feline behavior

Allegra’s World: Allegra Gets Advice from Jackson Galaxy

Allegra-cat-stretching

It’s been almost a whole month since I got to write something on here. I guess Mom has been so busy writing her own stuff, she hasn’t made room for me! This doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy myself. Keeping my sister in line is just about a full time job, and I still have to take care of Mom, too. It’s a wonder I find time to nap and play with all of that going on.

And speaking of playing – something really interesting, and fun, has been happening with that here. A couple of weeks ago, Mom was on the phone with this man she calls the Cat Daddy. She asked him a lot of questions about something called My Cat From Hell.

I know what that is! It’s something that happens on the big screen in our living room. I started watching it with Ruby the other night, but I had to leave the room. It was just too frustrating for me. Some of the cats on that show are so upset with their humans, it got me all upset, too. Of course, Ruby wasn’t bothered by any of it. In fact, she practically stuck her nose into that Cat Daddy man’s face!Continue Reading

Book review: Good Cat! Practical Answers to Behavior Questions by Steve Dale

Good-cat-Steve-Dale

Steve Dale is one of the most dedicated champions of cats, cat health and cat behavior you’ll ever encounter. He is one of the co-founders of the CATalyst Council, a member of the board of directors of the Winn Feline Foundation, the American Humane Association, and the Tree House Humane Society, a cat shelter in Chicago. This pet expert, writer, radio and tv personality and cat lover extraordinaire is passionate about cats’ health and happiness.

In his new e-book Good Cat! Practical Answers to Behavior Questions, Steve answers common and not so common feline behavior questions. Steve is frequently quoted as saying “Cats are the Rodney Dangerfield of pets; they get no respect,” and sadly, this is true. Cats are more often given up to shelters than dogs, are less often adopted, and more are euthanized.

Much of this is due to the misconception that cats can’t be trained, and that they are often misunderstood. In Good Cat!, Steve dispels these mistaken beliefs, and offers answers and solutions.Continue Reading

Allegra Gets Advice from Jackson Galaxy

cat-tower-toy-cute

When I first adopted Allegra in April of 2010, she came to me with some behavioral challenges, namely, play and petting aggression. Most of her play aggression was directed at me and demonstrated mostly by Allegra attacking my ankles every chance she got. The petting aggression manifested in a typical pattern of low tolerance for extended petting sessions.

These issues intensified after Amber passed away. I found myself with a single, high-energy only kitten (Allegra was seven months old at the time) while grieving the loss of my 12-year-old soul cat. I knew that one fairly simple fix would have been getting Allegra a playmate closer to her in age and temperament, but I wasn’t ready to even think about a new cat at that time. So I had to step up and work with Allegra and be her substitute playmate.

I consulted with Marilyn Krieger, the cat behaviorist who has a regular column in CatFancy magazine. Marilyn advised me on how to enrich Allegra’s environment and increase vertical space. She also introduced me to the concept of play therapy. I learned a lot from that consult, and began working with Allegra. Continue Reading

Is Sullivan the World’s Smartest cat?

Sullivan cat who can read smart cat

I first came across the story of Sullivan and his sister Sarah, two 15-year-old formerly feral Maine Coon cats from Greenwich, NY, in the December 2011 issue of CatFancy. According to the article, these cats have learned to identify shapes, colors, and numbers. They can even grasp abstract concepts such as same or different and bigger or smaller.

Joan Kosby, Sullivan and Sarah’s human, was inspired by psychology professor and animal cognition expert Irene Pepperberg, who worked with Alex, an African Grey Parrot, and taught him many of these same skills. Kosby used repetition and rewarded the cats with food treats and praise.Continue Reading

Cat to Cat Introductions

cat-to-cat-introductions

Guest post by Jackson Galaxy

The common wisdom in introducing a newly adopted cat to a resident one in the past was to open the carrying case and “let them work it out.” We most definitely have a new way of looking at things; from the cat’s perspective. Cats are, after all, about territory. Bring a new, utterly alien scent of the same species into the house, and more times than not, we’re asking for chaos. Of course everyone has a story about introducing two cats that went smoothly doing the old fashioned technique. The point to stress is, if it goes poorly, this one meeting is the association that these two cats will hold onto for quite a long time and make a peaceable kingdom a difficult task. It is, ultimately, better to be safe than sorry.

