TRUE TALES: Consult with a Cat Behaviorist
I was a lucky winner of a raffle drawing at the Pet Sitters International Conference this year. My prize was a forty-five-minute consult with Marci Kosti, PHD, a well-known cat behaviorist. I prepared ahead and asked my Facebook friends and colleagues what their most pressing cat concerns were. Some of the concerns went beyond the scope of an introductory consult but other issues fit easily into a Q & A format.
Here is a summary of the answers to my questions with Dr. Marci:
- When pet owners consult with you, what are the topics they want to discuss most often?
The top concern is from pet owners who have cats that are not getting along and are looking for ways to create cat harmony in their household. The second most frequent topic is house soiling.
- How important is early interaction between kittens and humans regarding their friendliness toward their owner and other people throughout their lifetime?
The sensitive socialization period for kittens is 2 to 8 weeks. Studies have shown that kittens that have been gently handled (even just 15 minutes a day) are more likely to be friendly, more willing to explore, and more able to handle stress as they develop. Exposure to more than one person, other pets, environments, and situations provide kittens with positive associations that will last a lifetime.
- As a pet sitter, we often administer medications to cats. What are some of the best methods that you have found for cats to accept this process?
Less handling is better when giving medicine to a cat. For pilling, the best treat that Dr. Kosti has found is whipped cream cheese because it is sticky and yummy. Place a pea size portion with the medicine tucked inside on the very end of a knife or spoon. When the cat goes to lick it, it sort of sticks to the cat’s tongue and then goes into the mouth to be swallowed. To get the cat to accept this, start with a few portions of the cheese without the pill and then the one with the pill followed by one more lick without the pill. This way the cat doesn’t suspect the medicine each time. Some other good choices are Churu’s, Albacore tuna, marsh mellows, Easy Cheese cheddar and bacon, canned salmon, baby shrimp, Bonita fish flakes, anchovy paste, and Fancy Feast foil packets of any flavor. We also talked about adding medicine to a liquid paste in a syringe and letting the cat lick it off the tip of the syringe. Both of these methods can be completed without any hand holds so the cats aren’t stressed and look forward to medicine time. Dr. Kosti shared a great video by Feline Fundamentals that shows positive ways to medicate your cat which I thoroughly enjoyed watching. You can view it on Youtube.
- What are the best ways to deter a cat from scratching the furniture?
Scratching posts placed near the furniture that the cat is scratching. Make sure it is the right size and is sturdy. If the cat is reaching up then the post should be one that matches the cat’s height preference. The same applies for cats that scratch the carpet. These cats prefer scratchers that lie on the floor. There is a variety of scratchers to chose from. Consider buying several. Initially, you can sprinkle cat nip on the scratcher to get the cat’s attention.
- What are your thoughts about cats exploring outdoors in a stroller?
Dr. Kosti loves it and has tried it with all of her cats. However, only one of them took to it after training. It needs to be properly introduced with gentle training. If a cat doesn’t like it and growls, hisses, trembles, freezes, snaps or swats – then stop. This is not going to be a pleasant experience for that cat.
- Feeding stations vary a lot from one house to another. Sometimes food bowls are close together near the litter box and other times they are spread out. What do you advise your clients to do?
Cats are very fussy about this. They don’t like their food bowl near the water or the litter box. They also don’t have a drive for thirst even though they need water. I have found that the best feeding station is one that has the food apart from the litter box and away from the water bowl. It’s also a good idea to have several water bowls in areas that the cat is near because they may drink more water that way. This is especially important for senior cats.
Litter box issues are complex issues that can’t be addressed in this format. Dr. Kosti gave a ninety-minute presentation which I found valuable on litter box issues and house soiling at the Pet Sitters International conference. The first step in resolving these issues is a veterinary check- up to determine that the problem isn’t medical. Then a review of litter box basics (location, design, type of litter, and maintenance) and some simple adjustments may be all that is required for your cat to behave appropriately. As a pet sitter, I have a lot of experience in this area and may be able to help.
When it comes to cats that don’t get along in their multi-cat household – it may be time for you to reach out to a cat behaviorist. Dr. Marci Koski, a Certified Feline Behavior & Training consultant, successfully helps cat owners restore harmony in their homes. The testimonials on her website are from satisfied customers who wish they would have contacted her sooner. I am very impressed with her understanding of cats and her willingness to share her knowledge with me. I highly recommend her to you. She is amazing and will be happy to talk with you.
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