As a fellow cat lover, I know you support any opportunity to prevent cats from being returned to shelters and help ensure happy adoptions. Whether you are looking to get a new cat or just love your kitty, Arm & Hammer and world-renowned cat whisperer and Harvard trained animal behaviourist Mieshelle Nagelschneider have partnered to provide cat owners with tips and tricks to ensure that your new housemates are kept happy, healthy and out of a shelter.
As you know bringing a feline friend home is an exciting time for everyone, but getting used to a new housemate can take some time. Unfortunately, each year millions of cats are surrendered to already-overflowing shelters due to behavioural issues that are easily solved.
With a novel dedicated to understanding your cats, The Cat Whisperer, Mieshelle provides several tips that can take your cat from misbehavin’ to cool, calm and collected. Mieshelle can not only speak to new cat owners but also to you on how to help your cat feel like a family member, if they don’t already!
My schedule was a little too full to meet Mieshelle for an interview to talk about all things cats, from myths to training; however, I did get to email a question:
1. How can I make my cat, Jasper, stop scratching on the drywall (thus ripping it) in order to be let out?
“Whatever you do, don’t give in to his demands! You are essentially training him to scratch the drywall to be let out. I would focus on letting him out when he isn’t asking to be let out. You could also place a cat scratcher in that area and reward him when he scratches on that cat scratcher. Add some catnip to it to make it more enticing. You can also place double sided sticky tape on the drywall to make it a negative place to scratch. Focus on only letting him out when he performs good behaviour (i.e. not meowing or clawing behaviour on the wall).”
Note: Answer is credit to Mieshelle as Mieshelle Nagelschneider Cat Behaviourist at www.thecatbehaviorclinic.com and Arm & Hammer Cat Litter spokesperson. She is the author of The Cat Whisperer.
Mieshelle Nagelschneider,Cat Behaviourist and ARM & HAMMER® Cat Litter Spokesperson
As the festive season nears, kids across the country are adding “kitten” to their holiday wishlist. Unfortunately, not every pet adoption is successful, and the number one reason cat adoption fails is litter box issues – namely, Fluffy or Mittens habitually going someplace other than their box. These “issues” can be solved with simple adjustments. ARM & HAMMER® Cat Litter has partnered with Mieshelle Nagelschneider, cat behaviourist and author of The Cat Whisperer to promote successful pet adoptions for all Canadians.
Tips for a successful adoption
Create a sanctuary room for your cat with two litter boxes, food, water, perching and resting areas, hiding spaces, and toys to allow your new pet to get used to his surroundings gradually
Scoop litter boxes at least once a day to keep them clean and encourage use
Place the food on the opposite wall from the litter boxes to promote good litter box usage. Cats naturally like to keep latrine sites separate from eating areas
Cats prefer uncovered boxes because of their survival instincts – a good escape route is key
It’s fine to let the cats use each other’s litter boxes. As part of their instincts, cats will time-share latrine sites with other cats out in nature
Mieshelle is the author of the cat-behaviour book The Cat Whisperer. Studying cat behaviour for over two decades (including her most recent study of cat behavior at Harvard University) has enabled her to offer cat owners what they haven’t previously been able to find — behaviour advice that is relevant, fresh, and effective.
In partnership with the OSPCA
On the weekend of November 23, 2013, Mieshelle will partner with ARM & HAMMER Cat Litter and the Ontario SPCA to promote successful cat adoptions across Ontario. When you adopt a cat, you save two lives; your new cat’s and the other cat who will get a second chance because of the space you’ve freed at the shelter.
This is a picture of Dean, a cat available with his best friend Sam from the Provincial Education & Animal Centre (PEAC) in Newmarket – he looks so regal and happy!
Tips for bringing home an adopted cat:
Set up a sanctuary room before bringing your new cat home. This can be an extra bedroom with a door that closes, keeping your new cat from the rest of the house and other animals until she becomes adjusted to her new surroundings.
