Tag Archives: cat behavior

Dr. Karen Overall once stated quite eloquently: “Behavior kills more cats annually than does viral disease.” One of the least tolerated behavior problems in cats is when they eliminate outside the litter box, and many cats lose their homes (and lives) for an issue that I believe is often one that COULD BE fixed, if humans:

  1. Understood what cats generally prefer about litter boxes
  2. Maintained a suitable litter box environment for their cat(s)

Previous research has suggested cats generally prefer large boxes and clay clumping litters. It is interesting to note that when I have clients whose cats are avoiding the litter box, I often have them present their cat with a “cafeteria” of litter choices to see if their cat has a clear preference. Even when those buffets include ONLY unscented clay clumping litters of different brands, it’s easy to see that not all clumping litters are created equally…and that many cats have specific individual preferences.

But back to general preferences of cats. One thing that often surprises me when I go to a client’s home is how dirty their litter box is. It’s not unusual for folks to clean a box every other day or even less – even in homes with multiple cats and just one litter box. I personally find it gross, and I assume that cats would too. But do we REALLY know if a dirty litter box bothers cats?

Well a new study has cracked another cat code. “Does Previous Use Affect Litter Box Appeal in Multi-Cat Households?” published in the journal Behavioral Processes, sought to explore what factors related to box cleanliness might impact preferences in cats, and which ones might not matter so much.

Using group-housed cats in the Purina colony, researchers looked at several questions by offering cats a choice of two litter boxes over the course of four days, and determining their preference by whether urine and feces had been deposited in either box.

Experiment 1 offered cats the choice between a clean box, and a box which had urine and feces of a familiar cat in it. Output determined that cats preferred the clean box over the used one.

Experiment 2 presented a choice between a clean box and a box that had been treated by adding only the odor of either (1) another cat’s urine, (2) another cat’s feces or (3) the odor of both. Cats used both the clean box and the “stinky” boxes equally.

Image from Behavioral Processes, authors J.J. Ellis, R.T.S. McGowan, F. Martin

Experiment 3 looked to verify that it was the physical obstructions caused by urine clumps and poops in the box, and not the odor, that was driving the cats’ preferences. To do this, experimenters created odorless fake urine clumps with saline, and odorless fake poop out of gelatin placed in silicone molds (do they make poop shaped silicone molds?!?!?). They also manipulated the amount of “obstructions” in the box: 1 clump vs 3 clump and 1 log vs 3 logs – to mimic the possible amount of material that might be in a box if a cat lives alone or with multiple other cats.

Cats preferred the clean box overall, unless there was just one gelatin poo in the box, in which case they showed no strong preference. When given the additional choice, between a box with one fake urine clump and a box with one gelatin poo, the cats also preferred the box with the fake poo. When there were MORE obstructions, the cats in the study showed a stronger preference for the clean box.

So what does this study tell us? A box free of obstruction is more important to cats than a box that is completely free of urine or fecal odor. You don’t necessarily need to sanitize your box if you are scooping it daily.

It also suggests what most of us already believed – that cats don’t really mind sharing a box with other cats as long as it’s cleaned regularly. We should note that the cats in this study all lived in groups and got along with the other cats in these groups, so it’s possible that cats who don’t get along might be less open to sharing (although we have no evidence at this time to say that, so someone should get on that study!).

Clumps and logs in the litter may make it harder for cats to find a clean spot to dig in, or might be unpleasant to step on. A bigger box, or more boxes would help with both of these issues, but there’s no way around it:

YOU GOTTA SCOOP!

 

 

Yet here I am, packing my bags to head to DC for the conference of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. This year, one of the themes is feline behavior. That's right, 3 days of nothing but cat people and cat behavior!!! I'm really excited to hang with other cat peeps, including Kris Chandroo, Ingrid Johnson, Julie Hecht, Liz Bales, and Sarah Ellis (and I'm sure many more!). There will be plenty of talks from cat experts I'm excited to hear from!! I'll be tweeting from the conference, and hopefully a blog or two will happen in response!

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This will be a nice break from a semester of data cleaning, writing, teaching, grading, job applications, and consulting! I've been busy and it's really cramping my blog-style! ...continue reading

Do you know what your cat does when she eats? You're probably giving me a little bit of a blank stare right now, like, she puts her face in the bowl and chews her food (or maybe like some cats, she doesn't chew it much at all…).

You throw your cat's food down and walk away so many times, but you might be missing some of the interesting behaviors that your cat is engaging in while she eats. Furthermore, a new study in the Veterinary Journal suggests that the behaviors that your cat engages in while she's eating might tell you just how much she likes the food.

