Feline Friday: Cat Snuggling 101

Snuggling works! Copr. Wendy Christensen

Today once again I share blog-space with an awesome cat writer, artist and behavior purr-son (I wear her jewelry…just sayin’…). Please help me welcome my colleague Wendy Christensen, who manages her clowder with a velvet paw as they provide furry inspiration. There’s a reason they call her the “Cat Herder” and those who love cats will recognize their own cats’ foibles in Wendy’s experience. The more cats you have, the greater the chance for (ahem) cat-astrophes. How many cats do you have? How do YOU do it? Take a lesson from Wendy and please share your experiences in the comments. Take it away, Wendy!

*********************

“Cats do what they do because it works.” This insight, offered by ethologist and author Myrna Milani, DVM, has long guided my approach to cat-keeping.

Just like us, cats have problems to solve. The solutions they choose make perfect sense to them. They just don’t always make sense to us. A cat chooses a behavior because it solves a problem for her in the most satisfying and acceptable way she can devise at that moment. Her solution is not always what you would choose. If you don’t like her solution, it’s up to you to devise a superior – from the cat’s point of view – alternative. And that’s the essence of the cat-keeper’s job: figuring out what works, and what doesn’t, for both cats and humans.

When it comes to cats, one should never say “never” (especially if the cats are calicos), but there are a few things that never work (yelling, hitting, force, punishment) and a few things that, intelligently deployed, can work wonders (praise, petting, play, pampering, diversion, persuasion).

My life with cats is a work in progress. I don’t just live with my cats, I study them. I’m no animal communicator (I wish I were), but I try to get into their furry little heads and figure out what they’re thinking, what they want, and what’s important to them.

What I’ve discovered is that what cats want is: plenty of everything, plus extras. Extra litter boxes. Extra treats. Extra cat trees. Extra toys. Extra attention. They constantly crave reassurance that the resources they care about will remain plentiful and accessible. They’re extraordinarily good at sharing, but hate being forced to share. They’re quite savvy about managing resources among themselves, as long as they possess a general sense of abundance and continuity. What I’ve learned is that the cat-keeper’s job is to be a good provider.

Their lack of opposable thumbs means cats can’t tinker with their environments to the extent that we can. But the cat is a practical animal with an engineer’s curiosity about the world, and cats can make more sophisticated problem-solving decisions than we sometimes give them credit for. They try something. If it works, they keep doing it. If it doesn’t, they tinker with the solution and try again.

Like my cats, I have a practical engineer’s curiosity about what works and what doesn’t. Whether I’m building a piece of cat jewelry, painting a cat portrait, or offering cat behavior advice to puzzled cat owners I focus on efficacy and efficiency: finding the simplest, most elegant solution that works. Over time, my collection of favorite products, tools, tips, tricks and techniques grows.

In managing our shared environment, I’m perpetually searching for what’s going to work best for the cats and for me. I identify problems, tinker with this and that, consider possible solutions. Sometimes, the cats beat me to it.

Several of my cats have always been rather prickly about snuggling up “too close” to other cats. They had to maintain a certain perimeter of dignified separation. Despite my efforts to encourage sharing, my bed’s cat-carrying capacity remained stubbornly at about three. Then came the ice storm of 2008 – no heat or power for five days. It started out cold, and got colder. I put out multiple blankets and kitty beds so the cats could bundle up in (relative) coziness. But they didn’t retreat to their kitty beds. They piled up on top of me. All ten of them.

This necessitated a rapid and wholesale breakdown of the “dignified perimeter” theory. Ever since, mass snuggling has been the norm. It turns out that sharing works. So, though cats generally hate changes, they’re not afraid to change their minds when they discover something that works.

Time to share, now that we know it works. Here are some of the things that work for me and my cats:

  • Interior screen doors
  • ZeroOdor
  • Hard floors with sealed edges
  • Da Bird
  • Washable everything
  • Febreeze Laundry Odor Eliminator
  • Extra-large litter boxes, on wheels
  • The Drinkwell-360 cat fountain
  • Cat trees in every room
  • DeLonghi steam cleaner
  • Fleece throws in every color (cats love fleece!)
  • Hills t/d (as treats)
  • Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat litter

OK, your turn. What works for you and your cats?

