Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Spraying Cat, High Energy Tortie, Redirected Aggression, Cat Obsessed with Bread, and More

Ask-the-Cat-Behaviorist-Marci-Koski

Dr. Marci Koski is a certified Feline Behavior and Training Professional who received specialized and advanced certificates in Feline Training and Behavior from the Animal Behavior Institute. While Marci has been passionate about all animals and their welfare, cats have always had a special place in her heart. In fact, Marci can’t remember a time when she’s been without at least one cat in her life. She currently relies on her five-member support staff  to maintain the feline duties of her household.

Marci’s own company, Feline Behavior Solutions, focuses on keeping cats in homes, and from being abandoned to streets or shelters as the result of treatable behavior issues. Marci believes that the number of cats who are abandoned and/or euthanized in shelters can be greatly reduced if guardians better understand what drives their cats to certain behaviors, and learn how to work with their cats to encourage appropriate behaviors instead of unwanted ones.

12-year-old cat has been spraying for a year

We have two cats, both neutered males. The 12 year old (who we adopted just before he turned 8) began spraying vertical surfaces in the basement a year ago. He has sprayed the wall, the deep freezer, the washing machine, and many of my husband’s tool boxes. The other cat is a 4 year old and does not spray. We adopted him when he was 6 months old. This was 8 months after adopting the older cat. Over time they have learned to live together, but are not at all bonded.

We have 3 litter boxes throughout the house that get cleaned twice daily. We have 4 large cat trees and 1 small cat perch in various window locations throughout the house. The cats are fed in the basement, but in different locations, about 8 feet apart. We are at a loss as to what is causing the 12 year old to spray. We sealed the basement floor in an attempt to get rid of any lingering smells (we clean up after each incident with Skout’s Honor Cat Urine product) but he is still spraying. Any ideas or tips would be appreciated. – Beth

Hi Beth – I’m so sorry that you’re having this issue in your home – cat urine is always a challenge to deal with, in terms of both cleaning it up completely, and figuring out why it’s happening in the first place. I do have a few thoughts, though. To begin with, as cats age, their tolerance for stress decreases. So, while your kitties may have learned to coexist at some point, your older cat may have come to a point where “enough is enough”. Inter-cat relationships are a big cause of stress in kitties, and can result in behavior issues. As a result, the urine spraying may indicate that there is some territorial insecurity to remedy, especially around the basement.

In your case, I would make sure that each cat has all their own resources in their core territories in the home. Most cats’ territories don’t completely overlap, which is why (for example) some cats prefer to use specific litter boxes within their territory, and avoid using litter boxes that are in another cat’s territory. So, even though you are feeding your cats eight feet apart, this may not be far enough for your older cat to feel like his territory is protected and intact. I recommend that you take a look at where each cat spends their time and “map out” areas of the home that you believe comprise the territory of each cat – this includes where they eat and drink, use the litter box, scratch, sleep, nap, and play. Parts of their territory will overlap, which is fine, but you’ll want to make sure that primary resources like food, water, and litter boxes can be found in each of the cats’ own part of their territory. If any of those resources are contained in the overlapping part of territories, make sure there are multiples of those resources so that competition doesn’t cause more stress. It sounds like in your home, food may be part of the issue, so I would perhaps try feeding your younger cat upstairs while keeping your older cat’s food in the basement.

Another thing you can do to remedy the spraying is provide your older cat with alternative ways to mark so that he doesn’t have to use urine to reinforce his claim to the territory. You can put scratchers, cheek groomers, and bedding in areas that have been sprayed; each of these things will then contain your older cat’s scent, which may be enough for him to say, “ok, this area is mine – no need to spray here!”. You can also try to change the perceived use of those sprayed areas, by placing food bowls in the vicinity (after everything has been cleaned, of course), or by having “hunting” (i.e., play) sessions there. I hope this helps!

Will my tortie ever run out of energy?

Will my tortoiseshell ever run out of energy? I’ve had six cats who together couldn’t keep up with her. – Bill Eckardt

Hi Bill! Welcome to a proud group of feline aficionados who have been fortunate enough to have had tortoiseshell kitties dance into our lives! You are no doubt now familiar with what is generally referred to as “tortitude”, a purrrfectly endearing term for the feisty personality of our tortoiseshell friends. I was lucky enough to have lived with a tortie named Zoe for 14 years, and I miss her every day. Torties have a ton of personality, and they aren’t shy about letting it shine through!

Cats have a range of personality types and energy levels, as you know. How old is your tortie? I currently have three cats who are nine years old (none of whom are torties); two of them are not very active (although I try…), and the other is as spunky as she was when she was a kitten. She runs and jumps and causes mayhem as if she were still six months old! Is your cat’s energy causing trouble with the other cats? I highly recommend at least two play sessions (well, work-out sessions, really) per day with a wand toy (my favorite is Da Bird because it’s looooong for a wide range of motion, and you can clip different lures on it for variety). Try to make play sessions last at least 10-15 minutes each, with your kitty jumping and running and leaping – leading her up and down cat trees or furniture will give her a more intense workout, too. These workouts will help keep your kitty in great shape, reduce stress and boredom, and fulfill her predatory needs so that your other cats don’t become surrogate prey items!

