Many of us are cat owners – or do they own us?! We obviously want the best for them, but also to have a happy and easy life for everyone. If you are thinking of fostering or adopting a cat, or have recently done so and need some guidance, the following advice may prove useful.
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Rita Reimers, a world-renowned cat behaviourist living in the US, who has offered the benefit of her considerable wisdom to allow us to navigate through the rewarding, yet sometimes fraught, days of cat guardianship.
Marhaba: We hear that you share your house with 19 rescued cats – congratulations, that’s quite a lot! How do you cope with each new addition, and do they all get along?
Rita Reimers: When I add a new cat to my household, of course the first step is to be sure he/she is healthy. A vet visit is in order, along with a Combo test (for FIV and Leukaemia), if the kitty hasn’t already had one. Some cats are shyer than others, so for the shy ones I start them off in a separate room alone, to let them get acclimated to their new home and to me. As the new cat begins to relax and want affection and attention, I will then bring one of my gentler cats in with me to meet the new cat. Slowly, I begin to let others in the room until we’ve blended the new one into the gang. My cats are used to this, so they are very accepting of new kitties. There may be some hissing at first, but I’ve never had any big fights or any impossible issues while introducing new cats. There have been some bolder kitties, who didn’t need a cooling off period before introductions. I still start them off in a smaller room, but I leave the door open, so he/she is free to investigate and mix in with the others at will. I recall when I brought home a seven-week-old Simon kitten, my adult Boo-boo kitty grabbed the carrier and demanded to see who was inside. Within 10 minutes, they were chasing each other around and playing! That was the easiest new addition I ever had! Others remained in hiding for days to weeks, until they were ready to meet the others.
Is there any specific advice you can give to multiple cat owners? What do they need to consider when adopting or fostering a cat?
Consider the age of your current cat and his temperament before choosing to add new cats to the home, whether foster or permanent. For example, if you have a senior kitty, you may want to add another adult cat, instead of a kitten. If you do wish to adopt or foster a kitten, getting two at once will help them to learn proper social behaviours with one another through play, and will also ensure that your senior kitty isn’t being overwhelmed by a single overactive youngster bothering them. Provide enough vertical space, so the kitties can climb, and also cozy sleeping places that each kitty can claim for themselves. Even when kitties are bonded, they will still need places where they can nap alone, away from the one another.
Do you think there are better combinations for cat ownership, for example all males, all females, or a mix?
Male cats seem to pal around best with other male cats. They become buddies and will often play together and groom one another. Male/Female is the second-best combination, but there will be a bit more fussing when the male wants to rough house and the female is not having any part of it. Female cats are least likely to bond with one another, although of course there are always exceptions to the rule. I believe this is because females, by nature, tend to stay off to themselves more. Their natural tendency is to be solitary, since they are the ones who are raising the kittens, eventually breaking the bond to let them go off on their own once they are grown (much like human mothers). Male cats in nature often are co-protectors of the colonies, their queens, and kittens. Although in nature there can be rivalry between males for mates, your indoor kitties won’t have that issue to contend with and will mostly live together in peace unless they are challenging the alpha male for position.
Thinking about your early days, when you started on your path of understanding cat behaviours, is there anything you wish you had known then that you have learnt along the way?
When I first had kittens in my life, I had an intuitive understanding of them already. Since I grew up with a dog in my family, I knew how to teach dogs how to behave and obey, but not cats. Well, I soon learned that cats do not obey, although they can certainly be taught which behaviours are acceptable and which are not. It just takes a little more creativity to teach a cat, along with a clear understanding of what motivates a cat. One cannot apply the same principles to cats as one would to train a dog.
Your book ‘Sadie’s Heart: Loving and Losing Our Beloved Cat Companions’ deals with the love and loss of a beloved pet, something most of us have had to deal with at some time. Can you tell us more about the stages of grief you went through and how you coped with the loss?
I had lost pets before, and since. However, I was bonded more deeply with Sadie, since she was born with heart disease and clearly needed special attention. I was told she would die young, but she far outlived her six-month prognosis. When she died, it was a shock: I truly believed she beat the disease, although my vet warned me that the day would come when I would lose her. Of course, my first reaction was disbelief, but there was no denying that she was gone. My grief was very deep, and more painful than I had anticipated, and I think that was because I had spent so much time finding vets and looking for a cure. Sadly, there was no cure for what she had. After spending a week in profound sadness and grief, I decided that some good had to come from my love for her, and my other cats needed me to snap out of it, too. That’s when I decided to start volunteering with animal rescues.
Do you think cats can pick up on our emotions, and if so, how would that manifest itself?
Indeed, cats are empathetic, and they do feel our emotions. When Sadie died, my remaining cats rallied around me in bed, and stayed as close to me as possible. They felt my pain, and they did their best to try to heal it by purring and cuddling up close. I have a friend who has seizures, and her cat knows when one is coming on. Her cat will put his paws on her head and purr at a very high frequency, often stopping the seizure or at least stop it from hitting as hard as it would have. Cats are natural born healers of physical and emotional pain.
What do you think about remedial treatments such as cat pheromones, or do you have another solution for creating a safe, secure environment for cats?
