I’m sad to announce that this will be Mikel’s last column. Mikel’s consulting practice and her work as researcher at the Veterinary School at UC Davis are taking up more and more of her time, which, even though it’s a loss for us, is not only a good thing for Mikel, but also for all the cats who will be helped as a result of her work. But don’t worry, the “Ask the Cat Behaviorist” column will continue, and will be taken over by Dr. Marci Koski of Feline Behavior Solutions starting in November. Look for an introduction of Marci later and information on where to leave your questions for Marci later this month.
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.
A message from Mikel to our readers
To the wonderful readers of the Conscious Cat:
I’ve had the pleasure of answering your behavior questions here for the past 18 months or so, and it’s been great to be a part of the Conscious Cat community! As my consulting practice and my work as a researcher at the Veterinary School at UC Davis have been keeping me extra busy, I’ve had to cut back on other things, and this will be my last column here, at least for now. However, if you have behavior questions, do NOT despair! You will be left in the very capable hands of Dr. Marci Koski, a colleague and fellow certified cat behavior consultant. She’s wonderful and I look forward to reading her column! Thank you for your questions and comments, and keep the faith in your kitties!
Cat chews side of his food bowl
Hi I have a 1 year old sphynx cat. For some reason he keeps biting the side of his food bowl when he’s trying to eat. Constantly chewing on the side of his bowl. I’ve read that cats usually eat from the center of their bowls because their whiskers will hit the sides of the bowl and cause discomfort. However, he does not have whiskers(stubs) because of his breed. Any suggestions on why he’s doing this? Thank you for your time – Tonia
Well I could come up with a few hypotheses about the WHY – some teenage cats experience “juvenile gingivitis” which can lead them to seek relief by chewing on non-food items, so it might be worth having your vet check his gums. Other cats chew on things because they are bored. But since your kitty ONLY does this during his meals, it suggests that he either can’t distinguish the bowl from the food or that something about the bowl is getting in his way. Although he doesn’t have long whiskers, there could be something visually that is bothering him?
More important than the WHY to me, is – can we stop this behavior by changing his food dish? I’d start with trying something more shallow or even a different material – if his bowl is plastic, try ceramic or stainless steel, etc. And hey, why not skip the bowl altogether and feed him from food puzzles instead? That’s my favorite type of food dish – none at all!
Older cat slaps younger cat
I sent a question months ago about my two cats getting along (quick context: me and my boyfriend moved in together and his 2 year old female cat and my 1 year old female cat couldn’t get along AT ALL; we keep them in separate spaces of the apartment for MONTHS until recently, when they started to “coexist”).
My situation now is as follows: even then they coexist, and the older cat isn’t aggressive with the younger cat anymore, sometimes they’re both chilling in peace (sleeping in our bed, for example), and the older cat out of the blue comes for the younger cat and slap her in the face/body, but just one time. She does this quickly and then leaves, after just one slap, so I assume she’s not looking for a fight. Still, the younger cat freaks out and gets very scared.
Do you have recommendations of how we can manage her slapping behavior? They can coexist now without wanting to kill each other, which is a MAJOR improvement, but it is exhausting being aware of what the cats are doing all the time because we don’t want that the slap turns into a fight, obviously. Also the older cat is much bigger than the younger, and we don’t want any accidents.
We’ve tried to speak in a severe tone when the older cat is approaching the younger, when we can tell that she’s up to no good, and that sometimes works and the older cat gives up her desires of slapping the other cat, but still, we want a more long term solution to our problem. – Fran
Fran, I’m pleased to hear that your cats can co-exist in the same space, and I understand that the slapping behavior can be frustrating. One thing I always recommend is taking a cold, hard look at the resources you have available for your cats (such as multiple litter boxes, scratching posts, and feeding stations) and make sure you have enough options for them to be in the same room without having to share (such as when they are both on your bed – that might be too close for comfort).
Increasing vertical space via cat furniture and shelves can really go a long way toward allowing cats to be in the same space, yet be far enough apart that it’s just not worth it to get up and smack the other one in the face. High spaces, windows, and warmth tend to be primo territory, so make sure you have plenty of options in the rooms they want to spent time in (usually the same rooms we are in). Heated beds are a great way to “coax” cats to hang out in particular locations. For example, a heated bed on an elevated shelf in your bedroom might encourage one cat to sleep there when the other is on the bed.
When you can see the older cat is “up to no good,” rather than get punitive, can you distract her? Try making a noise that might break her focus on the younger cat, such as dropping a book or rattling a soda can with some pennies inside. You could also try tossing a small toy, such as a mouse or crinkle ball away from the younger cat, to draw the older cat’s attention away.