Base camp for the newcomer

A slow and steady introduction starts with the establishment of a base camp for the newcomer. Once you’ve set up his or her space, you’re ready to start letting the cats make positive associations between one another. This is key, and will be repeated ad infinitum; all associations between the cats during this critical period have to be as pleasing as possible to reduce possible friction when they finally have free access.

Use food as a motivator

Let’s start with one of the most pleasing motivators-food! Feeding time will happen at the door of base camp until introduction is complete. If the resident cat is not on a scheduled feeding diet, it might be best to put him or her on one for now. Or, if you leave dry food out and supplement with wet food, greatly decrease the amount of dry so that wet feeding time is looked forward to more. Remember that the only time either cat gets wet food is during these “meet and greets” at the base camp door, which can be divided into two daily sessions. Place food bowls on either side of the door with a couple of feet of breathing room for each cat. Ideally, there should be a family member on either side of the door to praise each cat as they eat. The idea is that they are rewarded with food for being so close to the scent of the unfamiliar cat, and also rewarded by you with praise for eating. At this initial point, the door should be closed; the cats can smell one another just fine. If they don’t devour their food at first, that’s okay. They will eventually eat. Don’t give in and move the food.

First eye contact

The next step is to open the door just a tiny crack, giving the cats limited visual access to each other. How soon do you move on to this step? As with all steps in introduction, pay attention to the cats; let their body language tell you when they are comfortable enough to move on. Remember that proceeding too quickly will force you to jump backwards by anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Slow and steady definitely wins this race. We need to remain safe, so use rubber doorstops on either side of the introduction door to prevent any more than visual accessibility. If the door is too high off the ground to use stops, or if one or both cats are muscling the door open, try using a hook and eye setup. Instead of using it to lock a door shut, you would employ it backwards, to give us just a couple of inches of cracked space between the door and the jamb.

Again, the time required in moving from step to step is determined by your observation and the cats’ level of comfort. Keep cracking the door further until each cat could, if they wished, bat at one another-first up to the elbow joint then all the way to the shoulder, just making sure not to leave enough room to let a head get through. The object of “the game” is to give them enough rope to succeed. If they fail, just go back to the previous step.

Scent and site swapping

Other tricks to use during the introduction period are “scent swapping” and “site swapping.” In scent swapping, we take a washcloth per cat and rub them down with it, making sure to go across their cheeks, head, sides, and around the base of the tail. Then, present the other cat with the scent of the washcloth in a conspicuous part of their territory, perhaps near a favored sleeping spot or near (but respecting the space of) their food or water. This will start getting them accustomed to the new facts of life; their space will have to be shared with one another, and better to have this fact introduced by scent than sight.

Site swapping relies on more paws–on physical exploration of one another’s space. Once a day, switch the two cats. The new cat gets to explore the house while the resident cat is base camp to freely explore the scent of new arrival without the fear of retribution. This process is best done with a human partner just to make sure the cats don’t inadvertently get in each other’s way while trading places; but if you don’t have help, try putting the resident in, say, a bedroom. When the new cat heads for the kitchen or other area out of sight, move the resident cat into base camp. Both cats should get the praise and encouragement they need/deserve in bravely going where they have not gone before!

Play therapy

Don’t forget, during this entire process, to play with the cats! This may seem elementary, but remember, they are just energetic balloons naturally, and even more so during these intense times of stress. Of course, you will have separate play sessions during the introduction phase. Once they’ve met and cohabitated for a bit, group playtime will be another wonderful way of diverting aggression they might have towards one another into a positive route. Refer to our article on play therapy to learn the ins and outs of keeping them both as happy as possible during the period of adjustment.

Flower essences

Additionally, consider flower essences to help both (or all) cats get through the initial introduction period with the least amount of stress and anxiety. Spirit Essences has many formulas to choose from, depending on the personalities involved, including “Peacemaker” and “New Beginnings.”

Supervise initial interactions

When you think it’s time to let them be in the territory together at the same time, take precautions. If a fight breaks out, do not try to break it up with your hands! Unfortunately, this is most of the time our first instinct. You are almost sure to be clawed and bitten, and it will not be pretty. In the heat of the moment, the cats will not be able to distinguish between your arm and each other, and they will have no inhibition about attacking whatever is handy, even if it’s you. Instead, have an immediate barrier like a couple of large, thick towels or blankets at the ready. You can toss them over the cats to disorient them, and immediately relocate them by scooping them up inside the towel (to protect yourself). There is no need to follow this up with a scolding. That will not do anything except increase the cats’ agitation, which is just what you don’t need! Let the event pass with each cat in their own “time–out”, and start again fresh tomorrow–at the very beginning. Also make sure that when the two cats meet, they have escape routes from one another. Getting cornered is a sure recipe for a fight in the mind of a defense–minded animal like a cat. Keep a close eye on all interactions for the first week or so, not letting the cats have free access to one another when nobody is home.

