Sunday, August 17, 2008

Talking to the Animals

Every so often a situation comes up in my Herd that is just a bit beyond me...and that's happened lately when I rescued the 8-month-old adolescent boy-cat I called Li'l Guy. He's an absolute sweetie with people - how his people could have just dumpedhim is something I cannot understand. Granted, he was non-neutered when I found him, and definitely had that distinctive male cat, er, aroma...but he wasn't spraying yet, thanks be.

So I took him to be neutered and get his shots, and after he acclimated a bit to being inside again, I tried introducing him to the Herd.

Think of a 13-year-old boy in the first grip of hormones, turned loose in a sedate country club, and you'll have a vague idea of what happened. Li'l Guy wasn't mean or vicious - but he was, well, very adolescent. And he wanted to play, and didn't know how - he'd never been adequately socialized with other cats.

So he leaped out at the others from behind doors, pounced on them with teeth and claws as if they were squeaky toys....well, they did squeak in surprise, before they hissed and swatted....! The country club was quickly turning into a Wild West barroom!

That was when I called animal communicator Terri Diener, who's helped me out in previous tough situations.

By the time we concluded our conversation, she had facilitated conversations with Li'l Guy (who preferred the name Sebastian rather than his obviously temporary moniker) and each of the other cats in the Herd.

Much to my relief, the other cats' hissing wasn't actively hostile (I'd sensed this, as the altercations were brief, if vehement) but was meant to put Li'l--er, Sebastian in his place and teach him his manners. And as I thought, he wasn't trying to be mean or bullying, but was unschooled and rather overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the Herd. Terri suggested that another cat be asked to volunteer to serve as...well, basically as Sebastian's drill sergeant, showing him the ropes and teaching him the rules. Junioragreed, Sebastian agreed to work with him, and...well, it's a work in process.

Have I recommended the Comfort Zone diffuser with Feliway before? It's a lifesaver - with this tool, Sebastian is mellowing and Junior is mellower. It's taking a while, but there is hope!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Keep the Holidays Happy for Kitty

(with thanks to Pawprints & Purrs for inspiration and information)

While we're all doing our feasting and reveling in the holiday cheer, we can make it a great occasion for Kitty as well....or it can be a time of deadly dangers. Before you start firing up the stove, unbagging the goodies, or decorating the house, take a look at these precautions and keep Kitty happy and bright in the season of light!

Food and Drink

* It may seem cute if Kitty laps at your eggnog or other alcoholic drinks - but the effects are toxic and potentially deadly. Ditto with cookies (chocolate again!), fruitcake, plum pudding, and other holiday treats. If you want to offer special treats, make sure they're designed for cats!

* Keep shiny wrapped candies - especially chocolate - out of reach. The wrapping can cut a cat's digestive tract if it is swallowed, and the chocolate itself is poisonous to cats.

* When the kitchen is going at full tilt, with delectable smells coming from every burner, any self-respecting cat is going to come and check it out…and get underfoot. Close the kitchen door if you can, or keep Kitty in another room away from hot liquids and heavy pans.


* Don't leave lit candles burning unattended - this is such an obvious point, but those dancing flames in a darkened room are just sooo attractive! Protect your pet from serious burns and your house from a devastating fire by keeping Kitty and candles strictly separated.

* Ever seen a cat and a tree? They go together like...well, firefighters and ladders. To keep your tree vertical, run a cord around its midpoint from two bolts in the wall (if you can). Keep the tree undecorated for several days before you start hanging ornaments, so Kitty has a chance to get acquainted with it.

* All those gorgeous glass ornaments - hate to say this, but it's time to give a whole new meaning to "upwardly mobile." Keep the fragile, glistening, breakable things at the top of the tree, out of Kitty's sight and reach, or else hang them as suncatchers in the upper panes of your windows. Fill up the empty space with unbreakable ornaments of wood, resin, or metal on the lower branches. Shards on the floor, wounded kitty feet, or (worse) internal bleeding, can turn a holiday in to a nightmare.

