF Bay Area? (Cheri Collins)
I’m sorry to hear about Rosie’s change in behavior; likely something happened last summer that tipped the scales for her, but regardless, we have to deal with the behavior she is currently showing.
Unfortunately, it sounds like Rosie got more attached to her outdoor territory before she developed much of a relationship with you. We know that cats form attachments to territory FIRST, and subsequently to whomever or whatever is in that territory. For whatever reason, be it her feral background (certainly a likely contributor) or being let outside perhaps a bit too early, she has decided home is outdoors.
Giving her food outside only reinforces that there’s not much of interest for her inside your house. Can you start luring her back inside to eat? Gradually place the food closer and closer to the door, then prop the cat flap open and feed her just inside, etc., until you are back to feeding her indoors. The more delicious the food, the better. You may also want to try providing her with a shelter (feral box) close to the home at least so you know she has a safe place to be, and then eventually move that indoors as well. The idea is to give her some reason to come indoors, since human attention dos not seem to be a primary motivator for her.
Honestly, if you want her to come indoors, you may have to make the hard decision to go cold turkey and keep her indoors ONLY and work on re-socializing and building a relationship with her. This will probably not go over well with Rosie at first, since Pandora’s Box has been opened, so to speak. Once cats have a taste of the outdoors, it can be hard to go back. My experience is that moving to a new location makes it easier to convert a cat to indoors only, because the cues that indicate “I go outside” have changed. That said, I’ve seen plenty of formerly indoor-outdoor cats convert to indoors only, with patience and enrichment.
If you’d like to discuss this problem further, and you’re interested in a consultation, I’d be happy to schedule something with you (you can find us at felineminds.com), or you can always find a qualified (and certified) consultant at iaabc.org.
Cat is constantly begging for food
I have an 8 year old Torti (Ginger Diana) and I’m desperately trying to get her to lose weight. I’ve got her down to 11 lbs but I’d like to get her down to at least 9 as she is a runt. The problem is whenever I am home, she is constantly begging for food. When I say no she gets upset, scratches on the walls, bites wires and bites me. I don’t want to give in to her but I don’t want to see her gain the weight back (she was 16 lbs) and I don’t want her to get destructive and then I have to answer to my landlord or see her do something that could end her life like biting through wires. (Arleen Fackina)
First of all, congratulations on the weight you have already gotten off Ginger Diana! Getting weight down with overweight cats can be challenging. I hope you are working with a veterinarian to figure out her ideal weight, what diet would be most helpful, and how much you should be feeding her. There a few ways to encourage weight loss – one is to reduce caloric intake, and another is to increase exercise. I love food puzzles for “food obsessed” cats, because they can slow down eating while giving the cat more physical activity. Cats who eat a little more slowly may feel satiated before they’ve wolfed down all their food.
I’d also think about how often you’re feeding Ginger Diana. Cats naturally eat somewhere between 8 to 15+ small meals per day. They are designed to eat several small meals (aka “mice”) each day, throughout the day. For some cats I’m a fan of much stricter meal feeding, but you may find it more effective to feed Ginger Diana several very tiny meals throughout the day, if you are around. If you aren’t around, again, several food puzzles would be great. The puzzles should be challenging enough to slow her down without her becoming frustrated. The website foodpuzzlesforcats.com has several examples of food puzzles that can be used for wet or dry food, and gives plenty of options based on the cat’s skill level! Can you tell I’m a fan of food puzzles????
As she continues to lose weight, she’ll hopefully feel more like playing – so try to engage her with interactive toys a few times a day. Play sessions can be brief, but be sure to make them part of your daily routine. Anytime she’s playing with a toy is a time she is not going to be begging for food!
Finally, it’s important to not reward Ginger Diana’s destructive attempts to get you to feed her. Unsafe situations should be managed (cord covers for wires) so she cannot hurt herself. You may find that once she is able to nibble small amounts through the day, she is less likely to bother you for food. You can also use clicker training to reward her with small amounts of food (you can use small bits of her regular ration) for GOOD behavior, like sitting, scratching her scratching post, or for cute parlor tricks.
Cat bites and attacks pillows, blankets and stuffed animals
Hi, I’m hoping you might have some advice for me. About 3 months ago I adopted a sphynx from a shelter. He’s estimated to be about a yr old & he’s neutered. He has a tendency to bite/attack pillows, blankets & stuffed animals and he’s starting to put holes in everything. I have been trying to keep stuff picked up but I have 3 small kids.
He also likes to cuddle with me under blankets at night & will be very calm & then nip me in the leg outta nowhere. I’m not sure if these cuddling nips are just hard love bites or he wants me to move over or what. I’ve generally found if I put my hand in between my leg & his mouth it usually stops him. For now the nipping isn’t major (no broken skin yet) but I don’t want it to turn any to anything more aggressive either.