If you haven’t already seen it, do take a look at Ingrid King’s book Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG Attitude. Most torties agree that the title of her book alone is a great start to understanding these wonderful cats!

Cat keeps wetting the bed

Hi… we have a four year old female house cat that keeps wetting on our beds from time to time. We know she doesn’t like our newest female cat that we adopted a year ago. What can we do to stop this? Thanks. – Kent Thoman

Hi Kent – thanks for your question. Cats urinating on their humans’ beds is a situation that I come across somewhat frequently. They often do this to let their guardians know that something is wrong in Catlandia. They might not be feeling well, they might be stressed about another cat in the home, they may be stressed about a relationship they have with one of the humans, or maybe their litter box situation needs to be improved…there are many things that could potentially be improved. It is thought that cats seek out their guardians’ beds because the bed smells more like their person than any other place in the home, and by intermingling their own scent (urine) with their person’s scent, this may help the cat feel a bit more secure; it may be a kind of “self-soothing” measure. It’s definitely not an act that is done out of spite or revenge, since cats really don’t think that way. So, let’s take a look at some potential stressors.

First, get your kitty checked out by a vet. She may have urinary crystals, which are painful to pass, or some other urinary or bladder issue that is triggered by stress (which may be increased by the other cat that you mentioned). If your cat does have a urinary/bladder issue, this can be helped with medication, diet, and/or stress-reducing activities (such as play sessions or having more vertical space options in the home) depending on the medical diagnosis. So don’t skip the vet visit and be sure to rule out medical issues first.

Next, you already mentioned that she doesn’t like the newest female cat that you adopted a year ago. Please take a look at my response to Beth (above) about ensuring that resource competition is minimized by having at least one of each key resource in your cat’s own territory. Then, you can work on creating positive associations with the newer cat. Reward all peaceful interactions with a treat (or anything else that your cats like – pets, affection, sweet-talk, etc.) – positive reinforcement can work wonders to showing cats that “hey – good things happen when that other fluffball is around, thus, she must not be all that bad”. Peaceful interactions could be as simple as when the cats are relaxing on opposite sides of the couch without giving each other the stink-eye. Or walking past each other without growling. Or anything that looks completely neutral! You can also engage the cats in activities that are self-rewarding. What about putting two food puzzles in the vicinity of each other for the cats to work on? Or having two people play with wand toys and the cats in the same room? Again, think about how to make those interactions fun and positive. Your cats may never be besties, but they should be able to figure out how to share their space peacefully.

Redirected aggression after stray cat got into the house

Hi, thanks for any help you can provide. We have two female cats who have been with us for 11 (Ham) and five (Marcey) years. About seven weeks ago, a local stray we feed (outside of our home) managed to sneak his way into the house under my feet as I was coming in the front door. He ran in and bolted right into Marcey, our youngest addition. That resulted in a violent altercation between the stray and our girl. All seemed well until a few days later when our oldest girl, Ham, got under my feet in the kitchen. When I stepped on her, she let out a Yelp. In comes Marcey who began a vicious attach on Ham. Since then it has been attack after attack. They have lived in complete harmony for many years until that night. I have since resorted to keeping them separated. I have tried every suggestion the internet offers. They eat their meals on opposite sides of the door, they’re clicker trained to positive events, we have played with them until they’re exhausted and then tried reintroduction, I have even purchased feline pheromone diffusers. Nothing is working. They still randomly hiss and spit under the gap in the door. This isn’t sustainable for my family. My husband is active duty and has been deployed since June. I’m a full-time student with two kids. We are stationed in Oahu, thousands of miles from the nearest family, there are no feline behavior specialist here (or close). I am not sure what else to do. This isn’t a sustainable long-term solution. Please, if you’re able to help me. I need a solution. These cats are a part of our family and right now, our family is broken. – Trisha Good

Hi Trisha – Oh, I’m so sorry that your family has been disrupted and saddened by what is going on with your kitties! It’s always really difficult when two furry family members who used to get along together no longer do. This sounds like it could be a case of redirected aggression, where an unrelated incident experienced by a cat is “transferred” to another cat (or even person). The relationship can change to the point where at least one of the cats no longer recognizes the other as a friend (or relative), and they have to be reintroduced. You did the right thing by separating the two cats right away and working on a reintroduction. Unfortunately, there’s no magic trick to making cats be friends again, and rebuilding a damaged relationship will take time.

I know it is really hard to be patient, and it sounds as if you’ve been working on reintroducing the cats for several weeks. The good news is that you do apparently have a way to keep them separated so that they are safe. That’s a good place to start from!

Are your cats able to be in the same room without attacking each other? I’m going to assume they are not for right now. Scent is just as important as sight for cats when it comes to figuring out who is friendly vs. who is not. Have you done any scent-swapping with your cats? I recommend starting fresh with the cats – this means blocking the gap under the door and giving your cats a break from even seeing each other this way. You’ll start with swapping bedding material that each cat has used (containing her scent) with the other cat, leaving some treats on the bedding to start rebuilding those positive associations. In fact, with each exposure, think about how each exposure (whether it’s scent or visual) can be positive for each cat. You can also work on creating a “group scent” by brushing each cat with a common, soft-bristled brush, focusing on the areas of the cat that produce the friendliest pheromones – the cheeks and forehead. Don’t force the brush on the cats if they don’t want it – you can leave the brush with a few treats behind. Also swap the cats’ spaces so that each cat gets a chance to experience the whole house; leave treats in areas where the cats have spent time for the opposite cat to find.

