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Ask The Behaviorist
Cats: Dr. John Wright answering questions
Please be aware that the following suggestions are
general advice and are not intended to be a
substitute for taking your pet to a veterinarian.
Posted February 9, 1998 | previous set | next set


Question:

Help! My cat is keeping me up at night. Stats: 12 yr. old male tabby. Recently had eye removed due to a 6 yr. case of iritis possibly due to a virus. Perfectly healthy behavior now. At 2am will begin patrolling, galloping around the bed. When put outside of closed bedroom door begins howling. Let him in, the patrolling begins again. Have begun to feed again very late at night (11pm) and this has stopped the 2am patrolling, however, about 6am begins to attack other female cat so we hear hissing, etc. When put out, again the howling. What to do? Have tried spraying with water to get off of bed, but he comes back. When put out of bedroom, the howling begins. The female (12yr.) is a perfect, sweet, QUIET cat. No problem. He's a BEAST! Help me PLEASE!

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Wright:

The important thing to do for Stats is to interrupt his activity. You've done well do delay the initial activity at 2 am by feeding earlier, at 11 pm. This may indicate the source of his arousal at 6 am. If hunger is the problem ask your vet if s/he can recommend a high-fiber, low-fat diet to feed at 11 pm; if you can delay the hunger from setting in and contributing to his aroused state by an hour or so, you can feed him again when you awake in the morning. You may wish to try feeding again just before 6 am by placing an automatic feeder next to his food bowl (with a timer on it - the device opens a food container like a clock radio turns on in the morning). This might keep him hanging around the feeder rather than your bedroom door or your female cat, if he expects a tasty morsel each morning. You may also wish to try mixing some high fiber in his food to make him feel full. Try tearing up some romaine lettuce - about half the cats I've tried this with love it, the rest won't touch it. Good Luck.



Question:

How do I stop my fixed male, 17+ years old cat from spraying the walls, furniture, and me? There's nothing physically wrong with him (my vet has determined that), but Brat (the cat's name) continues to spray. This annoyance began several years ago when I adopted a stray (another fixed male). I know that this is normal behavior, and that Brat is marking his territory, but the entire house smells like a litter box. Is there anything I can do to break Brat of this annoying, smelly habit?

Donna Caissie
Worcester, MA
donna@ultranet.com



Response from Dr. Wright:

It appears that Brat has a problem that is not as uncommon as we'd like to think, even for neutered male cats. It may well be marking behavior, although without more information about his daily routine, it's difficult to rule out stress as a trigger (would he spray if the other cat(s) magically disappeared or were boarded for a few days? Is his day characterized by unpredictability? If the answer is "yes" to both of these questions, he may not be simply "marking" his territory). If it is marking, decreasing his arousal is important. If he puffs out his front lip & opens his mouth slightly (a flehmen response) he's indicating that some odor is attractive to him, in the sense that he gets aroused enough to spray. By decreasing the arousal, either by removing the arousing stimuli, or asking your vet to prescribe something for him that will decrease his arousal internally, you should see a decrease in how often he sprays from week to week.

Be sure to continue cleaning the areas he sniffs - he's still smelling something, if you see the flehmen response as a result of sniffing the couch cushion, for example. There is a new product available (a pheromone, something produced by cats that influences their behavior) that you spread on locations he's spraying, which may be successful in reducing his spraying as well. Ask your veterinarian, or certified animal behaviorist (if there is one near you) for more information regarding this possibility. Behaviorally, you could try to involve him in play or treat session (toss him a treat or two) if it looks like he's about to spray. Unfortunately, for some cats, these are also arousing activities and may actually contribute to more spraying. Brat will let you know which kind of cat he is - but with a name like that, I think I can guess. Good luck.



Question:

I have lived with Little Girl, a calico, since she was six weeks old. She is now 10 yrs. For the first couple of weeks after I adopted her she would not let me touch her, but I would awake during the night with her draped around my neck. I finally grew on her, but to this day she will have absolutely nothing to do with anyone but me. I am HER person and that is that! She is not the only cat in our household by any means and she is around other people, but only I can touch her and love her. I know animals have different personalities like people do, but could this be something more?

(name witheld by request)



Response from Dr. Wright:

Little Girl certainly seems to have the personality of many cats I've known - she loves to have contact with one person, as long as it's on her terms. Sometimes, these cats have sensitive skin, or "ripple" their skin. If so, you may be able to increase her tolerance by contacting your vet - she may have a treatable physical problem. On the other hand, she may be perfectly healthy, and her temperament is just regulating the amount of contact she's comfortable with. If she was not played with or handled very much as a young kitten, she may be like some kittens who develop a preference for less stimulation - they perceive human contact and petting to be too stimulating, and rather than being comforted by stroking, they are discomforted by it. If you wanted to make Little Girl more playful and more often "affectionate," more daily handling and play may have helped out when she was about 2 weeks to 7 weeks of age. Although she's not as social and playful as your other cats, I'm sure you look forward to wearing "that hat" to bed at night, especially in this cold weather.



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