I have “catified” as much as I can afford currently & play with him (using fishing pole style toy) for 30 minutes to an hour every evening. I try to keep the game going til he loses interest & walks off. As far as “catification” goes he has his own cat tree, two litter boxes (scooped daily, emptied weekly), multiple scratching posts, a pop up tent & tunnel, solo toys (mice, balls), a turbo scratcher, a couple food puzzles, a few wall mounted shelves (which he doesn’t really use), and I also feed birds in my yard so he can watch them.
I’m not really sure how I should correct him when I see destructive behavior…for now I’ve been telling him “no” gently but firmly then picking him up & moving him to an appropriate toy or scratcher.
The shelter couldn’t give me much history on him but they said the lady who surrendered him claimed he had been repossessed by his breeder after the breeder learned he was being kept in an outdoor cage which violated his adoption agreement. The breeder then gave him to this lady to re-home; she surrendered him to the shelter where he lived in a foster home for about a month. His foster mom told me she thought he was “gross” and admitted to locking him up frequently. He also had sores on his feet which I imagine came from spending too much time in the wire cage in his foster’s living room. If his backstory is true prior to arriving at the shelter it seems he moved around quite a bit the first 9 months of his life…so not much stability til now.
Any suggestions on how I can help him are greatly appreciated. Thanks! (Kayleigh)
Thank you for giving this guy a loving and patient home! It sounds like he definitely didn’t have the best start to his life. It sounds like you are providing him with lots of activity and enrichment which is fantastic. From what you wrote, there are two major concerns: the biting of fabrics and pillows, and the nighttime nipping. Let’s start with his bad habit of putting holes in your pillows and blankets.
My first question is whether he is just chewing, or actually ingesting fabric (a condition called pica). Chewing can be for attention or can stem from boredom and frustration. One way to tell if the behavior is for attention is considering whether it happens when you are gone. If it does, then typically we are looking at frustration and stress. If it happens ONLY when you are around, then attention is likely the PRIME motivator (although frustration and stress can also be factors). We typically address this by using (clicker) training to teach the cat ways to get attention and other rewards by doing “good” behaviors. The hows and whys of training are more detail that I can go over in this column, but there are plenty of good resources available out there, both printed books and websites!
If your cat does have pica, then I would recommend working with your veterinarian or another behavior professional to discuss this issue. Pica can be dangerous, and if he is at risk of an intestinal obstruction due to his chewing behavior, then he may need an anti-anxiety medication as an adjunct to behavior modification.
Because the sphynx kitties need a little help staying warm, it’s not surprising he likes to snuggle under the covers at night. You may find the best way to discourage the nipping of your legs while you sleep is to encourage him to sleep elsewhere – by providing him with a heated bed (perhaps one that is only turned on at night). It can be on or near your bed if you like him being nearby at night (and since he is used to sleeping with you). I also recommend an evening play session followed by a meal or snack at your bedtime to encourage him to sleep more soundly through the night.
Cat suddenly started to scream at other cats in the household and chase them
I have a cat named Thomas who recently came to my house through a family member. He is a five-year-old cat that was used to being in a one cat household and indoors. Now in the two months he is been with us he has become part of a family of 3 other cats and in the beginning they all got along famously and Thomas did venture outside at times. Out of the blue last week Thomas started reacting in extreme duress toward the other cats by screaming (sounded like a woman screaming) either crouched down or chasing the other cats out of the house… there is not one trigger to start this behavior, it has been multiple things and we never know when he will do it again. We separate Thomas from the other when it happens for up to twelve hours to calm him down when he comes out everyone is fine until something triggers another reaction. I now have Thomas separated again and plan to leave him apart for another 3 days. When I go visit Thomas he is a different cat so calm and loving and sits in my lap so contentedly…he never comes close to us and lets us pet him just a little when he is out around the other cats. Why the sudden change after 2 months of seemingly being a part of this clowder of cats? This has stressed us all out and the other cats avoid him more and more. My brother has agreed to take Thomas to put him in a one person and him only as pet home if we cannot work this out. Thanks for any advice and insight. (Susan Lunday)
It’s not unusual for cats to “seem fine” at first, and then as a newcomer becomes more comfortable in the territory, tensions arise. I’d first be curious as to just how much a part of the clowder Thomas really was – did you see him co-grooming with the other cats, sleeping with them, and playing (not fighting) together? Sometimes we assume that the absence of overt fighting means everything is peachy-keen, but we also need to look for the presence of POSITIVE interactions. If those positive interactions were missing, I’d be less certain about how strong that relationship ever was.
His extreme reaction and the lack of clear triggers for his outbursts is troublesome. I would need more information to rule out redirected aggression. Has Thomas been examined by a veterinarian? Sometimes pain (such as dental pain or digestive troubles) can be sporadic, but intense; they can also be “blamed” on whoever is nearby, such as other cats.