When both cats can accept treats from an object that smells like the other cat or be brushed with the common brush (keep that up daily!), then you move on to visual exposure, using the method of feeding on opposite sides of the door. Remember to keep sessions short and sweet – only open the door a bit for a brief amount of time initially – if a kitty stops eating or growls, you’ve gone too far or too fast. But if the cat stops and then resumes eating, that’s progress! Next time, open the door a bit further, for a bit longer. Always try to end on a positive note. I’ve actually found that baby gates with towels or blankets clipped over the top work better than a door once have started eating together – you have a bit more control since the gate is in place, and you can just pull back the blanket as much as you need to. Further, once the cats are ready, you can leave the baby gates up for prolonged visual exposure (you can stack two baby gates if necessary, so the cats can’t jump over them). But a door is probably best to start with in your case.

When both cats can eat in plain view of each other without growling or hissing, then you may move on to supervised sessions where they are in the same space, but in opposite corners of the room – you can distract each cat with a wand toy, laser pointer, or food puzzle. Have a cushion or cardboard divider to separate the cats if they start to have a “stare-down” or approach each other. You’re trying to teach each cat that “good things happen when that other cat is around”. So again, keep these sessions short and sweet, particularly in the beginning!

There are many certified cat behavior consultants who do long-distance consultations through video conferencing; I’ve had clients in Hawaii myself. It might really help you to have a professional walk you through these steps as you go through them and be able to take a look at your home to help you figure out the best configuration for separating the cats, and eventually sharing space (e.g., installing vertical space structures). I wish you the best – hang in there, I know it’s difficult! Patience can really pay off though, and you’ll be so happy that you gave your kitties time to get to know each other again.

Cat suddenly hisses at her ill companion cat

I have two 15 yr old cats. Spayed females. All their lives they’ve gotten along. Supported each other through our many travels. We do NOT travel any more. Now that 1 of my cats is very ill, my other cat hisses & bites her when she comes near. I’ve read where keeping them separate is best for the ill cat. Any suggestions/help to improve my sick cat’s life? – Pat Kerlin

Hi Pat – It’s so difficult when our cats age and their health declines, but it allows us to care for them at a whole new level and bond in a completely different way. I’m not sure how mobile your ill kitty is, but it sounds as if she’s not able to get away from your other cat to avoid the other’s aggression. I do know that illness can cause cats’ scents to change, and this may be one reason why your other cat is acting aggressively towards her – she may not recognize her! You can try to rebuild a “group” scent by using a soft-bristled brush (like a baby brush) to groom both of the cats, particularly in their friendly-pheromone areas (the cheeks and forehead, as I described in my answer to Trisha above). Use positive reinforcement when each cat is brushed (e.g., reward them with treats or petting) so that they learn to enjoy brushing if they don’t already. This group scent will help the ill cat smell more familiar to your other cat, and may help lessen the aggression.

You’ll also want to make sure your ill cat has plenty of places that she can retreat to for safety and relaxation. This can include cat caves, boxes, bags…the Hide and Sneak paper tunnel is one of my cats’ favorites. You can also make sure that you have plenty of vertical space for your other cat to use – this will increase the amount of useable space in your home for your cats to share. And, even though your cats are older, they both need mental and physical stimulation. Food puzzles, novel objects to explore (e.g., safe items from outdoors like pinecones or leaves, etc.), and toys that are rotated frequently can help stem boredom. I hope this helps!

Middle of the night meowing from 14-year-old-cat

Very loud meowing in the middle of the night from one of our three 14-year-old cats. He’s being very closely monitored with a fairly new diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. He’s a very social cat and engages with ANY human who comes to our house. If we get up with him when he starts meowing, he usually settles back down within a short time. It’s almost like he just wants us to be with him 24/7. – Jean

Hi Jean – I’m so glad that you took your cat to the vet, as yowling and vocalizing at night can be a sign of pain or change in health status. Hyperthyroid is one of the things that can cause increased vocalization – is he taking medication for this? If so, it may take a little time for the meowing habit to change, but it could be reduce or even stop as a result of the thyroid being properly controlled with the medication.

If the vocalization doesn’t stop, it could be that there are other things triggering it. An older cat may have some degree of cognitive dysfunction (senility), or another health issue. So, it’s good that you’re keeping your cat’s health monitored. Cats with senility may sometimes not recognize where they are when they get up at night – try a few night-lights (especially around food and litter boxes, as cats can’t see in the dark) to help reduce disorientation at night. Also, does your cat sleep in the same room with you? Would it help if he did? If he has a hard time getting up to your bed, maybe some pet-steps would help?

