Cat Care and Behaviour

Cats Breed at an Incredible Rate

An average cat has 1-8 kittens per litter and 2-3 litters per year. During her productive life, one female cat could have more than 100 kittens!

Cats in Australia Now

The pet population of Australia is estimated to be 33 million, this includes 3.41 million dogs and 2.35 million cats. The remainder is made up of fish, birds and other pets (including rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals). Australia has one of the highest incidences of pet ownership in the world, with 36% of households owning a dog and 23% of households owning a cat and more people are adopting cats in Australia which is good news for stray cats!

*stats from AVA website

Sterilise Your Cat Early - they are sexually active from 4 months old!

Cats breed as it warms up in Australia and this will result in thousands of kittens being born in ‘kitten season’ this summer. Tens of thousands of unwanted animals are surrendered to animal shelters in Australia each year and many more are abandoned in areas where their likely fate is death by accident, starvation, disease or from predators. The most sensible way to avoid an excess of unwanted animals is to de-sex them. Sterilisation is compulsory in WA and it is a relatively simple operation, carried out by a qualified veterinary surgeon under general anaesthesia, with both male and female procedures being quick and humane, with little post-operative discomfort.

Early age de-sexing is now widely accepted by both veterinarians and animal welfare organisations and cats can reach sexual maturity at as young as four months. Studies which track the health of dogs and cats de-sexed at early age have shown no adverse effects so if you haven’t already had your cat sterilised, call Cat Haven on 08 9442 3600 for more information or visit our sterilisation page for more information.

Cat Safety in Your Home

Some seemingly insignificant domestic items can cause danger to your cats (especially young kittens) so it is worth keeping an eye out for potential hazards in your home such as:

In the bathroom/laundry

•          Store medications and toxic substances (household cleaners etc) in secure cabinet

•          Close the toilet lid

•          Never leave a filled bathtub unattended

•          Keep washers and dryers closed and check inside before you put clothes in.

In the kitchen

  • Close the fridge or freezer door – cats are very quick at getting inside!
  • Hot stove tops, open oven doors
  • Plastic bags and string (eg meat soaked string from roasts) can be very dangerous

Living areas

  • Keep small objects such as pins, yarn, dental floss, rubber bands, hair ties, paper clips etc out of cat’s reach
  • Put toys with strings out of reach between play sessions – string and yarn is fascinating to cats but if swallowed, can lead to surgical emergency
  • Watch cords on blinds and curtains and tie up the excess cord or cut
  • Screen off heat sources such as wood stoves and fireplaces
  • Take care with swivelling chairs, folding beds and drawers
  • Tie up loose electrical cords
  • Keep fishing hooks and line stored out of the reach of cats
  • Tobacco products, including nicotine gum and patches contain substances toxic to cats
  • Avoid lilies as they are extremely toxic to cats and can cause renal failure and death. Contact your vet immediately if you think your cat has had contact with lilies.

Microchip your cat

Microchipping your cat is so important to ensure you are reunited with your cat quickly if it is lost or picked up by a Ranger in error. The less time your cat has to spend in a shelter away from you the better as it can be a very frightening, stressful experience for them.

A tiny microchip the size of a grain of rice, containing all your contact information, is inserted into your cat’s shoulder area.  It is a completely painless procedure, doesn’t cost much and takes only a minute, so please call Cat Haven or your local vet to book your cat in today: 08 9442 3600

If you have a pension & concession card through Centrelink and a cat over twelve months old, you are eligible for the $50 snip and chip for de-sexing and microchipping your cat. Visit our microchip page for more information.

Feeding Your Cat and Avoiding Foods That Are Toxic to Cats

If you adopt a cat from Cat Haven, we strongly recommended that you keep your cat on a familiar diet as this will provide a much needed sense of stability. Most cats at Cat Haven are fed on either Hill’s Kitten Original or Adult Original biscuits, but staff will advise you of any special diet required. Keeping your cat eating Hill’s is suggested but if you do want to switch to a different brand of food do so gradually over 7 to 10 days, mixing gradually increasing amounts of new food with the old, as any sudden dietary changes will cause stomach upsets. 

Cats are  true carnivores, meaning that they need a source of animal protein to survive. In the wild, cats eat the carcases of the prey animals they catch which consist of raw meat, raw bones, organs, other tissue and digested vegetable matter. While cats are carnivores they do consume a small amount of the vegetable matter contained in the stomach and intestines of their prey. Cats have adapted over thousands of years to eat this type of diet.

 

Basic cat feeding guide:

