Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Sneezing Caused Cat to Attack, Cats Meowing For Hours Before Feeding Time, Flea Control for Feral Cats

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.

Do you have a question for Dr. Marci?
Leave it in a comment, and she’ll answer it next month!

Cat attacked human after sneezing

Hello Dr. Marci,

in my 60+ years of being owned by cats, I’ve never run across this scenario. My 3 year old Maine Coon mix (she’s been with us for about 1 1/2 years) likes to sit on the back of my side of the sofa in the evening while we are watching TV. (Might I add, that she is DEFINITELY my cat as she follows me everywhere…even when I leave a room and return.) One evening I was having a sneezing attack, which I have never had before. I was on my sixth sneeze, when suddenly, Dinah attacked my scalp with nails and teeth and drew blood.  Needless to say, that stopped my sneezing.

Do you have any idea why my sneezing would have provoked such an attack? She is sweet and gentle and loves her scritchies otherwise. Thank you. – Bridget

Hi Bridget – thanks so much for writing in about this.  I’ve had clients who have had similar experiences with cats they are very close to, and basically I think that Dinah got scared when exposed to a new situation (which was noisy, sudden, and seemly uncontrollable) so she attacked out of fear.  You said that you’d never had a sneezing fit before, and because this was unfamiliar to your kitty, she may not have understood that you were just sneezing.  Dinah’s reaction was probably the result of two possible responses to fear – she was either fearful that something was attacking you so she tried to attack it (and since the sound was coming from your head, that was probably the place to aim the attack), or she was scared of the sneezing itself and was “defensively aggressive”.

Like I said, I’ve had clients who have had similar experiences, and typically these are with cats that they have a close bond with and who are otherwise very sweet.  It may be that Dinah was simply trying to protect you from whatever was attacking you.  I hope that after the incident everyone calmed down and Dinah resumed normal behavior with you – she sounds like a lovely companion kitty who cares about you very much!

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Cats meow for hours before feeding time

Hi Dr Marci! 

I wonder if you can help me with this.  My 2 cats are perfectly healthy and of a good weight, but they are so greedy! How can I stop them from meowing for food up to an hour before mealtime? I feed them 3 times a day and it happens every time, with the meowing ramping up to crazy levels when I’m preparing the food. They know they will get their food when it’s time and I never give in to their early meowing. I’ve started trying to clicker train them not to grab food and they’re good during the training session but it hasn’t worked at mealtime. I’ve tried waiting till they’re quiet before giving them their meal, but it also hasn’t worked—the pre-meal meowing still hasn’t stopped. Any advice? – Michelle John 

Hi Michelle,

that’s a great question, and this is something that many cat guardians struggle with.  I’m glad that you’re using clicker-training – it’s fantastic mental enrichment, and it also reinforces behaviors that you’d like to see repeated.  Keep that up!

One thing you might consider is an automatic feeder (or two).  There are MANY different models out there – there are some that have cold packs in them to keep wet food fresh, or that can distribute kibble at various times throughout the day.  If you use an automatic feeder, you might try feeding your cats more frequently, as cats evolved to eat multiple small meals throughout the day instead of two or three main meals.  I recommend that cats never go more than eight hours between meals, so the more the merrier.  The other thing that I like about automatic feeders is that it takes the human out of the picture – your cats will learn that YOU don’t provide the meals anymore, they now come from an inanimate object.  When cats figure this out, they realize that there’s no point in meowing at you for food, since you don’t give it to them!  So, do some research and think about what kind of automatic feeder might be good for your situation; you might decide to just feed one or two meals using the automatic feeder and give them the other meals yourself, or use the feeder for all of their meals – it’s up to you.

Another thing to try is food puzzles or puzzle feeders, and slow feeders.  If your kitties eat their meals very quickly, you might want to slow them down so that they feel full before they finish eating, then leave some to come back to later.  There are a lot of “slow feeder” bowls out there for dogs, which work just fine for cats; as long as they have to use their paws to grab up kibble, it will take them longer to eat.  If you give your cats wet food, you can put it in small ice cube trays or smear them on Licky Mats (silicone mats with bumps/grids on them).  There are all sorts of puzzle feeders out there that you can use for meal-times, but there are also food puzzles that you can use for between-meal snacks.  If your cats are just starting out with food puzzles, start simple – I’m a huge fan of empty toilet paper rolls – and then get progressively more difficult as your cats develop their foraging skills.  You can also use muffin tins, water bottles (just cut a little hole in the side so kibble or treats can fall out as it is rolled around), and other simple containers.  There are also a LOT of commercial food puzzles available that range in complexity – my two favorite brands are Trixie and Catit.  If you want more information about food puzzles, the website http://www.foodpuzzlesforcats.com is a fantastic resource!

