Behind those big, knowing eyes and beguiling purrs, what’s actually going on in our cats’ heads?
Anita Kelsey, who holds a first-class degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology, spends her days helping cats with behavioural problems, specialising in mogs who have a serious aversion to being groomed.
Anita’s technique is all about understanding the cat inside out and getting to the root of the problem. “Once I get the referral from the vet, or a call from the owner, I send a behaviour questionnaire asking about the cat’s history and arrange a home visit. This is where I get to meet the cat, see its natural environment and how the owners interact with it.
“I like to spend quiet, alone time with the cat, especially when it’s an aggression issue. I observe the cat’s body language around me. Sometimes a cat might be getting cross because of the way its owner is reaching over its head to stroke it. I’d never approach a cat like that, as it tends to cause anxiety, so I want to see how the cat reacts when
I get closer.
“Saying that, I only attempt to pet the cat if it makes the first move, showing me it’s OK to do that. I also like to see how the cat reacts to play therapy and things that distract from the aggression.”
While Anita works with cats who have all kinds of behaviour problems, the two most common issues she sees time and time again are aggression and toileting outside the litter tray. Just like us, some cats have phobias, the most common of which is fear of certain noises, such as the rustling of carrier bags or doorbells, as well as grooming phobias.
“While not much is yet known about why cats develop phobias – although it may be due to a traumatic past experience – with grooming phobias, I have to teach the owner how to groom and which tools to use so I can completely take myself out of the equation. Then we work to slowly introduce the cat to the feel of the comb, being gently handled and combining this with positive associations such as food. It’s generally best to tackle this early on as owners sometimes wait until their cat’s coat is at its worst and then call me up asking me to help groom a cat that sees me as a light lunch!
“When it comes to noise phobias, it’s also about slowly introducing the cat to the sound at its minimum, again connected with positive associations. Often the owner has to stay alert to the phobia and change the way they handle certain things, for example, using carrier bags with caution and being aware of where the cat is when shaking out a bag.”
Anita’s tips for a happy cat
When there’s a problem, it’s not so much changing the cat as the owner learning why the cat is behaving as it is and changing expectations. For a happy cat…
- Try making your home as stimulating as possible, taking into account different breed traits. For example, if you have cats which love to climb, such as Abyssinians, Turkish Van cats or Bengals, your home needs to have lots of high-up spaces.
- Create an outside access point. If you don’t have a garden a downstairs window-box is a perfect place where a cat can sit to to watch the world go by.
- Cats don’t understand that scratching the furniture is ‘bad’ behaviour. A scratching post or cat tree will encourage and re-direct the cat’s natural instincts to scratch elsewhere.
- Considering a second cat to share your home? Think carefully… often the resident cat will see the newbie as an intruder on its territory and create a big fuss.
If you’d like to find out more about Anita’s work, visit www.catbehaviourist.com. To book a cat behaviour consultation call 0795 664 0194 between office hours (9-5pm) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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