  • Feed a high quality balanced premium commercial food that is appropriate for the life stage and health status of your cat. Check that it complies with the Australian Standard: Manufacturing and Marketing Pet Food: AS5812:2011
  • You can offer some natural foods to provide some variety
  • Natural foods include fresh raw meat (e.g. pieces of raw lamb, pieces of raw chicken) and raw meaty bones
  • First check that raw bones are suitable for your particular cat with your vet (some cats with misshapen jaws or dental disease may have difficulty chewing on raw bones)
  • Raw food offered to cats should always be fresh
  • Choose human-grade raw meat and raw meaty bones because some pet meat/pet mince/pet rolls/pet meat and bone products can contain preservatives which can be detrimental to the cat's health (e.g. sulphite preservative induced thiamine deficiency which can be fatal) . However avoid sausages, sausage meat and cooked manufactured meats as they can contain sulphites.
  • Provide some moist foods in the diet regularly as this has been associated with greater urinary tract health e.g. wet can food, fresh raw lamb meat
  • Raw meaty bones provide several important health benefits. They help to keep teeth and gums healthy
  • Suitable raw meaty bones include raw chicken necks, raw chicken wings, raw chicken drumsticks, raw lamb shanks 
  • Too many raw bones may lead to constipation. Generally 1-2 raw meaty bones may be provided per week with a few days in between each serving
  • The bone must be large enough so that the cat cannot fit the whole bone in its mouth or swallow the bone whole
  • Always supervise cats when they eat raw bones
  • Avoid large marrow bones, large knuckle bones or bones sawn lengthwise as cats may crack their teeth on these
  • Never feed cooked bones as these may splinter and cause internal damage or become an intestinal obstruction
  • Fish, such as tinned sardines in springwater; tinned tuna and tinned salmon (care with any fish bones) can also be offered as a treat occasionally. Please avoid feeding fish constantly
  • Cooked meat such as boiled chicken may also be offered occasionally, please ensure there are no cooked bones, onions/onion sauces or other toxic substances present (see below)
  • Cats may also be offered a small amount of vegetable matter
  • Provide cats with access to grass (avoid chemically treated grass and toxic plants) - they occasionally eat grass which may be a source of vegetable matter and micronutrients. Be aware that large amounts of certain types of 'cat grass' can cause hypervitaminosis D.
  • The amount of food required will depend on your cat's size and age, but you should take care not to overfeed or underfeed. Your vet will be able to weigh your cat, assess your cat's body condition score and provide advice  
  • Adult cats tend to prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day/night. They should ideally be offered food at least 3-4 times per day (eating smaller frequent meals has been associated with greater urinary tract health)
  • Please ensure clean fresh water is available at all times
  • Do not feed the following (note this is not an exhaustive list ): onions, garlic, chocolate, coffee or caffeine products, bread dough, avocado, grapes, raisins, sultanas, currants, nuts including macadamia nuts, fruit stones (pits) e.g. mango seeds, apricot stones; fruit seeds, corncobs; tomatoes, mushrooms; fish constantly, cooked bones; small pieces of raw bone or fatty trimmings 

*Diet recommendations: RSPCA website 

How to Deal with Timid Cats

  • Be patient; it takes time to build up trust between you and a shy cat.  Do not rush the process.
  • Confine the cat to one room so as not to overwhelm it
  • Make sure the cat has plenty of hiding places/ safe spots
  • Spend time each day to sit quietly with the cat. Take treats and toys with you to try and encourage the cat to approach
  • Let the cat come to you rather than chasing it
  • Reward interaction with treats
  • Try slow blinking with your cat, this is a greeting and you may find your cat blinking back
  • Talk to the cat gently
  • Learn to read the cat's body language, if a cat starts wagging its tail it may be trying to tell you it has had enough attention and is starting to get irritated
  • Use stress reducing products such as Feliway

Introducing Your New Cat to Other Pets

For comprehensive advice about how to introduce your cat to other household pets, please click here.

Indoor Cats

Visit https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats for information about having a happy and healthy indoor cat.

Cat Behaviour/Playing and Interacting with Your Cat

Scent

Cats have scent glands from head to toe. If you draw an imaginary line that divides your cat in half, the scent glands on the front half are the "friendly" pheromones.  These are used when a cat is marking familiar territory that it considers the heart of its nest. By rubbing against inanimate objects, other cats, humans and other pets, cats deposit their own scent as well as collect and combine scents. The scent glands on the back half are related to stress and excitement. They maybe used to mark territory, to threaten, to announce their presence, to engage in non-confrontational disputes and to exchange information.

Body language

The tail and ears are particularly important social signals in cats. A raised tail acts as a friendly greeting while a tightly tucked tail says leave me be! The tail can also be fearfully fluffed, indecisively twitched or aggressively wagged. 

Ears can also provide ‘mood’ clues. Twitching ears may signal frustration while direct and forward ears indicate interest. The T-position signals fear, but when the ears are rotated back the cat is issuing a serious warning to disengage!

Vocalisation

Cats have an amazing vocabulary. Murmur patterns are produced with a closed mouth and are used to seek out or initiate contact and in greeting. Vowel patterns are produced when the mouth is open and then gradually closed, and are used in greeting and in sexual and aggressive contexts. Strained-intensity patterns are produced with a wide open mouth and are used in defense and to signal aggression or fear and pain. 

Grooming – Brush your cat on a regular basis. This will help to increase the health of the hair, reduce hairballs, and reduce the development of skin problems, and it encourages bonding with your cat.

Click here for more general information about cat care, playing with your cat and cat behaviour.

Worms

Cats can acquire a variety of intestinal parasites, including some that are commonly referred to as “worms.” Infestations of intestinal worms can cause a variety of symptoms. Sometimes cats demonstrate few to no outward signs of infection, and the infestation can go undetected despite being a potentially serious health problem. Some feline parasitic worms are hazards for human health as well.

Common Types of Worms in Cats

Outdoor cats and those who are routinely exposed to soil where other animals defecate are prone to worms. Kittens and cats who do not receive regular preventative health care are most at risk for developing complications associated with internal parasites.

Roundworms are the most common internal parasites in cats. Resembling spaghetti, adult worms are three to four inches long. There are several ways cats can become infected. Nursing kittens can get roundworms from an infected mother’s milk, while adult cats can acquire them by ingesting eggs from the faeces of an infected cat.

Hookworms are much smaller than roundworms—less than an inch long—and reside primarily in the small intestine. Because they feed on an animal’s blood, hookworms can cause life-threatening anaemia, especially in kittens. Hookworm eggs are passed in the stool and hatch into larvae, and a cat can become infected either through ingestion or skin contact. 

