How Can I Keep My Cat Properly Hydrated?

It sounds like you have two problems here: First, your cat must have a lot of playful energy if she can tip over her water bowl. That can actually be a good thing; you just need to channel her energies in a productive manner. Most of us have busy schedules, so it’s important to dedicate at least a few different play periods per day with your cat, such as in the morning, when you get home and in the evening.

You might also consider getting another cat to serve as a playmate. Of course, you could then have two cats knocking over their water bowls. It therefore helps to use heavy bowls, ideally with rubberized bottoms that cling to surfaces. Another option is to buy placemats out of such materials that will achieve the same effect. Trays can additionally facilitate cleanups.

Steve Garner, a board certified veterinarian in League City, Texas, recommends that cat owners provide at least two bowls of water -- filled to the brim -- in different locations. On hot days, try freezing the water in one. As the day goes on, the water will melt and retain its fresh chill. For the ultimate kitty thirst quencher, Marty Becker, veterinary contributor to “Good Morning America,” suggests that owners purchase water fountains. Some, he says, have “aeration like a mountain stream with a reservoir … and a flowing fountain that helps cool the water and improve the taste of it.”

Hopefully the above solutions will help to keep your kitty both happy and hydrated this summer.

Does Your Cat Need a Psychiatrist?

When Abby, a 5-year-old tabby, was adopted by a California couple after the cat’s first family lost their home in Hurricane Katrina, Abby’s new caretakers were determined to keep the feline indoors for its own protection. After years of roaming free in New Orleans, however, Abby began to respond to her confinement by urinating just about everywhere other than her litter box. Her owners spent a year trying to change Abby’s behavior with no success, so they called Dr. Kenneth Martin, a New Orleans-based veterinary behaviorist also known as the cat “psychiatrist.”

Martin treated Abby with a combination of behavior therapy and antidepressant medication. “We gave her the cat version of Prozac and enriched her environment with toy rotation,” he says. “We put the litter boxes in different areas. We made the areas she had been soiling unattractive to her. Within two weeks, the marking had completely dissipated.”

A staff member at Louisiana’s Veterinary Behavior Consultations, Martin has had many experiences with the emotional lives of cats, and he shares his wisdom with us here.

The Most Common Cat Issues

  • Inappropriate elimination In cats, marking territory with urine is often an anxiety-related behavior. If your cat is backing up to a vertical surface in your home and eliminating small amounts, it’s most likely stress related. This is typically a response to other cats on their territory, either inside or outside the home.
  • Aggression Genetics play a big role in how social -- or antisocial -- a cat may be. Environment is also a factor, and kittens have a small window for socialization. By the time they’re seven weeks old, they’ve had their most formative social experiences. That means that by the time you’ve taken in a cat, its personality, including how comfortable it feels socially, has already formed. A socially uncomfortable cat is more prone to aggressive behavior toward people and animals.
  • Intense fear The term “scaredy cat” evolved because cats can respond with intense fear to a variety of sounds, smells and sights. The coping techniques, such as excessive grooming, that cats develop to soothe themselves can become problematic.

The Feline Treatment
After all possible medical causes, such as hyperthyroidism, for the aforementioned behaviors are ruled out, Martin uses a two-tiered treatment of medication and behavior modification. The medications are either antidepressants like Prozac -- the cat version is called Reconcile -- or antianxiety drugs like Valium. “Medication, when we use it, takes the edge off, but the goal is always to wean the pet after it has learned to cope with the environmental stressors,” says Martin.

While medication is used only on a case-by-case basis, behavioral and environmental modifications are always a part of Martin’s treatment plan. These can include the simple changes Martin instituted in Abby’s household, such as making her chosen places for elimination unappealing or a more involved treatment like exposure therapy for intense fear.

“In exposure therapy, we identify what is making a cat anxious, and then we expose them repeatedly to that stimulus in a non-threatening manner, getting the fear level to go down,” he explains. “We also use a method called counter-conditioning, where the animal is given food treats while being exposed to the scary situation.”

