- A NEW WAY OF THINKING ABOUT CATS
- HOW TO SELECT A CAT OR KITTEN
- HOW TO INTRODUCE A FELINE TO THE HOME
It has long been thought that cats are independent and therefore un trainable. There are some people who think that cats are sneaky and untrustworthy. Actually, they are neither! They are just cats acting like cats.
Cats are intelligent, sensitive animals that are completely dependent on their human caregivers. These qualities make them very trainable. In fact, cats have been trained to do certain "tricks" in television commercials and movies. Cats are trained to help the hearing impaired by responding to smoke alarms, doorbells, and telephones. I know of a blind person who is using a cat as a guide in her home. The cat meows a warning just before the person is about to bump into something. Cats can even be taught to use the toilet. Now, if we could only get them to flush it!
The catís popularity in the United States has now surpassed that of dogs. There are good reasons for this. They are good friends and companions. They feel good to the touch, greet us upon arriving, and demand a minimum of attention. Working people find cats easier to leave at home because, when left alone, they exhibit fewer behavior problems than dogs.
A hallmark of feline behavior is independence and individuality. That is one reason we like cats. They are very much like us! Also, like us, they can be taught to behave according to our wishes. They have certain innate needs such as scratching, jumping onto high places, cleanliness of toilet, play and exercise, cuddling, and being included in conversations. As stewards of these pets, we must accept these needs and provide for their expression. It does not make sense to spank a cat for scratching the furniture. A cat needs to scratch. It is our responsibility, therefore, to provide an appropriate place to scratch and to take some time for kitty education.
Cats are creatures of territorial security. Changes in their environment result in behavior problems. For example, a cat that consistently uses her litter box may cease to do so while the house is being remodeled or painted. An outgoing cat may become shy and hide upon the introduction of a new pet or person to the home. Most problems caused by environmental changes are self-correcting after a time.
Many cat misbehavior problems are medically related. You must be prepared to consult a veterinarian if your cat suddenly stops using the litter box, runs and hides at the least little bit of confusion, appears sullen or without energy, or uncharacteristically becomes aggressive.
A catís character is largely a result of her breeding and early environmental experiences. A catís personality is partly reflective of ours. For example, if I have a quite, easy-going manner, my cat will too. If I am a rambunctious, busy, highly expressive person, my cat will reflect that behavior. Like children our cats are a reflection of ourselves. Many of the behavior problems we have with our cats are really within us. For example, to scold a cat for bringing a mouse into the house is really our own reaction to fear or revulsion. To the cat, it is a perfectly natural act. She is a predator. She feels most comfortable returning the prey to her den. Here, she can share it with us without worry of other predators taking it away.
As a guardian, protector and friend of an adopted cat, you need to accept and understand your catís needs. You must accept the responsibility of teaching your cat and realize that the majority of behavior problems are either medically related or the result of your own ineptness! We inadvertently teach a cat bad behavior. Why does a cat sit at the refrigerator and cry? She has learned that behavior because she is reinforced with food after the refrigerator is opened. Food is a good reinforcer of behavior.
The new way to think about cats is to eliminate all forms of punishment. Punishment in the form of hitting, screaming, or chasing increase a catís stress and will likely result in more misbehavior. Punishment after an act has occurred has no meaning to a cat. For example, greeting a cat upon entering the house by rubbing her nose in the mess we have just found teaches her to associate this punishment with our return rather than with the mess. Maybe this is why cats appear independent and aloof. They are afraid of what a human is capable of doing to them!
The new way to think about cats is to reward a cat for doing the right thing. Show a cat what to do, tell her what you want, take her to where you want her to be, and expect her to understand. Then, when the right behavior does occur, whether it is because you have encouraged it or whether the cat inadvertently did it, praise her by saying, "GOOD KITTY!" and follow this with a coveted food treat. The keys to training a cat are praise and reward. A bonding will occur with this method, and your cat will not misbehave because a special love and trust will have been established.