Tapeworms are long, flat, segmented parasites that range from 4 to 28 inches in length. An infestation can cause vomiting or weight loss. Cats acquire tapeworms by ingesting an intermediate host, like an infected flea or rodent. When cats are infected, tapeworm segments—actual pieces of the worm that resemble grains of rice—can often be seen on the fur around a cat’s hind end.

Lungworms reside in the lungs of a cat. Most cats will not show any signs of having lungworms, but some can develop a cough. Snails and slugs are popular intermediate hosts of this type of parasite, but cats are usually infected after eating a bird or rodent who has ingested an intermediate host.

Though means of transmission can vary, one of the main ways that cats get worms is through the ingestion of the faeces of infected felines. Mother cats can also pass on worms to their kittens.

Worm Prevention

Keep your cat indoors to avoid exposure to infected cats, rodents, fleas and faeces.

Make sure your home, yard and pets are flea-free.

Practice good hygiene and wear gloves when changing cat litter or handling faeces. It’s also important to frequently dispose of stool.

Ask your veterinarian to recommend an appropriate internal parasite treatment or prevention program for your cat.

Symptoms of Worms in Cats

Symptoms differ depending on the type of parasite and the location of infection, but some common clinical signs include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Worms visible in stool or segments of worm seen near anus
  • Bloody stool
  • Bloating or round, potbellied appearance to abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Anaemia
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing

If you think your cat may have worms, it’s important to bring it to a veterinarian, who can confirm the presence of worms. Avoid self-diagnosis, since worms are not always visible or identifiable.

Treatment for Worms

Please don’t attempt to treat your pet yourself—your cat should be treated for the specific type of worms it has.

Not all de-wormers eradicate all types of worms.  Your veterinarian will determine the type of worm(s) infestation(s) your cat has, and prescribe the best course of treatment.  Your veterinarian will also be able to tell you if the de-wormer should be repeated, and when.

Not all dog medications are safe for cats.

**You can purchase worming products at the Cat Haven shop.

Transmission of Worms from Cats to Humans

A large number of roundworm eggs can accumulate where cats defecate. People, especially children, who ingest such eggs can develop serious health problems, such as blindness, encephalitis and other organ damage. Treatment of blindness caused by roundworm may involve surgical removal.

Hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin and cause lesions. People can acquire tapeworms through the ingestion of an infected flea, although this is rare.

Flea and Worm Treatments

All cats and kittens adopted from Cat Haven will have been treated for fleas and worms. This is covered in the adoption costs but all further treatments will be at your expense. 

Cat Haven uses Revolution, a topical treatment that is applied to the skin on the back of the cat’s neck. This is effective against fleas, ear mites, intestinal worms and heartworm. In addition, a tapeworm tablet is also given.

Adult cats that are spending time outside every day need to be treated with Revolution or a similar product once per month. Cats that remain fully inside can be treated less frequently, every 3 to 4 months. A tapeworm tablet should be given every 3 months. 

There are a wide variety of other flea and worm treatments available. Topical treatments are a much better alternative when compared to flea collars and flea powders but there are a number of other topical products on the market including Advocate, Advantage and Profender (all available from the Cat Haven shop). Please speak to our Reception staff to determine which treatment plan will be most effective for your cat.

Vaccinations

All Cat Haven cats and kittens are vaccinated. In the vast majority of cases we are unaware of the vaccination history of the animals in our care, so adults and kittens will each require two vaccinations three weeks apart initially, then need annual top ups to retain full immunity.

The standard vaccine given for kittens under 6 months is the F3+L, covering several strains of upper respiratory infection (cat flu), Feline Enteritis and Feline Leukemia virus (FeLV) and the F3 for those over 6 months. Make sure you contact your vet each year to ensure your cat's vaccinations are all up to date, especially if they go outdoors or stay in boarding kennels at any time.

Dental Care

We recommend that you contact your vet to have a regular check up of your cat's teeth to avoid gingivitus and other gum/mouth diseases.

Common Behavour Problems (content thanks to ASPCA in the USA)

What to Do About Your Cat’s Scratching Habits

Cats like to scratch. They scratch during play. They scratch while stretching. They scratch to mark territory or as a threatening signal other cats. And because cats’ claws need regular sharpening, cats scratch on things to remove frayed, worn outer claws and expose new, sharper claws. All this scratching can cause a lot of damage to furniture, drapes and carpeting!

The best tactic when dealing with scratching is not to try to stop your cat from scratching, but instead to teach it where and what to scratch. An excellent approach is to provide it with appropriate, cat-attractive surfaces and objects to scratch, such as scratching posts. The following steps will help you encourage your cat to scratch where you want it to:

  • Provide a variety of scratching posts with different qualities and surfaces. Try giving your cat posts made of cardboard, carpeting, wood, sisal and upholstery. Some cats prefer horizontal posts. Others might like vertical posts or slanted posts. Some prefer a vertical grain for raking, while others favour a horizontal grain for picking. Most cats also like a post that’s tall enough that they can stretch fully. (This may be why cats seem to like drapes so much!)
  • Encourage your cat to investigate its posts by scenting them with catnip, hanging toys on them and placing them in areas where it will be inclined to climb on them.
  • Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering other desirable objects. Turn speakers toward the wall. Put plastic, double-sided sticky tape, sandpaper or upside-down vinyl carpet runner (knobby parts up) on furniture or on the floor where your cat would stand to scratch your furniture. Place scratching posts next to these objects, as “legal” alternatives.
  • Clip your cat’s nails regularly.
  • If you catch your cat in the act of scratching an inappropriate object, you can try startling it by clapping your hands or squirting him with water. Use this procedure only as a last resort, because your cat may associate you with the startling event (clapping or squirting) and learn to fear you.

