Scared Cat? Teaching Shrinking Violet Shy Cats

scared cat

Is your kitty shy? How do you bring her out of her Shrinking Violet shell? (Image copr. Missi Hostrup via Flickr, a picture of Tiger Lily)

Working with fearful and scared cats can be a challenge. Does Sheba hiss at strangers? Does Tom dive under the bed when the doorbell rings? Do your kitties attack other pets (or humans)? What can you do to stop bad behavior if even a mild correction sends the cat into fearful meltdown? Alexa posted her Ask Amy question to my Facebook page, and the answer is in today’s video.

Helping Shy & Scared Cats

We often feel that our fur-kids must have been abused and feel bad to make THEM feel bad. But they still need to know limits. One of my favorite ways to train is using positive rewards. Instead of waiting for kitty to scratch the wrong object and then interrupting the behavior–why not REWARD her when she scratches the RIGHT object?

Using kitty clicker training can also build confidence in shy cats by teaching them what happens is in their paws. Here are more tips for dealing with scared cats.

Stranger Danger & Fearful Felines

While a normal dose of caution keeps cats from becoming coyote kibble, extreme fear makes cats miserable and disrupts your happy home. A hiding cat may not bother you, constant anxiety increases stress that can make cats sick. For instance, stress can aggravate bladder inflammation (cystitis), which prompts hit-or-miss bathroom behaviors. Even when the bladder doesn’t hurt, anxious cats use potty deposits or will increase scratching behavior to calm themselves—sort of the way nervous humans bite their fingernails. Noises can scare cats, and this post about dog noise fear may help kitties, too.

scared catMore Tips for Helping Shy Cats or Stressed Out Kitties

Do you have a shy cat? How does s/he react to strangers or new situations? What tips have you used to bolster confidence? You can use scent enrichment to help reduce your cats’ stress. Are you concerned (like Alexa, below) about damaging your pet relationship during training? How do you avoid that?

Of course you can find lots more fur-kid care tips in the pet books. Many of the tips in MY CAT HATES MY VET! will also help. But I hope anyone with a burning furry question (or heck, ANY question! *s*) will share in the comments and perhaps it’ll be a future Ask Amy feature!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Catnip: More Than A Treat for National Cat Day

It’s NATIONAL CAT DAY! So how are you celebrating? It’s always fun to find ways to make your cat happy. Here at our house, Karma-Kat insists on treats, and that also means catnip.

Catnip turns kitties into drunken furry fools, what fun!

I have no doubt that catnip prompted the Cheshire Cat’s grin. My cat Seren (in video at the bottom) used to wear the same expression when she indulges. NATIONAL CAT DAY is the perfect time to indulge your furry friend.

But why do cats find this nondescript herb so attractive? Is it a kitty aphrodisiac, a harmless pleasure or something more sinister?

What Is Catnip?

Nepeta cataria, or catnip, is a strong-scented mint that contains a volatile oil that’s easily released into the air. Biting or rolling on the plant crushes the leaves and releases the oil so Kitty can get a good sniff. It doesn’t take much. Cats can detect catnip oil in the air at saturation as low as one part per billion.

CAT FACTS, THE SERIES only from Pets Peeves Newsletter

I’m sharing this information from my CATNIP entry from Cat Facts, The Series 3: The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia covering Cancer, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Cardiomyopathy, Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), Carnivore, Car Sickness, Cataract, Catnip, Cat Scratch Disease, Cesarean, Cherry Eye, Chiropractic, Chocolate Toxicity, Claws, Climbing, Coccidiosis, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, Colitis, Communication, Constipation, Cryptorchid, Cuterebra, Cyst, Cystitis, Cytauxzoon, and Cytology.

I’ve broken the massive CAT FACTS book into catnip-size alpha-chapter sections. Folks can choose which ones they most need. Each chapter will release every week or so, but ONLY for subscribers on my Pets Peeves Newsletter. Of course, you can still get the entire CAT FACTS book either in Kindle or 540+ pages of print.

How Catnip Works

Rather than a simple smell, the chemical in catnip resembles sedative components also found in the valerian plant, which may be used in natural therapies to calm pets and people. Catnip also may be similar to one of the substances found in tomcat urine—yucky to you, but a lovely smell to the cat! In fact, this pheromone in urine often triggers the same sort of behavioral reaction in cats as exposure to catnip.