* Metal ornament hooks are irresistible toys – and can cut a cat’s mouth nastily if caught. Instead, use fabric ribbon or bias tape (not curling or Mylar ribbon), binders’ twine or thick raffia to slip easily over the branches of the tree.

* If your twinkly-light collection adds up to spaghetti behind the tree, tame the chaos with a cord catcher (or make one out of a piece of PVC pipe, with a slit down the side for easy threading). Cords can be as tempting as the strings that Kitty loves to chase!

* Be especially careful of bubbling lights - they use methylene chloride, which can be lethally toxic.

* A white Christmas is a beautiful thing, but when you start recreating it indoors with chemical substitutes, you put Kitty at risk. Angelhair or spun glass can irritate Kitty’s eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract. Artifical snow and snow flock is toxic if ingested. Tinsel isn't toxic, but it can choke your cat or obstruct the intestines, so it’s equally dangerous.

* Those beautiful fireplace colors that you love to watch on a cold evening? If you’re using fire salts, keep Kitty well away from them – they can cause gastrointestinal irritation with vomiting and other symptoms, including convulsions.

* A number of Christmas season plants are poisonous to cats if nibbled or eaten. For a complete listing of toxic plants, click here and for a listing of non-toxic plants, click here. If you must have toxic plants, put them up high and make sure that Kitty can’t reach them by jumping!

Gifts and Giftwrap

* Kitty isn’t a gift (or shouldn’t be – see the next section for the reasons why!)…so don’t dress her up with a neck ribbon for the holidays. The ribbon can be accidentally tightened and cause choking or strangulation, or worse, get caught on an object in mid-romp and break your pet’s neck.

* Ribbons and bows aren’t good for Kitty to chew, either – they can cause deadly obstructions or cut the digestive tract with their sharp edges. Tell Santa to leave the fancy stuff off the boxes under the tree on Christmas Eve - they'll stack better that way, anyway!

General Safety and Health

* You may love New Year’s fireworks, but they can be scary and dangerous to pets – both the noise and the explosives (if you’re setting off your own). Keep your pets indoors during the display – it’s safer and less nervewracking for them and for you!

*Choosing a pet is a deeply personal lifetime commitment that involves connection between the adopter and adoptee, and a delicate period of getting acquainted. Even if you know a loved one wants an animal, do not choose one for him or her as a holiday gift…for a number of reasons. Not only do you not know whether the pet will bond well with your loved one, but being uprooted from one environment and transplanted to another can be very traumatic, especially to an older pet. Now imagine this trauma compounded by the noise and excitement of an average holiday! Where the new family member needs a quiet place to adjust, there is likely to be uproar, loud voices, and confusion…a recipe for terror! Instead, set your loved one up with pet food, supplies and accessories. Then, after the holidays are over, your loved one can select and bond with the perfect pet in a quiet environment.

Monday, October 22, 2007

It's Kitten Season!

This is a public service announcement...

We are right in the middle of "Kitten Season" when every rescue organization and shelter is overrun with adorable bundles of fur.

Because of this overwhelm, many shelters can only keep the kittens for a very few days before putting them to sleep. So, at this time of year, taking feral cats or kittens to a shelter can be a virtual certain death sentence. Dedicated foster caregivers are worth their weight in gold.

It's particularly tough for adult feral cats who have not been most cases, they are considered "unadoptable" and put to sleep immediately because there simply aren't the resources to hold them safely, much less domesticate them!

Are there alternatives? Yes.

