Feisty felines: How to handle challenging kittens

August 10, 2016

Behavior problems can fracture owner-pet bond. Help your veterinary clients. Be their hero.

There's a significant correlation between owner satisfaction and behavior problems in their cat. This puts the human-animal bond at risk, and their commitment to pet care starts to decline, making the client less likely to bring the cat in for veterinary care, says Dr. Gary Landsberg, DACVB, DECAWBM (companion animals), at a recent CVC. Yet only 25 percent percent of clients were asked if their pets had behavior problems when they visited their veterinarian, he says.

Resource round-up:

> Catvets.com

> Icatcare.com

> Catalystcouncil.org

> Indoorpet.osu.edu

> Cat Sense (book)

> Why does my cat? (Book)

> Behavior Problems in the Dog and Cat (book)> Feline behavioral health and welfare (book)

> Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses (book)

> Editors' note: Check out the dvm360 feline care toolkit for more tips.

Cats begin to have behavior problems when there's no outlet for genetically programmed, natural behaviors. The fastest way to help this situation? Ask about the cat's behavior. This helps in two ways. "If you ask, you'll find out more about the patient than just what the client would volunteer on their own," Dr. Landsberg says. "If you ask questions and help them solve their problems, you'll become their expert to turn to instead of Dr. Google."

These problems include:

> Anxiety

> Feeding issues

> Aggression

> Inappropriate scratching

> Inappropriate elimination             

Most cat owners only teach their pets what not to do. There's no reward-based training. But if the desirable behaviors are rewarded, cats are much more likely to perform the desired behavior. "Have the client connect a word to the behavior they want and a reward when the pet does it, such as sit, or to enter their carrier," Dr. Landsberg says. "Cats can also be clicker trained. So have the client click and reward the cat as soon as the desired behavior occurs."

An example: cats that are rewarded for using the scratching post are much more likely to use the post. This helps reinforce where the client would like the cat to scratch, lessening the desire to scratch in places that the client doesn't want the cat to scratch.

Work with clients to help them:

> Provide outlets for cats (appropriate play, scratching, food "hunting" and so on.)

> Reward desirable behavior

> Teach the cat commands

> Prevent undesirable behavior

> Manage stress or change in the household

Play is a great outlet for cats. Cats like toys that are prey-like in their size and movements. It's important to give them food or a treat with play, so as they hunt, they get to eat the reward. "Studies have shown that cats that had at least five minutes of play a day had fewer behavior problems," Dr. Landsberg says. "Though cats may habituate to toys after two or three sessions, so variety is important. Movement and food are the most interesting aspects of toys to cats."

"If advice is given, cats are much less likely to have problems. Give the advice," Dr. Landsberg says. "It works."

Learn more from Dr. Landsberg at his sessions at the CVC. Click here for information.