Troubleshooting (part three of three)
By Karen Zamel
Note: Interested in adding to your feline family? SVPP is offering a "Meet Your Purr-fect Match" Special. Adopt a cat 6 months or older for a reduced adoption rate of $50! These special kitties are spayed/neutered, microchipped, vaccinated and tested negative for FIV/FELV. This special adoption promotion is available February 11 to March 15.
This is the last part of our three-part blog addressing important steps of successfully integrating new cats or kittens with resident cats. With the help of expert Jessica Char, founder of Feline Engineering, we are examining potential causes of kitty conflict and how to address them. (Click here for part one on Matchmaking; click here for part two on Introductions.)
Q: What do you do at the first sign of trouble, like what we experienced in our home with our newest rescue taking possession of a water fountain – and trouncing others for using it?
Jessica: Make sure there are plenty of resources for all the cats in the home to avoid competition. This includes feeding stations, water bowls (or water fountains!), litter boxes, scratching posts, sleeping spots (particularly the good sunny ones), and places to perch up high. Spread these things throughout the home so each cat has a chance to get what they need without having to wait in line. This removes the opportunity for one cat to prevent others from getting to something.
You can also use furniture, cat trees, or cat shelves to create multiple pathways through the house; this lets the cats avoid each other as they want to. The cats are more likely to be comfortable living together when they have more control over when or if they want to interact.
Look for ways to reward the cats for being relaxed or polite around each other. For example, two cats calmly sharing a cat tree might get treats. You can help them out even more by encouraging the behavior you want. If your new cat is blocking others from the water fountain, you can call this cat away and give him a treat when another cat approaches.
Finally, but no less important, play is always good for cats. A routine of interactive play followed by meal time will set the stage for better behavior and happier, healthier cats all around.
Q: Lastly, how do you identify the true source of the issue and what it will really take to address it?
Jessica: It’s important to mention that sudden behavior change is definitely a reason for a vet visit as it may indicate pain or illness. Don’t skip this step!
Once we know the cat is medically cleared, my first step is addressing the home environment. Many caring cat guardians are unknowingly depriving their cat of important natural needs. Cats need to “hunt” by playing, they need spaces to perch up off the ground, they need to scratch, and they need social interaction. Cats aren’t dogs and we need to provide for their unique needs.
After that, if there are still issues, I look at the cat’s emotional state and what might be motivating their behavior. It's well understood now that animals experience many of the same core emotions as humans and that these emotions greatly influence behavior.
Fear and stress have to be addressed first before any other behavior change can be expected. A fearful cat isn’t thinking through its behavior carefully; the cat is acting to protect itself.
Finally, I determine if there is something motivating the behavior that we can change. If the cat is getting attention for some unwanted behavior, how can we use that attention to reward more appropriate behavior? If the behavior is about the cat is trying to avoid or escape a situation, we can work to change its feelings about that experience.
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If you have additional questions for Jessica or experiences you would like to share, please post them here. We can all benefit from the dialogue!
For information on our Purr-fect Match Special to adopt cats at least six months old, click here.
Karen Zamel is a communications volunteer, foster parent, and adopter with Silicon Valley Pet Project and San Jose Animal Advocates.
For more information on Jessica Char and Feline Engineering, follow her on Facebook and Instagram: