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How to Introduce Cats

For families looking to add a new kitty to their ‘pride’ of felines it is important to know how to properly introduce them.  Improper introductions lead to increased stress and tension (for both the cats and humans), dramatic stand offs and hissing fits, and an overall destruction of household peace.

Fortunately, cats are resilient when it comes to learning to coexist with one another. Some cats love other cats, while others prefer to spend their time alone.  But more often than not they can live happily ever after in the same household, even if they are not best friends.  It is extremely rare that cats are so incompatible that they cannot live together- so you have plenty of reasons to be optimistic!   Just keep in mind, cats don’t like change, so you’ll need to be patient and give them an adequate adjustment period.

Bring Home the Newbie

The best course of action is to start the new addition in a separate room or closed-off area of the house.  This could be a spare bedroom, office, bathroom, laundry room, etc. For the first few weeks, the new cat will need their own litter box and food dishes (depending on the number of cats, you might want to keep the extra sets anyway).  Keeping the cats initially separated allows them to smell and hear one another, without the stress of a face-to-face confrontation.  Don’t worry- they will have no trouble sensing one another’s presence.

Be prepared for hissing, it is an expected reaction.   After a few days (though sometimes longer) the hissing through the door will begin to subside.  Your cats may become curious and paw underneath the door.  It’s a good idea to swap their bedding or toys so they can really get used to each other’s scents before officially ‘meeting.’  If they are still doing a lot of hissing and growling, feed the cats their favorite wet food on either side of the door.  They will start to associate being near one another with being fed- a positive first impression!

Face-to-Face

Once you’ve noticed that through-the-door interactions are becoming more relaxed, you can allow them to have supervised visits. These are most successful if done when both cats are likely to be calm, such as after a meal or post-play session.

Though you probably won’t need to use it, keep a spray bottle handy in case of a serious fight (no need to spray for hisses, growling, or swatting).  Open the door and allow them to sniff.  Have a bag of treats ready to toss to both cats (remember, tasty rewards = positive first impressions!) If things are going well, allow them to keep exploring; if not, put the new cat back into the bedroom and try again later (keep up the feeding by the door technique).

Remember that hissing, standoffs, and paw swats are common- and they will get past this stage, but you need to be patient.  Some cats adjust in a matter of days, for others it will take weeks.  Don’t punish them for reacting; they need to adjust at their own pace, and punishments will only reinforce their fear that the new cat = negativity.

Over the course of the next few weeks, you should notice some progress.  It may be slow progress, at a baby-steps kind of pace, and there’s a good chance you’ll take a step or two backwards, but again, this is normal.   Allow your cats to eat from separate dishes and have their own sleeping area until they are comfortable sharing.  Continue feeding, offering treats, and playing with the cats when they are together.

More notes about adopting a new cat:  There are certain feline characteristics that determine who they are most compatible with.   Adoption volunteers can help you find that new addition that is most likely to be a good fit.  It usually depends on the personalities of your current pets and the household dynamic.  For example, do you have an older cat with a low energy level, or a younger cat who needs someone to roughhouse with?  Is your current cat dominant around other cats? Or perhaps they’ve never been around cats before?  These kinds of questions will help us to suggest candidates from among our cats that would be compatible with both the people and pets in your family.

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Do You Play With Your Cat Daily? Here’s Why You Should

There are few things more entertaining than watching a cat thoroughly engaged in play, and it is also one of the most vital aspects of a cat’s well-being.  Unfortunately, many cat owners underestimate it’s importance.  Daily interactive play sessions can improve your cat’s overall health and decrease the occurrence of negative behaviors.  Additionally, it can become a bonding ritual for you and your cat.

OCplaying

Both wild and domestic cats sleep most of the day, but wild cats spend nearly all of their waking hours in active pursuit of food.  Since house cats get their meals served to them on a silver platter, it is important to recreate that hunting time to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated.  Without proper outlets to expend energy, cats become bored, overweight, or depressed.  Often, without interactive and energizing play, cats will find other ways to disperse their pent up energy and stress, typically through negative behaviors like excessive howling, compulsive grooming, increased need for attention (not always a bad thing!), or general household destruction.

First, let’s clarify what ‘interactive’ playtime means.  It does not mean tossing your cat a few fuzzy mice and calling it a day, it requires a teeny bit of work on your part to get your cat moving.  You need a toy your cat will love, usually a pole, string, or dangle type (my favorites include Cat Dancer and Da Bird) to get him or her pouncing, bounding, leaping, and ambushing.

Remember that playtime is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so it keeps your cat’s mind sharp and body active.   Allowing cats to express their hunting instincts (and to ‘catch their prey’) builds their confidence, so this is a wonderful tool to encourage timid cats to come out of their shell or become more confident around others in a multi-cat household.

How to Play: Playtime should occur on a regular basis, ideally twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time.  When using pole, string, or similar toys, don’t just dangle it in front of their face.  Try to imitate how your cat plays or how she might hunt.  If your cat starts to pant, you’re doing it right! Let her catch and grasp the ‘prey’ sometimes so she feels successful.  Be sure to have a short ‘cool down’ session towards the end, just like you would during a gym workout.  Rotating the toys periodically will make old ones new again, and  keep things fresh and exciting.