***********************

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Comments

Feline Friday: Cat Snuggling 101 — 27 Comments

  1. Short story: We had four cats adopted over two years when very young, 3 boys and 1 girl who grew old together and when they went to the bridge we began to rescue older cats. Jane is now 7, been with us 2 1/2 yrs and was abandoned in a trailer so we don’t know about her previous life. She has been getting more and more affectionate and is calm and doesn’t bother anyone else. Chloe and Zoey went to a shelter at age 14 December 2010 and we adopted them. Both traumatized by the experience. Zoey is very sweet and nervous. Chloe’s only voice is a growel but a nice cat – she and Jane hate to be picked up but all 3 got along well. December 2011 we adopted Henry, 10 years old, stray on streets of Camden and in a high kill shelter. He has been living in a bedroom ever since – very very sweet and friendly with people but very agressive with the other cats. If he gets out of his room, he makes a beeline for Chloe and has beaten her up 5 times now – she is a nervous wreck and at first lived in the closet in my bedroom, now lives under the bed but comes out when I come in and now her door is always closed as well. He also got Jane, once but she is unfazed by what happened. Each time he gets out he is more aggresive. We had gotten him a harness and took him out of the room on a leash but since he wiggled out of the first harness, and pulled the leash out of my husband’s hand the second time, we have suspended that until we get a new harness and leash. I have gotten Spirit Essences including the ultimate peacemaker and started them this week and we are playing with Henry as much as we can to burn off some of his energy – we both work full time so not as much as we would like. I spoke with my vet about using Prozac if the Spirit Essences don’t work. Chloe is so frightened – and the last time Henry got out, I was in bed and Chloe was right next to me and he came straight to her and scared me too although he didn’t hurt me when I grabbed him before he could get her. Is this a cat who needs to be in an only cat home or is there hope if we keep trying? It’s almost as if his experience as a stray has taught him that other cats must be treated as prey. We thought at first that he was playing but his face is very mean when he is doing this – I have had cats that wrestled in play but this is not like that. I’m looking for any help I can get.

    • Hi Karen, thanks for the comments! I’m sure Wendy will weigh in shortly with her advice. There is always hope, but it can take extra work. I’ll offer some suggests later if I can add anything once Wendy has had time to offer advice. :)

      (edit) Hi again Karen, Wendy must be tied up so I’ll offer a few ideas and suggestions. First, it can take a LONG TIME for some cats to “accept” other felines. Proper introductions done gradually (with the new cat in a separate room, as you’ve done) still may require weeks or even months before the new cat will be accepted (or accept) other kitties. Here’s an article on kitty intros that might help.

      And frankly, some cats really are best as “only” pets.

      Give yourself a break, though–there is NOTHING WRONG with segregating the cat if he constantly picks on/attacks the others. Baby gates can segregate portions of the house, for example, and also allow the cats to interact through the gate and perhaps become more used to each other that way. Adding LOTS of hiding spots, cat trees, and toys so there’s enough for everyone and they won’t have to argue over resources also helps.

      As Karyl suggested, Feliway can help. There’s also a pheromone collar available from Sergeants that I understand works very well to reduce anxiety for shy or aggressive cats. Prozac can help but takes time to build up in the cat’s system. Good luck with your problem kitty child! Hope something here helps.

