Cats – all you need to know!

If you want to keep your other cats in at night, install a selective cat flap which is activated by an electronic or magnetic 'key' that Mungo wears on his collar. And then lie back and enjoy a full night's sleep knowing that Mungo is being the cat he wants and needs to be!

CATS – all you need to know! Here are some questions and answers we’ve received re cats and their care – hopefully you will find this helpful ..

Q. I have a cat which is half-wild/half-domesticated:

She had two homes before finally getting me. While she lived with me she tore up the carpets at every doorway throughout the house, even though the doors were open (and sprayed with pepper & lavender oil). Now I have found a partner who has one dog (now we have three) but she still rules the roost. She has even started to dirty or pee in the house (even on our Newfoundland puppy).Cat

She was knocked down by a car when I had her and has never really liked going out since then. My partner loves cats but is allergic to them and pays her more attention than the dogs – but she is driving us both up the wall. She has now started tearing our dining room furniture apart despite us having put lavender oil on them!

Reply from Poor you, and poor dog! This is clearly a sensitive cat that quickly resorts to a change in marking behaviour in the face of any challenges in her lifestyle. Please look at the advice in some of our case histories and advice pages on marking problems in cats, but you may also find that giving the cat her own safe sanctuary to go to and relax will help. This should be high up (one of the ‘aerobic centres’ for cats available through the mail order catalogue is ideal) and in a safe corner where she can choose to get up out of the way of doggy goings-on at floor level. This sanctuary should obviously be easily accessible to her from all angles and especially from any doors, and you should encourage her to relax there by stroking her and feeding her treats. It may take some time, and you may like to discuss the whole problem with a behaviourist in person on referral from your vet if progress is slow.

Notes: To visit a cat behaviour councillor, ask your vet to be referred to a member of the APBC (Association of Pet Behavioural Councillors)

KittensQ. One of my cats keeps us awake all night:

We have 3 cats, 2 boys (6 and 2 years) and a girl (2 years). They are all neutered. They were rescue cats (their owner died a year ago) so they have been through the mill a bit. They are inside for most of the day while we are at work and out when we are at home in the garden. As we live in London, I am reluctant to leave them out while we are at work.

Mungo, the 2-year-old boy, behaves just like a young child. He is driving us up the wall because he cannot sleep throughout the night. He starts playing and scratching at things to get our attention in the early hours. When all else fails, he usually jumps on his sister and starts fighting!

We go to bed at 11ish and I am up at 5.30-6 a.m. so surely if the other two can wait for 7 hours, he can?! We have bought him numerous toys to tire him out but he shows little interest when we try to play with him. He is slightly overweight but our vet says I have just been giving him too much food so we have cut back. My concern is that he has too much energy (and also that one night soon we will end up strangling the poor mite – a year of little or no sleep is not helping us!) He is otherwise a beautiful, sweet-natured cat, who is very sensitive – when he first came to us, he hid all day under the duvet and refused to come out! He is usually the first to come to bed with us in order to get the best spot between us on the bed! Can you suggest anything?

KittenReply from : Mungo is just being what he is supposed to be – a crepuscular hunter who gets active and ready to patrol and hunt a couple of hours before dawn (and probably dusk too). He is a young adult male in the prime of life who is trying to be what nature ordained him to be, but finds himself shut into an environment where he can’t do what he needs to do. And so he finds other sources of rewarding activity to help relieve his frustration – rushing around and trying to get someone to react with him!

While many cats aren’t quite so demanding, it’s sad to say that for those who are, getting up to tell him to calm down, tell him off, or worse, to play with him, will simply ensure that he repeats the behaviour every night. Things can be expected to worsen when spring is on the way! Probably the only sensible thing to do here is to allow him outside at will via a cat flap. Most such gregarious characters are pretty street-wise and although there is no guarantee of safety if you live in a town, he is no more unsafe at night when there is less traffic about than he is during the day or at weekends. If you want to keep your other cats in at night, install a selective cat flap which is activated by an electronic or magnetic ‘key’ that Mungo wears on his collar. And then lie back and enjoy a full night’s sleep knowing that Mungo is being the cat he wants and needs to be!

Q. Our cat Frankie keeps on yowling!:

Our cat Frankie has a habit of yowling constantly and pathetically, sometimes up to half an hour or more. We have given him food, water, toys affection and telling offs. We even got another cat because we thought he might be lonely, but nothing has helped. He will do this any time, but especially at night. He is very loud, and is keeping us awake. He doesn’t seem to be hurt, and is healthy and happy the rest of the time. We would be very grateful if you could give us some idea of what to do!

CatsReply from : This is very common in insecure or older cats. Basically any form of response to the yowling, even to tell Frankie off, will reinforce the behaviour that underlies it. Any response gives him some relief from his emotional state of anxiety and the isolation. The presence of another cat may not be sufficiently rewarding for him – it’s you, his mother figures that he wants to provide security. When he yowls in the day, simply turn your back and walk away without even making eye contact and do this consistently.