Cat-proof the sanctuary room. Be sure to block off small spaces where the cat could hide and get stuck. Make sure there are no electrical cords that could be chewed on or dangly curtain cords where the cat could get tangled.
Consider using calming feline pheromones. These have been shown to relax cats in times of stress.
In your cat’s sanctuary room include 2 litter boxes, food, water, perching and resting areas, hiding spaces, and toys. Scoop the litter boxes at least once a day.
Cats can see well in low light, but not in absolute darkness. Provide a night light near the litter box area if there is no existing ambient light.
Place the food on the opposite wall from the litter boxes to promote good litter box usage. Cats like to keep latrine sites separate from eating areas.
Cats prefer uncovered boxes because of their survival instincts. A good escape potential is vital should a predator or competitor cat enter the room. In a cat’s mind, they could become easily trapped in a covered box.
To encourage water consumption, separate the water bowl from the food bowl or your cat will think his water is contaminated with bacteria from his “dead prey” (AKA his store bought food).
Spend time with your new cat in her sanctuary room (at least a few hours each day). If she isn’t ready to be held or pet, be patient and move at her pace. She’ll also need some time alone, so be sure to give her privacy too.
Initiate a play time with your cat each day to help her feel relaxed and confident. Wand or fishing pole type toys work very well.
When your cat feels comfortable, let him explore the rest of the home. If you have other animals, secure them in another part of the home while the new cat explores. Be sure to keep the sanctuary door open so she can return whenever she feels like it.
If you have another resident cat, then a gradual introduction of the new cat must be done in a non-confrontational way. This takes time and patience. Before the cats actually see each another, let them explore the other cat’s territory. This will help them get used to other cat’s scent while also spreading their own scent.
It’s fine to let the cats use each other’s litter boxes. As part of their wild cat instincts, cats
will time-share latrine sites with other cats out in nature.
Before physically introducing your new cat (or kitten) to the rest of the cat household, be sure to create a group scent on each cat. This is the social glue that will help cats feel affiliated and relaxed around one another instead of hostile and threatened.
When physically introducing the cats to one another, go slowly. Start them out far apart and give them a reason to like each other using positive associations like food and play time (separately with their own wand toys). End each together session on a positive note. Don’t wait until one of the cats become fearful.
Once the cats are fully integrated, create a land of plenty with all of their important resources to eliminate social tension. Food, water, litter boxes, perching and resting areas, and cat toys should be in multiple areas around the home. Think upstairs and downstairs, or North, East, South, West when spreading out these cat resources. This will decrease territorial thinking and help avoid tension and hostility between cats. Locating litter boxes throughout the home can help prevent litter box issues.
Creating the Social Glue in a Multi-cat Household
Your cat relies on scent to communicate with other cats and to better understand and navigate her environment. Her nose not only leads her to food, but it also warns her of predators, making it one of the most vital survival tools she has.
Cats who share multi-cat households often create a group scent (meaning the cats begin to smell like one another) by rubbing up against each other, grooming, or napping together. This group scent allows the cats to bond with less territorial aggression and co-exist in a more peaceful and friendly home.
Conversely, multi-cat homes without an established group scent are breeding grounds for turmoil and aggression, ultimately squelching any hope for a smooth-running and stress-free environment. In a worst case scenario, cats who don’t feel like part of the same group will lash out in varying degrees of hostility, tension, and violence. At best, cats that lack an established group scent will merely avoid each other and keep their distance, never bonding.
Many feral colonies and multi-cat households are lucky to have what cat behaviourists have dubbed the “social facilitator” cat. This cat routinely carries each individual cat’s scent to the rest by systematically grooming and rubbing up against each cat. The social facilitator single-handedly creates the group scent and is responsible for aiding positive social behavior between cats. Unfortunately, if the social facilitator is removed, due to re-homing, death, illness, etc., the critical group scent will be lost and you will notice tension and fighting between formerly amicable cats.
