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 😻,