Addressing excessive vocalization in younger cats who simply want something (whether it’s attention or food, etc.) is different from that of a cat who is meowing as the result of a health issue or dementia. If your cat is meowing as the result of the latter, comfort is key, and ensuring that your cat gets that comfort when he wakes is important. I recommend asking your vet if there is a medication that may help with night-time wakefulness, or something else that could calm him. In addition, if your cat still actively plays, I would treat him to a play session with a wand toy before bedtime so that he has a nice, solid sleep!

Cat is obsessed with bread and flour

We rescued a cat this summer from a local animal control. They estimated he’s a little over a year. Since he joined our home, he’s been eating any food he can get his hands on but mostly bread items and crackers. We were hiding bread in the toaster oven but he opens the door and removes the bread so we now hide everything in the microwave. This evening I did not secure (the newly added) pantry latch and Walter got in the pantry. He took out a 5 lb bag of flour and started eating it. It’s nuts! Is there anything we can do to help change this behavior? – Brea Strong

Hi Brea – Well, Walter and I must be related because I, too, am a sucker for nearly any type of bread product (although I do draw the line at eating plain flour)! This behavior (in Walter, not me, ha ha) may have been formed as a result of how well Walter was able to obtain food (or not) when he was surviving outdoors as a stray. It’s not uncommon for some strays to be particularly wolfish when it comes to food, quickly eating any food they come across because they don’t know when they will get their next meal. This behavior continues even when they have a stable home with all the food they could eat!

Because Walter is going after bread in particular, however, he may have a craving for some sort of nutrient that he may have not been getting when he was a stray. Breads are comprised of carbohydrates which cats can digest and absorb, but because cats are obligate carnivores, a diet made mostly of proteins is what cats need. Too many carbohydrates can cause obesity and other health issues. I’m curious – has he tried getting into other types of food? Maybe food packaging for breads, crackers, etc. are easiest to get into, as opposed to other foods that might be refrigerated or in other types of packaging?

I recommend making sure that cabinets and pantries that contain human food are secured, with baby locks if necessary. If you feed Walter discreet meals, make sure he gets a meal at least every eight hours (smaller, more frequent meals are best) – less than that can cause increased hunger, and subsequent foraging for other food sources. Additionally, you can tide him over by providing him with food in slow-feeders or food puzzles so that he doesn’t eat so quickly, gets full faster, and has food to come back to later in the day. Automatic feeders can also provide meals while you’re at work – there are plenty of options available!

You may also want to talk with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure that Walter’s diet is nutritionally complete, and that he’s getting everything he needs, and nothing he doesn’t.

Female cats pees standing up

My spayed female Maine Coon mix cat has a behavior that my vet couldn’t explain to me. When Lucy urinates she raises her back end mid-stream and consequently voids onto the floor. She always goes in her box but she only does it facing a certain direction (toward the shower)! She is 7 years old and healthy although she is positive for herpes but it is well-controlled. I also have a 4 yr old neutered male who she growls & hisses at frequently although he’s got a lovely disposition and does not threaten her. Both cats were adopted as kittens from a local shelter. Any idea what would cause Lucy to do this? – Kathleen C. May

Hi Kathleen – It sounds like Lucy has what I call “elevator butt”, which is when the cat raises her hind end from a squatting position to standing as she urinates. I’m not entirely sure why some cats do this, but I do see it occasionally! Has Lucy always done this, or is this a new behavior? If she’s an older cat, it may be painful for her to stay in a squatting position for very long due to joint pain or arthritis, so she raises up to keep steady while she urinates.

To me, this doesn’t sound like the behavior is related to the male. It’s unfortunate that she doesn’t like him very much, but because she only does this in the litter box, it seems like this is how she eliminates (empties her bladder), as opposed to spray-marking. For cats with elevator-butt, I recommend using high-sided utility tubs (without the top) with a U-shaped door cut out of one side. These are usually tall enough to catch all urine. If she goes in and sprays out of the U-shaped door, you could try cutting the door on the long side of the box so that she has to turn 90-degrees to be inside the box, at which point her back side will be facing a wall of the box. Make sense? I hope that works for you!

A comment from Ingrid: Ruby is a “vertical peer,” and for us, the NVR Miss Litter Box has been a godsend: http://nvrmiss.com/

Two indoor/outdoor cats are not getting along

Hi Marci and welcome!

I know Mikel answered many questions about what to do when cats aren’t getting along and introducing new cats to one another and this question runs along those lines. My question is about two male cats both are neutered males about 8 years old. They were adopted together when they were about a year old from a shelter – I believe the shelter thought them to be siblings and they were living indoor/outdoor in a bad situation.
The intent was to have them be indoor cats in their new home but they didn’t seem to get along that well (tolerating one another) and they seemed restless wanting to get back outside.

So once again in their new home they became indoor/outdoor cats. There are plenty of resources inside for both cats. There is also a dog in the home that the cats both get along with.

Over the years the aggression between them has escalated inside and outside. One cat does seem to be more the aggressor-walking over to swat and attack the other -even if he is sitting minding his own business in a chair. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to the aggression. It seems to occur at different times and in different places. They can eat near one another and sit on the couch or bed together and they are praised and given treats at these times when they are being good. They don’t have any issues with inappropriate peeing and don’t seem to do a lot of scratching or rubbing inside the home. Because both are indoor/outdoor, closing the cats inside to reintroduce them seems like it would be too stressful for everyone. And with all of the outdoor territory and stimulation you would think they wouldn’t need to fight outside as well.