Feline behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s ‘My Cat From Hell, ‘Jackson Galaxy, goes over more about play in this video.

If you don’t think you can commit to regular playtime, you should consider buying a puzzle feeder.  Puzzle feeders require the cat to work a little in order to reach the food, which like playtime, stimulates a cat’s hunting instincts an keeps them active.  As a bonus, puzzle feeders force a cat to eat slower, which is good for overweight cats and those that eat too quickly and vomit afterwards.  The Stimulo Interactive Cat Feeder is a great one, and if you buy it from this link, proceeds will benefit Pet Adoption Network. Other interactive games, like the CatAmazing puzzle-box, are wonderful for keeping your cat or cats kindled while you are at work.

Other Tips:  Don’t do play-time on or around your bed- if you do, kitty will associate physical activity with that area and might keep you up at night.  Also, don’t use your hands or fingers during play, especially with kittens.  This reinforces the idea that fingers are toys- something to go after and teeth on- and will encourage negative biting behaviors.  You might consider following playtime with feeding time to hone in on your cats ‘hunt-kill-eat’ instincts, which is typically followed by grooming and sleeping.  This tip is especially helpful if your cat is keeping you up at night.

Remember, an active cat is healthier and a mentally-stimulated cat is happier; therefore, they will not need to redirect energy into destructive behaviors.  Playtime will benefit not only your cat, but your home and your bond with them.

 

Importance of Word Choice in Animal Rescue

Language is possibly the most important tool of human interaction.   As the primary way of communicating, it can become casual, second nature; something we don’t give much thought to doing because it comes so freely.  But word choice is crucial and can change the whole meaning of a sentence and, more importantly, how a person receives it.

What are your words implying?

What are your words implying?
From Best Friends Animal Society’s campaign.

In this post, we’re going to analyze connotation: (the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes) behind common rescue-related phrases.   Linguist Keith Allan, PhD of Edinburgh explains connotation as being ‘effects that arise from encyclopaedic knowledge’  and ‘from experiences, beliefs, and prejudices about the contexts in which the expression is typically used.’  In his peer-reviewed article The Pragmatics of Connotation Allan said that to identify a connotation of a term ‘is to identify the community attitudes towards it.’

In rescue, our entire mission focuses on changing how our communities see animals and how they treat them, so our messages should be strong, consistent, and send the right message.   Let’s look at a few of these terms and expressions.

Adoption vs. ‘For Sale’ or ‘To buy’

This is probably the most important as far as word choice, as it sets the tone for the everything that revolves around the rescue movement.   Many people come up to me during Adoption Days at Petsmart and say,  “Are these for sale?”   My response is always  ‘No, these kitties are not for sale, they are up for adoption to good homes.’  Although many of these people do, in fact, realize that the cats are rescued, it is important that we don’t allow people to talk about them as though they are products.

‘For Sale’ implies there is inventory; products to be bought and sold for profit.  Animals are not either of these things, but of course breeders and pet stores do treat them as such.  If we don’t create a definitive line between the rescue of animals and the sale of animals, our movement is weakened.   The difference needs to be clear: animals are sentient beings that are to be ‘adopted’ into forever families, not bought.

Make it official! Many adoption groups include congratulatory 'Adoption Certificates' to make the adoption official.

Make it official! Many rescue groups include congratulatory ‘Adoption Certificates’ to officially welcome the new family member into their forever home.

Cost vs. Donation

This goes along with the previous one.  ‘Cost’ typically indicates a markup on a product where profit is to be made, which is far from the truth.  Explain the adoption ‘cost’ as a donation fee or adoption donation.  It may also be helpful to briefly explain what the donation covers and what it goes towards.  For example, I usually explain it like this:  ‘The adoption donation for this cat is $100, which covers her spay surgery, vaccinations and FIV/FeLV testing.  It also helps us to care for the nearly 60 other cats and kittens that are currently in our care.’  This makes people more receptive and defers from the idea that anyone is ‘profiting’ from rescue.

Euthanize vs. Kill

Euthanasia: ‘the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.’

Everyone is familiar with this definition, yet it is used, almost always without question, to describe the murder of three to four million companion animals each year in the U.S alone.  This is a euphemism that helps distance humans from the guilt and involvement of these deaths, and anyone who supports rescue should avoid the term.  (Please note I am not referring to the decision to euthanize a suffering animal companion when they are ill or elderly.)

The 'Declaration of the No kill Movement' requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including 'euthanize' and 'putting them to sleep' which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

The ‘Declaration of the No kill Movement’ requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including ‘euthanize’ and ‘putting them to sleep’ which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

Animals that enter shelters because they are stray, abandon, surrendered or otherwise unwanted are not put to death as a mercy killing.  It is murder, no two ways about it.  I don’t mean to say that people who work at kill shelters are horrible people who are responsible for the killings.   In truth, the guilt and the responsibility to end the killing is shared by entire communities.   To call it euthanasia only encourages people to feel better about it; its a hard truth, of course, but if people think of these deaths are merciful- and the euphemism encourages this- they aren’t going to feel compelled to do much about it.

