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I have a confession to make.  I was not born a cat person.  When I was
young I thought cats hated me, because I would often leave a cat
encounter with a scratch or two.  Then a couple of things happened, I
met my husband, the cat whisperer,  from him I learned that there is a
right way and of course,  a wrong way to meet a cat.  The bloodshed
happily ended and my encounters with cats became enjoyable.  The
second thing that happened is that a very special cat,  a large orange
cat named Mr. Sebastian,  came into my life.  Like many other lessons
in my life,   an animal came along on my journey and broadened my
view of the world.  At some point along that journey I had an
epiphany, cats are not dogs!  I can just hear the cat people out there
saying, “duh,  and what else is new!”  But for many of the dog people
in the world, this is news.  So when I had the privilege of attending a
Behavioral Education Network Seminar on cat behavior,  I knew I had
share what I learned from Dr. Suzanne Hetts and Dr. Dan Estep with all
of you.

Ok, so in the old days many behaviorists thought cats were very similar
to dogs (that sure made me feel better),  but that has changed.  
Behaviorists now believe that cats are quite different, for one thing,
they do not have strict status roles (think alpha dog) and that there is
a lot of variation in how cats deal with each other and other animals.  I
love that idea, they are the free thinkers of the animal world.  For
example,  cats don’t really have a signal, that humans understand
anyway, that indicates submission.  In fact, if a cat is rolled over on its
back it may be simply getting its claws ready for use, as a weapon.  It
also appears that cats stay “aroused” longer than other animals and
they don’t easily make up after fights.  In other words, they kind of
hold a grudge.  Boy, do I ever see that!  They also experience a sort of
frustration,  if a cat sees something out a window that it finds
agitating, it may turn around and lash out at the nearest person or
living thing.  You may hear a cat owner saying that the cat attacked for
no reason, well, the cat had its own reasons,  something in its
environment made it really,  really angry!  The great part of all this is
that they are far more intelligent and complex than we ever imagined
(note how I am completely avoiding the cat vs dog intelligence

There are a few things every cat needs to be happy.  The first is space,  
I don’t necessarily mean square footage but they need places to go to
be alone and feel secure.  Secondly,  they do need something to do,
cats get bored.   Most of the activity that cats find rewarding involves
things that hone their predator skills,  but some is simply play.  Third,
cats are very sensitive to odors,  this of course becomes a serious issue
when for humans because it can determine whether or not a cat uses a
litter box.  They also need a place to leave their own scent,
behaviorists think that activities like shredding your couch is really
about leaving a scent mark than it is about sharpening claws.   We can
do a lot to shape a cats environment and make it a really happy place,
let’s explore some of these things below.

I think most people know that cats need their space,  before my big
epiphany I used to approach a new cat and “try to make friends”,  
what I was actually doing was totally invading the cats personal space.  
Have you ever wondered why cats seem to gravitate to the person
who is the least interested in making friends?  From the cats point of
view, that is the person who is allowing the cat to decide what the
interaction will be.   Some of my clients have heard my mantra that I
always interact with cats on the cats terms and time, not mine!  I have
learned to respect the cat.   Once they have a relationship with you or
another cat, they still need a place to get away from everyone; it is
actually stressful to a cat to have to constantly be in a social situation.  
That means that when you are creating a living space for cats, be sure
there are hiding places and that some those cat places are high.  
Vertical space is really important to cats too, especially if they are
sharing the home with other cats or dogs.

It seems that every time I read the latest research on a particular
species, the news is that they get bored,  we still seem to be stuck in
that 19th century idea that animals have nothing going on in their
brains.  Anyone who has lived with a cat is not surprised that cats get
bored too, they are really intelligent and in a wild state have to spend
lots of time and energy figuring out how to get food and how to stay
safe.  That drive is still hard wired in them.  So what are we to do,
luckily, pet product manufacturers are happy to provide options,  
there are tons of cool cat toys out there.  So have some fun and try
some out, your cat will let you know what works.  Another way to go
is to provide homemade entertainment, cardboard boxes and paper
bags are great fun for cats too.  When all else fails, another cat might
be an option for you.

Finally, let’s talk litter box. That is the issue that I hear about the most
from my cat clients.  If you are having a problem, the first thing you
should do is have the cat checked out by the vet to rule out a medical
problem, especially if your cat suddenly stopped using the same old
litter box.   But even healthy cats can have issues with the litter box,  
let’s explore some of the reasons.

As I said earlier, cats are very sensitive to odor, so this is a huge deal in
the litter box dynamic.  If the litter or even area has a strong perfume
or disinfectant odor, your cat may not want to go near that box.  The
best way to go is odor neutral for the litter and location, cats love
that.   The cats aversion to bad odors also means you have to scoop
frequently.  I have a few clients that need twice a day scooping for
that very reason.  Any bit of smell and kitty finds somewhere else to go.

There is a bit more to the perfect litter box than smell, although cats
have their own preference for texture and depth of the litter.  But
there are some generalizations you can make.  Most cats like a fine
texture and not too much in the box.   They don’t like to sink way into
the litter, think about how they do their business outside, they don’t
dig way down, they just clear a bit of leaf litter or loose soil.  So keep
your litter shallow, if you are using a lot you can experiment with a
second box and see which one the cat uses.

Let’s not forget the location of the box.  We like to have the litter box
out of the way or covered up so we don’t have to look at it, but often
that doesn’t work too well. Cats really hate the possibility of an
ambush, when they use the litter box they need to feel safe.   So if you
are having problems, think about the location, does your cat feel
secure using the littler box or does she feel like there is no way out if
she is approached while she is in there.  This is really important in a
multicat household or even multicat neighborhood!  I read of one case
where a cat was actually spraying because it felt threatened by a
neighbors’ cat outside the window.  So keep the box in an out of the
way location with at least 2 exit points and be aware of unexpected
noisy things like dryers or furnaces.
Sometimes you do everything right and your cat still has issues,  there
are great resources available to cat owners.  One of them is the Animal
Behavior Associates.  You can get them on the web at:  ,  you can get information and
even set up a consultation for your specific problem or just learn
about what makes the feline world go around.