Territorial urine and stool marking
We have two indoor Siberian/Maine Coon mix female cats that we adopted as kittens, Vanya and Valentine, that are now 10 years old; we also have a semi-feral, Jack, who resides on our deck. No behavior problems until about 3 years ago when Vanya developed a urinary tract infection; she was treated for that and a while after became very territorial: she would leave “poopers” by the doors going outside, which I could deal with but then began urinating outside of the cat boxes (we do have 3 boxes); vet checked her again for urinary infections, negative on that, said her problems were behavioral, so we did the feliway plug ins to calm her, gave her vet prescribed Solliquin. She hisses at our other cat, also when people other than my husband and I try to pet her. I tried isolating Vanya to a room overnight with the urinating behavior providing a litter box, water, favorite toys and bed as she seemed to be doing the urinating outside the box at night. This worked for a while, then started up again when I let her roam at night, and she even urinated in the room while having freedom to be anywhere in the house at night. I have had carpets ruined from her urinating behavior and am at my wits end as to how to deal with this. I love her dearly, she will be very good for a while, sometimes even several months, then bad behavior again. We do live where there is wildlife outdoors and have wondered if the behavior is triggered by animals that may be around at night, so close blinds where I have them to prevent her seeing out but of course, am sure that she may hear and sense when they may be close to the house. Help!!!! Also should say that Vanya is very attached to me, follows me around house whenever I am here. – Suzanne Doin
Suzanne, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had challenges with Vanya’s behavior. It does sounds like she has been cleared for medical issues, but it also sounds like there are a few stressors in her environment: it sounds like she and Valentine are not best of friends, and that sometimes she is forced to interact with strangers when she would rather not. Animals outdoors can definitely be an additional source of stress.
So you’ve tried Solliquin and Feliway, so now what?
Well, I first like to try to address stressors by improving the environment. I think you would benefit from a session with a qualified consultant who can help you improve Vanya and Valentine’s relationship, but remember the most important thing for cats: choices over resources. You have three litter boxes, which is great. Make sure they are in separate areas of the house. The same goes for scratching posts, food dishes, and cat beds: multiple options, spread out in the house!
It’s possible that the litter box itself is a source of stress, so you’ll want to ensure you are using an acceptable litter, and that the boxes are large, open, in safe locations (not too far out of the way) and are scooped daily.
You can help Vanya be less stressed by providing more routine, exercise and enrichment for her – such as vertical space, food puzzles, bird feeders to watch, and the like. And don’t forget the interactive play!! Getting her chasing a cat dancer toy will help build her confidence and help her feel more relaxed.
The research on Feliway is mixed, and there are no properly controlled studies of Solliquin (where some animals receive a placebo, unbeknownst to the owner) to determine its efficacy in addressing stress-related urination issues. It is possible that you may need something “stronger” to fix this problem, so it’s worth a discussion with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist, about whether anti-anxiety medication would be appropriate!
New cat is not leaving safe room
Hi, I recently adopted a girl rescue cat aged 7, she is so soft and gentle and loving. I already have 3 rescue cats 2 boys aged 6 and 4 and a petite girl aged 5 and a half
To begin with I kept the new kitty separate and did slow introductions which went very well, yes there was the odd hiss from mainly my boy cats but I was very happy with their progress. The new kitty is not the fighting type and will stand up for herself if needed but just backs away. My 3 previous cats come into the living room supervised where new kitty stays, but I am a bit concerned that the new cat hides and doesn’t explore other parts of the home, I think she isn’t confident enough from the other 3
Yes she seems happy in the living room but this is not suitable long term, I realize it is only early days but how can I help so that we don’t go backwards in our progress?
I realize that there will be bumps and they won’t always see eye to eye but would welcome any advice. Thank you, Dianne
If I understand you correctly, the main concern is that the new cat is not spending much time out of her safe room. Have you tried gradually giving her access to other areas of the house where the other cats are confined, so she can explore freely? Even if the cats seem to get along okay, for some cats, being in “enemy turf” with the enemy present is a double threat! Most cats need time to adjust to new spaces, but it helps if they can do so at their own pace, without an audience. So I would start by confining your other cats in a different room, and then allow the new kitty to come out of the living room on her own. Don’t force the issue by picking her up and plunking her down in another room – that will just reinforce her fear of this new space. Think of it like getting dropped off in the downtown of an unfamiliar city without a map! And there are irritated locals pushing you out of their way while you try to get your bearings! Wouldn’t it be easier to explore your neighborhood first, slowly, perhaps checking out that coffee shop or book store then going back to the safety of your home? Just like that, you want your new kitty to always have the option to return to her safe room when she gets overwhelmed. You can use treats or toys to lure her out of the room, but let her call the shots when it comes to her exploration schedule! Over time, she will get more comfortable with the other cats AND other areas of the home, learning where the safe spots are. But you can help her by letting her explore privately.