Do you think there is any way to save this relationship or would re-homing one of these cats be the best option at this point.

Thanks in advance for your advice!  – Karen

Hi Karen – thanks for the welcome, and your question! It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things – using positive reinforcement when the cats are being peaceful around each other, making sure they have plenty of resources to reduce competition, and giving everyone ample space to get along. I’m really happy that there is no house-soiling happening, but the ongoing and increasing aggression is not good! I don’t think I’m in a good position to recommend re-homing one of the cats based on the limited information that I have, but that is always a possibility if you think that will be best for both cats. I do think that there are additional things you can try, however. I agree that bringing them inside for a reintroduction would be stressful for the cats, and may not result in a relationship that is any better, so let’s start with where the cats are right now and shoot for peaceful coexistence.

First, because the cats are indoor/outdoor, they’re probably bringing in all kinds of foreign scents, which may make it difficult for the kitties to recognize each other as friends. You can try reinforcing their “group scent” with a common brush (see the responses I gave to Pat and Trisha, above). The cats are probably familiar with each others’ individual scents, but by combining their scents, the opposite cat may be less threatened. Throw in some positive reinforcement with the brushing, and now you’re creating a positive association as well.

Additionally, you can try adding some more vertical space to your home – cat shelves, trees, or additional places to perch and watch the world go by. I’m not sure what your home looks like now – it sounds like they have a lot of room to roam since they can go outdoors, but when they’re both indoors and competing for a preferred napping spot, that’s when the swatting might happen.

Do you know what the cats are doing when they are outside? You’re right that there is a lot of enrichment opportunities for them outside, and a lot of stimulation. But are they getting exercise, or are they basking in sunlight all day? Even though they are let outside, it will NEVER hurt to give both boys daily play sessions (separately, so that they don’t have to compete with each other) using a wand toy. They can take out their predatory drive on the toy, expend their energy, and reduce stress through play. Give them a nice meal after their play session to put them into the hunt-eat-groom-sleep cycle and they should be pretty happy!

It takes time to change relationships between cats – keep doing what you’re doing with the positive reinforcement, and add in the group scent, vertical space opportunities, and play. If you don’t see improvements soon, you may want to consult with a certified cat behavior consultant to give you more specific recommendations. Best of luck!

Cat chews on baseboards, chair legs, etc.

I have a 1 1/2 year old rescue (for 8 months.) She is very ‘mouthy’ – constantly chews. If it isn’t the corners of the baseboards, it’s anything else woody. (Chair legs, etc.) She is currently destroying a cardboard box. That part is OK, but if she doesn’t get what she wants – she’ll attack my leg; usually if she wants to chase, or if lunch is not quite ready. I don’t know how to change her mind besides showing her the water bottle. – Bridget

Hi Bridget – Thanks for writing in about your mouthy kitty! Do you know if she actually ingests any of the wood? If so, she may have a condition known as pica (consumption of non-food items) and should be seen by a veterinarian. If she’s simply chewing objects and spitting out the pieces (although wood can’t be good for her mouth – ouch!), that may be the result of boredom and an attempt to keep herself busy. Quite a number of cats that I’ve known have chewed cardboard; I imagine there may be something satisfying about crunching the cardboard and tearing it into bits and pieces. At any rate, please make sure she’s not actually eating any of these things, and if she is, take her to a veterinarian; pica can be dangerous.

Habits that may not initially be harmful (like grooming) may become compulsive if they are repeated over and over in an attempt to self-sooth. Chewing wood or cardboard over time may cause damage to your cat’s teeth or mouth, resulting in injury, so I recommend that you disrupt, distract, and redirect her to a better activity (like a play session) any time you see her about to go after something to chew.

Do you have cat toys around the house that are rotated every couple of days so that they stay novel and interesting? Do you have at least two daily play sessions with your kitty using a wand toy so that she gets all that young-cat energy out? Attacking your legs when she wants to chase is a sign that she might not be getting enough playtime that engages her predatory instincts, so make sure you give her plenty of opportunity to hunt using a good wand toy (I highly recommend Da Bird).

Please put away the spray bottle, whatever you do. Squirting your kitty will not help, and may make things worse. First, your cat won’t make the connection between her actions and the spray bottle unless you squirt her every single time she does the thing you don’t want her to do, and that is hard to accomplish. And even if you do, when you use the squirt bottle you erode your relationship with your cat, dismantling trust and increasing fear, which can result in fear-related aggression. The best thing to do is to act like mama cat when your kiddo acts up – get up and walk away, no attention for her! I’ll bet that if you increase the amount of play your cat gets you’ll see less of the predatory aggression and chewing, and experience a more affectionate, trusting relationship.

Cat hates the other cats in the household

Marci, I have a spayed female cat about 2-3 years old. She hates everyone and all her brother and sister felines (8 total). How can I get her to not be so mean. I tried a plug in product, but it didn’t agree with her (made her vomit). What can I do? – Alita Mahalidge

Hi Alita – Oh, it makes me sad when I hear that a cat hates everyone around her and is acting mean as a result. I’m not sure that cats are actually capable of hate and acting mean – I’m sure that cats can come to dislike people or situations that cause them irritation or fear, and then they react accordingly. So, to answer your question, I’ll ask you a few questions. Are you sure she’s mean as the result of anger, or could it be mean from fear, anxiety, insecurity, or something else?