You must first decide whether or not you want a kitten or a cat. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. A kitten will adjust more easily to your life-style than will an adult cat. But, an adult cat will already have gone through that rambunctious, crazy period. It is easier to recognize the personality type, e.g., shy or outgoing, if the cat is half-grown or older. The most important consideration is whether or not the cat is healthy and psychologically undamaged.
What do you look for in a cat? Many white, blue-eyed cats are born deaf. Longhaired cats, for the most part, are calmer and more docile than shorthaired. Longhaired cats usually cause more allergies. We could go on and on. Whatever cat you select, you must first determine your own needs and level of commitment. A deaf cat, for example, will make an excellent pet but may take special training.
Whatever the breed, pure or mixed, any cat will be a good pet if you have been careful in your selection and are determined to teach her through praise and reward rather than through punishment.
It is best not to choose the runt of the litter. Too often, they do not get enough nourishment, having to fight brothers and sisters for a place at the lunch-counter. This sometimes results in health and behavior problems. Also, many runts are excessively aggressive, learned from fighting for their rightful place or, on the other hand, they can turn into shy adults.
Choose a cat or kitten that is healthy. Choose one that is weaned no earlier than eight weeks. Research shows that the longer a kitten stays with her mother, up to sixteen weeks, the more sociable she is with other cats.
Sociability is an important factor in selecting a cat or kitten. It is important for a kitten to be socialized to people. The caregiver, taking each kitten out of the litter on a regular basis and letting her be handled by a variety of humans, accomplishes this. At a very early age, a kitten should be socialized to dogs so that when she is an adult she will know what a dog is all about and will not be frightened by one.
If you are a person allergic to cats, select one with short hair and then spend time each week brushing and combing her. There are cat shampoos, which will render the catís hair allergy free. A daily rubdown with a towel soaked in distilled water will remove the dried saliva (dander) that causes allergies.
In testing a cat for her sociability to people, pick her up and see if she is content to let you hold her. If she struggles to get free, she may not be a good choice. Pick her up and put her next to your face. If she purrs spontaneously, she is contented to be with humans. Put her on the floor and see if she stays close and wants to be with you or if she runs away.
Plan on staying home with your new kitty for several days, helping her get over the stress of the visit to the veterinarian and the move from her previous home. Give her at least three weeks to adapt completely to her new environment. Keep her in the house during this three-week period and give her a chance to investigate and get used to the household routine.
Put approximately three inches of litter box filler in a plastic litter box and position it in a private place where there is little traffic. Clean the litter every day and completely change it every third day. If you plan to use one of the new powdered clay litter products, you filter out only the "lumps" each day. Gently place your kitty in the box, and do not punish her for having an occasional accident. Punishment increases stress and, in turn, increases the likelihood of your cat not using the litter box.
During the housebreaking period, feed your new kitty a dry kibbled food and water. The change in the kind of food, going from the previous home to the shelter, and then to your home, may cause bowel problems for a few days. Be patient, and do not feed her table scraps no matter how much she begs!
Provide play toys like ping pong balls, paper tied to the end of a string hanging from door handles, rubber balls, wands with ribbon on the end, and paper bags into which she can crawl. Also, make sure she has a place, preferably up high, to sit and look out the window during the daytime.
Most cats will want to sleep with you, which is fine. If you do not want this, place a soft bedding material in a warm place and dial the radio to an easy listening music station.
Teach your kitty to use a scratching post.
If your kitty is left for long periods of time by herself, adopt another kitty for companionship and exercise. Two cats are better than one.
To lengthen your catís life, get her neutered and keep her inside away from outside hazards like dogs, cars, and ticks.
Never physically punish your kitty by hitting or chasing her. Even screaming will produce a scared kitty that will run and hide when she sees you. If you want to teach her, catch her doing something right and reinforce the behavior with a scratch under her chin followed by "Good Kitty!"
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