Cat owners sometimes act as social facilitators without even knowing it by using the same brush to groom all of the cats in a household. This is a great way to create the social glue in your multi-cat household, as long as your cats enjoy being brushed and will remain calm when sniffing a brush that smells like another cat. It’s easy to do, and only takes a few minutes per day.
Before brushing, let your cat smell the brush that contains the opposing cat’s scent and pay close attention to her response. Don’t brush her if you are met with any sort of negative response, such as hissing, growling, or pulling away. If she responds negatively, pair the scented brush with treats or wet food to create a positive association with the scent. You may need to do this for several days before she has no negative response. You may proceed with brushing once her response is positive or neutral. To keep things positive (once you have already gotten a non-distracted positive or neutral response), try brushing her while she is eating food or distracted by toys.
Brush your cats on the head, neck, shoulders, and sides along the rib cage, as these are the areas they would groom and rub up against each other if they were creating the group scent themselves. For this technique, avoid areas that contain less friendly scents, such as the back legs and tail. Brush each cat 2 – 3 times per day, for only 4-10 strokes for each cat per session, rotating the brushing order of cats each time for maximum scent dispersal.
In my career as a cat behaviorist, I have seen hundreds of cases in which formally un-bonded cats eventually begin to groom and rub up against each other (as opposed to fighting or ignoring each other) after a group scent is created. If your cats aren’t taking the initiative to create their own group scent, don’t hesitate to step in and help the process along. By becoming the facilitator (a courier and diplomat of the cat world), you can create the group scent and ease your home into a happier and healthier environment for yourself and your cats.
Litter Box Issues
There is no doubt that it is frustrating when your cat takes to urinating outside of her litter box, not to mention destructive. You may find yourself questioning what you have done to make her soil your favourite pair of shoes. Despite how it may seem though, cats are not spiteful creatures. Assuming your cat is healthy, she is simply behaving like she would in nature and communicating to you that something in her environment isn’t right.
Each year, millions of cats are surrendered to already-overflowing shelters due to litter box issues. Ironically, with a bit of patience and care, litter box problems are some of the easiest to solve. As cat owners, we tend to place litter boxes in locations that are most convenient to our own lifestyles. This becomes a problem when our convenience relegates litter boxes to basements, closets, and other dark or unwelcoming locations. To raise healthy, happy, box-abiding cats, we must learn to see the world through their eyes and create environments that fall in line with their natural instincts.
It’s imperative to make your cat’s litter box as alluring as possible. First, be sure that you are providing enough litter boxes. In multi-cat households, I recommend at least one more box than the number of cats in your home. The boxes should be placed in locations that are both easy to find and easy to access. Your cat should be able to spot the litter box immediately when entering the room, and not feel cornered or threatened when using it (by other animals in the home, children, loud noises, etc.). Covered litter boxes are preferred by many cat owners, but can cause problems in multi-cat households. By keeping the box uncovered, you give your cat several ways to escape if she feels threatened, making it less likely that she will urinate where she feels safer (under the dining room table, for instance). Keep the boxes tidy by scooping at least once per day.
It’s not uncommon for my clients to say “But they were fine with all of the litter boxes in the laundry room until recently. What happened?” Social maturity happened. Cats enter social maturity between the ages of two and four. At this point, they begin to look at their environments through a territorial lens. In a multi-cat household, this is when cats will begin to structure their flexible social hierarchy and begin to work out time sharing arrangements with shared resources such as food, water, perching areas, and litter boxes.
Many cat owners group all of the litter boxes in one room. This practice, though common, causes territorial thinking and can lead to tension and fighting in multi-cat households. To make the boxes as alluring and accessible as possible (and eliminating your cat’s desire to create a new one elsewhere), place the litter boxes in several different locations throughout your home. Think upstairs, downstairs, and on each end. Simply creating an environment that allows your cats to easily and safely time share these important resources will ease tension and put an end to litter box problems.