What NOT to Do

Do not hold your cat by the scratching post and force it to drag its claws on it. This practice could seriously frighten your cat and teach it to avoid the scratching post completely. It might decide to avoid you, too!

Do not throw away a favourite scratching post when it becomes unsightly. Cats prefer shredded and torn objects because they can really get their claws into the material. Used posts will also appeal to your cat because they smell and look familiar to it.

Should You Declaw Your Cat?

Some people declaw their cats to prevent or resolve a scratching problem. The term “declaw” is a misnomer. It implies that declawing only involves the removal of a cat’s claws. In reality, declawing involves amputating the end of a cat’s toes. Cats suffer significant pain while recovering from declawing.

Litterbox Problems

At least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding she doesn’t like the location or placement of the litter box.

Once a cat avoids its litter box for whatever reason, its avoidance can become a chronic problem because the cat can develop a surface or location preference for elimination—and this preference might be to your living room rug or your favourite easy chair. The best approach to dealing with these problems is to prevent them before they happen by making your cat’s litter boxes as cat-friendly as possible. See our common litter-box management issues below, and our ways to make litter boxes cat-friendly. It is also important that you pay close attention to your cat’s elimination habits so that you can identify problems in the making. If your cat does eliminate outside its box, you must act quickly to resolve the problem before it develops a strong preference for eliminating on an unacceptable surface or in an unacceptable area.

Litter box use problems in cats can be diverse and complex. Behavioural treatments are often effective, but the treatments must be tailored to the cat’s specific problem. Be certain to read the entire article to help you identify your particular cat’s problem and to familiarize yourself with the different resolution approaches to ensure success with your cat.

Why Do Some Cats Eliminate Outside the Litter Box?

Litter-Box Management Problems

If your cat isn’t comfortable with its litter box or can’t easily access it, it probably won’t use it. The following common litter-box problems might cause it to eliminate outside of its box:

  • You haven’t cleaned your cat’s litter box often or thoroughly enough.
  • You haven’t provided enough litter boxes for your household. Be sure to have a litter box for each of your cats, as well as one extra.
  • Your cat’s litter box is too small for it.
  • Your cat can’t easily get to its litter box at all times.
  • Your cat’s litter box has a hood or liner that makes it uncomfortable.
  • The litter in your cat’s box is too deep. Cats usually prefer one to two inches of litter.

Surface Preference

Some cats develop preferences for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil or bedding.

Litter Preference or Aversion

As predators who hunt at night, cats have sensitive senses of smell and touch to help them navigate through their environment. These sensitivities can also influence a cat’s reaction to its litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter might decide that they dislike the smell or feel of a different litter.

Location Preference or Aversion

Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they don’t like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it’s in a location they dislike.

Inability to Use the Litter Box

Geriatric cats or cats with physical limitations may have a difficult time using certain types of litter boxes such as top-entry boxes, or litter boxes with high sides.

Negative Litter-Box Association

There are many reasons why a cat who has reliably used its litter box in the past starts to eliminate outside of the box. One common reason is that something happened to upset it while it was using the litter box. If this is the case with your cat, you might notice that it seems hesitant to return to the box. Your cat may enter the box, but then leave very quickly—sometimes before even using the box.

One common cause for this is painful elimination. If your cat had a medical condition that caused it pain when it eliminated, it may have learned to associate the discomfort with using the litter box. Even if your cat’s health has returned to normal, that association may still cause it to avoid its litter box.

Household Stress

Stress can cause litter-box problems. Cats can be stressed by events that their owners may not think of as traumatic. Changes in things that even indirectly affect the cat, like moving, adding new animals or family members to your household—even changing your daily routine—can make your cat feel anxious.

Multi-Cat Household Conflict

Sometimes one or more cats in a household control access to litter boxes and prevent the other cats from using them. Even if one of the cats isn’t actually confronting the other cats in the litter box, any conflict between cats in a household can create enough stress to cause litter-box problems.

Medical Problems That Can Cause Inappropriate Elimination

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

If your cat frequently enters her litter box and seems to produce only small amounts of urine, it may have a urinary tract infection. See a veterinarian to rule out this possible medical problem.

Feline Interstitial Cystitis

Feline interstitial cystitis is a neurological disease that affects a cat’s bladder (“cystitis” means inflamed bladder). Cats with cystitis will attempt to urinate frequently and may look as if they are straining, but with little success. They may lick themselves where they urinate, and they may have blood in their urine. Feline interstitial cystitis can cause a cat to eliminate outside of its box, but this is only because of the increased urgency to urinate and because there is pain involved in urination. Feline interstitial cystitis is very serious and can be life-threatening to the cat. It must be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

Kidney Stones or Blockage

If your cat has kidney stones or a blockage, it may frequently enter the litter box. It may also experience pain and meow or cry when it tries to eliminate. Its abdomen may be tender to the touch.

Urine Marking

Urine marking is a problem that most pet owners consider a litter box problem since it involves elimination outside the box, but the cause and treatment are entirely different from other litter-box problems. A cat who urine marks will regularly eliminate in its litter box, but will also deposit urine in other locations, usually on vertical surfaces. When marking, it will usually back up to a vertical object like a chair side, wall or speaker, stand with its body erect and tail extended straight up in the air, and spray urine onto the surface. Often its tail will twitch while it is spraying. The amount of urine a cat sprays when it is urine marking is usually less than the amount it would void during regular elimination in its box.

What to Do If Your Cat Eliminates Outside the Litter Box

Basic Tips for Making Cats Feel Better About Using Their Litter Boxes

Virtually all cats like clean litter boxes, so scoop and change your cat’s litter at least once a day. Rinse the litter box out completely with baking soda or unscented soap once a week.