Litterboxes: 1 box per cat + 1

Finally, keep the food and litter setup established in the base camp room, at least for the next while. The accepted “recipe” is three litterboxes for two cats (to be precise, 1 box per cat + 1), so bear that in mind. Also bear in mind escape routes from the boxes, as the last place we want a skirmish to erupt is while one of the cats is having a “private moment.” They should be able to see as much of the room around them as possible when in the litterbox, which is why uncovered boxes would be highly recommended.

This should pretty well cover the bases for the initial introduction between your cats. Of course there are always variables, but the broken record theme should get you going; do it slow–there’s always tomorrow to make another positive impression. They can, over time, learn that every time they view or smell the other, something good will happen. Do it too quickly and that negative first impression might very well be the one that lasts.

Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s new show, My Cat From Hell, has been reading about, writing about and working hands-on with cats for 15 years. For more information, please visit Jackson’s website.

Do Cats Grieve for Other Cats?

cat looking out window

Guest post by Arnold Plotnick, MS, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP

It happened 26 years ago, but my memory of the incident remains vivid.

With my sights set on becoming a veterinarian, I was working as a volunteer at a local veterinarian’s office in Gainesville, Florida, to obtain that all-important “real life” experience. It was a weekday, and the first appointment of the afternoon was a woman who was bringing in her cat, Sarah, for a physical examination. “She has no interest in food, no interest in people; she just sits next to the couch and doesn’t move”, said the owner, a woman in her 50s. This subdued behavior had been going on for four days. The doctor asked the woman about the days preceding Sarah’s lethargy and loss of appetite, and whether anything in the cat’s environment had changed.

In a soft, forlorn voice, the woman proceeded to tell the veterinarian that Sarah had a littermate – a sister – and that they were inseparable. Both cats had access to a small backyard through a kitty door, and would often hang out in the yard together. Four days prior, the sister was in the yard by herself when a neighborhood dog managed to get into the yard, chase down the sister, and attack and kill her. Sarah was inside the house at the time, looking into the yard from the window. She witnessed the entire incident. “From that point on”, said the woman, “she’s been like this”, pointing to Sarah. I looked over at the cat, huddled on the exam table, disinterested in her surroundings, inconsolable.

The veterinarian examined her from head to tail. A “use caution” sticker on Sarah’s record indicated that she was known to be feisty during veterinary exams. But not that day. She put up no fuss as the doctor poked and prodded. The doctor pronounced the cat healthy, and told the client that in his professional opinion, Sarah was clearly grieving for her sister. “I wouldn’t have thought cats were capable of mourning”, said her owner, “but I see it now with my own eyes. I’ve never seen anything so sad in my life.”

Do cats grieve?

Grief occurs as a result of the abrupt or unexpected severing of attachment. Although cats are thought of as being aloof and solitary, they are, in fact, social animals, and are as capable as dogs of forming deep attachments to people and other animals. It stands to reason that a severing of that attachment would lead to grieving. As a veterinarian and advice columnist, I am often asked whether I think cats grieve or mourn the loss of a feline companion. I certainly feel that they do, but cats cannot speak, and we can only guess at what their true emotions might be at any given time.

“Culturally, we try to deny human-like behaviors in animals,” says Alan Beck, Professor and Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “People used to believe that animals didn’t feel pain”, says Beck. “We know, of course, that this isn’t true. Then, they used to question whether animals could think. Clearly, they can.” Beck adds, “I suppose that denying animal’s human-like behaviors allows us to be more comfortable eating them and using them.” But attitudes toward animals have changed over the years. While he believes that cats probably don’t perceive death the same way as people do, for pet cats experiencing a drastic change in their environment, it seems reasonable to think that they do grieve. “We can’t be certain if they mourn in the human sense of the word, but we should give them the benefit of the doubt”, says Beck. “If something would cause stress in a human, we should assume it would cause stress in animals.”