These types of chemicals, once inhaled, enter the cat’s highly specialized scenting organ through the roof of the mouth. The vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organs sit between the hard palate of the mouth and the septum of the nose and connect to the mouth via tiny conduits directly behind the cat’s upper incisor teeth. You may see kitty perform an odd facial grimace (flehmen) with lips curled back and mouth open when employing this organ.

Russian blue cat catnip high

Catnip is a kitty hallucinogen.

Can Cats Get “High?”

The Jacobson’s organs are linked to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that acts like a switchboard to direct information to higher centers. This part of the brain integrates taste and smell, motivates appetite, and triggers a variety of behaviors.

Catnip in cats affects the same biochemical pathways that are affected by marijuana and LSD in people. In its simplest terms, catnip is a feline hallucinogen. The kitty “high” lasts from five to 15 minutes and causes a loss of inhibition. Catnip-intoxicated cats act like furry fools who roll and flop about on the floor, drool, act out hunting behaviors and have a wonderful relaxing time.

Which Cats Are Affected

Cats rarely respond to catnip until they are about six months old, and some cats never do. The trait is an inherited one, with only two out of three domestic cats being affected. Boy cats seem to respond more strongly than females.

Since catnip belongs in the mint family, cats often react in a similar way to other types of mint. I’ve even seen some cats react to a type of honeysuckle—or even olives.

cat rolling in fresh catnip

Fresh catnip is the best–cats roll to release the volatile oils

Catnip Stress Buster & Training Tool

Most scientists agree that catnip provides a harmless recreation for cats. For cats who respond, catnip can be a wonderful training tool. Catnip builds the confidence of some shy cats, and it can be used to “spike” the legal scratch objects to help lure kitty to do the right thing. Catnip can help take the cat’s mind off of the scary car ride—or at least induce a catnip snooze so she doesn’t care anymore.

You’ll find catnip toys, herbs, even growing kits advertised in all the finest cat magazines, “special” brands touted in pet stores, and feline fanciers comparing quality like true gourmands. The fresher the herb, the more likely your cat is to react. And no, catnip doesn’t affect people the same way, although it has in the past been used as a soothing tea for upset tummies.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Be aware, though, overindulgence may “wear out” your cat’s response to the plant. An occasional treat, perhaps once every two or three weeks, is plenty.

Find out more details about catnip and other “C” topics in Cat Facts, The Series 3: The Pet Parent’s A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia

Does your cat react to catnip? Do you use a bit of ‘nip to help your cat relax, or as a reward or as….what? Is there anything else your cats react to in a similar fashion? Here’s how Seren used to react, LOL! I like to think that beyond the Rainbow Bridge, kitty heaven is full of lots of ‘nip and treats.



I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. NOTE: Bling, Bitches & Blood sometimes shares affiliate links to products that may help you with your pets, but we only share what we feel is appropriate.

Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

How To Keep Outside Cats Safe

Do your cats get to go outside? How do you keep them safe from harm? How would you go about transitioning an exclusively INDOOR ONLY cat to life on the outside? What can you do to make certain your kitties are always safe? I wrote this post back in 2013 and have updated it extensively. Read on to learn options for how to keep outside cats safe!

keep outside cats safe

Can you see the fine-webbed fencing that keeps these kitties safe? There CAN be options–if you make the effort! Image Copr. Sanskrittlady/Flickr

Why Keep Cats Inside? & How to Keep Inside Cats Happy

Seren used to stand at the door or window, meow, and dig against the glass with her paws as if she couldn’t wait to escape the plush indoor lifestyle. Karma-Kat watches Bravo-Dawg when he takes a break outside and has started stalking the door to dash outside–but then acts terrified once he finds his paws on the patio. Folks who live in the UK think we Americans are cruel for not allowing kitties the joy of grass between their toes–many cat lovers in the UK have back gardens and the whole neighborhood of cats comes and goes.

Here in North Texas, coyotes come and go from my back patio and turn into land sharks patrolling for kitty treats. Although in her younger days Seren went out on a leash to sniff roses, I’d never feel comfortable letting her out without that safety net. Karma once escaped his harness while outside, and only returned when Magical-Dawg brought him back. We don’t have kitty outings these days o9n a regular basis. I’ve made the choice to keep them inside and keep my cats safe. Instead, I offer lots of indoor enrichment like multiple cat trees and condos–and a best friend dawg for playing chase.

lost catHow to Keep Outside Cats Safe

I do offer some options for creating safer outdoor environments in my Cat Competability book:

FENCES like cat-specific fence products such as the Cat Fence-In, Purrfect Fence, and others. Read more about pet fence options in this post.

