Have you noticed that not all catnip or catnip toys are created equal? Why is it some catnip toys fail to thrill? We think freshness is a big factor. A fellow Canadian, Banafsheh Tabrizi created Violetta Designs, a line of catnip toys stuffed right before shipping with organic catnip, for maximum freshness and full enjoyment by our beloved kitties! Inspired by her own cat Daisy and a beloved little friend named Raffi, she decided it was time to have toys that weren’t sitting on store shelves for months at a time with stale catnip. We couldn’t agree more…
And one lucky reader will win a delectable selection of these catnip toys!
We received a package stuffed with the most unique handcrafted catnip toys we’ve seen in awhile. It’s no surprise Banafsheh has a background in costume design. And there was no mistaking the fresh sweet aroma. The pure, organic Canadian catnip smelled divine! Our official tester agreed.
I arranged the toys for an outdoor photo shoot and it didn’t take long before Odin came sniffing. He batted and sniffed until all the toys were on the grass where he proceeded to roll around in bliss. Gris Gris showed up but Odin thought these were too good to share. He did mention if he wins the Cat Ruler of World Contest, there would be free catnip for all!
You can view all the catnip and other products at her Violetta Designs shop on Etsy.
There are no 12 step programs for cats but there are behaviorists and vets. This week our vet Dr. Rich Goldstein is back with a reader Q & A about sucking.
While Dr. G. can’t diagnose online, he can play detective and there are many clues in this letter.
Question: My cat Ziva was never weaned. She was found with her brothers when she was 2 days old. She sucks on herself while making a kneading motion with her paws. It looks like she’s nursing on herself. We got her at 6 weeks and this behavior began a few weeks after we got her. Do you think it’s that she never got to nurse on her mother? There are no bald spots on her fur so she’s not licking herself raw. It’s more of a sucking sound. So I don’t know what’s going on. She picks a different spot each time. I can’t pull her away when she starts. She goes into a sort of a trance. It goes on for a while. It occurs quite often. It’s like an autistic thing. She about 10 months old now. It’s not self-grooming and there’s no raw spots. She was spayed in April and that’s the last time she saw the vet. She doesn’t purr when she does it and she does it in bed snuggled up to me and my partner. Toys don’t distract her. She gets tons of attention. Can I stop it? Can I distract her?
Answer: As I read your question, the phrase that kept running through my mind was, “When you’re stressed, go to your ‘happy place’.” When cats exhibit suckling behavior, the theory is that it is a “comfort behavior” that essentially takes them back to a time of warmth and safety when they were protected by their mother (i.e. their “happy place”). Sometimes they purr, sometimes not. Some behaviorists have likened this behavior to thumb-sucking in children. Others have suggested that suckling behavior stimulates the release of “endorphins” from the cat’s brain that makes her feel good (which may explain the “trance-like” state you’re noticing). It becomes a self-rewarding behavior: the more the cat suckles, the more endorphins are released, the better the cat feels, the more she suckles, and so on. So you can see why it can be difficult to convince a cat to stop doing it!
In most cases, cats that suckle were weaned or taken away from their mothers at an early age. In some cats, the suckling can be triggered by stressful situations or anxiety. Most cats that suckle will do it for life. But there are some things you can try to deter her from the behavior:
If a specific trigger can be pinpointed (like she does it every time the mailman slams the mailbox shut), try to eliminate the trigger.
Increase oral stimulation, like Kitty Kong or long strips of tasty foods or other interactive toys, that may help divert her attention and reduce the tendency to suckle (i.e. find something that provides more pleasure than the suckling).
A Feliway diffuser may help reduce anxiety and the “need” to suckle.
Provide rewards and reinforcement for non-suckling behavior.
In some cases, where the skin is becoming irritated, health issues are arising, or the behavior is becoming obsessive-compulsive, your vet may prescribe some medications (like clomipramine) to help reduce the anxiety levels while you employ some behavior-modification techniques.
Use caution with “negative reinforcement” techniques (such as shaking a can or spraying water), as these can sometimes increase anxiety, which could actually lead to more suckling behavior.
Also be aware that sometimes paying too much attention to the cat while she’s exhibiting this behavior can actually reinforce the behavior. Some cats will stop doing it if you ignore them.