The majority of cats prefer large boxes that they can enter easily. Plastic sweater storage containers make excellent litter boxes.

Most cats like a shallow bed of litter. Provide one to two inches of litter rather than three to four inches.

Most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter.

Your cat may prefer the type of litter it used as a kitten.

Most cats don’t like box liners or lids on their boxes.

Cats like their litter boxes located in a quiet but not “cornered” location. They like to be able to see people or other animals approaching, and they like to have multiple escape routes in case they want to leave their boxes quickly.

Because self-cleaning boxes are generally cleaner than traditional types of litter boxes, many cats accept them readily. However, if you’re using a self-cleaning litter box and your cat starts eliminating outside the box, try switching to a traditional type of litter box.

Resolving a Litter-Box Problem

The first step in resolving elimination outside the litter box is to rule out urine marking and medical problems. Have your cat checked thoroughly by a veterinarian. Once your veterinarian determines that your cat doesn’t have a medical condition or issue, try following these guidelines:

  • Provide enough litter boxes. Make sure you have one for each cat in your household, plus one extra. For example, if you have three cats, you’ll need a minimum of four litter boxes.
  • Place litter boxes in accessible locations, away from high-traffic areas and away from areas where the cat might feel trapped. Keep boxes away from busy, loud or intimidating places, like next to your washer and dryer or next to your dog’s food and water bowls, or in areas where there’s a lot of foot traffic.
  • Put your cat’s food bowls somewhere other than right next to its litter box.
  • Remove covers and liners from all litter boxes.
  • Give your cat a choice of litter types. Cats generally prefer clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. Use unscented litter. Offer different types of litter in boxes placed side-by-side to allow your cat to show you its preference.
  • Scoop at least once a day. Once a week, clean all litter boxes with warm water and unscented soap, baking soda or no soap, and completely replace the litter. The problem with scented cleaners is that your cat could develop an aversion to the scent.
  • Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odours. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
  • If your cat soils in just a few spots, place litter boxes there. If it’s not possible to put a box in a spot where your cat has eliminated, place its food bowl, water bowl, bed or toys in that area to discourage further elimination.
  • Make inappropriate elimination areas less appealing. Try putting regular or motion-activated lights in dark areas. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by placing upside-down carpet runners, tin foil or double-sided sticky tape in the area where your cat has eliminated in the past.

If Your Cat Has Developed a Surface or Location Preference

If your cat seems to prefer eliminating on a certain kind of surface or in a certain location, you’ll need to make that surface or its location less appealing. If the preference is in a dark area, try putting a bright light or, even better, a motion-activated light in the area. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by placing upside-down carpet runners, tin foil or double-sided sticky tape where your cat has eliminated in the past. At the same time, provide your cat with extra litter boxes in acceptable places in case part of her problem is the location of her usual litter box, and be sure to give it multiple kinds of litter to choose from so that it can show you which one it prefers.

If Your Cat Has Developed a Litter Preference or Aversion

Cats usually develop a preference for litter type and scent as kittens. Some cats adapt to a change of litter without any problem at all, while other cats may feel uncomfortable using a type of litter that they didn’t use when they were young.

If you think your cat may dislike its litter type, texture or smell, try offering it different types of litter to use. Cats generally prefer clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. They also usually prefer unscented litter. To help your cat pick its preferred litter, put a few boxes side-by-side with different types of litter in them. It will use the one it likes best.

Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odours. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.

If Your Cat Is Unable to Use Her Litter Box

Special-needs cats such as those who are older, arthritic or still very young might have trouble with certain types of litter boxes. Boxes that have sides that are too high or have a top-side opening might make it difficult for your cat to enter or leave the box. Try switching to a litter box with low sides.

Treatment for Negative Litter Box Association

If your cat has experienced some kind of frightening or upsetting event while using her litter box, it could associate that event with the litter box and avoid going near it. Things that might upset your cat while it is eliminating in its box include being cornered or trapped by a dog, cat or person, hearing a loud noise or commotion, or seeing something frightening or startling. These experiences—or any other disturbing experience—could make your cat very reluctant to enter its litter box. If your cat is afraid of its litter box, you may notice it running into the box and then leaving again very quickly, sometimes before it has finished eliminating. You may also notice it eliminating nearby, but not inside its box. This means that your cat is worried about using the box, especially if it has reliably used litter box in the past.

Changing the Way Your Cat Feels

If your cat associates its litter box with unpleasant things, you can work to help it develop new and pleasant associations. Cats can’t be forced to enjoy something, and trying to show your cat that its litter box is safe by placing it in the box will likely backfire and increase its dislike of the box. It’s usually not a good idea to try to train your cat to use a litter box by offering her treats like you would a dog, because many cats do not like attention while they’re eliminating. However, a professional animal behaviour consultant may be able to help you design a successful retraining or counterconditioning program.

Sometimes retraining to overcome litter-box fears or aversions may not be necessary. Here are some steps that you can try to help your cat learn new pleasant associations:

  • Move your cat’s litter box to a new location, or add a few litter boxes in different locations at the same time. Pick locations where your cat can see who is approaching from any sides that aren’t backed by walls. These locations should also have multiple escape routes so that your cat can quickly leave its litter box if it suddenly feels anxious. If possible, make sure that children or other animals who might seem threatening to your cat can’t get near the litter box.
  • Fill the litter boxes one to two inches deep with a litter that is a little different from the litter in the boxes your cat avoids. Use a finer or coarser texture. If you’ve been using scented litter, try unscented litter.
  • Try playing with your cat near the litter box. Also leave treats and toys for it to find and enjoy in the general area leading to the box. Don’t put its food bowl next to the box, though, because cats usually don’t like to eliminate close to their food.
  • If you have a long-haired cat, try carefully and gently clipping the hair on its hind end if you notice that it gets soiled or matted during elimination. Matting can cause the hair to get pulled when the cat eliminates. That can be painful for the cat and make her skittish of her litter box.