CAT CONDOS and tents, like Purrfect Play Tent. You can get modular units like the KittyWalk net tunnel and create an outdoor cat-safe playpen. Or you can actually build a more substantial Catio yourself or purchase kits online.

CAT STROLLERS come on all sizes and shapes, from those that serve as standard cat carriers with wheels, to actual strollers purr-fect for your cats.

HALTERS & LEASHES and of course cat leash training.

More Cautions to Keep Outside Cats Safe

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not invest in an “electric fence” type of product that purports to protect cats (or dogs) using shock collars. Such things are not the plug-and-forget-it answers you want–it requires training to use correctly and even then can result in the pet “breaking through” the invisible barrier and then being prevented from returning home. You simply create lost cats that way.

Such products also don’t keep strange dogs or cats (or other critters) from invading your pet’s home turf. You gotta hope that your kitty has proper identification (is your cat microchipped?) to help the pet get home.

I do agree, in the best of all possible worlds where cats could be safe, the best thing in the world would be for them to chase butterflies and sleep in the sun-puddle on the back patio. When you can’t provide a safe outdoor environment, maybe you’d want to take Kitty for a safe outing in a cat stroller. The next best thing is to bring the outdoors inside with lots of hidy-holes, climbing ops, kitty grass for munching, and fun toys that float your cat’s boat.

When Inside Cats Want Out

Today’s Ask Amy video is a heart breaker. It’s a composite of some of the consults that I’ve dealt with over the past several years. Every home and person’s circumstance is different and I’m not in the other’s shoes so can’t judge–and only seek to offer some insight and help. I hope you’ll share some of your suggestions (positive ones, please!) for any lurkers out there who have ever found themselves in such a dilemma.

How would you transition an indoor-only cat to the outside? And then, how would you transition an outdoor cat BACK into an inside cat? I know this is a controversial subject–but we all want the best for our cats so let’s see what creative ideas we can develop!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

How to Leash Train Cats

Why would you want to leash train cats and confine kitties from stalking and pouncing? Isn’t that mean? Actually, it’s not cruel, but without proper introduction, it can be a wee bit scary. In my Complete Kitten Care book, I call this LIBERATION TRAINING. Teaching your new cat to walk on a leash is a safety issue, but also means they get to venture beyond the confines of your house and into the yard and beyond.

This week during a cat consult, a pet parent asked about training her cat to walk on a leash. And with spring and summer weather now upon us, it’s a good time to revisit the notion. An adult cat won’t automatically understand the concept, though, so this blog not only explains the benefits of leash training to YOU, it also helps you purr-suade your cats to get a new leash on life. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

seren leash & table

Seren feels calmer when wearing her harness. Image Copr Amy Shojai, CABC

How To Leash Train Cats–Choose The Best Halter & Leash

I like the figure-8 harnesses because when the cat tugs (as nearly all will), the design tightens so they can’t wriggle out and escape. These often come already attached to a leash. The smallest size H-harnesses made for Toy-size dogs may also work. The jacket-style harnesses also work well for cats, particularly for big kitties. These fasten with Velcro and are adjustable for the best comfort fit.

When the harness and leash come separate, I recommend a light weight fabric leash that won’t weigh down the cat. A six-foot or shorter leash works well. You don’t need the kitty ranging too far from you for safety reasons, so I don’t recommend the retractable spooled leashes for that reason.

Whatever the style, it’s vital that the harness be fitted correctly for two reasons—first, a cat not used to the outside easily becomes frightened and lost if she gets away.

And second, even if she escapes the harness while inside the house, it teaches the cat that she CAN escape, so she’ll continue to fight the harness. You want the cat to accept the harness and leash so she can fully enjoy the benefits.

Training Cats–Really?! Yes!

Kittens are incredibly easy to leash train. I’ve had shelter kittens walk happily on leash within five to ten minutes of meeting them. It takes a bit longer with adult cats, but the technique for leash training your cat is the same whether she’s a kitten or a senior citizen cat.

Seren learned to walk on a leash when she was about five months old. At less that 7 pounds, I got her one of those tiny dog H-harness contraptions and had to adjust it down even farther. That of course was over 20 years ago, and times have changed. Today there are new options for kitty harnesses that are much more comfortable for the cat, and less likely for the pet to wriggle out.