Before we get into this new study, let's review some of the things we already know about how cats eat. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their teeth are really designed for shearing meat into strips, which they then swallow mostly whole. Not a lot of chewing going on… have you ever seen a cat throw up after they eat some dry food? It looks pretty much the same as it looked going down…

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Note the head tilt while eating! Photo of Hank the Cat eating, by Robert W. Howington. https://www.flickr.com/photos/whitetrashtexas/4309808872

As obligate hunters, cats also engage in a few interesting behaviors while they are eating, such as placing some of their food on the ground or tilting their head to the side while they chew. This behavior is because if they were eating a bird or rat, the body would likely be dragging on the ground. The harder the food is to chew, the more you'll see a cat's head tilt. Cats also shake their heads when they pick up a food item or a small bite of food. Leyhausen attributed this behavior to the instinct to shake a bird that has been killed to loosen the feathers. Cool! Even your kibble fed kitty has instincts related to the cat's evolution as a predator.

The new study, A Novel Set of Behavioural Indicators for Measuring Perception of Food by Cats, took place in Finland. The goal was to categorize what types of behaviors cats presented when eating their favorite food, as well as a less favored type of food, and finally to test out whether or not cats would notice if there was a tiny pill hidden inside their favorite food. ...continue reading

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Trying to make sense of the pheromone mess.

Image 1First things first! Some of you might be wondering what the heck Feliway is! Feliway is a “feline facial pheromone analogue (also refered to as FFP or FFPA).” It is a human-created chemical copycat (no pun intended) of the pheromones that your cat deposits when they rub their scent glands on objects (or even on you). Pheromones are chemicals that many animals use to communicate – and in cats, these chemicals are quite important! The face (cheek, forehead, chin) and paws have important scent glands, and of course urine or spray marking contains pheromones – cats use all of these scent glands to mark their turf and communicate with other cats.

Now, when scientists came up with idea to manufacture a synthetic version of these pheromones they must have thought they hit the animal behavior jackpot. Imagine, a product that could convince a cat they just sprayed somewhere, so why bother doing so again? Or being able to convince animals that they should feel nice and cozy and secure because the pheromones that their mom would have released are being diffused throughout the environment?

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NAUGHTY OR MISUNDERSTOOD? You decide!! Photo via Flickr/CreativeCommons LicenseTommy Hemmert Olesen https://www.flickr.com/photos/tommyhj/
NAUGHTY OR MISUNDERSTOOD? You decide!! Photo via Flickr/CreativeCommons LicenseTommy Hemmert Olesen
https://www.flickr.com/photos/tommyhj/

Are cats naughty or just misunderstood? Those of us who work professionally to help people solve behavior problems in their cats would be more likely to say the latter – I am careful in my own descriptions of behaviors as undesirable as opposed to inappropriate – because most of those "problem" behaviors are normal responses to an unsuitable (or perhaps even inappropriate!) environment.

So given that cats may be misunderstood, how can we increase owner understanding of a cat’s behavioral needs? A new study, The prevention of undesirable behaviors in cats: effectiveness of 7 veterinary behaviorists' advice given to kitten owners, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, took a look at whether a standardized behavior discussion between vets and new kitten owners could prevent misunderstandings later.

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All about pets!

Don't we all want to know the truth about cats?

First of all, sometimes I wish I had cable! I'm dying to check out "The Truth about Cats" on the National Geographic Channel.

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There are some teasers posted of John Bradshaw's "tail up" study, as well as a piece on whether images of kittens enhance cognition!

Should we replace pets with robots?

You might not think that your relationship with your pet (especially if it seems to be a good one) might be fraught with ethical concerns. Should we think of pet-keeping along the lines of animal use for research - something that should be reduced or replaced? This blog brings up many questions and interesting facts about our pet-keeping practices (the rates of "death" by neglect is similar for Tamagotchi and real pets).

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The Loss of a Pet Has a Huge Impact

And while our relationships with our pets might be complicated, we know that for many of us, they are incredibly important! @CompanionAnimalPsych reviews a recent study showing that people who recently lost a pet dog, compared to those whose pet dog was still living, reported greater stress and decreased quality of life.

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The manuscript is open access so you can read it yourself!

 

 

 

 

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Cats and Squirrels here, reporting from sunny Melbourne, Florida at the Comparative Cognition Conference (CO3). But that is a story for another day! I spent last weekend in Atlanta doing so many cat-related things that I almost started purring on several occasions.

The IAABC Feline Behavior Conference (okay, it was just domestic cats) happened Saturday and Sunday (that's April 11/12) at some hotel in Atlanta. It was possibly the largest gathering ever of people who work professionally with cats (outside of veterinary conferences), including many cat behavior consultants, shelter workers, veterinarians, and pet sitters.

Things kicked off with a pep talk from Steve Dale on the current status of the cat in our homes, including some things (such as the Catalyst Council and the promotion of Cat Friendly veterinary practices) being done to improve the welfare of the cat.

IMG_4372 Then we heard from Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis on the social organization of the domestic cat. Contrary to popular belief, cats are not "asocial" - although their social structure is complex and not completely understood. Dr. Crowell-Davis shared a lot of information about matriarchal structures in cat societies and how cats form preferred associations. She encourages people to adopt related kittens together (why not a whole litter?) and basically put it out there - we are depriving cats of learning to be socially competent adults by raising kittens in isolation!! This talk was followed by an excellent overview of feline aggression and ways to work with it. YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN THERE!

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