The difference between human and feline grieving

There are clear differences between human and feline grieving. Humans can show grief for distant relatives or for public figures. Cats lack the abstraction that allows people to grieve for those they’ve never met; cats only grieve for familiar and close companions. Cats do not demonstrate the same ritualized ways of dealing with their grief as humans do, but they do exhibit their own signs of mourning. In 1996, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project. The study found that 46% of cats ate less than usual after the death of a companion cat. Around 70% showed a change in vocalization pattern (they meowed significantly more often, or significantly less, than normal). More than half of the cats became more affectionate and “clingy” with their owners, and many of the cats slept more, and changed the location of where they usually slept. Overall, 65% of cats exhibited four or more behavior changes after losing a pet companion.

Cat mourns loss of human and feline companion

Alison Fraser needs no convincing. When not singing or dancing on Broadway, the Tony-nominated performer could usually be found doting on her cats, Iggy and Pete. This past August, however, tragedy struck when Iggy, who had been coping well with his heart disease (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), suffered an embolus and became acutely paralyzed in his rear legs. He died soon afterward. “Pete mourned for days”, says Alison.

This wasn’t the first time Pete had shown mourning behavior. When Alison’s husband Rusty became ill, Pete got very stressed and began to overgroom, barbering his tail nearly to the point of baldness. When Rusty passed away, Pete mourned for weeks. Not long afterward, Pete’s other feline companion, Valentine, died of chronic renal failure, and once again, Pete grieved for weeks, moping, hiding, and overgrooming. Alison adopted Iggy as a companion for the sullen Pete. Fortunately, Iggy and Pete clicked right away, with Pete acting as Iggy’s protector. “Iggy died so suddenly”, says Alison, “that Pete never got to say a proper goodbye.” Until Alison came home with Iggy’s ashes. “When I brought the ashes home, I placed the urn in the middle of the living room floor. Pete went over to the urn, laid his chin on it, and kept it there for an hour. I believe this was Pete’s way of saying his final goodbye.”

How cats perceive death

The question often arises as to whether it is a good idea to allow surviving cats to see the body of the deceased cat. “Whether this is helpful or not is the subject of debate”, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, board certified veterinary behaviorist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and author of The Cat Who Cried for Help, “and there is little evidence to support either view.”

Some researchers believe that a cat perceives death the way a young child might perceive it, i.e. they lack the concept of death being a permanent state. If that’s true, then showing them the body “would be like letting a 2 year-old see a deceased family member at a funeral. The consequences just don’t register”, says Dr. Dodman. On the other hand, if dogs and cats do comprehend death more than we give them credit for, viewing a deceased companion may help to explain why that companion cat won’t be around in the future. Anecdotally, people have reported that some cats stop searching for an absent companion after being shown the body of a deceased companion.

This may indicate that cats have at least some comprehension that something dead cannot come alive again. This may be linked to the fact that they are predators. “The weight of opinion today is that a ‘viewing’ is not likely to help a pet understand the death of a companion”, says Dodman. “But”, he adds, “I think we should give our pets the benefit of the doubt and allow them to, if we feel it might help. After all, if the human experience is anything to go by, it may help some come to terms with what has transpired.”

How to tell whether your cat is grieving

Life abruptly becomes very different for the surviving cat, and it will require extra attention, compassion, and reassurance during this period. If the surviving cat had access to the outdoors, this should be restricted, as the cat may stray off into unfamiliar territory and get into dangerous situations as it searches for the lost companion. Time heals all wounds, and if the cat is showing other signs of depression (poor appetite, change in sleeping pattern, excessive vocalization, overgrooming, pacing, searching), these often dissipate after a few weeks, although it can take as long as six months. “Enriching the environment, by offering new toys, treats, etc. is helpful and recommended”, says Dr. Dodman, as this may help reduce a clingy cat’s sudden over-attachment, and may draw the cat out of its shell.

In a multi-cat household, the surviving cats will eventually work out the new social order. Whether getting a replacement cat right away is a good idea is debatable. Pete found Iggy to be a welcome distraction, but this is usually the exception rather than the rule. A cat in the throes of grief may not be able to handle the additional stress of a new feline intruder. “In some instances, severely affected cats may require anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication”, warns Dodman. As with humans, cats need time to process the loss.

Cats are resilient animals. If given time to grieve, they will return to some of their old rituals, develop new rituals, and once again regain the contentment that they previously enjoyed.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is a retired feline veterinarian and the former owner of Manhattan Cat Specialists, a cats-only veterinary clinic on the Upper Westside of Manhattan.