If you have been adopted by a momma cat and her babies, and you want a no-kill solution - or if you've fallen in love with them and want to care for them yourself (you wonderful person!)- check this great Squidoo resource lens for a wealth of advice and resources:

How To Save Feral Cats and Stop Overpopulation With TNR

The author, Frankie Kangas, is a good friend and a veteran foster caregiver with years of experience in trapping and caring for feral cats. She's an expert resource worth checking out!
For two great FAQs on helping feral cats in your area, see The Humane Society of the US or (for in-depth info) Alleycat Allies
For Feral Cat events in your area, check out the Alleycat Allies calendar.
For advice on protecting your feral colony against a disaster, see

My Zimbio
KudoSurf Me!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rumpleteazer & the Squirt Bottle of God

We all know the mischief cats can get into...scratching the furniture... spraying...jumping up on the kitchen counter while you're making dinner...swiping a porkchop off the buffet...hanging off the birdcage...terrorizing the hamster...chowing down on your I need to go on?

These cat behavior problems are part of what makes being an ailurophile such an adventure...but sometimes we all wish that it weren't quite such an adventure!

You've adjusted your lifestyle to eliminate temptations...your plants give a whole new meaning to "upwardly mobile," dinner stays covered and under close guard until the moment your family's forks and knives go into action...but Rumpleteazer is nothing if not creative!

The question is, when you catch Rump in the act, what can you do about it?

Perhaps you've tried clapping your hands suddenly, or exclaiming "Scoot-scoot-scoot" or "NO!" Or maybe you've tried repellent sprays or sticky tape, and found that Rump's determination was even stickier.

What now?

Now is the time for the "Deus ex machina" - the "god out of a machine" - or more precisely, out of a squirt bottle!

Yes - just a simple squirt bottle, the kind you'd use to spritz your hair or mist your plants. Keep it full of water and easily reachable wherever Rump usually gets into trouble(you may want to get more than one). And when he goes into action, give him a squirt.

The thing is - don't let him know you did it! Cats are very observant and intelligent, and they remember what you do to them. If your cat associates you with the squirt bottle, the lesson that "Bad things happen when I do this" turns into "My devoted servant squirts me when I do this." Instead of changing behavior, you'll wind up with a mistrustful, skittish cat...not the goal!

How can you do this, you may be asking...from behind your back, maybe, or under the tablecloth? And what happens when you're not there to squirt him? Well - there is a product called SSSCAT Spray that can do it for you, day or night, whether you're present or not, using a motion sensor to see when Rump is cruising for trouble. Ssscat Spray loudly directs a harmless, nontoxic spray into the air toward Rump. He's caught and stopped in the act and never associates the noise or the spray with you at all.

There's another side to this, also: effective, long-term behavior modification doesn't just involve positive punishment and negative punishment (what you did when you put the plants out of reach), but it also involves positive reinforcement.

Rita Bruche of Vivace Cattery in Sheidow Park, South Australia, writes in her article Pavlov's Cats - Beyond the spray bottle: Behaviour Modification principles for cat owners on We may unwittingly reinforce problem behaviour by lavishing attention after the behaviour, and ignore the cat when it is behaving well, because the good behaviour is unobtrusive. Therefore reinforcing good behaviour is extremely important. If our Aby kitten jumps on the birdcage, he will get a squirt. However, when he sits on the chair in the room with the bird, and pays it little or no attention, he has earned a reward. Shaping this behaviour is very useful. It may be that an Aby kitten cannot be expected to ignore the bird for an hour, so there is no chance of rewarding him. He should then be rewarded for staying put for, say, one minute, then five, then 15, and gradually increase the amount of time he needs to demonstrate the good behaviour.

Does this sound like a lot? Well, think of the time and closeness you'd share with your cat in doing this - resulting in a happy, well-behaved feline companion! That's a payoff worth the investment, I'd say!

My Zimbio
KudoSurf Me!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Help! My Furniture's Being Shredded!

How often have I heard people sigh - "You can have great furniture or you can have cats - you can't have both!"

Sadly, many cats are declawed - or abandoned - for just this reason!

But it's true, isn't it? With the way cats scratch, you surely can't have both great furniture and cats with claws...can you?

Of course you can! It just takes a little strategic thinking, that's all.