      • Hi Amy – Many many thanks. We are using Feliway – began when we adopted Chloe & Zoey December 2010 at age 14, to try to help Chloe (the one he choose to go after) feel more secure as she would get cranky from time to time – we don’t know if she was always like this as she came to us at 14 or if it was the sheer terror of finding yourself in a tiny cage with your sister sleeping in your litter pan after living in a home for 14 years – her sister Zoey is nervous too but very sweet and not a mean bone in her body. The first time she met Henry she tried to groom him but he pulled his head back and hissed. I was holding him – this was before we knew how aggressive he is. We’ve done cat introductions many times over the years but never had a cat who ran out of his room at top speed directly to another cat to jump on her – he has not hurt Chloe but he did hurt Jane once (she is very calm though and untroubled by the encounter although she will hiss if she sees him). We tried a screen door early on too so they could see each other after we had done the exchanging scents for a couple of weeks until we discovered how aggressive he is and realized that he would figure out a way to tear the screening off the door to get out. He was living in a large cage with two female cats at the shelter so we assumed that he would be fine with our girls – they told us that the female cats he lived with were very shy and stayed at the back of the cage – now I wonder if he was trying to have control over the food or something, but this was why we never expected this kind of trouble. But the main problem besides Henry’s aggression which now I am hopeful will resolve over time, is Chloe and we will discuss this again with her vet when we take her for bloodwork Saturday as she is just starting medication for her hyperthyroidism just diagnosed. I am taking them every six months so we can keep on top of their health and try to pick up problems early on. They had dental work last summer and we have no old vet records so don’t know if they had any other vet care over their lifetimes.. Chloe’s sister
        Zoey was diagnosed with kidney disease when she had her teeth done and is taking kidney support pills.Thanks so much for your help and kind thoughts. Henry was lovely at the vet btw and is in perfect health – even his teeth.

        • Part of Henry’s objection to the other cats may be their health status. So once Chloe “feels better” through management of the hyperthyroidism her attitude might change too, so she’s not wearing the virtual “kick me” sign that invites Henry’s aggression.

          Thanks so much for posting! Your story and the comments and responses from Wendy and others should help other cat lovers who face similar issues.

          • Thanks again Amy – I had been wondering if the hyperthyroidism was figuring into this too so am hopeful that after being on medication for a few months maybe she will feel better – thank goodness she loves pill pockets so giving her medication at least is not a problem. I just feel so bad for her because she is so distressed (except in the middle of the night when she loves to be petted!) Thanks again – I am so grateful that there are pet bloggers to turn to for help!

          • Ahh so I wasn’t the only one thinking that as I read her comment. :) Animals do funny things when they sense weakness, especially when they’re in new territory. I know the barn kitties I grew up with always sort of had their little hierarchies that would change, sometimes rather suddenly, if one of them got sick (except when their mother was around… but momma could kick butt even when she was dying so NOBODY messed with momma Maxine). There’s still a bit of that instinct that top cat=access to more of the resources.

            That’s something I think that’s a bit easier with us having only two in the house right now – once they figured out who was boss of what, it was settled, that was that, and it was over. They know which beds and bowls belong to the other cat, and which can be shared, but it took a while.

    • I wasn’t aware they had a Prozac for cats. I want to say that doesn’t sound safe, but I’m a bit leery thanks to my own experiences with that stuff – it scares me a bit. But antidepressant-type drugs are tricky anyway, not as predictable as some others… don’t know if it’s the same in cats. You’ve made me curious now. But if it’s just calming you’re after, my vet always prescribed Diazepam (my cat has a urinary condition that is aggravated by any sort of stress, she’s had to be on it a few times) – I’m told the worst thing that usually happens with it is kitty falls asleep for a while if you overdose – my vet said he often uses it instead of anaesthesia for cats as they don’t tend to be allergic to it. But you still don’t want to use it alone – the end goal is to get him to be that calm around them without it, so, much like psychological drugs in humans, you have to combine it with the proper care for the real healing to happen.

      Have you tried Comfort Zone with Feliway? I feel like a broken record saying this as a suggestion for EVERYTHING, but for cases of anxiety and aggression it really does help at least take it down to a more manageable level. Not a cure, but a tool to help it.

      It took ours a while to get along – never fought but there was a lot of posturing and hissing for a few months, especially from my cat (who, ironically, was the one who had lived with other cats before). We did best introducing them in stages – closed room, then had a pair of baby gates stacked on top of one another so the cats could see each other, get used to each other, but not get TO each other. You may wish to try something like that when you’re home, to see if you can desensitize him to your other cats. Eventually try feeding or giving treats near the gates so he can see that nobody is going to take anything from him, since that may be part of his aggression, but go very slowly. If you try it before he calms down enough, it may lead to a step backward if he gets too protective of his food.

      Does he have any toys he really likes? You might try rubbing one of them on a cat he’s been aggressive toward, put it back in his room so he gets used to the scent, try and associate it with something pleasant.