You can try many positive methods to break the habit. But it’s important to realize it may take lots of time and “patience, grasshopper.” But as long as she’s not hurting herself or others, there could be worse habits to have!
Editor’s Note: Ziva is still a kitten and may outgrow or reduce the behavior in time. Odin (pictured above) was a heavy suckler but has gradually reduced his frequency at age two. His self-soothing time was (and still is) in the evening or bedtime. I chose not to alter the behavior since he’d had enough trauma, being abandoned as a young kitten and losing an eye.
Our Gris Gris is a classic Virgo according to purrsonality traits of the sixth sign of the zodiac. Virgo is ruled by Mercury. Earth is their Element and their colors are gray and navy blue. Virgo cats tend to be shy and prefer to be on the sidelines rather than the center of attention. These are not the cats banging against the bars in a shelter meowing their heads off, “Look at meeee, take meeee home!” You might not even notice them at first slinking in the shadows.
Chances are they won’t make direct eye contact until they feel safe and secure. They are more nervous than other cats, rarely keeping still and lean towards smaller, slimmer and wiry frames. Even fat Virgos never look like slobs.
When meeting a Virgo kitty, let them come to you, not just at the beginning but always. They hate being pawed at, over-petted or drooled over with baby talk. If they sit on your lap, consider yourself very lucky.
These neat, tidy cats appear dainty and refined regardless of gender. You’ll never see them with sprawled legs akimbo in unsightly poses. There is something distinctive about the way they move and walk. Gris Gris has an unusual jaunty gait and all Virgos have a delicate way of stepping with their delicate paws. If cats ever develop opposable thumbs, Virgo cats will be first.
Their attractive and expressive faces with delicate features and bright eyes that see down to your soul, often have the intelligent but pensive look of worry or concern. Virgos are quicksilver quick, bright and hyper-alert to troubles in your household. They hate loud noises and yelling. It’s best to reassure them in soothing tones that everything will be okay even if they know otherwise. Virgos are one the best signs for telepathic communication. That makes them difficult to round up when it’s time to get to the vet! I’ve never had any behavioral issues with Gris Gris. I rarely need to call him verbally to come in from outdoors. He know what my intentions are before I do.
Never outwardly vain, they take pains to stay well groomed and generally like being groomed with the appropriate brush for their type of fur. Virgo cats are fastidious about everything. If you want to make your Virgo kitty happy, make sure their cat litter (they prefer not to share) is scooped twice a day and their food bowls are spotless. A pretty nonstick mat under their bowls would be appreciated. They can be finicky about food but not in a fussy pampered Leo way. They like what they like and if they’re happy, don’t change their food. When stressed they are prone to digestive woes like vomiting and diarrhea.
As far as beds or kitty condos, they like a spot of their own but don’t need anything fancy, fussy or expensive. The simple lines of this bed are pure Virgo.
What Virgos need more than anything is consistent routine and order. They want a place for everything and everything in their place. They’ll nudge you if dinner is five minutes late and won’t be amused if you stumble home at 2AM. Paradoxically they’ll look calm, hiding their anxious interior but then vomit in your shoe.
They thrive on having some kind of work whether mousing, helping you work at your computer, snoopervising imaginary intruders, care-taking other cats or yourself. If you’re ill, a Virgo will purr and coo until you’re feeling better. Gris Gris loves being Merlin’s seeing eye cat outdoors and herds him like a Border Collie.
If you respect these bright, independent souls (and yes they don’t mind being solo kitties), they’ll reward you with their quiet intelligence, sly humor and acrobatic elegance.
It’s official! Our Odin is a nominee for Cat Ruler of The World by Zee & Zoey The competition will be fierce amongst six awesome cats but it’s all for a good cause. The winner will not only get bragging rights but a cat shelter of their choice will win big! Plus there are big prizes for you dear reader!
To read all the exciting details and nominee profiles, visit Zee & Zoey
Stayed tuned for the weekly competitions posted at Zee & Zoey, where by simply leaving a comment, you’ll be automatically entered to win.
You also get to choose which cat wins Cat Ruler of the World with your vote.
Voting begins the week of September 10.
You only get to vote once, so choose wisely.
The winner will be announced on September 18!
