Category Archives: cat behavior

How to Know When Your Cat is Sick

By Julia Williams

Early detection is always best for any illness. Catching a disease before it becomes advanced increases the chance that it can be treated successfully. What makes this problematic for cat owners is that felines are hard-wired to hide signs of illness. Their wild ancestors did this as a means to survival, and it’s instinctual for a feline to conceal the appearance of sickness, even if they lead the life of a very spoiled housecat.

Your best course of action is threefold: 1) take your cat to the vet for wellness checkups at least once a year; 2) know your cat well enough that you can immediately recognize any changes in their normal behavior; 3) know the subtle signs of a sick kitty. Here are some things to watch out for:

Appetite Changes

Both an increase and a decrease in a cat’s food intake can signify illness. If a cat begins to eat ravenously and always seems to want more, diabetes or hyperthyroidism could be the culprit. Eating less could mean dental problems or something more serious such as kidney disease or cancer. It’s important to be aware that cats who stop eating can quickly develop a potentially fatal liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. If your cat won’t eat anything for more than a day, get to the vet ASAP.

Water Consumption

As with food, both an increase and a decrease in water intake can indicate health issues. Excessive thirst can be a sign of kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

Bad Breath

“Cat food breath” is one thing – all felines have that to some degree. However, if your cat opens his mouth and the smell just about knocks you over, that’s definitely cause for concern. Stinky breath can indicate dental disease, infection, digestive issues or kidney problems; a sweet, fruit-like smell can be a sign of diabetes.

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Why Do Cats Like to Steal Shiny Objects?

By Linda Cole

Cat vision isn’t as clear as ours. Because they are true predators, their vision is designed to pick up quick movements of prey, especially in dim light. Cats and dogs have more rod cells that can quickly refresh to pick up the slightest movement of prey walking  through the grass at dusk. They have fewer cones which are responsible for our detailed and sharp color vision.

Feline vision is blurry, but their peripheral vision is much better and has more range than ours, enabling them to see a mouse out of the corner of their eye. The smallest movements capture a cat’s attention, and if it shines that’s a reason to investigate.

Cats focus on shiny objects for the same reason we do – curiosity. If you spot something shiny on the ground, your impulse is to investigate. It gets your attention because it might be something special, like a lost ring or coin. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a piece of glass or tin reflecting sunlight. It doesn’t matter what it is, we check it out because it’s shiny. Curiosity may grab a cat’s attention too, but the main reason they steal our shiny things is for attention and wanting to play.
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Tosha the Three Legged Wonder Cat

By Julia Williams

Tosha was my first cat as an adult. I was 21 and newly married, and we’d just moved into a cozy cottage in Northern California. Of course, in my eyes no house is a home without a cat, so it wasn’t long before an 8-week old brown tabby came to live with us. I thought she was just the cutest little thing, and she was a delightful addition to my new family. Like any kitten, she was playful and inquisitive. She was also very affectionate, and would curl up on my lap anytime I sat down.

When Tosha was about a year old, we went away on a weekend camping trip. At the time, I thought it was perfectly fine to leave my cat home alone with a bowl of dry cat food and some water. Worse, she could come and go through the cat door anytime she liked. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about her; I loved her dearly, but I just didn’t know better. Older and wiser now, I would never do that. As it turned out, Tosha paid for my mistake.

When we returned from camping, I called and called her. She didn’t come, so I went looking for her and found her lying in the bushes with a badly mangled back leg. I rushed her to the vet, who said he wasn’t sure what had happened but guessed she was either attacked by a dog or hit by a car.

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How to Tell if Your Pet is Irritated with You

pets irritated penny blankenshipBy Linda Cole

When my Siberian Husky Jake wanted to express his irritation, he’d turn his head away from me as if saying, “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” Then he’d follow up with some Woo Woo Woo’s to make it clear he was unhappy. My cat Meryl was quick to bond with me when he was a kitten. As far as he was concerned, I belonged to him, and if I hurt his feelings, he made it clear he was irritated. He sat with his back to me and ignored me for an hour or so. That was apparently how long it took for him to forgive me. Dogs and cats aren’t vindictive, but they do have ways of showing us when they are irritated.

The Cold Shoulder – This is a sure sign you have a dog or cat with hurt feelings, and it’s not hard to picture your pet sitting like an irritated human with his front legs crossed while tapping one of his back paws in disgust waiting for an apology. You can almost hear the “Don’t talk to me.” It’s a good thing dogs and cats don’t have opposable thumbs. You might get the cold shoulder, but you won’t get a door slammed in your face.