Treatment for Household Stress

Cats sometimes stop using their litter boxes when they feel stressed. Identify and, if possible, eliminate any sources of stress or frustration in your cat’s environment. For instance, keep its food bowls full and in the same place, keep its routine as predictable as possible, prevent the dog from chasing it, close blinds on windows and doors so it isn’t upset by cats outside. If you can’t eliminate sources of stress, try to reduce them. Incorporate the use of sprays or diffusers that deliver a synthetic pheromone like Feliway that has been shown to have some effect in relieving stress in cats.

*You can purchase Feliway from the Cat Haven shop.

Medications

Always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist before giving your cat any type of medication for a behaviour problem.

Medications can provide additional help in treating inappropriate elimination when the behaviour is in response to stress or anxiety. It’s unlikely to be helpful if your cat eliminates outside its litter box because of litter-management problems, an aversion to a particular kind of litter or location, a preference for a particular surface or location, or a physical inability to use the box. If you’d like to explore this option, speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviourist who can work closely with your vet.

What NOT to Do

Regardless of what you do so solve your cat’s elimination problems, here are a few things to avoid:

  • Do not rub your cat’s nose in urine or faeces.
  • Do not scold your cat and carry or drag it to the litter box.
  • Do not confine your cat to a small room with the litter box, for days to weeks or longer, without doing anything else to resolve it elimination problems.
  • Do not clean up accidents with an ammonia-based cleanser. Urine contains ammonia, and therefore cleaning with ammonia could attract your cat to the same spot to urinate again. Instead, use a product specifically for cleaning pet accidents.

Cat Meowing or Yowling

The cat’s meow is its way of communicating with people. Cats meow for many reasons—to say hello, to ask for things, and to tell us when something’s wrong. Meowing is an interesting vocalization in that adult cats don’t actually meow at each other, just at people. Kittens meow to let their mother know they’re cold or hungry, but once they get a bit older, cats no longer meow to other cats. But they continue to meow to people throughout their lives, probably because meowing gets people to do what they want. Cats also yowl—a sound similar to the meow but more drawn out and melodic. Unlike meowing, adult cats do yowl at one another, specifically during breeding season.

When does meowing become excessive? That’s a tough call to make, as it’s really a personal issue. All cats are going to meow to some extent—this is normal communication behaviour. But some cats meow more than their pet parents would like. Bear in mind that some breeds of cats, notably the Siamese, are prone to excessive meowing and yowling.

Why Cats Meow

These are the most common reasons why cats meow:

  • To greet people. Your cat can be expected to meow in greeting when you come home, when it meets up with you in the house and when you speak to it.
  • To solicit attention. Cats enjoy social contact with people, and some will be quite vocal in their requests for attention. The cat may want to be stroked, played with or simply talked to. Cats who are left alone for long periods of time each day may be more likely to meow for attention.
  • To ask for food. Most cats like to eat, and they can be quite demanding around mealtimes. Some cats learn to meow whenever anyone enters the kitchen, just in case food might be forthcoming. Others meow to wake you up to serve them breakfast. Cats also learn to beg for human food by meowing.
  • To ask to be let in or out. Meowing is the cat’s primary way to let you know what it wants. If it wants to go outside, it will likely learn to meow at the door. Likewise, if it is outdoors and wants in, it will meow to get you to let it back inside. If you’re trying to transition a cat from being indoor-outdoor to living exclusively indoors, you may be in for a period of incessant meowing at doors and windows. This is a difficult change for a cat to make, and it will very likely take weeks or even months for the meowing to stop.
  • Elderly cats suffering from mental confusion, or cognitive dysfunction, may meow if they become disoriented—a frequent symptom of this feline version of Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • To find a mate. Reproductively intact cats are more likely to yowl. Females yowl to advertise their receptivity to males, and males yowl to gain access to females.

Take Your Cat to the Veterinarian

A cat who meows a lot should be checked thoroughly by a veterinarian to ensure a medical condition is not the cause of the cat’s distress. Numerous diseases can cause cats to feel unusually hungry, thirsty, restless or irritable—any of which is likely to prompt meowing. Even if your cat has a history of meowing for food, you should still have it checked by your veterinarian. As cats age, they’re prone to developing an overactive thyroid and kidney disease, and either one may result in excessive meowing.

Helping Your Cat Be Less Vocal

Before you try to curb your cat’s excessive vocalizing, you need to determine the cause. Look at the circumstances around its meowing and make note of what seems to get it to stop. It may help to keep a log book so you can look for any patterns in when it becomes especially vocal. Once you identify when she’s likely to meow excessively, try these suggestions to help it control her vocalizations:

  • If your cat meows to say hello, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do much to change things—you have an especially vocal cat who is telling you how glad it is to see you!
  • If your cat is meowing for attention, teach it that you’ll only pay attention to it when its quiet. Resist the urge to shout at it or give it any form of attention, even angry attention. Instead, be patient and wait for a brief moment of silence. Immediately give it the attention it craves. If it starts to meow again, walk away, and only return to it when it’s quiet. If you’re consistent, it will catch on.

If you believe your cat cries out of loneliness because you spend too much time out of the house, consider having a pet sitter come partway through the day to visit and play with it.