When to Call a Behaviorist
If your cat is displaying the following symptoms and your veterinarian rules out underlying medical problems, you may want to call a cat behaviorist.

  • Excessive restlessness demonstrated by constant tail wagging, pacing and the inability to settle down
  • Unusual frequency of vocalization
  • Separation anxiety that appears suddenly and lasts for a long time
  • Inappropriate elimination or aggression

“We behaviorists can be helpful any time a behavioral condition compromises the underlying welfare of the cat or owner. Behavior problems are taxing to the human-animal bond,” says Martin. Just ask Abby the tabby’s owners, who are now in a stress-free, loving relationship with their litter box-using pet.

Special Purr Allows Cats to Manipulate Humans

At 5 a.m., my cats want two things: breakfast and attention. Their Plan A is to meow louder than an alarm clock, which usually works. If I take longer than usual to respond, they resort to their no-fail Plan B: climbing on top of my head, butting my chin and purring with hypnotic desperation directly into my ear.

Perhaps you’ve also heard this special purr? Scientists have just named it “solicitation purring,” otherwise known as the purr we humans cannot ignore.

What Is Solicitation Purring?
Karen McComb, a cat owner herself, led the recent study on purring, published in the journal Current Biology. After she and her colleagues analyzed the acoustic structure of recorded cat purrs, they determined one particular type contains an embedded, high-pitched cry. “The high-frequency voiced cry occurs at a low level in cats’ normal purring, but we think that cats dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans,” explains the University of Sussex behavioral ecologist.

The cry, much to a cat’s benefit, is very similar to that of a wailing human infant. “Cats have about the right size of vocal folds to produce a cry that is similar to a baby’s, so there is a coincidental element,” says Dr. McComb. In fact, she believes this cry component of a solicitation purr can sound remarkably like a crying child, and that is particularly effective with humans.

How It Works
If your cat sees you stirring from sleep at all in the early morning, it will immediately switch into giving this solicitation purring and position itself next to your head so you get the full impact. Sound familiar? Here’s what’s really taking place:

First Your cat gets a craving for food, water, attention, playtime or something else. Being relatively small, furry and unable to get to such things alone in your home, your pet sets a strategy in motion.

Second Your cat approaches you while vibrating its vocal folds, or cords, in its larynx. “This is not a normal vocal production mechanism [in the animal kingdom],” says Dr. McComb. “Usually in mammals, the vocal folds are just moved into the airstream and then are blown open and snap shut at their own natural frequency of vibration.” The resulting vibrating low fundamental frequency results in a purr.

Third Your cat doesn’t just continue to purr as usual. It voices a cry, “probably with the inner edges of the vocal folds,” believes Dr. McComb. The cry is superimposed on the regular purr.

Fourth You hear the solicitation purr and instinct kicks in. Studies show that most primates are driven to respond to the sound of an infant in distress, so your brain on some level perceives your cat as though it were an actual human baby, even though you consciously know it’s your needy feline.

Last If you are like most owners, you give in to what your cat desires. Considering cats cannot use actual words, the system is surprisingly effective. Nicolas Nicastro, who studied cat vocalizations at Cornell University, says that although they lack language, cats have become very skilled at managing humans to get what they want -- food, shelter and a little human affection.

Have Cats Domesticated Humans?
Cats are domesticated animals that have learned to pull the right levers and make the right sounds to manage our emotions. And when we respond, we too are domesticated animals.

However, don’t confuse cats for little people. “Felines cannot say, ‘Take a can of food out of the cupboard, run the can opener and fill my bowl immediately,’” says Nicastro. They’ve evolved a different, yet no less effective, method of communicating with us.