The Stiff Paw and Head Turn Rejection – I take this action as the ultimate “I am so irritated and do not want to cuddle, hand out kisses, or even look at you right now” sign. This is when an upset dog or cat holds out a stiffened leg and blocks you with a paw to keep you from getting too close when you try to be affectionate. In addition to the stiff paw, he turns his head away from you and the message is loud and clear: you have an irritated furry friend. One of my dogs, Keikei, will also give me a kick with her back leg just in case I missed the other two signs.
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“Bad Kitty” Confessions

By Rocky Williams, feline guest blogger

Hello again! The Warden says it’s never a good sign when she sees me walking out of the kitchen licking my chops, and it’s nowhere near my meal time. Yep, that’s true. It means Bad Kitty did something…again.

I am incorrigible, especially when it comes to food. In my defense, I don’t think my devilish behavior is entirely my fault. The Warden knows who I am, yet she’s always giving me opportunities to be bad. Can I help it if I simply can’t resist the temptations she lays before me?

The Warden worries about what would happen to me if something happened to her. She doesn’t think another hoomin would ever put up with my Bad Kitty behavior. But I said, “Hey, sometimes my naughtiness makes you laugh!” She said that was because she was a crazy4cats lady and I reminded her that there was absolutely nuthin’ crazy about loving us cats, even naughty ones like me.

I kept a diary for a few weeks, to see if anyone besides the Warden would tolerate my Bad Kitty behavior. I would hate to be homeless if she kicked the bucket. And I DO have lots of other good qualities that would make up for it…right?

Day One: I “helped” the Warden make enchiladas today. In other words, I jumped up and grabbed a huge hunk of chick-hen right in front of her, before she even knew what happened.

Day Two: Warden put her pizza back in the oven to keep it safe from me while she ate her slices in the living room. BUT she left the oven door cracked, so naturally I opened it and then I crawled in the nice warm oven to eat the pizza. Yum!

Day Three: Remember those enchiladas? Warden left their foil covering on the counter, and it had bits of cheese stuck to it. So naturally, I shredded that foil to get every last cheese morsel.

Day Four: I tried to eat something called a bear claw but it was in a zippered plastic bag. I was trying to rip the bag when I was caught red pawed. Oh well; I’m not sure the claw of a mangy bear would taste good anyway.

Day Five: I knocked a box of pasta shells to the floor while I was strolling on the kitchen counter. The box opened and pasta went everywhere! Too bad I only like it cooked.

rocky-catpuchinoDay Six: I discovered that if I get on the espresso maker and then stand on my tippy toes I can open the cupboard and reach the high shelf where my CANIDAE treats are kept. So naturally I did. When the Warden saw me, I tried to pretend I was just making a Catpucchino.

Day Seven: The Warden was fixing herself a baked potato when the phone rang. She came back after chatting to discover that there wasn’t much left of the full stick of butter she’d left on the counter. (See what I mean about giving me opportunity?).

Day Eight: Oooh!! There was a homemade biscuit-egg thingy sitting in the microwave and the door wasn’t shut all the way. Half of me (the front half, naturally) was in the microwave polishing it off when I got caught.

Day Nine: A glass bowl on the counter had some food in it but I couldn’t tell what it was because there was plastic wrap on top. I was busy trying to get into the bowl when it crashed to the floor and broke, sending salsa mixed with glass flying everywhere.

Day Ten: The pet sitter wasn’t told about my Bad Kitty ways, so she put empty CANIDAE cans in the trash under the sink. I pulled them out to lick off the stinky goodness and I may have spread garbage all over the kitchen floor.

Cat-AnimatedDay Eleven: I licked yogurt out of the Warden’s bowl when she turned her back to get fruit from the fridge. I got yogurt all over my face and my whiskers!

Day Twelve: Amazingly, this is the only Bad Kitty confession that isn’t food related. I bit the Warden on her behind when she stuck it in my face (well, she was trying to get into the shower, but still).

Day Thirteen: The Warden tried to eat a Creamsicle right in front of me. I attacked her until she let me lick the stick.

Day Fourteen: Warden asked me “Are you going to be a Good Kitty today?” Haha! I almost had a coronary laughing so hard.