Since I don’t know anything about your cat’s environment other than it contains seven other cats, we’ll start by assessing your cat’s needs and how they are being met. First, does she have to compete with the other cats for her resources, or even have to confront them in order to get to her resources? Yes, there may be enough food for everyone, but does she have to eat near other cats she may not get along with? Same with litterboxes, napping and perching locations, etc. Next, does she ever play? Cats are predatory beasts at heart, and if a cat isn’t playing, there’s something wrong. Playtime can decrease stress, build confidence, and help kitties act less like prey and more like predators (which results in being picked on less by other cats). What are the relationships like with the other cats? Can she avoid them comfortably if she doesn’t want to be around them? Is there plenty of vertical space in your home so that she can avoid confrontations? Does she have a safe space that is readily accessible that contains all of her necessary resources?

She may feel like she has no control over her environment if she is competing with so many other cats for resources or attention. A cat who feels like she has no control also feels like she has no choices…and a cat without the ability to make choices is subject to stress. I know that I get very grumpy when I get stressed!

Please take a look at your cat’s world and figure out how you might be able to increase her space, give her more choices, ways to avoid confrontation (from both cats and people), and enrichment. If she’s been sequestering herself trying to avoid everyone and everything, she likely will need time to relax and come out of her shell once given a refuge. Give her the opportunity to get to know you on her terms – let her come to you, and reward her with treats, some catnip, or a new toy. Try to entice her with a peacock feather, string, or wand toy. She’s young and still has a lifetime ahead of her to live a full life, whether that’s with you and your family, or perhaps with someone else who may have an environment better-suited to meet her needs.

Maine Coon has recently been pooping on carpet and furniture

Hi Marci, I have an 8yr old Maine Coon who has recently (6 mos) been pooping (not peeing) on our carpets and furniture. It’s out of character for him.

We have 3 other cats (he’s the only male) and we have 4 3’x 2’ litter boxes we clean daily. We took him to the vet to make sure it wasn’t a health issue and they said he was fine, just fat and there were no serious changes when it started (we’re just now in the process of moving). I’m at a loss and would love to have answers or ideas before we move into our next house. My husband’s solution was to keep him in a kennel or isolate him in a room but that’s out of the question for me, I just feel like he’s trying to communicate something to me but I don’t know what. Thanks in advance. – Daphne

Hi Daphne – thanks for your question. With cats pooping outside of the litterbox, in at least 70% of cases there’s some kind of medical component, which can include the slightest bit of constipation or diarrhea (which causes a lack of control). I’m really happy that you took him to see your veterinarian to rule out serious health issues. Did you change his diet, or did his drinking habits change? You may want to get a second opinion or get his stool tested for parasites. If your cat is pooping in random places, my hunch would be that he’s undergoing some kind of discomfort and goes where he has to go. You may want to talk with a veterinary nutritionist about his diet and seeing if there’s anything you should change to keep his stools normal and healthy!

If, however, he’s going in just a few reliable places regularly (indicating that there is some amount of control), there may be something about the litter boxes he might not like. It sounds like your boxes are large enough (I find that shallow storage boxes work great – they’re larger than commercial litter boxes and are much less expensive!), but I know Maine coons are large, so you may need something even bigger! I would also recommend adding another box (with four cats, you should have five boxes). Make sure they’re distributed throughout your home, at least one on each level – if they’re all together, they’ll be perceived as one giant box. Litter box location is important too – you’ll want a spot that is in his core territory that doesn’t have any perceived ambushed spots (corners or shelves from which a potential predator could hide). Has there been a social dynamic between the cats that has changed recently? Was your cat scared off of a litter box by one of the other cats in the middle of doing his business?

As a human, I’ve had stress impact my own…er, digestive…functions. Moving can be a HUGE stressor for cats, so make sure that your cat has familiar scents in his space and gets plenty of playtime while you’re in the process of moving. I would not recommend isolating him in a room or kennel, as this would likely increase his stress and not do anything to remedy the situation. Good luck to you; I hope your cats adjust well to your new home!

Cat has not used litter box since returning from boarding

Hello!! And thank you for helping us all. My question is this…. I have an indoor/outdoor male neutered orange cat who used a litter box very often when in the house. We took him to the kennel while we were on vacation for a week, and since we returned home he has not used his box one time. He’ll go to the door and go outside, has never gone anywhere in the house. What could make him ignore his box since returning from the kennel? – Lois Courtney