Four Types of Purrs
Dr. McComb and Georgia Mason, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, suggest cats might purr in at least four ways:

  • Contentment purr This is “the relaxing one,” says Dr. Mason. It’s the common low frequency rumbling we both hear and feel.
  • Silent purr Purrs can occur as silent forms that we humans feel but not hear. Kitten purrs are particularly easy to feel, probably because of a kitten’s ability to communicate “all is well” to its natural mother.
  • Solicitation purr This is the newly identified purr with the embedded baby-like cry. “It’s amazing the way certain cries are recognized by humans as needy, even by non-cat owners,” says Dr. Mason.
  • Pain purr Cats also sometimes purr when they’re extremely ill. No one is certain why, but some experts have speculated the felines are attempting to comfort themselves.

If you have heard the solicitation purr, consider yourself lucky. “Not all cats use this solicitation purring,” explains Dr. McComb. “It seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one with their owners.”

Signs of a Stressed-out Cat

You’ve probably heard the phrase “hair-pulling moment” in reference to stressful situations, but did you know that cats sometimes compulsively pull out their fur when they feel anxious? “Stress is a very big deal because it has a profound effect on all aspects of animals’ experience,” says Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist.

Stress can trigger feline reactions ranging in severity from hiding to self-mutilation. Just as humans often need support during tough times, our feline friends could use a “helping hand" when feeling anxious.

Is Stress Really That Serious?
When it comes to feline stress, a bit of it is actually a good thing. Predatory animals enjoy excitement, so your cat may relish the stimulation caused by a small amount of stress. But if stress increases dramatically, it can take a toll on your pet’s health. “Chronic stress suppresses the immune response, causing a broad range of illnesses,” explains McConnell. Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, for example, notes a link between stress and pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause abdominal pain and may lead to other health problems in your cat.

But health isn’t the only aspect of your cat’s life that can be affected by stress. Significant stress may also influence your cat’s behavior. Cats often develop fear-related responses to regular things, like hiding under the bed and not coming out. A stressed cat may also become more aggressive than usual, making playtime physically painful. Some cats even stop eating completely, while others eliminate outside the litter box, spray around the house, groom excessively and become restless.

But Why Is Kitty Stressed?
Cats enjoy familiarity and routine; therefore, change is the biggest culprit of feline stress. A change in your cat’s environment, whether it involves moving to a different home or bringing in a new housemate, can frighten your cat. Since social relationships are a defining part of your territorial cat’s life, any sign of an “intruder” may make kitty feel threatened and anxious.

While stress is often caused by outside factors, physical discomfort can contribute much stress to your cat too. Feeling pain without knowing why can be a terrifying experience for your feline. It’s important to consult your veterinarian in these situations.

How You Can Help Your Cat
If you suspect that stress-related discomfort is adversely affecting your cat’s life, here’s how to take action to relieve your pet’s stress:

  • Spot the signs Be observant of changes in your cat’s behavior. Look for body language that exhibits stress. “Anxious cats get a big round-eyed look, with pupils dilated,” says McConnell. Also, note ear position: confident cats’ ears tilt up or are relaxed. If your cat’s ears stand back and lie flat against its head, it is probably stressed and in an aggressive mood.
  • Pay the veterinarian a visit Always take your pet to the doctor first, to rule out medical issues. “Often, stress is related to crystals and urinary tract infections,” says McConnell. University of Edinburgh animal experts, for example, conducted an extensive study on cats and determined that stress may indeed trigger such problems in your cat’s urinary tract. These conditions are usually treatable when diagnosed early.
  • Be patient during change If kitty is having trouble adjusting to a new home, take things slow. “Cats in the wild take a long time to decide where to live and where to hunt,” explains McConnell. “If your cat feels most comfortable under the bed for the first few weeks, it’s OK -- take its food and water there.”
  • Do not force interaction Introduce new pets slowly. Let new human housemates play with your cat while frequently offering food treats. When your cat doesn’t want to play, postpone the session. Never force cats to do anything.
  • Establish a routine It’s always helpful for animals to be able to anticipate things. Stick to a schedule for daily interaction. A few play sessions that your cat expects will help your pet regain control over its life.
  • Offer mental exercise Who said that tricks are only for dogs? McConnell has trained her own cat to high-five, sit up and fetch. Her theory? Give them mental exercise often, and that will divert them from being worried.