If Odin wins, our choice of shelter to benefit is Brigid’s Crossing, a truly unique cat shelter close to our hearts. Odin has enlisted Domino to be his campaign manager and we’ll be tracking his progress here with updates.
We wish our fellow nominees good luck and may the best cat win!
Welcome to Mondays with Merlin and a lesson on Feline Communication.
Excuse me while I finish my breakfast in bed. That’s right: breakfast in bed and I get a midnight snack in bed while snuggling with my mom, Layla. It’s one of the perks of being an old cat with kidney disease. With CKD, the appetite wanes and vomiting increases along with more frequent water consumption and urination. I can’t eat much at a sitting so I get fed pretty well on demand 24/7. Sometimes I cry for food. Sometimes I communicate by non-verbal messages. Sometimes by pee-mail. Humans can be so obtuse.
All cats communicate with us all the time and the easiest way to begin to learn our non-meow ways is to simply spend time being with us. That’s right, I told you it was simple. Get comfortable in bed or on the couch, chair, on the rug or wherever your cats like hanging out. If you have lap cats, they can sit on your lap but they don’t have to. Sometime a cozy cuddle is good but sometimes it’s better if you’re a few feet away. Sit with us undisturbed by TV, cell phones and yeah, a little thing called the Internet.
The more you hang out with us cats just being, breathing, feeling, observing, you will naturally absorb and learn our secrets. Even a cat who seems to be asleep with their eyes closed has more awareness than most humans. One last thing: don’t stare without blinking; it’s rude and we’ll perceive you as a predator. Try a nice slow blink while looking us in the eye and then look away. If you’re not a complete jerk, we’ll slow blink you back.
Watching a cat in repose is naturally relaxing. When you feel relaxed, notice your own breathing and notice it becoming deeper and slower. When you feel more relaxed, imagine an invisible roots extending from your feet deep into the earth grounding you. When you feel grounded and focused, you are ready to communicate with your cat. You can speak out loud or silently with your mind. Reserve judgement about being a weirdo or doubting Thomas. You have nothing to lose by trying and much to gain.
Tell your cat you are learning to communicate with them in a new way.
Ask them if it’s okay to give you a sign like moving their head to prove you’ve been heard. If they do, thank them. Thank them in any case.
Proceed by asking a simple question like: what is your favorite toy? Still your mind and wait. You may hear words in your mind, see an image or a symbol, maybe even perceive a smell or a feeling in your body. Again, let go of any judgement or expectation. Observe your cats body language.
Don’t bombard you cat with lots of questions. Keep the session short and simple.
Feel a big cloud of love going from your heart into theirs. Say I love you. Thank-you them again.
Imagine your cat already understands what you’re saying. Once you believe that’s possible, anything is possible.
Subscriber Notice: We had a tech glitch at our Caturday post yesterday and apologize for any inconvenience. If you weren’t able to see the images, kindly take a peek at these cute kitties.
Instead of our usual Sunday book review and giveaway we have something soft and cuddly to offer, but first an announcement: The winners of last week’s book giveaway for the lovely Sparkle Puss book are Eric & Flynn, Joanne, Alfie & Milo, Gail, and Catechresis. Big sparkly congrats! Look for an email from Layla.
Cats love soft snuggly places of all kinds but most cats aren’t crazy about traveling, vet visits or getting pilled. Penny Hymes, a tech vech, decided to design The Kitty Kuddly, a cozy “snuggle bag” to make life easier and cozier for cats. Penny makes these herself, one bag at a time from soft polar fleece and also makes ones for dogs and smaller critters.
At first glance The Kitty Kuddly looks look a soft-sided nest which can be used as is or transformed into bed with any small cushion. I used a small decorative pillow to show how easy it is (top photo). We received a tiger print one which matches our sofa nicely. Cats like putting their own scent on things and I recommend spraying the bag with Feliway to hasten the calming connection with a new Kuddly or prior to going to the vet or other travel by carrier.
For cats who hate going into a carrier or being pilled can simply and safely be scooped into the bag and placed into carrier or wrapped burrito style for pilling.
