Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 9, 2022 by Crystal Uys

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.

Cats bring toys into bedroom

Three of our four cats bring their toys into our bedroom every night and during the day. We pick them all up and hang them from the cat superhighway. The toys hang in the brackets and the youngest two will work to get them down and carry them into our room. A lot of times they meow. We hang them all back up. But we’re wondering if we should do something else? If they are bringing us presents are we giving them mixed signals hanging them all back up? We always say thank you and get excited when they bring them. We just weren’t sure what else we can do to say thanks? – – Jennette

Hi Jennette – it sounds like you’re doing an excellent job by giving your kitties a fun, ritualized enrichment activity! It’s not likely that you’re giving them mixed signals by putting the presents back up; more likely, they enjoy the game since they keep doing it over and over every day. That’s the result of positive reinforcement – when cats do something with an enjoyable outcome, the behavior is likely to be repeated. The enjoyment for your cats comes from the fun of getting the toy down, bringing it to a socially significant part of their territory, and receiving praise from you. Who wouldn’t love that game?

A couple of questions to keep the activity fun – do you rotate the toys that are hung from the superhighway? Do you change the locations of where the toys are hung? Do you engage the cats with play after they bring you toys? Cats really do thrive on routine, which is what I find so special about this daily activity. However, cats also really like novelty, which will keep them from getting bored with the same toys and “prey” locations. So do try to switch things up every few days.

Because your cats’ behavior is similar to what cats may do when they hunt, catch, and kill prey, you might consider giving them a treat or a small meal when they bring you their “kill”. This can be a really nice conclusion to a play session (unless they aren’t fully exercised, then try using an interactive wand toy to really get them to stalk and catch their prey!). Since you’re doing this in the evening, your cats are more likely to fall into the hunt-groom-eat-sleep routine and have a good night’s sleep. Keep up the great work – your cats are fortunate to be able to play such a fun game with their guardians!

cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

Cat wants to play at 4 AM

How do we make our 1-year-old cat stop wanting us to play with him at 4 am? – Maria

Hi Maria – Excellent question! This seems to be a common issue that comes up particularly with younger kitties. A one-year-old cat is still going to be fairly active and has a large energy reserve that must be tapped before he will sleep through the night without wanting attention from you.

First, and most importantly, you must not give in to his demand for play in the middle of the night. I know this is difficult. I’m not sure what he does (e.g., jump on your bed, attack your feet, or bang against your door if he is outside of your bedroom), but if you ignore him for 30 minutes and then give in and play with him (or give him a toy, etc.), you’ve just taught him that he can be obnoxious for 30 minutes and he’ll get what he wants. Cats know how to train us humans really well to do what they want! So, if he starts to become active at night, you may need to put him in another room in the home (do so very neutrally, as any attention could be interpreted as a reward) where you can’t hear him. Make sure the room has food, water, bedding, a litterbox, and self-play toys. With this action, you are letting him know that his behavior results in no attention from you.

At the same time, you’ll need to shift your cat’s internal clock a bit. Cats actually aren’t nocturnal; they are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during dawn and dusk. This is because their prey are most active at these times – it’s light enough out to forage but also be somewhat less visible to predators. Cats have picked up on this and know when their prey are out and available for hunting! So, I recommend that you give your cat at least two play sessions (work-outs, really) each day, in the morning and evening, just prior to a meal. This is especially important in the evening. Get a good wand toy (like Da Bird) and get your cat running and jumping for 15-20 minutes (or until he gets tired). Then, what do cats do after they hunt? They eat, hence the meal. After eating, they will groom, then sleep. The closer you do the play session to your bedtime, the longer your kitty will sleep into the night.

It can take some time for your cat’s clock to reset, and if you need to give more than two play sessions per day to relieve your cat of excess energy, that’s ok. Be persistent and your work will pay off!


Two new cats are not warming up to humans

My 18 y/o loving, lap kitty passed away and we opened our home to 2 new rescue cats who are our only fur-kids. They came from shelters to a Catfé then to us so they already knew each other. While they are fine with each other they are not yet warmed up to us, although one has been sitting briefly on my husband’s lap. I am so starved for kitty affection and miss my old girl terribly. Am I putting off the cats somehow with my intense longing for them to love me? I pick them up once a day and hold them for about 10 seconds. I play with them, feed them 1 of 2 meals each day, give them treats and otherwise wait for them to come to me. One lies between my legs when I’m asleep. That’s it. Are there ways to help the process along? It’s only been a month & a half but I miss cat cuddles so much idk what to do! – Mary

Hi Mary – Thanks so much for your message. My condolences to you and your husband for the loss of your kitty – that is so hard. With the loss of a beloved family member comes grief (for both humans and animals), and the need to fill a space that was left empty in our hearts. I’m so happy that you were able to open your home (and heart) to two new kitties who I’m sure are very lucky to have found their way to you and your husband!

That these cats are sitting on your husband’s lap and sleeping between your legs is a promising sign. Sometimes it can take weeks for cats to settle into a new environment – these kitties have been through at least three moves (to the shelter, to the Catfe, then to your house), which can be VERY stressful. Given all of the recent upheaval in their lives, I’m not surprised that they haven’t quite warmed up to you and your husband yet – this will take time. And that’s ok – it sounds like you’re very patient, which is a cat-friendly attitude to have 😊

You know how cats will enter a room full of people and then go to the person who is either allergic to cats or who isn’t particularly fond of cats? That’s because those people appear less threatening. Those people generally don’t look at the cat or otherwise engage with them – this makes cats feel more comfortable and less intimidated – they have the choice whether to interact with that person or not. Direct eye contact can be threatening, and putting them in undesirable positions can create negative associations. I would recommend that you do not pick up the cats unless they want that – any struggle or attempt to get away should be respected. They are still in the trust-building period, so let them just watch you and your husband, and (like you said) wait for them to come to you. Reward any positive interactions with a treat, praise, or anything you find they like, and you’ll find that they will be more likely to repeat that type of interaction and increase their level of trust in you.

Finally, and this is the most difficult thing, you’ll need to manage your expectations for these two new kitties. They may never be lap-cats, or particularly snuggly, or like being picked up. Only one of my four kitties will let me pick him up for any length of time, and only one is a lap-cat. And that’s ok! I know you miss your other cat, but she was a special kitty who will always have a special place in your heart. I encourage you to let these new cats show you their unique qualities so that they can each find new places in your heart, alongside your other cat, not replacing her. And who knows? With enough time, you may find that you opened your home to the two most snuggly lap cats you’ve ever met. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you!

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