If your cat meows at you for food, stop feeding it when it cries! Feed it at prescribed times so it learns that it’s futile to ask for food at other times. If that doesn’t work, buy an automatic feeder that you can schedule to open at specific times. At least then it’s more likely to meow at the feeder than at you! This is especially useful if your cat wakes you up in the morning to be fed—it will switch from bothering you to sitting and watching the feeder, waiting for it to open.

If you’ve recently placed your cat on a diet, consult with your veterinarian about high-fibre diet foods or supplements that can help your cat feel satisfied with its reduced intake.

If your cat isn’t prone to gaining weight, consider leaving dry food out for it all the time so it never has to feel hungry. If you feed a high-fibre diet food, your cat can feel full without taking in too many calories. Check with your veterinarian before trying this.

If your cat is meowing to get you to let it inside/outside, consider installing a cat door so you don’t have to serve as its butler. Cat Haven recommends that cats be kept exclusively indoors to protect them from danger and disease. If you have a cat who’s accustomed to going outside and you want to keep it in, it is likely to go through a period of meowing at doors and windows. There’s no easy way to get through this, but as long as it never gets outside again, it will eventually adjust to its life indoors and stop meowing so much. Another option is to build an outdoor cat enclosure so it can spend time outside but remain safe.

If your female cat isn’t spayed and she periodically meows excessively, she may be in heat at those times. Female cats in heat typically become increasingly affectionate, rub against you more, purr, roll around on the floor—and meow a lot. This lasts four to ten days. An unspayed female cat who isn’t bred by (doesn’t have sex with) a male cat will continue to come into heat every 18 to 24 days throughout the breeding season (roughly Sept to April in Australia). Indoor cats may continue to come into heat all year round. The best way to reduce excessive meowing caused by the heat cycle is to have your cat spayed.

If your male cat isn’t neutered and he periodically meows excessively, he may be hearing or smelling a female cat in heat. He is likely to pace and meow relentlessly throughout the time the female stays in heat. Unless you can completely prevent him from being able to detect females in heat, the best way to reduce excessive meowing in an intact male cat is to have him neutered.

* In Western Australia it is law to desex your cat if it is over 6 months old or you could be subject to large penalties.

If your cat is elderly and has just started meowing excessively, make sure to have it evaluated by your veterinarian for medical conditions, sensory deficits and cognitive dysfunction. Medication may alleviate its discomfort.

What NOT to Do

Do not ignore your cat when it meows. The one exception is if you know for certain that it’s meowing to get you to do something it wants. In every other instance, it’s safest to assume that something’s wrong—it may not have access to its litter box, or the water bowl may be empty, or it may be locked in a closet. Always make sure that its needs are met before assuming that its just being demanding by meowing at you.

Do not scold or hit your cat for meowing too much. While these punishments may send it scurrying at first, they are unlikely to have a lasting effect on its meowing behaviour. They may, however, cause it to become fearful of you.

Why Do Cats Urine Mark?

Animal species who live in social groups in which the members depend on each other for survival have sophisticated interpersonal communication. Particularly animals who can cause significant harm to each other—like dogs—have developed a social mechanism for preventing conflict through interpersonal ranking. They are prepared to assume either a leadership or deference position, and they can read another animal’s body language to interpret his intentions and react accordingly. But cats have a somewhat unique social structure in that they do not hunt, eat or sleep in groups like dogs.

Given the opportunity, cats go off on their own when they mature and claim certain areas or territories for themselves. They might share a territory with other cats, but it’s a time-share approach—they avoid each other whenever possible. They haven’t developed a social system or a communication system like dogs. Socially, cats who greet often handle things like two neighbours in an argument—although one might back down if it thinks it might get injured—neither individual will ever perceive itself as having lower status than the other. Cats have no system for working out face-to-face disputes, so face-to-face disputes can be dangerous for them. To avoid disputes, cats communicate indirectly—they leave messages.

Cats have numerous ways to leave messages for each other, and one way is through urine marking. By urine marking, a cat tells other cats of its presence and makes a statement about such things as what piece of property is his, how long ago it was in the area and, over time, when other cats can expect it to return. Cats can even advertise when they are looking for a mate. All this information is available to other cats in the urine. This way, cats rarely have to meet up with each other.

Cats who live in houses might not have to hunt for their food or find a mate, but they still look at their world in the same way as cats who must survive on their own. They can only use the social and communication skills that nature gave them. If their world is predictable, there are no conflicts, they are spayed or neutered and they don’t need a mate, cats have little reason to mark and probably will not. But, if they want a mate or they are distressed about something, they’ll deal with their distress like any cat: they’ll mark their territory. To a cat, marking helps keep unwanted individuals away—whoever and whatever those individuals may be—and it creates an atmosphere of familiarity that makes them feel more secure.

The following is a list of characteristics that indicate urine marking:

Urine marks are usually deposited on vertical surfaces. Marking on a vertical surface is known as spraying. When spraying, a cat usually backs up to a vertical object like the side of a chair, a wall or a stereo speaker, stands with its body erect and its tail extended straight up in the air, and sprays urine onto the surface. Often its tail and sometimes its entire body twitch while it is spraying.

Urine mark deposits often have less volume than voided deposits. The amount of urine a cat sprays when its urine marking is usually less than the amount it would void during regular elimination in its box.

The urine smells pungent. The reason cats can learn so much from the urine mark of another cat is that a urine mark isn’t just urine. It also contains extra communication chemicals. Those chemicals smell pungent to people.