So what do you think? Would you ever adopt a Bad Kitty like me?

Photos by Julia Williams

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Why Cats Bite and How to Prevent the Behavior

By Julia Williams

My girl kitty Annabelle is the sweetest cat I’ve ever known. Normally, she can’t get enough of my lovin’, but if I try to pet her immediately upon waking, she will nip me. Not break-the-skin bites, but a clear signal for me to stop. I don’t know why she hates being touched only at that time, but I joke that “she’s just not a morning cat.” If people can be anti-morning, why not cats? Thankfully, it’s the only time she bites, and as long as I resist the urge to pet her upon awakening, it’s not a problem.

Others aren’t so lucky. According to feline behaviorists, biting is the second most common problem for cat owners (peeing outside the box is the first). This issue needs to be corrected, because cat bites are not only painful when they occur but they can cause serious infections. I’ll discuss three of the most common reasons why cats bite, and what you can do to reduce or eliminate this problem behavior.

Petting Induced Aggression

Scenario: You’re sitting there petting your cat who is purring away and seemingly enjoying the attention when all of a sudden she whirls and sinks her teeth into your hand. What just happened?

First of all, let’s be clear. In most cases, your cat’s transformation from friendly Dr. Jekyll to psychotic Mr. Hyde was not instantaneous. Your cat’s body language was telling you it was time to stop petting; you just missed the signals or misinterpreted them.

These signals include tail lashing or thumping, ears flattened or twitching, shifting body positions, eyes focused on your hand. She stops purring and may even meow or growl.  If you don’t heed your cat’s warning(s) that she’s had enough, she goes to Plan B – the bite – and voila, petting stops.

Some reasons your cat wants the petting session to end:

1. Overstimulation – for some cats, there’s a fine line between what feels good and what doesn’t. They can only handle so much stimulation before sensory overload occurs.

2. Not in the mood – sometimes what your cat wanted was to play, not to be petted. They may tolerate your petting for a little while because they love you, but then they just want it to stop.

3. Sensitivity – some areas of a cat’s body may be more sensitive than others, and being touched there is uncomfortable. Individual cats may also have specific areas of the body where they like being petted and others where they don’t. It’s up to you to figure out which is which, by paying attention to their body language.

Learning the sometimes subtle “stop it” cues your cat gives before they have to resort to biting you, will enable you both to enjoy the petting session and have it end on a positive note.

Play Aggression

Many people unwittingly encourage their cat to develop a habit of biting them during play, by engaging in roughhousing and offering their hands, fingers and toes as “toys.” Sure, it seems really cute and innocent when they’re a tiny kitten, but this type of play has Cat Bite written all over it. Your cat isn’t able to discern how rough is too rough. If you want your cat to stop biting you while playing, never use your body parts as toys. That means no tickling them, no moving your finger for them to chase, no tapping your toes as an invitation to pounce. And pass up products like gloves with balls on the end that encourages your cat to see your hand as a toy – they simply can’t understand that it’s only OK to attack when the gloves are on. Be sure that every family member follows this strict rule, or biting during play will continue, and one day it may go too far.

Cats are natural born hunters, and need to engage in “stalk and pounce” play for mental satisfaction. If your kitty likes to lie in wait and bite your ankles when you walk by, try carrying a small catnip mouse, fuzzy ball or other cat toy that you can toss away from you to redirect their attention. It’s also a good idea to provide plenty of interactive playtime with the appropriate toys (remember – no fingers!).

Redirected Aggression

Sometimes an agitated cat will lash out at a person or another cat in the household that had nothing to do with the reason the cat got upset. This is called redirected aggression. It can occur when your inside cat sees a cat outside – trespassing on “his” territory. It can also occur when you take one cat to the vet and he comes home smelling like “that place.” There are many other reasons that can cause a cat to take out his frustration on you instead of the person or thing that upset him.

Your best strategy is to try to figure out what the stressor is and take steps to remove it. For example, if a trespassing cat has your kitty in an uproar, find a way to either discourage the cat from coming around (such as installing motion activated sprinklers) or keep the curtains closed. It can take some fine detective work to figure out what’s causing the redirected aggression, but don’t give up. Also, don’t try to interact with your cat when he’s highly agitated, as this will almost certainly result in being bitten.

Top photo by Tnarik Innael/Flickr
Middle photo by Sam Howzit/Flickr
Bottom photo by d.i.o.d.e./Flickr

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