The Case of the Fractious Feline

Before I begin: to avoid offending any potential feline readers of this (as I know they enjoy the occasional keyboard sitting session) I have omitted the three letter D-word and replaced it with the less offensive terms–Droolers, and Big Paws.

You may have read a previous article on this blog entitled The Case of the Dangerous Drooler. Near the beginning I made the generalization that about ninety percent of the poor behaviours I have observed in the Big Paws are due to parenting failures (directly or indirectly). Although I acknowledge, even perfect Drooler parenting will not prevent all incidents.

Having made that previous observation you may find this one hard to swallow but when it comes to our feline friends I would say probably… fifty percent of their bad behaviour is absolutely not DIRECTLY your fault. Don’t stop reading there though!

So, lets begin. The generalization in my Drooler article about urbanization and poor understanding of animals still holds here (it’s in the first few paragraphs if you want to go back and read it), as do my recommendations regarding pet first aid, knowing when your pet is sick, and knowing how to feed your pet.

Three cat specific notes though:

  1. On health concerns: a panting cat is a major concern. Cats don’t and shouldn’t pant.
  2. On feeding and obesity: statistically while obesity is above fifty percent in dogs (in North America) it is even higher in cats and it is a problem. Obesity puts extra strain on joints and bones and can make your cat unnecessarily sore, interfere with their breathing (either due to fitness level, or because fat is inflammatory), and lowers their life expectancy. We’ll talk about this a little bit more later on.
  3. However, visually obvious, rapid weight loss in cats is also a health concern (I’m not saying you shouldn’t put your obese cat on a diet, I am saying that if you can very obviously see your cat loosing weight over the course of a week, or even a month it isn’t healthy weight loss and there may be another underlying problem or you may have cut them back too far).

This article though, like the previous is going to address feline behaviours and training. A caveat, I am not an expert–this is based on observation and is meant to provide a jumping off point for you to continue learning from.

I’ll start with a story:

The tech walked into the alien landscape, assessing the damage. The room was a disaster, but it would need to be fixed before they could settle in for the next storm. She dragged away the old and tattered blankets and carefully disinfected the counters and chairs, who knew what alien had last inhabited this place.

The tech lay out a new blanket and sprayed it with Drooler Detractor. then swept and mopped the floor. Glancing around the room she took out her spray once more and dispersed it sweepingly across the room, plugging in a nightlight-like contraption that would continue to add more as needed to the air. Examining her handiwork she smiled before sprinkling a salt ring around the whole premises to keep out faeries, and walking out the door.

After attending to her other duties in the community the tech returned to the same door. She carefully made the sign of the cross over herself and kissed her rosary before spraying herself down with Drooler Detractor and stepping across the threshold. The battle that day would be arduous but all preparations had been made.


Did that sound crazy? Well, it’s actually not that far from the truth minus the salt ring, the sign of the cross/rosary (if your tech isn’t religious, if they are… who knows), and if you change the name of the spray to Feliway, this would probably be for a cat that is known to be difficult but even for a cat that is pretty chill we will take precautions.

So why are cats treated with such caution? Because even the nicest cat at home can become a terror in the veterinarians office.

Why? You may ask. Cats are creatures of insane habit, I mean almost obsessive. Moving their litter box three feet to the left may result in them peeing in your bed in protest, adding a new cat or saying goodbye to an old cat in the household may result in months of mournful nighttime meowing, a new person arriving in the house or someone moving out may result in mild depression or major changes in sleep habits, to name a few of the many changes that can set a cat off.

I mean, don’t even get me started on changing litter or food types. The kicker with the vet is not only could you be changing their environment two to three times (house in general to kennel, kennel to exam room, exam room to treatment room) you are also changing their people; their companions; the smell; the availability of food, water and litter; and the motions and touch being applied to them.

So imagine taking your most neurotic, homebody friend and sending them to… I don’t know, rural Asia. Now try to navigate the newly induced panic attack while performing a slightly invasive medical examination.

Alright, now what can we do about this?

There’s definitely a few things, starting with picking your new queen/king:

  1. Cats have distinct personalities, and while I definitely encourage adoption I would also say you need to carefully consider any cat you intend to have join your family (especially if it is going to have to make nice with other non-human family members, or children). While that grumpy cat sitting at the back of his cage, making funny noises at you might seem the most in need of a rescue he may not be the best fit for your home, or your lifestyle. Age can play a role in determining whether or not a cat will adjust well to a busy household or a multi-pet household (kittens may be more amenable to these situations as they are curious and still learning what they like). This is NOT ALWAYS the case, but don’t disregard it because you want to live in fantasy-land either.
  2. There are tonnes of REALLY nice cats in this world, find one that will love your lifestyle as much as you do and don’t feel bad for insisting on that. It seems inheriting cats is becoming increasingly common, and while I encourage trying to work with an inherited cat, if it is making your life miserable because you two just aren’t compatible that is okay, seek out the right place for the cat so you can both be happy!