I hope these two ideas help – keep up with the clicker training, and have fun!

Flea control for feral cats

Dear Dr. Marci, 

Is there any thing like brewer’s yeast, or any other home remedy to help feral cats from fleas? I feed 3 small colonies, and try to help them. I do give them apple cider vinegar when I can they look healthy, but like to help them with fleas. Please let me know if brewer’s yeast will work for them. Thank you so very much for your time. Sincerely, Lucy

Hi Lucy,

this is a perfect question for Dr. Lynn Bahr, a veterinarian who also writes a column for The Conscious Cat. You should ask her about brewer’s yeast; she wrote about flea control for feral cats here: https://consciouscat.net/2019/07/08/ask-the-cat-doc-respiratory-issues-introducing-a-new-cat-flea-control-for-feral-cats/ .  Please ask her your questions about yeast, apple cider vinegar, and flea control; since I’m not a veterinarian I don’t want to recommend anything that is potentially unsafe or ineffective.

Also, there is an article on The Conscious Cat about nutritional yeast (different than brewer’s yeast) with some information for you: https://consciouscat.net/2015/02/16/nutritional-yeast-secret-weapon-get-finicky-cats-eat/

Best of luck to you, and thanks for taking care of those kitties! I’m sure that they are benefiting from your help and care.

11 Comments on Ask the Cat Behaviorist with Dr. Marci Koski: Sneezing Caused Cat to Attack, Cats Meowing For Hours Before Feeding Time, Flea Control for Feral Cats

  1. Pamela S Tomlinson
    September 13, 2019 at 12:05 pm (2 months ago)

    Hi Dr. Marcie – I have 3 feral kittens I’m trying to tame. Can you tell me specifically which Trixie and Catit puzzles you like. I went to the food puzzles website and there is lot there. Any additional suggestions would be much appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Mikyla S
    September 11, 2019 at 7:16 pm (2 months ago)

    Hi Dr. Marci,

    I have a three year old blind cat, Rupert, who is a complex character with a serious pacing problem. I am going to give as much info as I can in case I’ve missed something that you can see.

    He’s not completely blind but whatever vision he has is limited. For the first 2 years of his life he was a very social cat. Lots of people in and out of our flat who he was friendly and confident with. He’s very into routine and as long as I stuck broadly to that we were all good. This all changed about 10 months ago seemingly after I sent him to a family members house whilst I had a holiday (this wasn’t his first time away from home). Since then he’s been largely petrified of anybody new coming to the house and even skittish when it’s people he knows or there’s more than one person in the room.

    He has always paced now and again. I used to notice it if I was out for longer periods than the usual work day or hadn’t played enough – fair enough he needed to burn off energy. We play a lot compared to other cat owners I know.

    A few months ago he started having violent seizures. He had one every 24 hours for a week until the vet finally agreed with my opinion that he was epileptic and prescribed medication. We are on low dose phenobarbital and have only had one break through seizure since. He doesn’t love the medication but takes it without fuss.

    Recently I moved our small flat to a 3 bed house which needs work – so lots of people coming and going. He has been scared at times and cautious but given this huge change in his life not too bad. We have been here around 2 months. Over that time his pacing however has reached the point of insanity, particularly in the evening after I come home from work. Sometimes he doesn’t stop for hours – round and round in a large loop circle like a caged lion. Ive tried food, play, cuddles….anything I can think of to stop it or distract. Ive tried ignoring it because I read that that attention could act as a reward, doesn’t help. I am so worried that he’s desperately unhappy or something is wrong and I don’t know what to try. At times in the past when pacing was due to energy he would always want to play. Now he barges past as if i am not there like a zombie – like its a compulsion.

    Zyklene doesn’t work. Feliway doesn’t work. He’s had a lot of recently blood tests due to the epilepsy and nothing wrong. I appreciate we’ve just moved, but things are getting worse not better.

    Any insight over what could be wrong and what to do?!

    Thank you

    Mikyla

    Reply
  3. Lilo Huhle-Poelzl
    September 11, 2019 at 4:29 pm (2 months ago)

    Hi, Dr. Koski,

    This is to update you on Soprano “the cat from hell”, who had attacked my husband and me badly (leaving permanent scars), when adopted last April.