There are also certain characteristics of a cat or a household that can contribute to urine marking:

The cat is an unneutered male. Although female cats as well as neutered and spayed cats can urine mark, unneutered males have more reason to do so. One function of urine marking is to advertise reproductive availability, so unneutered males may urine mark to let females know they are available.

There are multiple cats in the household. The more cats who live in a home, the more likely it is that at least one of them will urine mark. Houses that have more than 10 cats invariably have urine marking problems.

There has been a change in the household in some way. Cats don’t like change. When things change, cats can become stressed. Urine marking behaviour can be triggered by someone moving in, moving out, getting a dog, cat or other animal, building a room, remodelling the kitchen, changing work hours, going to stay in the hospital, having a baby, even buying a new coat or bringing home groceries in an unusually large paper bag. One of the ways cats deal with this stress is by marking their territory. They might do it to pre-empt a problem by leaving a message that this place is theirs, or they might do it to comfort themselves with their own familiar scent.

There is conflict between cats. The conflict can be between cats in the house or between the housecat and other cats he sees outside. Cats mark in response to conflict with other cats for the same reasons they mark in response to household changes. Cat-to-cat conflict is one of the most common reasons for urine marking, and it’s usually anxiety based rather than intolerance based. A cat doesn’t necessarily get angry because another cat has the audacity to come into his territory. Rather, it gets upset because it doesn’t have the social skills to deal with the intrusion. If a cat is prevented from avoiding the other cat, it may become increasingly stressed and mark often.

Treating Urine Marking Caused by Conflict in a Multi-Cat Household

The first step in fixing any elimination problem is to rule out medical problems. Although there is no medical problem that contributes specifically to urine marking, physical problems can create increased anxiety in a cat, which can contribute to marking. Once your veterinarian has determined that your cat doesn’t have a medical condition or issue, consider the following guidelines:

  • Determine which cat is marking. If you have multiple cats and aren’t sure which cat is marking, speak with your veterinarian about giving fluorescein, a harmless dye, to one of your cats. Although the dye does not usually stain furniture or walls, it causes urine to glow blue under ultraviolet light for about 24 hours. If you can’t get or use fluorescein, you can temporarily confine your cats, one at a time, to determine which one is marking.
  • Provide enough litter boxes. Although marking is not an elimination problem, if there are too few litter boxes for all the cats, conflict will arise over litter box use and can contribute to marking. Make sure you have one box for each cat in your house, plus one extra. For example, if you have three cats, you’ll need a minimum of four litter boxes. Place additional boxes in locations where the anxious (marking) cat spends the majority of his time.
  • Place litter boxes in low-traffic areas with at least two exit routes. Again, the object is to avoid conflict between cats. In addition, if you have a dog, keep the boxes away from your dog’s food and water bowls. Cats can mark in response to dogs as well as other cats.
  • Scoop at least once a day. In addition to scooping the litter box daily, clean all litter boxes with warm water and unscented soap, or baking soda and no soap, and completely replace the litter once a week. This helps reduce the presence of any offending “other cat” scent.
  • Provide multiple perching areas. Cats need their own space. Conflict can often be reduced simply by providing more perching areas so that all cats can have a place to rest well away from the others. Creating space can be as easy as clearing window sills or shelves, or purchasing multiperch cat trees.
  • Distribute resources. Provide multiple sources of food, water, scratching posts and toys so that each cat can make use of them without coming into contact or having a conflict with one of the other cats.
  • Play with your cats. Increased play with individual cats in different areas of your home can sometimes reduce conflict. Encourage play with toys that dangle on strings suspended from sticks. Attempts to encourage mutual play can sometimes help reduce conflict, but it might simply increase conflict if your cats react poorly at the very sight of each other.
  • Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odours. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
  • Use a synthetic cat pheromone in areas where the cat has marked. Products like this deliver a synthetic pheromone that has been shown to have some effect in relieving stress in cats. Deliver the pheromone through a diffuser plugged in close to where your cat has seen the outdoor cats. This type of product is typically available as a spray or through a diffuser, and can be found in many pet stores and online.

Treating Urine Marking Caused by Conflict with Outdoor Cats

You can try the following recommendations to remedy urine marking behaviour caused by conflict with an outdoor cat:

  • Close windows, blinds and doors. Prevent your indoor cat from seeing other neighbourhood cats.
  • Attach a motion-detection device to your lawn sprinkler. Set the sprinkler by windows to deter the presence of neighbourhood cats.
  • Use a synthetic cat pheromone in areas where the cat has marked.

If your cat is intact, neuter him or spay her!

What NOT to Do

Here are a few things to avoid when treating urine marking:

  • Do not rub your cat’s nose in its urine.
  • Do not throw things at your cat.
  • Do not clean up accidents with an ammonia-based cleanser. Urine contains ammonia, so cleaning with ammonia can attract your cat that same spot to urinate.

Useful Links

For more information about common cat health issues please visit our health page.

Cat Behaviour Guide courtesy of Cat Protection UK

60 Minute Home Makeover

  • http://www.fabcats.org/behaviour/cat_friendly_home/info.html
  • http://www.moderncat.net/2008/10/08/unbelievable-cat-friendly-house-design-from-japan/

 Home Sweet Home

  • http://www.hillsvet.com/pdf/en-us/Feline_Behavior_Guidelines.pdf

 An Environment of Plenty

  • http://www.fabcats.org/behaviour/training/training_for_happier_life.html
  • http://www.fabcats.org/behaviour/play/index.php
  • http://www.fabcats.org/behaviour/cat_friendly_home/playtime.html
  • http://www.fabcats.org/behaviour/understanding/safe_dilemma.html

 Your Healthy Cat

  • http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/felinelifestressors/vet/index.cfm