      Just keep in mind given his aggression you want to keep them physically separated for now. I know December seems like a while ago, but for some cats it can take several months to be ready to be fully introduced. It took our cats, even as well as they did with each other, around 6 months to fully accept one another even after the gates were able to came down (which didn’t happen until we were sure neither was going to hurt the other). For one that is outright hostile, it’s going to take a LOT of patience.

      • Hi Karyl,

        Pretty much any/all human behavior drugs such as Prozac have been prescribed (off-label) for use in veterinary medicine. Diazepam (Valium) is one such drug and has the “side effect” of having cats feel more “friendly” so it the past it’s often been used for cases of cat-on-cat aggression. It can have some other side effects, too, so it’s really important that the vet diagnoses and specifies the right drug on an individual basis.

        Even with drug therapy, though, it’s important to include behavior modification techniques as well as management of the environment. There’s no magic wand, as you well know! And as you say, December to March in cat-terms isn’t all that long.

        Thanks again for your great comments and suggestions!

      • Thanks so much for reading and replying. When we had the two old cats, Chloe and Zoey, at the vet for their annuals, Henry went too for a wellness exam right after we got him and we discussed the introduction problems which had already begun and how upset Chloe was and we discussed how to help Chloe if the holistic remedies didn’t work and my vet used to use Valium but doesn’t like the side effects so she prefers Prozac if nothing else works – she likes to try holistic things first though. We used Valium many years ago with a cat who used to beat up his brother if he saw a cat outside. At the vet Henry wasn’t bothered by the other cats at all. As you will see in my replies to Amy and to Wendy, we have tried the scent exchanges with toys and towels and we have used Feliway in the house for over a year. We are also now using Spirit Essences. I so appreciate your reminding me that he may be worried about his food. A cat that we rescued many years ago at 6 weeks old, lost and wandering around, always tried to head bump his brothers and sister out of their food dishes whenever they ate and we always thought that he never forgot being on his own and hungry………………and I have to remember that our previous cat introductions which always went so well were with
        very young cats. While Chloe now lives in the bedroom and hisses and growls at her sisters at least once a day (whereupon they just leave her or as Jane did, lay down at take a nap on her back with her tummy all exposed) and won’t leave the room even to go to the bathroom next door to the litter pans so she has her own now which all of the sisters use and she gets fed in the bedroom too – she hasn’t been downstairs since the first time Henry attacked her there — Henry eats and drinks and plays a lot in his room and sleeps at the top of his cat perch and scratches his scratching post and lays with his toys – very normal actually very sweet and very trusting of people – you can do anything to him and he is very calmm, until the door opens and then he is off to seek out those other cats.

        • Huh. Go figure, my vet here has great luck with the Diazepam/Valium. Sometimes I wonder if our critters sort of get regional susceptibility to certain things. Always makes me curious. Of course, it’s like people – some of us can’t deal with a certain drug while others can. Just with people it’s easier because we can just call the doctor and say “this is doing bad things to me, give me something else”.

          I’ve also noticed with our kitties that how the other cat reacts can fuel or diffuse aggression (when they’re facing down dogs, too) – cats who run are more likely to get chased. My Simba tends to stare, hiss, and walk away slowly if she’s going to back down, which seems to keep things calmer. When she DOES run, Anubis chases her (thankfully all he ever wants to do is play, though he did accidentally hit too hard once – ever since then he hits something NEXT to her instead of her, we’ve been rather shocked at how delicate he’s been with her given how territorial he always used to be with other cats).

          But all rambling aside (I do that quite a lot…) hopefully everything will pan out, he’ll calm down and everyone will get along okay. I don’t know that my family has ever had a case where the cats didn’t at least eventually call a grudging truce. If Henry listens to you that well, that may be a good “weapon” for helping him along, since if he realizes you want him to be nice to the other cats, he may start just to please you. Then eventually he might just find out he LIKES sharing his house with other kitties. :) I hope you’ll keep us all posted? I can never get enough of hearing about other people’s furkids.

