Pet clinics

Manage feline behavior with modifications

Animal behavior experts discuss common problems with cats and recommended treatment options

In interviews with dvm360®Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM and Lena R. Provoost, DVM, DACVB, of the Behavior Medicine Clinic at Penn Vet’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as Dean’s Alumni Council feline expert Liz Bales, VMD of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and the advisory boards of dvm360®American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat Friendly Practice, Vet Candy, and Fear Free discussed common feline behavioral issues and how to manage them.

What are common feline behavior problems?

Provost: The 2 most common we see are elimination in unwanted places, also called inappropriate elimination, and aggression directed at familiar and unfamiliar people. And it can manifest as stalking, chasing, leaping, biting, [and] vocalizations such as hissing and scratching.

Syracuse: [I’d say the same.] This reflects what the literature says. Improper disposal is people’s number one concern, followed by aggression, but [feline aggression] does not have the same relevance as dog aggression.

What causes these behavior problems?

Provost: It depends on the motivation of the behavior. When you have a case of inappropriate elimination, you try to determine whether it is a marking behavior, an elimination behavior, that is, a toileting behavior. Also, is it anxiety based? Or is this normal behavior where the cat signals its presence by leaving its scent against the cat feeling anxious about its surroundings and trying to feel more secure and stable?

Syracuse: I would add that inappropriate elimination and aggression may seem unrelated but are not. A thing [with aggression] is that people tend to be more concerned about their cat urinating everywhere than the hissing or slapping. People are very concerned if a dog growls, but not so much if a cat exhibits aggression, but this aggression can actually trigger inappropriate elimination. In fact, many cases of inappropriate elimination are caused by a type of social conflict that does not manifest itself in serious aggression.

What do you recommend to fix inappropriate elimination?

Balls: The first thing you want to do is research a medical medical cause. This includes chemistry, complete blood count, urinalysis by cystocentesis, urine culture and some [form] imaging to look for bladder/kidney stones. If a cat is between 1 and 10 years old with no other medical conditions, it is highly unlikely [to be] a urinary tract infection. Crystals do not necessarily mean stones, and if there are crystals, you may have a crystal of one type and a stone of another. This is another challenge. If you find a medical problem, you must treat it.

Fifty percent to 70% of the time, all [test results are] negative. If so, it’s time to consider the environment you’re asking your cat to live in. Cats typically urinate outside the litter box and have bloody, painful urination in response to an environment that does not respond to their minimum. behavioral needs.

The way humans arrange their homes usually doesn’t take into account the behavioral needs of their cat. Trying to understand a particular stress, which I call the last straw, and removing it is really difficult. The best game is to look at the entire home environment and intentionally set it up to meet your cat’s minimal behavioral needs, and the problems will most likely go away. Not only are you less likely to have medical and behavioral problems, but also less likely to create them. Every kitten and cat should live in a home designed to meet their minimum needs.

Do you have any advice [for] clients [to] comply with home treatment plans for the behavior?

Provost: We offer a follow-up period, so we encourage customers to contact us if they have any questions. We give them a detailed plan but also tell them not to feel overwhelmed. Maybe take 1 point at a time and work on it for a week. Focus on trying to manage it, but realize that all the things we can do now are for a long term goal in the future.

Balls: Educate. A litter box, food and water are not enough. We need to make proper cat care simple and help people understand what a cat needs to feel safe and how to provide it in an easy and affordable way. Help people understand how important these things are and that providing them is not only the human thing to do, but it also avoids problems down the road.

Why wait to have a problem? If each person who [left] shelter with a kitten or cat understood their minimum needs and how to meet them, the world would be a much better place for cats and their keepers.

What is “decode your chat?”

Syracuse: This is the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists book on cats. [Decoding Your Cat: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Cat Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones] was written by veterinarians, and I’m a co-editor. He has the approach [of empowering cat owners] with scientific knowledge and covers cases where a behavioral problem may be the manifestation of a physical problem. I think it has [a] single point of view.

Is there anything new or exciting happening in the world of feline behavior?

Balls: I’m glad people are talking about it. Many of us did not receive this training in veterinary school. You have to work very hard, even as a veterinarian, to get this information. If vets don’t have it, how are average pet owners going to get it? I’m glad this is taken seriously because an important part of physical health is the mental health of animals as well as people.