To make for a calmer vet exam, the bag can easily be removed and placed onto the examining table where the cat stays in their cozy nest and off the cold stainless steel table. Our elderly cat Merlin was our “tester” and I found the Kuddly handy for carrying him up and down stairs. He’s still feisty for pilling and usually need to resort to a towel but the Kuddly is easier to use. If there are any messes, the Kuddly is easily laundered.
We are offering one lucky reader a chance to win their own custom-made Kitty Kuddly by simply leaving a comment at this post anytime until 11:59 PM EST August 30, 2012. Please mention the color/design you’d like to win from their website. The winner will be announced on August 31, 2012. Good luck!
To learn more and see their page for vets, visit Kitty Kuddly
They have wholesale prices for vets and a retail sale is on for $26.00! Cat Wisdom 101 readers save an extra 10% by adding 101 in the discount code box at check out.
Humans like cats are always full of surprises. Our usual Friday giveaway will be on Sunday. Stop by then for a cozy but practical delight. Our big surprise about Odin will be announced on Tuesday.
Lots of kind thoughts and words came our way this week for Merlin which we much appreciate. We received a “thinking of you” award from our friends at Texas, A Cat From New York It comes with rules. We’re supposed to tell seven things we love and think about daily. I’ll let Merlin tackle that question at a Mondays With Merlin. We are supposed to pass the award on to seven other blogs but we’re bending the rule. If you’re on our blogroll feel free to take it and pass it on.
I never fully appreciated that famous quote until recently. The quote is widely attributed to Mary Sarton but the French writer Collette said it before her and Collette may have appropriated it from Sigmund Freud. Merlin and I have been spending quality time talking and snuggling. When he’s not napping on the porch with the others, he’s taken to bunting or head butting my hand which he’s never done before. After all these years, there’s always something new to amaze us about cats.
To celebrate our passion for cats and relatively pleasant week for our fur gang, we’re focusing on quotes capturing the mood of each cat. Domino and Gris Gris have bonded more closely since Merlin prefers human company these days.
Gris Gris, never a wanderer is closer than ever. He can be found lolling on the porch most afternoons with Domino on a nearby chair
Odin is cultivating his international mancat of mystery vibe. He’s growing less kittenish and more worldly. Apparently he has a penchant for writing and global affairs. I can hardly wait to to reveal his big secret on Tuesday.
Every Thursday we provide vet advice with a Vet 101 Q & A with our vet, Dr. Rich Goldstein or guest posts from other feline friendly vets to help you gain insights about cats. This week’s guest post is by Dr. Lorie Huston. We’re lucky to have a mobile vet who comes to our home but it’s not an option for everyone. If you have a cat who hates going to the vet, read on. Next week is Take Your Cat To The Vet Week.
Make Your Cat’s Trip to the Veterinarian Easier for You and Your Cat
Cats need regular veterinary care, just like their canine counterparts. Yet veterinarians report that they see cats much less frequently than dogs, about half as often in fact. Whatever the reason for this discrepancy, it’s a disturbing statistic.
There is likely more than reason for this oversight. Some cat
owners simply don’t understand that cats need regular examinations and routine veterinary care. They don’t realize that even a seemingly healthy cat should have a thorough examination at least once yearly and twice is better. But many cat owners also report that they avoid taking their cat to the veterinarian because of the hassle involved with getting the cat there. That’s understandable given the fact that getting a cat to do something he (or she) doesn’t want to do can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The first step is to locate a cat-friendly veterinary practice. Your veterinarian can make your cat’s trip to her office much less stressful by giving your cat a special waiting area away from the dogs visiting the practice. She will also try to minimize your cat’s stay in the waiting area to lessen your cat’s anxiousness about the process. In the exam room, your veterinarian will allow your cat to come out of the carrier in his own time and let him explore the room if he so chooses. Gentle handling and minimal restraint will make your cat’s veterinary visit much less stressful as well.
Though choosing a cat-friendly veterinary practice is helpful, the journey really begins at home. Here are some tips to get your cat ready for the trip to the veterinarian and to help minimize the stress for both of you.
When you do take your cat to the veterinarian (or anywhere else outside of your home), a carrier is a necessity. Choose a carrier that can be disassembled so the top half of the carrier can be removed easily. This will allow your veterinarian to simply take the top off the carrier and even leave your cat inside the carrier while she completes her examination if your cat does not wish to exit the carrier on his own. A soft-sided carrier that opens from the top is another option that will work well for some cats.