    We have moved to our summer residence, on July 3rd, and I am happy to report that Soprano is now 95% re-socialized. He resides in the cat room with 10 other cats at night (and we haven’t heard any complaints from them), he fairly gets along with our “gang of 4 (tomcats)” outside (who spend the night in a camping trailer we bought for them). He still has a feud with 2 tomcats we adopted last fall (at our wildfire evacuation place), but it is now more the 2 tomcats’ fault. And whenever he puts his claws into our legs now, it is more symbolically and without drawing blood. He still has some issues with some of our cats and particularly the neighbor’s cats and kittens, who, more or less, live and dine at our place, as Soprano’s humor is not shared by any of the other cats. Soprano occasionally chases and fights with Silvester (one of “the gang of 4”), but a water spray bottle usually solves the problem. And yesterday, Soprano was chased by a 4-month-old kitten, who claimed that Soprano had looked at him the wrong way and threatened to tell his mom (a small but ferocious cat). We also keep getting complaints from our 5 pet chickens, who report that Soprano is teasing them and bothering them when they want to get into their coop to lay an egg. Other than that, Soprano can be considered re-socialized, and his huge dog cage has been folded up and put away about 7 weeks ago.

    Reply
  4. kat
    September 11, 2019 at 12:27 pm (2 months ago)

    Dr Marci: have a 13 yr old mackeral tabby, apple of my eye of course…she is a little cat, was the runt of her litter, runt? haha…little bit, big punch! anyway, she has lost weight and become “bony”, vet said loss of muscle tone. what can I do to help her get some back? she also has a constipation problem, vet put her on enulose permanently. she’s been twice for blockage from constipation. any ideas for me? is there something else for it than medicine, and what to do about the muscle tone loss? she’s constantly hungry (bloodwork good, liver etc). thanks for your advice! ps, plus her brother (both same age, ferals), is overweight…what do I feed him?

    Reply
    • Marci Koski
      October 5, 2019 at 5:46 pm (2 months ago)

      Hi Kat – you’ll definitely want to talk with your veterinarian – or better yet, a veterinary nutritionist – to help answer your questions about weight, building muscle mass, hunger, and constipation. I’m not a veterinarian, but those are medical issues, not behavioral. I hope that you get some good answers and that your little tabby and her bigger brother get some pointers; I know they are well-loved! Best, marci

      Reply
  5. Bob & Sandy
    September 11, 2019 at 9:25 am (2 months ago)

    Our ten year old cat made three visits to three different Vets in a
    period of three weeks. During that time she had four enemas, x-rays and an ultrasound. Her desire for food and water remains low and
    she continues to avoid us. Her personality is totally changed. We think all those trips to the Vet have traumatized her. If so, how long will it take to get her spirit back?

    Reply
  6. Jo
    September 11, 2019 at 8:29 am (2 months ago)

    Dear Dr. Marci,

    What is the best treatment for Pancreatitis?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 11, 2019 at 10:09 am (2 months ago)

      That is a better question for Dr.Bahr, Jo. Marci is a feline behaviorist, not a veterinarian. We’ll be publishing Dr. Bahr’s newest Ask the Cat Doc column this coming Monday, if you leave your question there, she’ll answer it the following month.

      Reply
    • M
      September 11, 2019 at 4:25 pm (2 months ago)

      While it would be great to wait and get an answer from the online vet, waiting shouldn’t be an option for this (nor should Dx or treatment plans be done/given online.).

      I have one kitty who has had to be treated twice now for this condition. You should be getting recommendations from your own vet as they know your kitty’s history and current status. I don’t recall the medications we were given, but they were mainly “supportive” as there’s no instant cure all, like antibiotics for an infection.

      They had no restrictions on what I was feeding her – none of my cats get dry food (stopped about 5+ years ago), but I would certainly recommend you try to avoid dry foods in general and probably at least during your kitty’s treatment. Please contact your vet for treatment.

      Reply
  7. Janine
    September 11, 2019 at 7:15 am (2 months ago)

    That’s terrible about the cat that attacked her owner after sneezing. Miss Kiki hates when I sneeze but has never attacked me. Usually she just glares at me like I did something really bad to her. It makes me laugh.

    Reply
    • Stacy Mead
      September 11, 2019 at 4:03 pm (2 months ago)

      We have 3 cats .Two (female and male) are approximately the same age, rescued 3 months apart and introduced very slowly using Jackson Galaxy’s methods. These cats never sleep together or groom each other ,but they have no issue bring near each other or sharing space. A third male kitten was rescued and introduced when the established cats were 2 years old. A longer introduction process took place and the cats all share space.
      The female ( now four) has become extremely agitated by the behavior of the younger male(2). He stalks her, chases her , stares at her. She growls , runs ( which I believe he looks at as playing) and then hides from him. He will find her and then wait for her to come out. I feel that she has become extremely nervous when she comes down the stairs , or enters a room, never knowing if he’s there. We have never witnessed him toussel with her. We’re not sure what the issue is but we just want her to feel comfortable in her space and him to leave her alone. He has not issue with the male (4y)
      We have more than enough space in our home, multiple cat trees, toys, food resources spread out and attention provided to all. We have used phermone diffussers as well but haven’t seen any difference in the behavior. Any suggestions would be welcome.

      Reply

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