Feline Behavior Advice from Jackson Galaxy

Jackson-Galaxy

Updated April 2018
This post contains affiliate links*

Please note that Jackson Galaxy no longer works with private clients, and he will not answer questions left in comments on this post.

You can find a wealth of information about all aspects of caring for cats on his website and in his newest book, Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life With Your Cat.

Total-Cat-Mojo-Jackson-Galaxy

Read my review here.

Feline Behaviorist Recommendation

If you are looking to work with a feline behaviorist, I highly recommend Mikel Delgado http://www.felineminds.com/ and Daniel Quagliozzi https://gocatgosf.com/ Both offer remote consultations.

*The Conscious Cat is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to products on Amazon and affiliated sites. The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of Jackson Galaxy. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

Feline casting call: your cat could be on TV!

My Cat from Hell Animal Planet Jackson Galaxy

The news cat lovers have been waiting for broke yesterday afternoon: Animal Planet has renewed “My Cat from Hell” for a second season! The show features cat behaviorist extraordinaire Jackson Galaxy, who’s tough on the outside but sensitive on the inside – especially when it comes to cats and their owners. Jackson helps frustrated cat owners improve their relationships with their behaviorally challenged cat.

Cat behaviorist by day and musician by night, Jackson comes to the the rescue with a guitar case filled with cat toys and training aides. Jackson trains the humans as much as he trains the cats, since the majority of feline behavior problems are caused by humans not understanding cats’ natural behaviors. What may seem a problem to humans is perfectly natural and instinctual behavior for a cat. Jackson helps cat guardians understand the reasons why these cats are causing their owners headaches, and then works with the owners and their cats to find solutions.

Animal Planet is currently looking for “behaviorally challenged” cats to be featured in the six episodes for the 2nd season, which will begin shooting in August. If your cat’s behavior is driving you or others crazy, if you need help getting your cat to behave, or if your spouse or boyfriend has threatened that it’s him or the cat, you and your cat might have a chance to be on the show.

For more information, please visit Jackson’s website. You must live in or around Los Angeles to be considered.

For more information, please read my exclusive interview with Jackson for The Conscious Cat.

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Up close and Purrsonal with Jackson Galaxy, Star of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell”

If you haven’t watched Animal Planet’s new show “My Cat from Hell,” you don’t know what you’re missing. Jackson Galaxy, the star of the show, knows cats like no other. Cat behaviorist by day, musician by night, bald, bearded and covered in cat tattoos, he’s anything but your typical cat guy.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jackson yesterday while he was in between media appearances (since the launch of the show, Jackson has appeared on Access Hollywood, Fox and Friends, and taped a segment for The Daily Show, among others). It only took a few minutes of talking to him to realize that appearances are, indeed, deceiving: underneath the hip surface lies a sensitive, caring guy who genuinely loves cats.

Jackson is a cat behaviorist who has been called anything from a cat whisperer to a cat shrink to a cat trainer. He actually prefers to be called a “cat listener.” He doesn’t like the term cat whisperer, because, he says “it conotates exclusivity. It says I can do something you can’t.” His goal is to make everyone believe that they can do what he does. According to Jackson, what it really comes down to is a case of “slowing your head down long enough to listen to cats.”

Jackson’s mission is to reduce the number of cats in shelters. Based on Jackson’s experience, most behavior problems in shelter cats are not that tough to solve. He’s found that frequently, an hour spent with the cat and her human guardians can take care of the problem and prevent the cat from being returned to the shelter.

Jackson worked in shelters for many years, and later partnered with Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian. They called their business Big Little Cat, honoring domestic cats’ wild origins, and offered in-home mind body consults.

Jackson solves common and not so common behavior problems. He works with cats either during in-home consultations (in the Los Angeles area) or remotely. Consultations involve taking a detailed history, meeting the cat and her family, and watching the cat  interact with everyone and everything in her territory. For remote consultations, Jackson requests that the client provide a video showing the cat’s home, feeding station, and litter box locations. He says this way, he can pick up details that a client might not even think to provide by just filling out an intake form, no matter how detailed the questions may be.

He employs a variety of techniques, some traditional, some holistic, and some, according to Jackson “I’ve been told are completely off the wall.” His approach is all about giving the human guardians a deeper understanding of why cats act the way they do. “I always come down on the side of the cat,” says Jackson. Most feline behavior problems have very little to do with the cat, and everything to do with the fact that as humans, we ask cats to co-exist with us in environments that don’t always support their natural instincts.