Allow your cat to get used to the carrier at home, preferably long before you need to place him in it to go to the veterinarian. Leave the carrier out, with the door open, where your cat can explore it at his own pace. Place a favorite treat or toy inside the carrier to entice your cat to enter. It’s also helpful to place a towel or bed inside the carrier so that it is comfortable for your cat. Spray some Feliway (a synthetic pheromone available from your local pet store) inside the carrier as well. The goal is for your cat to view the carrier as a comfortable familiar resting place rather than a frightening trap that he only sees when something unpleasant is about to happen to him.
Once your cat is entering the carrier freely and is comfortable in the carrier, close the door for a few moments. Don’t lock him in the carrier long enough for him to become stressed or anxious. As he gets used to idea of being in the carrier with the door closed, gradually increase the length of time.
When your cat can rest inside the closed carrier without freaking out, take the carrier to the car. Simply place the carrier inside the car at first. Do not start the car or try to drive anywhere.
Once your cat is comfortable with being in his carrier inside the car, start the car but don’t drive anywhere the first few times. Begin by letting the car run for just a moment or two and gradually increase the time interval. Once your cat is used to the running car, try driving around the block, just a short distance. Gradually increase the distance as your cat feels more comfortable.
Don’t forget to reward your cat frequently during this process with a favorite treat or toy. Again, the goal is to make the experience pleasant rather than scary for your cat.
Some cats prefer to be able to see out of the carrier during the car ride. Others do better if they cannot peer out of the carrier. If necessary, you can place a towel over the carrier to make the ride less stressful for your cat.
Finally, take your cat to veterinarian for a social visit when he is not due for an examination or other treatment. Consult with your veterinarian’s staff about the best time to do this. There are typically less busy times in the office when the staff will have more free time to help you reward your cat with treats and make the veterinary experience a pleasant one. If your cat does not associate each visit with injections, blood draws and other painful or frightening procedures, he will be less likely to become stressed and difficult to handle.
When the last of my mother’s elderly cats died this summer, she felt bereft. With her home as empty as her heart, my mother acted without thinking. Most senior citizens might think it too late to adopt again but not my mom. Shortly after Miki died, she adopted a older cat from a sick neighbor. I advised her not rush into it. “What do you know about this cat?” I sensed things were not quite as they appeared. Stubbornness runs in my family and my mother as usual didn’t listen to me.
“Who cares? She needs a home. And a new name. What kind of person calls their cat Stinky?”
And so Stinky came up smelling like roses in her new home. They bonded. She was renamed Lily Rose but a stubborn diarrhea persisted through three kinds of antibiotics and vet bills in the four figures. The cat’s history according to her previous owner was vague and suspect. She’d had her for seven years but hadn’t brought her to a vet in years, if ever. I didn’t believe a word she said.
Last week, I finally received a photo of Lily. Digital is not in my mother’s vocabulary. A pretty petite tabby looked straight into the camera. Who was she? Cats are naturally mysterious and masters of adaption and reinvention. Some older cats in shelters will make wonderful pets if given a second or third chance.
It turns out Lily’s past was even more complicated. My mother found out last week that Lily had not one but two previous homes and who knows what other names and lives. My mother doesn’t care. This senior girl is hers now and I hope, in her last home.
We’ve been getting lots of questions about cat behavior lately and decided to share a Cat Behavior 101 Q & A with one reader’s question.
Have question for holistic cat behaviorist Layla Morgan Wilde? Send it to email@example.com with Cat Behavior 101 in the subject line.
Feline Crime & Punishment
Question: It’s a gorgeous day so I washed rugs and went outside to drape them over the deck railings. The back door was open. I wasn’t planning on being outside for very long. I draped my rugs, turned around to go inside and Pilchard came out of the house, slipped off the deck through a loose slat and went under the deck. She knows she’s not to do this. I stomped on the deck and yelled at her. Then I poured warm water over the deck in an effort to flush her out. She was flushed out but dashed around the house. I saw her turn the corner to pass in front of the house. I’ve got some overgrown bushes in the back and I hacked at those with the loppers. I lost track of her which is easy to do since she black. Hugely angry by now, I decide I’m slamming the back door to make a point and she can stay outside. She’ll get scared and maybe that will learn her.