Some cats are affected by the pheromones and some are not. It’s safe to try them, it won’t hurt them and could indeed calm their anxieties. I also recommend natural holistic essences like Rescue Remedy for Pets, and the herbal Calming Blend by Whiskas City. Both have been successful at taking the edge off nervous and/or aggressive cats. One of the most important things you can do, however, is offer environment enrichment to your cats. Offer them places to climb high such as cat trees and cat shelving, and things to do like self-play toys, such as food puzzles. Also, place a bird feeder outside of their favourite windows and add a window seat of a cat tree so your cat can watch the action. Most importantly, be sure you spend quality time every single day with your cat; both playtime and cuddle time are essential to give you cat a sense of security and to strengthen the bond between you.
Club Cattitude sounds like a great resource for cat owners! How will members benefit from joining the club? Can we contact you directly for advice?
I want to help as many cats and their owners as possible, so instead of continuing my private practice, I decided to create a central location where people can come to me. Not everyone can afford the USD400 a session price tag that I and other behaviourists charge, nor can I read people worldwide through one-on-one sessions. For less than the cost of ordering a pizza each month, Club Cattitude members get access to a community of cat lovers. We share stories, advice, and our mutual love for cats. My staff and I tried hard to build a place that was fun and informative, where people can interact directly with me, too. You can ask questions on the various member boards, submit questions to me directly, talk to one another and the other members of the staff, win fun prizes, and SO much more. There is exclusive content inside the clubhouse, behaviour videos, articles, etc. We are also working on a game designed just for our members! Right now, we’ve lowered the price during COVID-19 to just USD9.95 a month. We also offer the first month’s membership for just ONE DOLLAR, and that dollar is being donated to a deserving cat rescue facility. This quarter, it’s going to Friends of Felines Rescue Center in Defiance, Ohio.
We are all spending much more time at home during COVID-19. Do you think this is causing problems for our cats, and what can we do to make sure they are still happy and cared for? Should we be worried about our cats when we return to our previous daily routines?
At first, our cats wondered what the heck we were doing home all day! Now, they are used to having 24/7 access to their humans, and perhaps the bond to their owners has grown deeper, too. Once we go back to work, we will now be leaving a void in our cats’ lives. I recommend to people who work at home to take a least a few hours per day and work behind a closed door. This will give your cat a break to nap or play his own, so when you do return to the office your absence won’t be so shocking to your cat. I also recommend people follow the 4PEGS of cat care, both before work and before bedtime. They are:
- P = Play/Prey – in nature your cats would hunt for food, so play with them in a way that mimics their natural hunting prowess, and be sure to let them catch their prey.
- E = Eat – feed them right after a play session of this type, as in nature they would next eat their catch.
- G = Groom – right after eating your cat will fully groom himself to rid himself of food remains that a predator might detect.
- S = Sleep – your cat will sleep so he can digest that protein. Doing this before you go to work sets up your cat to sleep, so he won’t miss you right away, and before bed, set him up to sleep again so you can also get a good night’s rest.
We then asked Rita to answer a couple of questions regarding cat behaviours which may prove useful for those of us in a multi-cat household or thinking of adding another furbaby!
One of my four cats has recently started urinating on the bedding, the sofa, the cat houses – you name it – as well as the litter tray. What do you think has caused this, and what can the owner do to prevent it?
There could be any number of reasons, first of which could be a urinary tract infection or blockage. Cats feeling urinary pain will avoid the box, so a vet visit would first be in order. Clean bill of health given, next would be to look at the litter box itself. Is it well scooped at least twice a day? Is it large enough for him to get inside without hanging out the side? Also, be sure to use a litter that is not perfume scented. If you’ve changed your litter brand lately, your cat might not like how it feels or smells. Have enough boxes for the number of cats you have, put them on each floor of your home, and be sure there are clear entrance and exit opportunities to ensure one of your cats isn’t keeping the other from entering or exiting the box.
One of my female cats wants to kill a new rescue kitten, also female. Consequently, the kitten and the adult have to be out at separate times. Will they ever get along?
Yes, but you have to do introductions slowly. I would wait until the kitten is a little older perhaps, your adult might be scared of the wee baby and not know what to do with it. Do some scent swapping, that is take toys and bedding the kitten was using and let the adult cat use it and get use to kitten’s scent. Also let the kitten use bedding and toys the adult cat was using, again to get used to the adult cat’s scent. If your kitten runs away from your adult from fear, this could trigger the adult’s hunting instincts and why she is chasing the baby. Start feeding them on opposite sides of the door from one another, so they can smell one another but not see one another. Supervised play time should happen once the kitten is a little bigger; pay extra attention to your adult cat anytime the baby is around to curtail jealousy. Give your adult cat a place to climb up so she can get away from the little one if kitten antics overwhelm her. To calm things even more, place Feliway plugs in the rooms where your adult cat spends the most time, and also try putting Rescue Remedy for cats into their water bowls. Some cats are affected by them, others are not, but it won’t hurt them to try. Soon there will either be friendship or peaceful coexistence between the girls.For more purr-fect cat behaviour advice, visit https://ritareimers.com. You can also join Club Cattitude and order Rita’s book Sadie’s Heart: Loving and Losing Our Beloved Cat Companions.
Author: Sarah Palmer
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