Owner vs. Guardian

The term ‘owner’ implies that animals are property; belongings rather than feeling creatures that are part of a family.  It may be a subtle connotation, but there nonetheless, and sustains the concept that when humans are done with an animals, they can disown or dispose of ‘it’ like an old television or vehicle: leave it behind, pass it off to any willing taker, dump it at a shelter to make it someone else’s problem.

Guardian, on the other hand, suggests that we are their caretakers, protectors, sentinels for their well being.  Our job is not to own like property or control our companion animals, but to shower them with love and affection, tend to their needs, and look out for their interests for as long as they are with us.   Changing this one term has the potential to create a new level of ethics when it comes to our furred/feathered/scaled family members.

Declawing: Routine Procedure or Cruel Amputation

Declawing is slowly getting the terrible reputation it deserves, but many people still think it is acceptable because veterinarians offer it as a service.   Even though some veterinarians will do it, it is far from a routine or ethical ‘procedure’ and is in fact extremely painful with many adverse affects, some that last for the cat’s life.   In actuality, declawing is the amputation of the first digits of the paws, like cutting off the first joints on your fingers and toes.  It is a mutilation.  What’s worse, it is done because people care more about their furniture’s appearance than the well being of their cats.

It is important that when we discuss this topic with the public, we don’t speak of it lightly.  It is not done in the best interest of the cats, like a spay/neuter surgery, and is nothing short of cruelty.

Wild or Feral

Wild or ‘feral’ cats and strays are two different things (see here), but when talking about feral/wild cats, feral is the ideal term.  ‘Wild’ implies that they are relatives of wild species, when they are actually the descendants of domesticated house cats.   They have become unsociable, but are not a different species than those we keep as companions.  I also try to incorporate the phrase ‘community cats’ when talking about feral colonies because it suggests- rightfully so- that feral cats are not the problem or responsibility of a single feeder or property owner, but of the community as a whole.   For more feral cat terms, visit Alley Cat Allies’s ‘Speaking of Cats’ page.

If you have thoughts or experiences on this or a related topic, please share in the comments!

Catnip 101: Giving Cats a ‘Chesire Grin’

An aphid's foe, but friend of gardener and feline alike!

An aphid’s foe, but friend of gardener and feline alike!

Ah, catnip.  Few things are more fun than watching your cat roll around in a euphoric daze, high on a feline’s marijuana.  But what exactly is the herb and why do cats react that way?  Is it safe?  Do big cats like lions and tigers react to catnip too?  (Big Cat Rescue says yes!)

Catnip (Nepata cataria) is a member of the mint family and is distantly related to marijuana.  It is not, however, the male cannabis plant as some people believe.  Also known as catswort, catmint, catrup and field balm, catnip is a perennial plant native to Europe, but is now common in North American gardens and nurseries.  When in full bloom it sports a purple flower that attracts butterflies and keeps away aphids, making it a gardener’s friend.

Nepatalactone is the chemical compound that, when smelled through specialized nasal receptors (, triggers the frenzied feline response.  Cats typically roll around and seem excited and euphoric, yet relaxed.  They chin-rub like crazy.  Cat behaviorist Amy D. Shojai (from ‘Cats 101’ on Animal Planet) says catnip triggers the ‘same biophysical pathways’ as LSD and marijuana does in humans, and calls catnip a ‘feline hallucinogen.’   Some cats eat the plant, which is fine (munchies, maybe?).

Catnip can be used to calm stressed cats (I use it when working with cats who are frightened or cautious with humans to help them relax) or simply offered as a new activity to change things up.  It is also used with much success when encouraging cats to scratch on cardboard posts or sisal towers instead of couches or carpets.  The initial reaction lasts a short time, typically wearing off in less than ten minutes.  After that, a cat will not react again for at least an hour or two.  There is a general consensus amongst veterinarians and cat behaviorists that catnip is harmless when used moderately, but long-term overuse may result in decreased awareness or confusion, according to Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.

Catnip bubbles?!?!

Oh, yeah, catnip comes in bubbles too! Catnip bubbles?!?!

Catnip ‘highs’ are not universal;  that is, not all cats react to the herb.   The sensitivity is hereditary, and anywhere from one-third to one-half of cats will have no reaction whatsoever, and that is perfectly normal.   Also, kittens under six months of age rarely react, possibly because they are still reaching sexual maturity, as it is thought that the reaction to the nepatalactone in catnip mimics feline pheromones, such as those spread by males who urine-mark or females in heat.  Catnip oil has been used, unfortunately, by bobcat trappers.

You can buy catnip stuffed in toys, in liquid spray form, near-bulk quantity of dried leaves, catnip-flavored treats, seeds for growing your own indoors, or plant some in your garden (it keeps away aphids and attracts butterflies!).   Oh, yeah, catnip comes in bubbles too!

Humans don’t typically get any kind of high from catnip, and you shouldn’t give your cat marijuana, either.  Don’t be stupid.  You can, however, make a catnip tea that is a homeopathic recipe to soothe insomnia and upset stomachs.