I come inside and she’s lying on the floor in the hall. I walked up to her and said in an angry voice, “You have made me very angry. You know what you did is wrong.” She jumped up, faced me and started growling and hissing, ears back, the whole angry cat thing. I strode forward, pointing at her and continuing my rant. She backed up, hissing, yeowling and growling. She fled into the home office under the cedar chest where she goes to hide during thunderstorms.
I have decided to ignore her the rest of the day. She was on the table in my living room and I said to her, again, in not so kind words, “Move.” She growled and hissed at me.
After all of this, my question is, how can you punish a cat for bad behavior? She knows she’s not allowed off the deck. I need to fix that slat so she can’t move it to slip through that location. Then she can’t get through the deck slats. But she knows. The other cat in the house knows not to get off the deck. She might tempt fate but I just have to say, “Mija! No!” and she comes back up onto the deck.
I remember being told or reading somewhere that cats don’t have the kind of short term memory processes that dogs do. If a cat pees outside the box, rubbing their nose in it does nothing. I know you should never slap a cat because they will then associate your hand with punishment. But what can be done when a cat does something they know they aren’t to do? You can’t tell me they don’t know a behavior is wrong. Pilchard looked for me and then made a break for it.
Answer: How do you punish a cat for bad behavior? The short answer is, you don’t. Cats don’t make judgements about good or bad behavior. As you’ve learned, punishing a cat doesn’t work. The only effective way to change behavior is to reward desired behavior and non-reward undesirable behavior. Cats respond to human emotions in the moment. If an angry human is chasing them, they’ll perceive it as a threat. In this case, she might have simply considered it a game until it got it out of hand. Cats seem to enjoy getting humans roiled up to test our boundaries but it’s mostly to get attention. So called unruly cats will act out but their only crime is needing more interactive play time with their pet parents.
I’m convinced cats know what we’re thinking but scientists would disagree. It’s easy to project our own beliefs onto our cats when they don’t abide to our way of thinking. They can’t. They think like cats and for us to understand them, we need to think more like them. They live and adapt to our world which is very different than if they were allowed to live naturally in theirs. They aren’t pack animals like dogs who like to live in groups. Cats associate all experiences as either positive (pleasurable) or negative (painful or unpleasant).
Studies show cats may live in the moment but their long term memory is sharp and based on negative or positive associations They will recognize people they haven’t seen in years or the reappearance of an stored away old cat carrier or garden hose might trigger a negative memory.
The best way to get Pilchard to do what you want is to study her body language and respond to it. It looks like you already know many of her body language cues. She gave you fair warning not to come closer with a defensive sound and change in tail and ear positioning but you continued. It left her in position where she had to choose between fight or flight mode. She didn’t want to fight with you so she fled to a place where she’d feel secure.
Humans will respond to violence, yelling, judging and withholding as a means of punishment but it doesn’t work well with humans and never works with cats. What works is to reward them with praise, attention, playing, petting, treats (whatever they like) when they do the behavior you want and NOT reward when they don’t. Gradually they associate the “good” behavior with good things. The most important thing is not to reward the behavior you don’t want.
We can inadvertently reward by yelling and having a hissy fit which is easy to do when kitty has just broken your favorite vase or peed on your best shoes.
Ignoring, not making a sound or walking away from a behavior you don’t want works as a non-reward. In your case, ignoring her was a good example of a non-reward until you approached her with a command in an angry tone. She responded defensively. A more effective approach would have been to approach her calmly and neutrally watching for her body language cues. If she was leaning towards friendly, I’d have rewarded her with soft praise and her favorite chin rub or treat.
Yelling, slamming doors etc. will not work as a non-reward. Cats perceive it as getting attention = a good thing and the more you do it, the more they will continue the same behavior. It may seem counter-intuitive to be quiet when we want to yell but it works. Cats are constantly sending out feelers to gauge human moods. Cats do respond to apologies because as humans we make mistakes. It’s not the words but the feelings behind the words that gets transmitted. Why one cat responds to you while the other doesn’t is difficult to say except that no two cats are alike.