    • Karen… Thanks for telling your story. A lot of cats, like a lot of people, come with baggage. Sounds like Henry has some baggage. I would take Henry to the veterinarian for a complete checkup, including blood tests. While you’re there, explain to the doctor what’s been going on, and ask the veterinarian about the possibility of some pharmaceutical assistance for Henry while he’s working on learning and practicing some new, more acceptable, behavior patterns. Meanwhile, keep him segregated from your other cats except for very brief, closely monitored encounters that include lots of tasty treats for everyone.
      Likely, the other cats don’t smell “right” to Henry, as he hasn’t had a chance to mingle with them and share and acquire their group scent. So they smell like strangers, which, to a cat, especially a wary cat, is bad. His instincts tells him to drive these strangers away. He’s just being a sensible cat, not mean. You need to convince Henry that these other cats are members of his family, not strangers to be driven away. The best way to do this is with scent.
      Spritz a towel with Feliway spray (you could also use something like vanilla extract), wait for it to dry for a few minutes and rub down all the cats with it. Then bring out the dried salmon chunks (or whatever treat everybody likes) for a very closely monitored and brief group treat-a-thon. At the first sign of aggression from Henry, he should go back to his room. It’s just not fair to the other cats to let him attack them. Don’t punish him, though, or yell at him — it won’t make any sense to him. He’s doing what he thinks is necessary and proper, given the situation.
      As far as pharmaceuticals, there are several choices in addition to Prozac. Some take effect quicker than others. The selection of an appropriate drug is a matter best left to your veterinarian, and only after medical issues have been ruled out for Henry.
      Meanwhile, be patient and make sure Henry is lavished with everything he needs. He probably regards the other cats not as prey, but as competitors for the resources he wants (such as food, attention, etc.) You must communicate to him that there’s always going to be plenty for him. So, spoil him a little. When you can, spoil him in the presence of the other cats so he can be reassured he’s getting his share (and more).
      And don’t force the cats to interact before they’re ready. Let them set the pace. If you need to harness and leash Henry, he’s probably not ready for the meeting yet.
      Sensible scent-mingling will do the situation more good than spirit essences, IMHO. And always remember: “Calm owner, calm cat.”

      • Oh, many thanks Wendy. I am using Spirit Essences in addition to Feliway spray and the Comfort Zone plug ins. He did escape again over the week-end and ran straight across the hall as the door to the room where the cat is living that he has been attacking What was interesting was that I was right there and when I said Henry, Stop , he sat down and waited for me to pick him up. The cat in the room was of course freaked out again but has calmed down more quickly – I have already had him examined by the vet and he is in great health and as I said, he is wonderful with people. The prozac is primarily for the cat he has been attacking -Chloe, has been nervous since she came to us and often hissed at or hit her sister Zoey who came to us with her even before Henry came. So her ability to cope with this was already limited. We have also done scent-mingling but to limited effect because when he has gotten loose, he races to another cat and jumps on it so familiarity with the other cats scent doesn’t seem to be something he notices – when we have let him out of the room he stays in and confined the other 3 cats, so he can explore the rest of the house and experience their scents around the house, he just runs around the house looking for them and then sits outside the door of the room they are in and waits to get in and jump on one of them. We plan to begin exchanging scents though with him though and the other cats and the fact that he does seem to respond to commands which floored me makes me think that we can work this out with time – my husband still wants to just throw them all together and hope for the best. Thank you for clarifying that he is worried about competing for resources, not trying to kill the other cats. Chloe is the one who is really suffering which is the reason for the consideration of the prozac. She goes back to the vet this Saturday as she was recently diagnosed with hyperthryoidism and I think that is contributing to her reaction.My husband has been sleeping with Henry and he has toys and plenty of food and when the new harness comes we plan to start taking him downstairs and we will try feeding him with two of the cats and giving them treats together (if they will come out from hiding from him ) and try playing with them more with him there too – I am so much more hopeful after reading your post – thanks so so much
        g with Henry and spendinges seem

  2. What works for me is patience, time and being still. I care for (at times) upwards of thirty cats most of who live indoors with my husband and I as well as having the run of a spacious cat enclosure attached to our home by tunnels (irrigation culverts) that run out of our dining room window. I don’t use regular litter pans, they don’t work except with the small kittens. I visit thrift stores and bring home plastic bins and discarded coolers. For the elder crowd, I cut holes into the tall sides so they can access the containers easier.