“My Cat from Hell” features what most cat owners would consider hard core behavior issues. From spastic cats that threaten to break up relationships to aggressive felines that leave their owners bruised and bloody, these cats are not your average housecats. Each episode features two cases, showing the problem, Jackson’s initial visit with the cat and her guardians, and a follow up visit two weeks later. I asked Jackson whether it was really true that these cases are resolved in what seems like such a short period of time, or whether there was some artistic license to adapt what he does to fit the format of an hour long show. “The improvements really happened that fast,” said Jackson. He credits this to the fact that the cats’ guardians really did the homework he recommended after the initial session. Jackson has no doubt that being on TV provided added incentive for the cats’ guardians: “when you know you’re going to be on TV, you don’t want to look stupid!” In his real life cases, he usually tells clients that improvements may take 4-6 weeks, but much of that timeframe depends on how much the human guardians are willing to follow his recommendations.

Jackson also owns Spirit Esssences, a line of flower essences he developed with holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve. Flower essences are dilute extracts of  flowers and plants that work on the body’s energy system to create emotional, spiritual and physical balance. He uses the essences in every case he works with.

If you’re not already watching the show, tune in tomorrow night. Jackson told me that one of the two cases that will be featured in tomorrow’s episode was the most dramatic he’s ever worked with: a completely feral cat who was adopted out by the shelter under false pretenses. The cat’s new guardians  were told the cat was 70% domesticated. You’ll have to watch to see what Jackson calls “miraculous results.”

For more information about Jackson Galaxy, please visit his website. You can also find Jackson on Facebook and Twitter

SmartyKat products: a bonanza of kitty fun

SmartyKat sisal post

When the big box of products from SmartyKat® arrived, it was like kitty Christmas in April at our house. My little product tester was ready and eager to get started!

The SmartyKat® CompleteNeeds® system is designed to meet cats’ unique needs when it comes to playing, hunting, scratching, interaction, privacy, independence, and more.  From scratching posts to kitty hammocks to litter box accessories, SmartyKat® offers a dizzying array of products.

We got to test the ScratchScroll™ and the SisalColumn™ scratchers, the HammockHouse™ cat condo, the CrackelChute™ and the LoofaLeap™ wand toy.

SmartyKat ScratchScrollThe ScratchScroll™ is a well-designed, sturdy wave scratcher, covered in a mix of different scratching surfaces including a couple of different texture carpets and sisal. Allegra was more enamored with the space underneath the scratcher and the little feather snap in toy than the actual scratcher. The feather toy snaps out easily, but not to easily that she could rip it out herself, and can be exchanged with several other toys in the SmartyKat® line.

The SisalColumn™ is a well-made scratcher. The base is pretty sturdy, and Allegra loves vertical scratchers, so she took to it almost the minute I had it assembled. It is probably better for smaller cats, even at a mere 8 pounds, Allegra managed to make the base move just a bit when she used it, so it might topple over with bigger cats.

SmartyKat CrackleChuteThe HammockHouse™ was the biggest hit. I was a little worried when I realized that there was “some assembly required” – words that usually instill fear in my heart. However, the HammockHouse™ came with instructions and diagrams that actually made sense, and I had it assembled in less than a minute. The frame is sturdy even though the actual house is lightweight. Allegra loved leaping in and out of the two entrances. She hasn’t used the hammock part. I was curious whether it would hold even a big cat without collapsing the house, so I used an 18-pound bag of cat litter to test it, and the house passed this test easily.  This product is listed in the privacy section, and Allegra gives it her wholehearted approval for just that. She’s afaid of thunderstorms and usually hides out in our downstairs bathroom behind the shower curtain during storms. The first time we had a storm after the HammockHouse™ arrived, she was curled up inside it.

Allegra is a big fan of kitty tunnels, so the CrackleChute™ was an instant hit. The chute is designed to be connected to the HammockHouse™, which made it even more fun.

Here’s a video of Allegra with the HammockHouse™ and CrackleChute™:

I could barely get the LoofaLeap™ wand toy off of its cardboard backing before Allegra went wild. The combination of different textures and the  movement created by wiggling the wand proved to be irresistible. As the human on the other end of the wand, I would have preferred it to be a bit longer, but I’m a quick learner and after the first few tries, my hand was no longer part of the game. A truly interactive game!

