Cat Behavior 101

Dogs And Cats: What You Need To Know About Their Behaviors
BY MICHELLE POLLY Behavioral Consultant/Bowser Academy

Some people consider themselves “dog” people. Some of us identify ourselves as “cat” folks.

Let's face it… whether your attraction is to dogs or cats or both, the behavior of these domestic animals can sometimes cause real problems in our human lives. The goal of these informational articles is to educate the general public in some understanding of dog and cat behavior, to prepare ourselves when we bring these animals into our homes and to assist in dealing with behavioral issues when they arise.

Introducing a Second (or Another) Cat to the Family

Cats have been intertwined in human life for a relatively short period of time, about 4,000 years. (Dogs, on the other hand, have been around us much longer at about 12,000 years.) As humans began to selectively breed cats, they became much less solitary creatures and began to adapt to our household life. Although they continue to be very territorial in nature, house cats have become more tolerant of living in close proximity with others of their kind, unlike their feral cousins.

Multi cat households may experience problem behaviors when a new cat is introduced to a household with a cat or cats already in residence. These problems can arise for many reasons. Intolerance of another cat can be caused by what a kitten learns in its early development. How many cats are already in residence and how large of an area that they occupy has a huge impact on how they will get along.

People are also considered to be an important resource to the family kitty. Shelter, food and water round out the “must haves” in the life of a house cat. If you wonder how many cats you can comfortably house, ask yourself how many cats will happily share the resources, including territory, that you can provide for them…. then ask the cats… they will be very clear with their answer! Behavioral issues such as aggression between cats and failure to use the litter box are problems that arise when resources are being stretched to the limit.

When making additions to your feline family consider these guidelines: To a cat, territory is a big deal. Any kind of change is highly significant. Cats are the ultimate control freaks! They feel secure if they can count on things staying the same. With that in mind, it is very important to understand that an adjustment period to a new environment may take days or weeks. When other cats occupy the same household, the introduction period and how it is done will be a make it or break it proposition. The inability of cats to adapt to one another is one of the most common reasons cats are given up to shelters, second only to elimination issues.

Sometimes during the adjustment period, a cat’s behavior may be a normal response to new surroundings and can be misunderstood by the new owner. If the owner has armed himself with enough information regarding normal cat behavior it will be help tremendous help in heading off potential problems in the first few days. There are many sources of information regarding cat behavior. A shelter staff member will be happy to help you find the right resources to assist you in making your new relationship a successful one.

The most important thing is to not rush the introduction -- do it gradually.

Begin by establishing a safe place that the new cat can call its own. This space should have food, water, a hiding place that smells familiar, smells that identify the new owner and, of course, access to the litter box. Generally, bedrooms work well for this purpose.

When the new cat arrives, put her in the safe space and let the resident cat run free in the house. Keep the door closed to the safe place so that the cats can hear and smell each other but cannot physically touch each other, except perhaps by touching paws under the door.

Once the cats are showing curiosity by consistently seeking contact with each other through the barrier between them, you can begin to open the door a couple inches so that they can see each other. Again, don’t be in a rush with each step. Any hissing and growling should be avoided. Take your time.

Gradually change the barrier between them to one that they can see through – like a baby gate. Make sure the gate is tall enough that the cats cannot easily jump them. A screen door may also be used as a temporary barrier. If the cats show signs of aggression or threatening behavior, you can distract them by making a loud noise such as blowing a whistle or striking a table or wall with your hand. Don’t yell at the cats as this noise is one that should not be associated with you. Using your voice in this situation could have a negative effect on your relationship with the cats. Once the “argument”’ is over and the cats have settled into more passive behavior with no hissing or growling, distract them from each other by interacting with them using toys or food. If this is too stimulating, simply allow them to hang out in the same area without showing aggression. If the cats become aggressive, separate them again and give them more time in their own spaces until you can try again.

Remember to avoid trying to restrain a cat or using force when it is in a confrontational situation or when it is over-stimulated. You do not want to become part of the problem. Removal from the situation and giving the cat a chance to calm down is the best solution.

Any time you feel overwhelmed by your cat’s behavior, there are professionals that can help to get you through the rough patches. Your veterinarian or an animal behavioral expert will be able to advise you.