    I live with these cats and like Wendy, I study them all the time. If I hear a meow from another room, I know instantly who it is and what is going on. I have 35 litter containers and I scoop several times a day. This is how I keep a handle on anything health-wise that might be going wrong. I just sometimes wish that I had a long-handled litter scoop. I am getting old these days and stooping to scoop is getting a tad painful. Hubby is trying to build me one as I type.

    Most of the cats here are adoptable and I have recently had great luck with adoptions and found loving homes for the newest batch of kittens. The black kitties were being overlooked, until I decided to play “dress-up” and got them used to wearing dog clothes (NOT doll clothes!) Once I started putting up photos of these black kitties in their new styles- they started flying out the door!

    I have three adoptions right now looming, but I know with great sadness that soon my phone will ring yet again and there will be another neglected or abused kitty in need of a place to stay- This is their transit station, where they learn to trust in humans again and realize that not every human is evil. This is the path God has destined me to walk- and I couldn’t feel more honored to serve them.

  3. Mary Anne, what a fabulous idea to dress up your black cats – I’m sure that helps them find their forever families much more quickly.

    Wendy, I recently switched to the Precious Cat litter and it made a HUGE impact on my dust allergies – just wish I had known about it years ago! I bought Da Bird today and it’s already a big hit.

    Yes – washable everything. Plus I buy waterproof pads at Babies R Us and put them under everything I can just in case someone gets sick.

  4. We had a cat we had rescued from feral children (and who became our indoor only) who had spells that were like psychotic fits. They were fewer in number over the years since he was in a loving home but one could not exactly predict what would trigger them though petting him too long got me attacked once and waving my hand (since I was half asleep) got me bitten more than once. (He was very funny once when my hand was dripping blood. He looked at me like, “What happened to you?” as he didn’t seem to know what had happened to me and “you do overreact don’t you?” He would hide from children, was no danger to any though we didn’t take any chances, and absolutely did NOT like hats. He was a wonderful & sweet pet and we are glad we were able to provide him a happy life. (Our mail provider once said he was in cat heaven while she watched him run and play.) We would have missed out on a great, great cat who we will always miss if we had given up on him.

    Studying one’s cats is SOOOO important. Our current indoor only was desperately trying to explain to us that he had a BIG medical problem last year when he grabbed my husband’s leg with both paws. Nothing seemed amiss. We figured it out only at about the last possible minute to save him (as we were about to leave the house when I saw he was in the litter still — after about 15 minutes) and called the vet and we were off and running.

  5. I meant to say how much I LOVE Wendy Christensen’s illustrations. They are soooo beautiful! Love the cat stories she & everyone has shared too.

    We use Arm & Hammer scoopable litter and since I watched his donations to the litter box closely while he was ill our dear indoor one often alerts me to come with him while he makes a donation and pretty well wants his litter scooped out the moment something is put in.

  6. I had my beloved cat for almost 16 yrs. All she ever demanded was love and attention which she got plenty off. She got her treats whenever she ran to the kitchen ahead of my mom or me. I lost her to cancer this week and it’s been devastating. I got her from a shelter when she was 7 wks old. Lucky gave us 15 wonderful, loving, loyal yrs. She was my baby. Lucky was never a pet, she was treated and spoiled just like a baby until her last moments. She was our baby and it’s a huge loss to our family.

    • Oh Jackie, my heart goes out to you and your family. Lucky was indeed “lucky” to have found you–and you her. I know that 15 years were not enough (it’s never enough!) but please trust yourself that you did everything right for your special cat friend. She loved you and trusted you to make decisions for her and our greatest gift to these furry family members is to let them go. I have no doubt that others reading this post and making comments have also grieved for a lost love and wish you well. May the pain eventually fade while the memory of your years together stays fresh and finally brings only happy smiles.

      hugs,
      amy

      • I know lots of people have lost a pet and it’s something that’s painful and hard to deal with. Thank you for your kind words.

  7. Absolutely adore the Wendy necklace Amy gave me for my 70th birthday, with coral and lovely turquoise cats. Love your paintings and cards also. I need to find something for carpet with pet odors until I can replace my carpet. That’s my next trick. Carol