Thursday, August 17, 2017

Behavior Case Files: Milo's Marking Problem

I had a great opportunity a few weeks ago to do my first in-home consultation on a cat. My friend Besty who is also a PAGO volunteer was having an issue with her cat Milo house soiling. Milo was urinating on furniture on occasion. I offered to go over and help Betsy out and see what was going on with Milo.

What is the behavior problem?
Milo has been urinating on the sofa in the living room and upstairs sofa and chairs.

Can you tell us about the history/status of the animal?
Milo is a 2-year-old neutered DSH. He was neutered at 8 weeks.  He has a clean bill of health and no medical cause has been found for his house soiling. Milo was adopted by Betsy when he was a 2-month-old kitten along with his sister Millie.

Where it is being kept, is it with a family, in a shelter, somewhere else?
Milo is kept with Betsy in her home. Betsy lives with her husband, her two teenage children, and her father. Betsy also has 2 older dogs (Lucy and Minnie) who were acquired before Milo and Millie and 2 other cats she rescued as feral kittens (Bubbles and Maggie) a year after acquiring Milo and Millie. Bubbles and Maggie are now a year old.

Important Background Information:
When going through my questionnaire with Betsy, she indicated the house soiling problem started when she brought the feral kittens into the home a year ago. She said she hasn’t seen any aggression between the cats, but when Bubbles and Maggie sit near or next to Milo he gets up and walks away. She also indicated the problem had increased in frequency since remodeling her home and bringing in new furniture. Betsy said she had caught Milo in the act a few times and always had a crazed/funny look on his face.  At one point during this consultation, Betsy called for all of her cats to come over for a treat. All the animals gathered around Betsy front and center, except Milo who cautiously approached her from underneath the coffee table. Betsy has plenty of litter boxes in the home several on the bottom floor and some on the second floor spread out through various rooms. Milo does use the litter box mostly except the times on occasion she sees him going on the furniture.

My Assessment:
I’ve determined that Milo isn’t urinating on the furniture, but rather spraying/marking. This was evident to me based on when the problem started when the new kittens were brought into the home, the location of the urine on the furniture, and the "crazed" look Betsy described when she caught Milo in the act. He prefers to avoid the new cats, he is cautious and insecure around the other animals, and the problem escalated when the home was being remodeled bringing in new and unfamiliar smells. This all points to me that Milo is insecure about his territory. Additionally, he feels insecure about his place in the household among the other animals and that's manifesting itself in this marking behavior.

Build Milo’s confidence so he feels more secure in his surroundings and his place in the household ceasing his marking behavior.

  • Clean Milo’s hot spot areas with an enzyme cleaner to completely remove the urine preventing Milo from associating that area as a marking spot.
  • When bringing new furniture into the home rub a towel on Milo and then rub the towel on or leave the towel on the new furniture allowing for Milo’s scent to be transmitted there making the new furniture more familiar to him.
  • Use Feliway or Milo's own pheromones (from a towel that has his scent) and place that on his marking spots.
  • Have one-on-one play time in Milo’s hot spots areas using a wand/teaser toy and going through a prey sequence twice a day. I think separating Milo from the other animals during the one-on-one time with Betsy will not only help him re-associate those former marking areas but build his bond with Betsy and his confidence which will make him more secure of himself and his place in the household.
  • Incorporate clicker training in Milo’s hot spot areas and by teaching him “high five” and offering him a high-value treat (cooked chicken or turkey) further associating that area as a play/food area rather than a marking one!
  • Bring more vertical territory into the home in the form of cat trees or cat-friendly shelves. Also, bring more cat beds into the home. Milo may feel like he has to share a lot of his space with the other animals and would benefit from having more options to get away and have space to himself.
  • Plug in feline pheromone diffusers into the home to help diffuse any potential passive aggression/anxiety/tension going on among the other animals.
Betsy will implement these recommendations consistently for over a two week period. I will then follow up with Betsy to check on Milo's progress.

Milo marked one of the chairs upstairs the day after I came for his assessment. Since then with Betsy following through with all the recommendations Milo has not marked any furniture in two weeks! Milo is benefiting from solo play time and now has associated his former marking areas as the place where his training paw game takes place. He now waits for Betsy on the chair to play the paw game with her!