Karma-Kat Walking Vest & Why Leash Train Cats

So I took a look around when Karma came to stay. Although Seren only rarely went outside on walks and never without her harness and leash, I suspect Karma may be more interested in an occasional ramble. Why do this? Well, for a couple of reasons.

KarmaHalter

Karma is still adjusting to his halter-vest. Image Copr Amy Shojai, CABC

First, I want Karma to be comfy wearing the equipment–and it actually seems to calm him down somewhat so that’s a plus! Also, wearing a harness gives me added grab-icity (something to hang on to) if he decides to wriggle around. I’ve found this to be very helpful with Seren during vet visits as she’s not a very happy patient.

Finally, because of the way Karma came to us–wandering up onto the back patio–there’s a chance he got away from someone. Yes, he’s now microchipped just in case that ever happens again. But ultimately, I want Karma to be very familiar with the immediate area surrounding our house, so he knows and can recognize HOME.

Lost cats rarely run far away from their house even if they get out, but they may hide–and if chased by a strange dog or (gulp!) coyote, they might race far away from familiar territory. This actually was part of the plot point in my second thriller HIDE AND SEEK, where the main character hung up a variety of wind chimes around the house that also served as audio signposts to the pets.

For Karma I chose a small dog harness that also works well for cats. Puppia comes in a variety of colors and sizes and there are many other options that may also work well for your cat. You can check it out here:

PUPPIA International Puppia Harness Soft B Vest SKY BLUE Medium

How to Leash Train Cats, Step-By-Step

Make It Part of the Furniture. Leave the halter and leash on the floor for your kitty to find.

Smell It Up. Make the halter smell like him by petting him with it, so it’s less frightening. Remember, cats communicate with smell, so if it has a familiar scent, the cat will be more accepting of the halter. If he really likes catnip, spike it with this cat-friendly herb.

Turn It Into A Game. Drag the leash around like a toy, and praise Kitty when he catches it, to associate the leash with fun times. Make the leash-chase-game part of his routine, always beginning the process with the halter-petting. Do this for at least a week before you ever attempt to put the halter on your cat. Once the leash and halter have become part of his normal routine, sit on the floor to play with the cat put the halter on him.

Lure Him to Move. If he tolerates wearing the halter and immediately moves around or licks it—BRAVO! You have a genius cat ahead of the game. But if he turns into a furry lump and refuses to move (typical of many cats), use the end of the leash to get him engaged in that familiar chase game.

The key is to get them moving, because once he does get up and discovers he’s not “tied down” he’ll be willing to explore—and that’s the whole purpose of the halter and leash training. If he’s not interested in the leash, try using a feather lure or a treat—anything to convince the cat he’s able to move is legal. After five minutes, take off the halter.

Baby Paw Steps. Gradually increase the amount of time that he wears the halter.

Bribes Are Legal. Be sure to offer a special treat or toy/game after each session so he recognizes there is a lovely payday to be earned.

Let the Cat Lead. After several days, when he’s no longer protesting, clip on the leash and hold it while following him around. Let him direct where you go, rather than pulling or tugging to direct him. At least initially you want him to believe he calls the shots—use the feather lure to get him moving the direction you like.

KarmaHalter2

“Hey, I really can move in this thing!” Image copr Amy Shojai, CABC

Success At Last!

Eventually, when both you and Kitty feel secure on the leash, you can explore the porch, smell the roses, or even mall walk together. Be one of those fashionistas who visit the pet products stores and allow Kitty to choose his own toys!  And if you wish to make a really bold fashion statement, I know for a fact that kitty halters and leashes come with sequins.

By the way, the first two times I put on his vest, Karma pulled the old OMG I’M PARALYZED! routine and fell over on his side and lay there. Even my standard technique of teasing him to move with cat wand toys failed to get him up and moving more than two or three wobbly steps. So I took off the leash, and walked into the other room for something and….IT’S A MIRACLE! he raced in after me, stopped as if caught in his act, and sauntered on into the room. Now he’s rocking his kitty vest!

Do your cats ever go outside on leash (or otherwise?). How do you ensure they stay safe? Have you created scented or audible or special visual signposts to aid a new pet to know that THIS is home? Does allowing them outdoor access “create a monster” so they beg to go out? I found that happens with some cats, but never has been a problem with Seren. We’ll find out about Karma.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

NOTE: From time to time, blog posts contain affiliate links to Amazon and other fine retailers, but Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog only includes relevant product mentions.