All of the products are well-made and should stand up to even multiple cats for quite some time. They’re also pretty to look at. I’ve always felt that there’s no reason that cat toys have to be ugly, and the SmartyKat® folks seem to share this view.

Ruby Scroll and Scratch SmartyKat

Ruby wasn’t part of our family when I wrote this review, but she has since given four paws up to the LoofaLeap™ wand toy and the CrackleChute™. She also thinks that the The ScratchScroll™showcases her cuteness perfectly. She’s less thrilled with the The HammockHouse™ – mostly, because Allegra likes to hide in it and then pounce on an unsuspecting Ruby when she walks by, just minding her own business.

For more information on the entire SmartyKat® line and where to purchase, please visit their website.

You  may also enjoy reading:

Keeping your single cat happy

Cat scratching solutions

New Cat Introductions: Breaking All the Rules

new-cat-introductions

When I brought Ruby home last Sunday, I had no way of knowing how introducing a new kitten to Allegra was going to go. Allegra had been an only cat for the past eleven months. Even though she had been in a foster home with other cats before I adopted her at seven months of age, I had no way of knowing how she was going to react to another cat. Ruby shared her foster home with two big adult male cats, so at least I knew that she was used to being around cats.

Slow and gradual introductions

Feline behavior experts advise introducing a new kitten to your home and your resident cat slowly, and in stages. For even the friendliest kittens, coming into a new home can be a big, scary venture. Experts recommend setting up a safe room for the new arrival, complete with litter box, access to food and water, toys, scratching posts and a comfortable place to sleep.

Scent is important for cats. You can let the new kitten and the resident cat smell each other indirectly by rubbing a towel on one cat, and rubbing the other cat with it, and vice versa. This “scent exchange” can help them accept the new smell as something that is part of them. After a day or two, let the two cats sniff each other through a baby-gate or a barely opened door.

When you think they’re ready, let them mingle under your supervision. There will be hissing and growling – try to ignore it, but be ready to intervene if a physical battle breaks out. It’s important to take this step slowly. If they do seem to tolerate each other, praise both cats effusively.

Gradually increase the time they spend together. Make initial joint activities fun so they will learn to associate being together with something pleasurable. Play with both cats, pet them both, and share treats. Always praise them when things go well. If things don’t go well, separate the cats, and start again at the point where you previously left off.  Introducing a new cat can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks or even months.

Breaking the rules

I knew all of these things. And yet, I made a conscious decision to forego the traditional protocol – not in defiance of what every feline behaviorist and every feline rescue group recommends, but rather, based on my gut instinct, which told me that with these two cats and their respective personalities, it was going to work. Had I seen any signs along the way that things were going south, I would have reverted to traditional protocol.

Even trusting my intuition, I was amazed at how well things went. The first couple of hours were a bit rough. There was lots of hissing and growling, and Allegra was clearly very upset with me. She growled more at me than at our new arrival. I knew all of this was to be expected and normal, but it’s still not fun to go through. Ruby, on the other hand, just went about the business of exploring her new home. Having Allegra “yell” at her was only a minor distraction for her. Nothing seemed to bother her. She was having fun!

After about five hours, the two cats were hanging out together in my living room. By the second day, they shared space on my loveseat. The hissing and growling became less frequent. By the third day, the two of them exchanged nosetaps for the first time.

Since I lead a somewhat “public” life when it comes to my cats, and people come to me for advice on all things cat, I was concerned that my unorthodox approach to introducing Ruby would be construed as expert advice on how to do it.

I want to be clear that I don’t recommend this method for everyone. It certainly flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But sometimes, rules are there to be broken. For some cats, traditional introductions may work best. For others, it may be more stressful for both the resident and the new cat to keep the two separated. It becomes an individual decision that needs to take into account how well you know the cats involved, and how comfortable you are with new cat introductions.

new-cat-introductions

As of this writing, only ten days later, the girls have become good friends. They play together, chase each other through the house, and hang out together. They even sleep in the bed with me, one cat on each side. I couldn’t be happier, and I think Allegra and Ruby are pretty happy, too.

Editor’s note: Due to the high volume of questions left in the comments in this post, I am no longer able to answer questions about individual situations. You may find a lot of good advice by reading through the comments. If you need additional assistance with your introductions, you may want to consider consider working with a feline behaviorist. If you can’t find anyone local to you, I can recommend Mikel Delgado  and Dr. Marci Koski.  Both offer remote consultations.