Hi Lois – this is a very interesting question! If I understand you correctly, your cat is not house-soiling at all, but is doing all of his urination and defecation outside, yes? What kind of situation was he in at the kennel? Was it a small cage, the kind you see at vet hospitals and some animal shelters, or was it more of a “suite”, which can be quite large? If he was housed in a more traditional kennel for a week, it may have put him in MUCH closer proximity to his litter box than he would otherwise have preferred, which could have increased his dislike for using the litter box at home. It could have been that the litter box wasn’t cleaned out as often as you would have cleaned it at home, smelled more, or something else. Keep in mind that while humans have about 5 million scent receptors in their olfactory epithelium, cats have 200 million…meaning that they have a VERY keen sense of smell (to compare, dogs have between 125 – 300 million scent receptors). Your cat may have spent a week thinking about how far away he wanted to get from the box (I kid, but you get the point)! So, when your cat came home and had the opportunity to use the “litter box nature intended”, he decided to ditch the human-crafted litter boxes for good. Make sense? I hope so! 😉

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17 Comments on Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Spraying Cat, High Energy Tortie, Redirected Aggression, Cat Obsessed with Bread, and More

  1. Dona Remensnyder
    January 6, 2019 at 2:52 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I have been caring for 2 male siblings, TomTom and Bubby, since they were weined from their mother. This all began when the mother (I called her MaMa), a stray had her litter of 5 kittens in a neighbors backyard, not very far from my and another neighbors condos. That OTHER condo #16, the owner began feeding the whole crew and then some. I am disabled and I RENT a condo right across from #16, who owns his and is allowed to have pets, I AM NOT as a renter. Long Story Short, MaMa and her 5 kittens saw me outside daily while the feeders, #16 were working every day, I grew attached to MaMa and her babes and started to give in to feeding them, I was reported then by another neighbor and threatened to be fined monthly if I continued. Meanwhile#16 was not reported and upon MY threat, he QUIT feeding them, cold turkey! I couldn’t and wouldn’t let them starve to death, and continued (trying to hide my actions) but had to let them inside to eat, inconspicuously. I also noticed that MaMa was again pregnant. I didn’t know what to do now, got on internet, called every humane org. imaginable, to no avail. Ended up having meow. Inc TNR the whole family, which turned out a complete disaster for ME. They had all the females PLUS, adopted out but delivered the 2 boys to me, IN MY CONDO! I’ve grown very attached to both which is a HUGE problem, they are not INDOOR , so I’m always at my door, in and out constantly. I’m also severely disabled and cannot bend, pick them up etc…., I am on SSD and cannot afford them, not the food, flea and tick treatments, vet or anything else and last but not least, I’m NOT ALLOWED TO EVEN HAVE THEM!
    Please please HELP, I don’t know what to do or where they can go, be taken care of and loved.
    Anything u can advise me would be so very appreciated. They need to be REtrapped .
    Thank u from TomTom, Bubby and me, Dona

    Reply
  2. Jasmine
    December 17, 2018 at 11:13 pm (1 month ago)

    Hi Dr Marci, I’ve recently gotten a kitten that’s about 10 weeks old. I have had adult cat before but first time having a kitten. We got her everything – cat tower, scratchers, toys but she somehow still scratches on our furniture. We tried to remove her and redirect her when we caught her, use a squirt bottle, and we also tried to deter her by spraying diluted vinegar on my furniture. Guess what – she is totally unfazed at all. I have also put some cat nip on her scratching board to entice her to scratch there instead but to no avail. Any advice?

    Reply
  3. Yvonne Husic
    November 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm (2 months ago)

    Dear Marcie,
    I have a inside feral cat who is loving to me and some other cats; however, she hides, 100% of the time. First, it was behind the refrig, and would not come out to use the litter box. I blocked that off. Now, she is underneath a bedroom dresser, but will come out to use the litter box so long as it is near her for quick access. Question: how can I gradually ease Sindia (“Cindy”) out of hiding? I also purchased a large crate that I put in the family room area and that was ok, except she got out, and found a new place to hid, which is under the dresser. I can hold her, she’s affectionate and loves other cats. But skiddish. She also has a very bad itchy skin problem for which I am treating her now by testing special food diet. Any thoughts/suggestions are appreciated. Yvonne

    Reply
    • Yvonne Husic
      December 12, 2018 at 5:17 pm (1 month ago)

      Hi Marci, I wrote on Nov. 27th and Cindy is still hiding under the dresser. She does comes out for me when I call her and she also comes out to greet other cats who come along with me to look for her. Yet, in the long run, she does not stay out to mingle, but returns to her safe place, under the dresser. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

      This hiding has been going on since 2015.

      Thank you kindly.
      Yvonne

      Reply
      • Marci Koski
        December 14, 2018 at 11:08 pm (1 month ago)

        Hi Yvonne! The next column will be published next Wednesday, and you’ll see my recommendations at that time. I wrote some specific things for you to try, but since there were a few other people who had questions about fearful cats, there will be some advice for those folks who might be useful to you as well. Thanks! 🙂

        Reply
  4. Beth
    November 27, 2018 at 2:28 pm (2 months ago)

    Dr. Koski,
    Thank you for the suggestions for helping our 12 year old cat stop spraying.
    We have already done a quick reorganization in the area, with food bowls and relocating one of the litter boxes to a “frequented” area.
    So far so good!
    Thank you 🙂
    Beth

    Reply
    • Marci Koski
      December 12, 2018 at 1:21 pm (1 month ago)

      Excellent – I’m so happy to hear that, Beth! I hope that you have continued success. Best, marci 🙂

      Reply
  5. Karen Gage
    November 24, 2018 at 10:41 pm (2 months ago)

    I have a torti named Chloe whose story I shared here about 2-3 years ago. Recently, Chloe has developed a behavior I can’t make sense of and hope maybe you can.