In some cases, increasing resources (litter boxes, feeding stations, bedding, vertical space, scratching posts, etc.) can help diffuse tension and at the very least allow cats to co-exist peacefully. However, I think you will also have to work on a much slower, more controlled re-introduction based on positive interactions – the current system of just going back and forth between with the cats and then separated when there are outbursts isn’t working. In some cases, as much as we love all the cats, some of them might be happier living as an only cat. I would certainly give a re-introduction a good go, but it should be a systematic process, not just throwing them together until something bad happens!
Cat hissing and spitting
Hello, we have an almost 3 yr Tortie with much attitude. She is a “fight” in lieu of “flight” cat. She has become an indoor/outdoor cat and loves going outside. Has her own play area, cat tree, numerous scratching posts, balls, wands, etc. Get plenty of attention and play time, she is very spoiled and shows us that she runs the house. We have had numerous hissing/spitting, chasing while hissing occurrences which is what let to suggestion from the Vet to let her outside which has helped the issue. I am just looking for any other suggestions and I am uncomfortable with the behavior but my husband handles it very well. (B)
I’m not sure that I completely understand the nature of the problem you are having with your kitty. I assume that your cat is only displaying the hissing toward you and your husband? Is she biting and scratching or just hissing? Sometimes hissing is just a warning “I’m not comfortable” in which case I’d want to know more about what elicits the hissing. Is it when you pet her, approach her, ignore her, etc.?
In general, I’m a big fan of letting the cat control the interactions; some cats enjoy handling and petting and the like more than others. It’s kind of like the Henny Youngman joke about the doctor; “Doctor it hurts when I do this…the doctor says, “don’t do that.”
If your cat predictably hisses when you try to pet her, stop petting her. Let her come to you for petting, and find other “hands off” ways to interact – especially interactive play where you move the wand toys for her to chase. This is a good way to build a bond and have fun together, plus we know that exercise has stress-reducing properties… and tired cats are less likely to bite and scratch! If she is being affectionate, give her treats and praise so she knows you like that behavior. I also recommend giving cats breaks from petting regularly if they are prone to overstimulation, even if they seem interested in handling. Some cats aren’t so good at saying no, even if they are worked up!
That said, I do like clicker training with cats who have tendencies to have issues with being handled. This is because it allows you to reinforce behaviors you like, and behaviors that get reinforced are more likely to be repeated in the future. It’s also a great way to train a cat to accept certain types of handling while they are young. Far too many cats don’t get the medical treatment they need because they bite or scratch when handled. It’s good planning for her future to address some of those issues now.
Finally, if anyone is roughhousing, wrestling, playing chase games, or otherwise encouraging your cat to see humans as a toy, I highly recommend giving up those bad habits. Even if your cat engages in that type of play, she can be redirected toward a toy. Allowing her to “play rough” is giving a green light to be aggressive.
Two rescue cats no longer get along
Hello! I have two rescue cats (I got them at 8 and 10 weeks respectively) that do not like each other. They are 3 years old, Zazzles is older by 6 months than Mercedes. Zazzles is my shy, skittish girl, Mercedes is bold, assertive and outgoing girl. They are two prides of one instead of a pride of two.
At first, they seemed to get on just fine. They slept together, groomed each other and teamed up against the dog. Now Mercedes seems to pick on Zazzles. She pounces on her when Zazzles seems to least expect it. There is some hissing and growling on Zazzles part then they go their separate ways; that’s as serious as it gets. They usually keep to different parts if the house. They have separate food, water and litter. My husband says they only fight when I’m home, and usually it’s near me.
Is there hope for my cats? I am not interested in rehoming either of them, they deserve forever homes and I love them both. Thank you, Beth Audet
It is not uncommon to see cat relationships change at adulthood. When cats reach social maturity, there may be more struggles over access to preferred resources, and sometimes one cat just wants to play less than the other.
What I find most interesting is that your cats only fight when you are home – do you feel this is true, or do you feel that your husband tolerates more squabbles than you do (or are both the case)?
One thing that is encouraging is that aside from some pouncing, hissing, and growling, things don’t sound like a situation where I’d say someone definitely has to be rehomed. But do you ever see positive signs between your cats, such as sleeping near each other and playing together? What are they doing all day when you’re not home? Are you seeing other behavior problems, such as litter box avoidance, or signs of withdrawal? If not, I’d say that you can work on this situation, if not getting the cats back to BFFs, to at least decrease the tension between them.
It’s great that you are providing your girls with separate resources, such as food, water, and litter. I would also look at other important resources, such as vertical space, sun spots, scratching posts, and the like. Having more resources in the key rooms of the house can make it easier for them to share those spaces, rather than spending time in opposite sides of the house to avoid each other. Also be sure to give each cat some one-on-one private time with you each day, because YOU are also an important resource.
More exercise and mental stimulation is always a stress-reducer for cats. It sounds like Mercedes especially needs more to keep her occupied. You can also work on actively creating positive associations between your cats by having what I like to call a “treat summit” – each day, the two cats should get their absolute favorite thing in the world…but only when they are together. With repetition, your cats will associate these special treats with each other.