Friday, May 10, 2013

Cat Basics 101. AKA: Play Time Wren Style

Wren playing with me.
She never bites but she tells me that she loves to play by grabbing my hand and holding it.
She also loves to give lots of kisses!

It takes a modicum of courage to admit to favoring cats over dogs. I have stated so much in past blog posts, (but I am certainly very careful to not wear it on my lab coat while in appointments with clients, perhaps I am not courageous at all?, especially when my dog patients outnumber my cat patients by about 6 to 1).

I have clients secretly admit to me often that "they never really thought that they liked a cat until they got one." I know their subtle, soft, acknowledgement is only done to me and only because we are already behind closed doors. It is also usually admitted by one spouse about the other when they are not present. Why is it so embarrassing to like cats? Why does society regard them as so substandard to the canine? Truly I don't understand, and obviously I don't agree.

I admit (freely and publicly now) that I like cats better than dogs, (but please don't tell my dogs).

Here's why; because they are a smart, adaptable, cunning, skilled, independent, survivors. I admire these qualities in any creature. I especially like cats because you earn their affection. You can't buy it, demand it, negotiate it, or coerce it. A cat will only love you if you are kind, patient, gentle, and consistent about all of them.

Wren and Oriole. The very best buddies.

OK, here I go treading into hot water. My husband (who is both 1. not a cat person before meeting me, and 2. never had a cat before meeting me), thought that he too preferred dogs over cats, (full disclosure he likely does still like the dogs better than the cats), lacks patience and consistency with our cats. He thinks that wrestling, chasing, and holding them with restraint until they succumb and accept is all perfectly appropriate cat training. He has yet to comprehend the subtle differences between "dog" and "cat" training.

My point of this blog is to offer my advice for having cats that are just as interactive and compatible as dogs, although the methods to 'training' them are very different.

Magpie, in the middle of her TP play party. 

Here's how and why;

We teach a dog obedience for their safety and for our assigned purpose for them. Whether that be a guard dog, companion dog, assistance dog, guide dog, house dog, or buddy. A cat intuitively has learned all of the survival and house breaking skills without much, if any, effort on our parts. What cats and dogs both learn differently from us is to trust. A dog will learn to obey you with both positive and negative reinforcement. A cat, well, you have to be gentle all the time every time. They have to want to do anything and everything you ask of them. Forcing them to stay on your lap, or any other silly trick a dog will do for a reward is futile.

Alright, I do have one small exception to this. A cat that is not used to you, or used to affection, needs to learn that trusting someone is OK. This is trusting someone when they have never had anyone, OR, if the someone they had was abusive to them. We have a husband and wife client at the clinic who adopted a somewhat feral cat from us about 4 years ago. She was handle-able, but fearful. She would cower as you approached her, but never run, and when you picked her up she would hunker down as if hoping to become invisible because she was scared. Once you held her for a little while she surrendered and would even emit the tiniest beginnings of a purr. I knew that they would provide her a safe place to learn that people can be nice and trusted. The problem was that they are so gentle and kind that they think she is too afraid to be picked up so they never force her, and hence she is just as, (likely more so) afraid than ever.

At our house I have trained the dogs to understand that they must always submit to the cats. I do this because the cats will likely always stand their ground if they feel threatened and the dogs can inflict more harm. A cat will only fight if it feels threatened. They (in almost all cases) will avoid conflict at all costs. They will usually not defend turf, food, or possessions. A dog will do so with teeth and intent to harm. So at every interaction the dogs stop, sit, and wait for the cats to decide what they want to do. On the stairs the dogs sit and wait, at a doorway, if they are eating and a cat approaches they have to stop eating and wait. The cats also have a place that is just theirs. They have their own room that is baby gated off so that only they can fit in. If they ever want to get some dog-free time they have their room. Their cat food and litter boxes are in there too. No dogs allowed in the cat space. Having a safe, quiet, and secluded place just for themselves has kept everyone stress free, and the cat food available for the cats.

Wren getting ready to "ATTACK!"

The cats are with us almost as much as the dogs are. At any given moment there is a dog, or two, and a cat, or three, with us. We go on walks together every one all together and no man gets left behind. The cats are as well trained as the dogs are. We keep the dogs and cats with us. They are all only allowed outside under supervision and they all come when called. For those of you that don't live far out in the country there are leashes and harnesses available for cats, so that you to can take them for a walk, just like your dog.

Exercise and mental stimuli are incredibly important in keeping your pets happy and healthy. Going for walks, setting up window seats with views of the outdoors (better yet of birds at bird feeders), or using toys can keep your cats minds active and from destroying or damaging your home or furniture.

One secret to cat training: is to acknowledge the cats at every single interaction. Every morning I say "hello" to them, I spend time with each of them, and I never walk by them without a pat, a snuggle, and a kind word. The hope is that they will always feel safe and welcomed and trust me.

Here is a summary for Basic Cat Care 101;

  • Always be kind to them. Never Ever Scold. This only teaches them to be afraid of you. They will never understand reprimand, fear, or anger.
  • Keep food and water available at all times. Clean bowls and dishes everyday. Use stainless steel or ceramic, no plastic.
  • Here's the rule for litter boxes. Two litter boxes for the first cat, and then one additional per cat.
  • Good veterinary care is paramount. Yearly examinations, fecal checks, and if advised blood and urine to monitor for diseases.
  • Toys. Cats love toys. the furry ones, the catnip ones, balls, etc. A pile of toys is a source of play, exercise, and allows them to display their natural hunt and catch instincts.
  • Keep litter boxes clean and try to avoid perfumed dusty litter. (Cats like dirt, so the closer your litter is to dirt the more they will want to use it).
  • Cats are curious critters. Offer boxes to play in, walls or cat trees to climb, or anything they can hide, sleep, or play in. No string, ribbon, or elastic bands please..can cause obstructions if swallowed.
  • Cats love to nap. An assortment of beds, some high, some low, some big, some small, some they can get into, etc. will keep them rested and healthy.
  • Check eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, nails, and coat daily. Any questions ask your vet. Many older cats have nails that grow into their feet because they don't shed them normally. Dental disease. Almost all cats over 6 have dental disease. Routine cleanings are one of the best ways to maintain whole body health.
  • Microchips. A cat without a microchip is at the mercy of the world. If your cat ever gets lost (a house fire, a robber breaks into your house, etc)  that microchip is the best chance they have of finding you again   
  • I love fountains. I use a ceramic water fountain. It is especially helpful with older cats to encourage water intake. Many older cats have kidney impairment and diuresis of the kidneys helps them last longer.
  • A happy, healthy cat is a good weight (free feeding of dry food is problematic for some indoor cats), has a beautiful coat (the best way is lots and lots of petting, brushing and a clean parasite free environment), and is not afraid and interacts with family and others.
  • A cat that cries, tears apart furniture, doesn't use the litter box, or acts irrationally needs help and/or a medical intervention. Your pet will always tell you that they need something you just need to be listening. They never do anything for spite, anger, or revenge.

Every time you see your pet acknowledge them. Say "hello" tell them "how much you love them" and give affection freely, openly, and incessantly.

Isn't that what we all want?

If you have any pet questions you can reach me at Pawbly is all pets all the time. We are here to help you at anytime 24/7 for free!

No comments:

Post a Comment