Responding even one time in twenty will keep Frankie yowling for attention! At night try to play with him energetically for a while, then feed him, then try to settle him into a warm cosy bed and then ignore him for twenty minutes or so before going to bed. Try not to respond to any yowling after that, but if he persists outside your bedroom door, make a pile of empty tin cans outside the door, and place a wedge underneath them attached to a piece of string trailing under the door. If Frankie yowls, pull the string to make the cans collapse and so give Frankie a startling consequence to his behaviour that is unrelated to you and encourage him to go and rest elsewhere.

Of course there will come a time when he is old and infirm where it would be kinder to allow him to sleep in the bedroom – at this stage he will probably sleep soundly all night, but try to delay this for as long as possible. It is also worth talking to your vet about supportive tonics which help keep brain function optimised in older cats and can help reduce the incidence of night-time yelling.

Q. We are worried about moving home with my cat:

I have an 8-year-old male Siamese cat (Louis) who was given to me by an former next door neighbour when he moved a couple of years ago. Louis has lived in this road all his life and has never been allowed out to the front of the houses, only roaming the back gardens. I have now decided to move house myself and am very concerned about how to handle this. Louis is very homely and territorial, and I would like to make the move as smooth and stress-free for Louis as possible. I worry that he will run away or become distressed. I have never owned a cat before and am completely in the dark as to what to do. Please help.

kitten careReply from : Much of the question of what to do depends on where you are moving to! If you are moving far from your present home, beyond Louis’ present home range, then all you need to do is keep him indoors at your new home for 1-2 weeks while he learns about his new home and settles in with you. Divide his meals into as many short feeds as possible and precede each one with a call sign, such as banging the dish.

When he seems settled in his new home, starve him for 12 hours or so and then, on a fine day, encourage him to come out into the garden with you to explore. He will move tentatively at first and probably won’t go far from the door, which should be left open. Allow him back in as he wants to, and allow him to leave the house to explore further and further away at will. Call him back from time to time by banging the dish that means ‘food’. As he will be hungry, he should return more willingly to receive a little food before setting off again to explore.

After a few hours, or perhaps even a day or so, he will start to range further, learning the new terrain but always mapping his route back home – via the scent/sight and ground vibrations of the new area. Within a few days he will be happy, learning about the feline friends and foes, and other dangers and good places around his new home. Trust him – cats are excellent survivors with a strong sense of home-base and safety!

If you are moving to a new house within his old territory range, then you may have to keep him indoors for longer and, when he is allowed out again, make sure that the new owners of your old house do not allow him in any more, nor feed him. In fact, if he is persistent about returning, they should actively shoo him away and be asked to call you to collect him if he hangs around continually. If this happens, you should seek the help of a feline behaviourist via your vet.

CatsQ. My cat is fighting with my new neighbour’s cat, how can I stop it?:

I have a male Siamese who is 18 months old. Two weeks ago our new neighbours moved in with their 9-year-old tom cat. They are starting to ‘battle it out’ – is there anything I can do to get them to be friendly with each other. The other cat used to have female cat companion who has recently died, but Bilbo is not used to other cats being around him. HELP I do not want injured cats! Any advice would be gratefully received!

Reply from : This is always a difficult one – especially when a new tough guy moves into the area and tries to establish himself in the territory. Eventually the cats should come to some sort of accommodation and learn either to define who goes where, or to use the same territory but at different times so as to avoid each other. But, if your cat is really suffering in the duels, it is sometimes helpful to agree an access roster with the owners of the new cat so that he and your Siamese (and any other victims) are let outdoors at different times. Some people even agree a signal system of pulling upstairs curtains or hoisting a flag on the shed to inform other neighbours that their cat is in or out! But, unfortunately, there is little else that can be done to stop a nine year old trying to establish himself and then maintaining his hold if he happens to be a tough old campaigner.

Q. I am concerned about black spots on my cat’s lips:

My cat broke his jaw some years ago and as a result his mouth is always open and very visible. Around his lower lips he has several black marks like age spots but very black. My partner says they are flea bites but I am very careful to keep my cat flea free, using a product – Frontline. He never seems to have fleas so can these really be bites? The marks are unsightly and I am intrigued to know what they are.

Reply from : There are 2 quite distinct possibilities here. Firstly, it is quite normal for some cats to have areas of black pigmentation on the lips and gums. Providing there is no inflammation or ulceration or bleeding here, and the visible surface is smooth, you should have nothing to worry about.

The second possibility is feline acne. Blocked or plugged follicles – rather like human blackheads – form small dark crusts more on the outer surface of the lower lips, often half-way along, but sometimes spreading round to the chin. These may become infected and discharge pus. Trimming the hair and washing with an antibacterial soap sometimes helps.

Take your cat along to see your vet who can advise you further.

Q. How to stop your cat jumping on to kitchen surfaces:

Cats are agile and can get everywhere they want to in your home. The kitchen surfaces are not the most hygienic places for your cat to roam and many cat owners try hard to train their cat out of the habit. This tip has a 100% success rate. Use double-sided tape to fix silver foil to the area you don’t want your cat to go on to. As your cat jumps up, he will land on the foil which is not only noisy, but also very slippery – cats hate it and will remember not to go there again!

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