    Recently Chloe was introduced to a part of cat life she’d never known before having lived all her life in Colorado at 6200′. Now that we are in KY, she became a favorite home for fleas, and she didn’t like it. The fleas are pretty much gone, but remaining is a very strange behavior I don’t understand. Chloe absolutely hates to be on the carpet. She was never like this before. She walks around on the kitchen linoleum fine, but she dispises the carpet. She will run across it as quickly as possible and immediate leap onto the closest furniture she can get to. I began noticing this, so one day I picked her up from the bed and placed her back on the floor. Immediately she was back on the bed.

    I’ve never seen a cat do this before and although she’s not hurting anything with her behavior, I still think it’s weird and wonder what has caused it. If you have some suggestions to offer me, I would love to hear them. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Jenny Garber
    November 22, 2018 at 6:10 am (2 months ago)

    Hello and thanks for the excellent advice I have read so far . My 11 yr old tortie female, Bella, was adopted from a shelter with her brother 2 years ago . Both cats settled really well, affectionate with me and my partner. She had serious health problems last year, suspected liver disease, lots of tests, but got better spontaneously and now healthy and lively again. A few weeks ago when she was running round the house during a play session she rushed round a corner and bumped into my partner. She ran into the garden and he went after her to soothe and reassure her. She ran away to hide. No physical damage was done but since that time she cannot be in the same space as him, runs off immediately she sees him. She has taken to living in one room, my bedroom/study, coming out only to use her litter tray which is in another room upstairs. She is eating well, plays with me and is her usual affectionate self, but has such a restricted life. She used to enjoy the garden and the whole house. Any ideas for how to get her to come out of her chosen safe space and see my partner as a friendly person again please. Thanks

    Reply
  7. Nelda
    November 21, 2018 at 9:51 pm (2 months ago)

    My Fluffy tuxedo suddenly seems frightened of me. Not all the time, but many times that you wouldn’t expect. He also seems frightened of other noises such as the neighbors starting their motorcycle outside, of course, and Fluffy is inside. Interesting that the planes flying over on final approach to the nearby airport do not frighten him. When I frighten him, he crouches down and moves away with his tail low. When noises frighten him he takes off and runs upstairs usually (and this creates a stampede as the others take off after him).

    The only significant event that I can think of was the loss Stardust, his life long friend of 13 years. Stardust was with us since Fluffy was a kitten. I also have a few others in my household, but there haven’t been any other changes.

    Fluffy will still lay on my lap, and he still comes up to me, but there are times like when I’m inviting him into the bedroom that he gringes and runs away.

    I don’t like that he is frightened and would like to change whatever behaviors I’m doing to cause it or change things so that he isn’t being frightened all the time. Hoping you can have an answer.

    Reply
  8. Vicky
    November 21, 2018 at 10:37 am (2 months ago)

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this site and all the good interesting info. I wonder how people ask questions of Dr. Marci as I have a couple. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 21, 2018 at 4:11 pm (2 months ago)

      Simply post your questions as a comment, Vicky, and Dr. Marci will answer them next month.

      Reply
  9. Janine
    November 21, 2018 at 8:52 am (2 months ago)

    I found a couple issues that I have been dealing with on this post. thanks for the advice.

    Reply
  10. tlg
    November 21, 2018 at 8:11 am (2 months ago)

    Re 12-year-old cat has been spraying for a year: if he is only praying in the basement the problem may be a feral that has decided to include your yard in his territory. Basement windows typically put indoor cats at or below eye level of intruders. You might need to keep your cats out of the basement – or at least stop feeding them there.

    Reply
    • Donna Lomeo
      November 21, 2018 at 9:28 pm (2 months ago)

      I buy Ceva Feliway (NOT Comfort Zone) plug-ins from Chewy.com to deal with one female that urinates when she sees dogs being walked by our house and one that is sweet and gentle but a bully to the female. I have one in each of 2 rooms they spend the most time in. Along with this they both get transdermal (compounded cream) prozac 5 days a week in alternating ear flaps. Doesn’t go thru their liver/kidneys and never causes an ear problem. All of this works and I highly recommend it! You need a vet that is a believer in the prozac – mine is, as was my former one.

      Reply
      • Beth
        November 27, 2018 at 2:35 pm (2 months ago)

        Donna – we have 3 Fleiway (not ComfortZone) diffusers throughout the house; 1 of which is in the basement.
        The kitty in question has his annual check up next month, so we will talk to the Vet to see if there is anything that they can recommend. As always, we will have his urine tested to rule out crystals or infection.

        Reply
    • Beth
      November 27, 2018 at 2:32 pm (2 months ago)

      TLG – thank you for the thoughtful idea & advise.
      We did think of that when we adopted him (almost 5 years ago) and have put a dark fabric curtain over the only (and small) window in the basement. Any kitty outside cannot see inside, and the inside kitties cannot see outside. The window is very high up, and they do not have any way of getting up there.

      Reply

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