Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cat Behaviour 101

I recently adopted a kitten to keep my older cat company, and after some hissing and yowling, it quickly became clear that I would need to consult some cat experts about ways to help my two cats become buddies—or at least to learn to tolerate each other. Here are some books that helped me out.

If you’re new to cat guardianship, try a general guide to cat behavior like
Complete Cat Care: how to keep your cat healthy and happy, edited by Sam Atkinson. This handbook, which has lots of pictures, features advice on everything from picking a cat to fit your lifestyle to caring for older cats. The book has lots of information on cat health in particular.

My favourite “cat whisperer,” though, is Jackson Galaxy from the Animal Planet program My Cat From Hell. Galaxy is a big man covered with tattoos who carries around a guitar case…filled with cat toys and treats! But while he may look really tough, he’s a softie when it comes to helping stressed out cats and their guardians, which he manages by trying to see the world from the cat’s perspective. Watching that show, I was amazed at how making little modifications in a household could lead to big behaviour changes in the cat. For example, simply adding more vertical space for a cat (say, a few shelves or a bookcase) can work wonders toward calming them down by giving them space to decompress.

Jackson Galaxy uses examples from his show in his two books that are really helping me with my kitties:

In his book with coauthor Joel Derfner, Cat Daddy: what the world's most incorrigible cat taught me about life, love, and coming clean, Galaxy describes how his relationship with his injured rescue cat Benny helped him to overcome the numbness of addiction and to lead a more emotionally fulfilling life as a cat behaviourist. Amongst Galaxy and Benny’s story are helpful tips and instructions for helping troubled cats and gaining “cat mojo.”

Galaxy’s newest book with Kate Benjamin (from the website hauspanther.com) is full of design tips for “catifying” your living space so that it is fun for your cat but still looks good. Catification: designing a happy and stylish home for your cat (and you!) has lots of full-colour photos of projects ranging from simple do-it-yourself designs (like putting out a birdfeeder near the window) to more elaborate ones (such as building a custom cat tree). I’ll be using this to get some ideas on making my apartment more cat-friendly—ideas like having a “cat super-highway” have helped me to see the world from my cats’ perspective.

For another book by an experienced cat behavioural specialist, check out The Cat Whisperer: why cats do what they do—and how to get them to do what you want by Mieshelle Nagelschneider. Founder of the Cat Behavior Clinic, Nagelschneider tackles common cat problems and solutions, and like Galaxy, she often concludes that the behaviour that needs changing is often the human’s instead of the cat’s. One piece of advice that I’ve found especially helpful is to try not to get impatient or rush when introducing your cat to something new in their environment (another cat, a new home, a new baby, etc.), and to start with scent mixing before face-to-face introductions.

Finally, for a humourous book on cat care, try Cats Behaving Badly: why cats do the naughty things they do, by British author Celia Haddon. She draws on her 20 years of experience writing a pet advice column in the Daily Telegraph newspaper to produce this entertaining book about living with cats, including cat psychology and various strategies to help with behaviour problems. I liked the emphasis she put on the fact that “cats are not dogs,” but many cat guardians still treat them like dogs and expect dog-like behaviour from their cats.

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