Stress can make a sound difference not just in the life of the animal but also those it shares its home with. Everyone in your household will therefore benefit if you can take immediate steps to soothe your uneasy kitty. Understanding, care and attention will go a long way toward reducing your cat’s excess stress.

Misbehaving Cats Need Schooling

Spraying urine, avoiding the cat box and clawing furniture are just a few kitty behaviors that can grate on the nerves of even the most fervent feline admirers. While these actions make perfect sense to cats, some owners are convinced their cat isn’t normal. Others go so far as to think their wayward pet is rebelling or misbehaving out of spite. Perhaps, in frustrated moments, you’ve felt that way, too. What you may not realize is that you could inadvertently be the cause of your cat’s reform-school behaviors.

If your cat’s extracurricular activities are causing it to wear out its welcome, don’t despair. Nearly all cat behaviors -- even the most exasperating ones -- are predictable and easily remedied. The key to solving problem behaviors is to see the world through the eyes of your cat, according to animal behavior consultant Pamela Johnson-Bennett, who was certified in Nashville, Tenn., and is the author of Psycho Kitty, Tips For Solving Your Cat’s Crazy Behavior (Celestial Arts). “You can’t truly correct a behavior problem until you discover the cause,” she says, adding that most unwanted behaviors are only problematic to you and not your pet.

Why Cats Do What They Do
A cat’s actions, big or small, can be grouped into two categories: behavioral and medical. According to cat expert Rolan Tripp, DVM, founder of AnimalBehavior online, behaviors related to medical issues can stem from problems such as painful urinary tract infections, diabetes or renal disease. Getting to the litter box in time can be a problem for some of these cats, and accidents outside the litter box are not uncommon. A trip to the veterinarian will rule out any health problems.

If your kitty receives a clean bill of health, it’s time to do your homework because one or more of the following behavioral issues may be the root cause:

  • Stress Any seemingly harmless event, such as a neighborhood cat wandering in your yard or a new person or pet in the house, can stress a cat. “How cats cope with stress depends on the cat’s genetic makeup,” says Dr. Tripp. “If you have three cats with identical types of stress, one cat might spray urine, one might scratch furniture and one might rub its cheek on something.”
  • Boredom Scratching furniture or unraveling toilet paper rolls throughout the house can be the result of an under-exercised brain. Cat trees with hiding spots, cat perches and shelves will enrich your cat’s environment. Treats or toys hidden around the house so your cat can hunt them down will provide mental and physical stimulation while you are gone. Also try providing puzzle feeders, boxes and paper bags for your cat to explore.
  • Lack of training Cats are smart, but many need to be schooled in how to use a litter box or scratch appropriate objects. Cats don’t understand punishment, so positive association is the key. If a cat doesn’t get that it needs to use a cat box, and it potties on the carpet, blot the area with a paper towel. Then place both the paper towel and your cat in its litter box so your pet will make the association. To encourage your cat to scratch its post, sprinkle the scratching post with catnip, or hang fun, enticing toys or treats on the post. Reward with verbal and physical praise when your cat does as it should.

Tackling Three Common Kitty Misbehaviors
Like dogs and kids, cats are not immune to naughty behaviors. A refresher course in good feline behavior may be warranted if your cat engages in any of these three very common activities:

Spraying Urine
Many owners complain that their cats spray urine, which is also known as marking. Un-neutered males are the worst offenders, followed closely by un-spayed females in season. Any perceived threat, environmental change or stress can also cause cats to spray urine, especially if they haven’t been fixed. Since marking is a natural behavior, experts suggest these steps for redirecting your cat’s instincts:

  • Have your cat examined by your veterinarian to eliminate any medical issues.
  • Neuter or spay your cat, which, according to experts, will solve the problem in 90 percent of the cases when the cat is fixed before sexual maturity has been attained. That occurs at about six months of age.
  • Identify and remove, if possible, the underlying stimulus that is triggering the spraying. For instance, tension among sibling cats may require that each cat be relegated to separate living spaces for a day or more, with a litter box in each area. If your cat is spraying because neighborhood cats are wandering into its yard, momentarily block the view by pulling the drapes, provided your cat doesn’t show any interest in climbing or clawing them. An alternative is to block the view at certain times with a piece of cardboard or another opaque material.
  • Thoroughly clean the soiled area with an appropriate enzymatic cleaner, and when dry, temporarily cover the area to prevent the cat from returning to the scene of the crime.
  • Provide your cat with a scratching post to help relieve its stress.

Scratching Doors, Walls and Furniture
Cats scratch to groom their front claws, stretch their back and shoulder muscles, relieve stress and leave visual and olfactory markers of their presence. If your cat has picked up this destructive, albeit normal, behavior, experts suggest these strategies:

  • Buy or build an appropriate scratching post, which may be horizontal or vertical and can be covered in carpet, wood or sisal rope. Most cats prefer wood or sisal rope, but you may need to do a bit of experimenting to figure out which one your kitty prefers.
  • Entice your cat to scratch its post by, as Johnson-Bennett suggests, putting your cat’s scent on the post. To do this, place a pair of socks on your hands and rub your cat gently around its face. Distribute those facial scents on the new scratching post by rubbing it all over with the socks.
  • Play with your cat around its new post, which will stimulate interest in it and guarantee that a claw or two will find its way onto the scratching post. Once your cat gets a feel for its new scratching post, it will want to scratch it rather than your furniture.
  • Cover the area you wish to protect, such as the cat’s favorite scratch spot on a sofa, with double stick tape. Cats dislike the feel of sticky tape on their paws and should learn to avoid the area.
  • Place the scratching post in a central location near areas favored by your cat, such as windows or sleeping areas, since cats often stretch and scratch upon awakening. If possible, also try placing it close to the area where your cat has been scratching.

Urinating Outside the Cat Box
If your cat is relieving itself anywhere and everywhere but its litter box, experts recommend these problem-solving tips:

  • Clean the box regularly That involves scooping it at least twice daily. “The No. 1 reason cats potty outside the box is that the litter box needs to be cleaned more often,” says animal behaviorist Sophia Yin, DVM, who is based in San Francisco, Calif.
  • Get one litter box per feline Households should have more boxes than cats. Simple mathematics provides the solution, which, according to Dr. Yin, equates to the number of cats + 1= the number of litter boxes needed. For multiple cat households, boxes should be placed in various parts of the house, rather than lined up in a row in one location.
  • Check the location It should be in a safe, easily accessible spot with minimum traffic and noise and plenty of privacy. The location, be it a quiet laundry room, basement or spare bathroom, depends on your cat. A cat that spends the majority of its time upstairs may find your bedroom carpet more convenient than trekking down two flights of stairs to the basement. Ideally, there should be a litter box on each floor of the house.
  • Check the structure Cats tend to dislike litter boxes with hoods or covers. Cats also like big litter boxes. If traditional cat boxes aren’t big enough, use a plastic storage container with low sides and more room.
  • Check the litter Many cats have an aversion or preference for different types of litter. Some cats like a scoopable litter as opposed to clay or pellets. Some cats find scented litter offensive. If necessary, experiment by filling three or four litter boxes with different types of litter. Your cat will let you know which one it prefers.

When All Else Fails, Seek Professional Help
If these lesson plans fail to give your cat a passing grade, don’t be embarrassed to call in the professionals. Some ingrained habits may require the skills of a Dr. Doolittle type of cat behaviorist, located through veterinarians, online and yellow page searches or word of mouth. Cat experts frequently work in conjunction with veterinarians to provide the best and most current information and therapies, which can include medications, if necessary. Before you say, “Pass the catnip,” your furry friend’s reform-school behaviors will be a thing of the past, and you and your pet will once again be purring together.