First of all, it's important to understand why cats scratch. According to the Humane Society's article on Destructive Scratching, there are a number of reasons why cats may rake their claws over your furniture:

* To remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
* To mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent-they have scent glands on their paws.
* To stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.
* To work off energy.

So the next question is - if this is normal behavior for your cat, and it feels soooo good to do it, how can you redirect it away from your furniture and carpets?

First of all, give your cat irresistible things that s/he will love to scratch, and place them next to the items you don't want scratched. The HSUS offers a checklist for you to identify your cat's scratching habits:

* Where are they located?
* What texture do they have-are they soft or coarse?
* What shape do they have-are they horizontal or vertical?
* How tall are they? How high does your cat scratch?

When you have your data, look for scratching substitutes that resemble your cat's favorite targets. Put them nearby, so that when your cat's tempted to claw, a better option is handy. Then - make those better options irresistible!

To compel your cat to dig in, mist the new scratching items with catnip oil. Just don't get any oil on the furniture you're protecting!

If your cat(s)really love to scratch, get lots of scratching toys, mist them well with catnip, and scatter them through the house. You might also spray nontoxic repellent mist on your furniture.

My Zimbio
KudoSurf Me!

When Your Cat Has "Accidents"

Cats are normally very fastidious, and house-training is rarely a major issue. But every so often, you'll come upon the exception, when your cats' urinating outside the box becomes a major behavior problem!

Cats may not use their litterboxes for many reasons - physical, emotional, social, or environmental. It is possible to find the reason and solve this problem - don't let this be the end of a beautiful relationship!

Holly Nash, DVM, MS, in her article Urinating Outside of the Litter Box on Pet, lists possible causes:

~ Medical conditions such as colitis, IBS, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney or liver disease, or feline urinary tract disease. If the solutions below don't help, or if your cat seems to have pain while eliminating, go to your vet ASAP!

~ Stress - Have you moved? Brought in a new pet? Changed your routine? Is the family in crisis? Cats are incredibly sensitive to changes in their environment. If you or your household are in a transition, you can make it easier for your cat with pheromone-based stress-buster sprays like Comfort Zone or Feliway.

~ Litterbox location - Cats (like people) like to be private and undisturbed while doing their business. Some like to urinate in one box and defecate in another. You should have one box per cat, plus one extra, with boxes on every floor of your house.

~ Type of litter - Would you rather have sand or gravel between your toes? Cats have very individual preferences on the type, scent and depth of litter they like.

~ Cleanliness - A cat's sense of smell is 10 times stronger than ours, and you know how strong cat wastes can smell! Keeping litterboxes clean can help prevent "protest" elimination.

Also, cats that are physically too big for their litterbox sometimes wind up doing their business over the edge. Faced with this situation, I cut an entry hole in a large, heavy-duty plastic filing box, and my mega-cats are happily using it with few to no accidents!

For more solutions, see your vet, and check my bookshelf for other experts' advice!

My Zimbio
KudoSurf Me!

New Address, Same Mission!

Well, it was a wrench to leave the cozy lens on Squidoo for a new home...and welcome to the Cat Herder's new digs! Though the address has changed, the goal hasn' offer solutions for your cat behavior problems from cat doctors, cat rescuers and fosterers, animal behaviorists and animal communicators.

I'll be doing exclusive interviews with these experts, and combing the Web for the best snippets of advice from the most authoritative sources....and adding a few tips from my own years of cat-herding along the way.

Why am I doing this? Pretty simple, really. My cat-loving friends and I have seen far too many wonderful cats abandoned to shelters -- or worse, left out in the wild to fend for themselves -- because their caregivers didn't know where to turn for answers to their cat behavior problems. What can I do in helping to prevent this? Well - I can start by gathering all the resources and references I can find to give better alternatives!

One resource that I've built up over the years is my library...for a peek at the treasures it contains, you can visit my online bookshelf...

So - welcome! Please don't hesitate to add your comments, insights, experiences, thoughts and suggestions!


My Zimbio
KudoSurf Me!