4 Kinds of Cat Aggression, and How To Keep the Peace

Cat aggression? Yikes! When a snuggle-puss turns into a snarling ball of claws, owners are at a loss to understand or deal with cat aggression. You wonder, why does my cat bite me? Besides hurt feelings, cat aggression can cause injuries or cause the cat to lose a loving home. Learn more about cat fights here.

cat aggression

4 KINDS OF CAT AGGRESSION

Aggression can be caused by health issues including pain or hyperthyroidism. Any sudden personality change demands a veterinary exam. But cats don’t aggress because they’re mean—they always have a good reason, whether it makes sense to humans or not. Recognize these 4 common types of cat aggression and learn how to keep the peace.

Petting Aggression

Your cat begs for attention, but then he bites you! Karma does this–ouch! “Why does my cat bite me?”

Some cats simply can’t tolerate more than two or three strokes and use the “leave-me-alone-bite” to stop the petting. The bite does stop the owner’s touch, which trains the cat that biting works so he repeats the behavior.

Instead, confine petting to back of kitty’s neck rather than whole-body strokes that some cats find offensive. Stop petting before he asks—his ears will turn sideways or flatten, and tail gets active right before he nails you. Don’t touch him, just stand up and dump the cat off your lap.

Some cats, though, love petting so much they drool when petted. Learn more here.

cat aggression

Play Aggression

Kittens don’t know how to inhibit bites and claws during play, and “only kittens” target owners in painful play-attacks that mimic hunting behavior. Luckily, kittens are made so cute we usually forgive them—and most outgrow the behavior by six to nine months or so.

This is one of the few behavior problems that can be fixed by adding another kitten to the household.  Yes, I’m giving you permission (like you need that!) to go out and adopt another cute baby. That way the babies play-attack each other, and learn to pull their punches. At my house, it’s been helpful because Karma likes to play with Magical-Dawg, and Magic enjoys the games, too.

scared cat fear aggression

Scared cats crouch and may hide under the bed, or lash out with aggression when they feel threatened.

Fear Aggression

Most cat aggression arises from fear. The “fight or flight” instinct means if a frightened cat feels she can’t escape, she’ll attack. Cats also naturally fear strangers, and consider anything unknown and familiar a potential threat. That’s why it takes many cats a long time to accept new people or new cats. Fearful cats hide, slink close to the ground, turn ears sideways like little airplane wings, and hiss which means “stay away.” Growls are a step up and are a serious warning to stay away or risk an attack.

Give fearful cats space, extra hiding spots like cardboard boxes or cat tunnels, and elevated perches to help them feel safe. In multicat homes, provide a house of plenty with multiple toys, litter boxes, cat trees and resources so cats don’t have to compete for them. Direct stares intimidate cats and increase fear, so avoid making eye contact. Sit on the floor with an interactive toy like a fishing pole or feather lure, and tempt the scaredy-cat to approach. You’re less frightening when on the cat’s level.

cat aggression

Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression happens when the cat can’t reach the intended victim, like a critter outside the window. Instead, kitty takes out upset feelings on the nearest pet or the owner. It’s like being mad at your boss—you can’t chew him out so instead lose your temper with a spouse. Redirected aggression is tough to solve because each cat fight “practices” aggressive behavior until it can become a habit. Use these steps to mend fences.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT CAT-TO-CAT REDIRECTED AGGRESSION

  1. Immediately separate the cats for two or three days. Begin an introduction protocol, as if the cats are total strangers (they ARE!), so they can learn to be friends again.
  2. Next, allow one cat out while the other stays confined, so they can meet with paw-pats and smells under the door.
  3. Feed both cats on opposite sides of the door so they associate good things with each other’s presence.
  4. After a few days of no growls, hisses, or airplane ears, allow supervised interaction.
  5. Separate immediately and start reintroduction again if the cats aggress.
  6. Be sure to cover windows and block sight of the evil squirrel that created the angst. If you see your cat window watching, avoid petting until his tail talk calms down.
  7. For more specific tips, check out my ComPETability/Cats book!

Learn where to find professional pet behavior help in this post.

What about your cats? Some cat aggression is normal but–do you have cat aggression issues with your furry wonders? How do you manage the angst? Do tell!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!