Future Goal: 
My future goal for Milo would be to build more camaraderie between him and the other cats in the household. My recommendations for this is to encourage allogrooming between the cats by scent mixing. Betsy could use a brush to brush the other cats and then use that brush on Milo. This would help create a group scent between all the cats. Betsy could also incorporate training with the rest of the cats as well as finding an activity like food puzzles all cats can play with together.

That's all for meow 😻,

Thursday, August 3, 2017

There Are No Quick Answers In Cat Behavior

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

This is some what of a personal reflection and cat behavior related post in one. This is something that while I'm in the process of becoming a feline behaviorist I'm encountering more frequently. I'm actually honored and flattered I encounter this, but it's not always easy.  Many people want quick and easy answers to cat behavior or cat behavioral problems. The problem is there isn't such a thing as a quick and easy answer when it comes to cat behavior. Cat behavior is very complex and complicated!

I love when people ask me questions. I want people to continue to ask me questions because I love to help and problem-solving. The difficulty comes when people ask me very broad questions without any background and want an immediate and simple answer. Here are some examples of questions I get regularly.

"Why does my cat pee outside the box?"
"What cat should I adopt that will get along with my cat at home?
"Why does my cat play aggressively?"

These are great questions, but they're not questions I can answer without an assessment or answer in only a few minutes. I wish I could answer questions like these on the spot. I feel a lot of pressure to do so because I don't want to let anyone down or give people the impression I'm a sham and don't know anything. Then again, if I could give you a quick and easy answer I wouldn't be doing my job because that wouldn't be the best answer for your particular situation.

Behavior is very complex. It's the same across all species. Cats all have different temperaments, history, home environments, and etc that contribute to their behavior. It's important that I know all of that information before I ever could answer those questions or provide recommendations. There is a questionnaire I've written up for future clients and one I've used when doing a behavioral assessment for a friend's cat. My questionnaire is any where from 50-100 questions long dependent on the type of behavioral issue I'm addressing.

Yes! That's a lot of questions, but every single one of those questions is so important for me to ask to identify a trigger for the problem. When I did a full assessment with recommendations for my friend it was a 700 word write up. When I have scenarios to do treatment plan write ups for in my current course they sometimes take 1-2 hours to write up and are usually 700-1500 words.

To give you more perspective,

  • Inappropriate elimination happens for a slew of reasons. A medical evaluation would always be my first recommendation, but the litter itself, the litter box, the location of the litter box, the cleanliness of the box, the number of litter boxes, if there are any recent changes to the home or routine, if the cat is declawed, the cat's relationship with other cats in the household, and more are all potential contributing factors to an inappropriate elimination issue. I would need to know every single aspect of that to be able to identify a problem.
  • What cat to bring into your home with someone's current cat would require me to know the temperament of the current cat, why you want to bring another cat into the home, if the cat has been exposed to other cats, what is their current cat's reaction to change/new people/new smells and etc. Additionally, in assessing their current cat I'd have to assess the temperaments of cats the owner is interested in to find possible matches.
  • Play aggression would require me to learn the background socialization of that cat, at what age was the cat acquired, does the owner know the cat's previous history, how does the owner currently play with their cat, how often is the owner playing with their cat, does the owner play rough or allow the cat to play with their fingers and toes, and more.

I'm not writing this to discourage anyone from asking me questions or from a lecturing standpoint. I want you to ask me questions! I love to help, but please understand that I may need more information to help solve your problem and I'll definitely need at least a day or more to process that information, do an assessment, and formulate recommendations. Some situations might require an in-home consultation so I can assess the cat and the environment myself. I want people to have a positive relationship and experiences with their cats and cats with their humans. That isn't possible unless I'm as thorough as possible.

I also need to give myself permission that it's OK to say "Great question. Let me get back to you on that".  I don't need to feel like I'm letting people down or deceiving people by not providing immediate answers and feedback. We're our own worst critic and it's definitely hard for me not to feel like I need to fix every problem in front of me right then and there. I'm working on it!

That's all for meow 😻,