At home:

  1. Never allow biting people, playful or not, it is inappropriate and sets a precedent, just like letting them climb up your leg, or scratch at you. There’s tonnes of great toys and scratching posts out there and you should make full use of them.
  2. Provide their food and water to them in the kennel they will someday be travelling in, or make it into a comfortable bed with all the amenities they may want. Frankly, normalize the kennel. Practice closing the door for short, and then longer periods.
  3. Eventually drive them around the block with them in their kennel, or even to a parking spot two houses down if they are freaking right out. Do this once a week or once every couple of weeks so the kennel and the car don’t automatically mean vet. While you’re driving with them put a few treats in the kennel (not too much, no one wants a barfing cat on their hands, and on vet trips this may not be an option as they may need to be fasted for surgeries).
  4. From kitten-hood poke and prod them (gently) in odd and unexpected ways. Flip their ears back and look inside (this is good even if they aren’t going to the vet as it allows you to check for ear mites), open their mouths (super gently, and please don’t get bit, if you don’t know how to do this safely find someone who does), bop their noses (bop gently, not that this is a veterinary procedure, it just teaches tolerance), cradle them in your arms and lift their tails briefly and gently (as though someone needed to take an anal temperature, which generally takes about thirty seconds), get them used to lying in lateral recumbency and dorsal recumbency (on their side and back) and being gently restrained in these positions, get them used to having their legs restrained (gently), play with their feet, trim their nails (again, learn how to do this well and safely from someone who knows). Heck, if you’re adventurous teach them to enjoy a bath (I recently bathed my six year old cat for the first time and he was fantastic, although I recommend a nail trim prior and generally would not try it with a mature cat, but since Piper is… well, Piper I chose to chance it. Just be careful of the eyes, and ears, also RINSE WELL and get a CAT SPECIFIC shampoo as cats themselves are prolific groomers and will most likely be consuming orally any soap left on them which could be dangerous).
  5. Practice the reverse burrito. Okay, this sounds like a joke when you read it but I am dead serious. The reverse burrito is a common low-stress restraint technique for cats undergoing procedures. The normal burrito involves the head being covered (this is also relatively common depending on what is being done). In the reverse burrito you lay a towel out flat and position the cats head near the edge of the towel, with the cat lying on its stomach on top of the towel. From there you wrap the edge of the towel around the cats neck (so that it is snug enough the paws can’t come popping out, but not uncomfortable) and proceed to wrap the rest of the cat up like… well a burrito, tucking the bottom under the cat at the end while maintaining a hold on the neck area of the towel and cradling the body snuggly. My cat is absolutely un-offended by this, and yours could be too!
  6. One final, more sensitive at home management item: MANAGE YOUR CATS WEIGHT. An obese or morbidly obese cat will feel like crap, they will be more sore, more easily loose their breath, and more stressed on a day to day basis than they should be. This can be worked around with simple, and basic calculations of your cats ideal body weight (if your unsure talk to your vet about this) and feeding your cat with that in mind. I understand you probably won’t be weighing out their food everyday, but since most feed bags measure metabolic kCal/g or kg of food weighing will be the most accurate way to figure out how much food your cat should get. Try to weigh out the food when you change the amount your feeding or the type of food (which may differ in calorie density or particle density), particularly when your kitten is in their rapid growth phase, and then find a measuring cup that fits exactly the right amount of food. Also note that your cats metabolic requirements change after they are spayed or neutered (same goes for Droolers). Managing their base stress level by keeping them in their ideal fitness and body condition, can significantly reduce how stressful being at the vet clinic is.

At the clinic:

  1. Try to find a clinic that has a cat specific exam room (trust me, this is becoming a thing). That way your kitty won’t be getting a nose full of unknown dog when you are trying to keep him chill. Even better if you can find a place with cat specific waiting room accommodations too (this may be in the form of cat shelves which put them up above the fray, a separate waiting area, or even just feliway (pheromone spray) sprayed towels that can be draped over the kennel).
  2. Make your appointment as early as possible during the day (or see if the clinic has a “cat day” where all their appointments are cats, or even just an appointment right before lunch or during a quiet day). This ensures there’s not two german shepherds, a pomeranian, and a great dane hanging out in your cats space before the appointment even begins.
  3. Arrive for your appointment juuuuust ahead of time (like five minutes if you can manage it that close without being late, but don’t be late!) or leave the cat in the car with another family member while you go in and check if the wait time is going to be super long. You could even call ahead if it’s just you, to see if things are running on time, although make it short and sweet because on a busy day this might drive the receptionists a little nutty.
  4. Have a familiar towel in the kennel that is fluffy/thick enough for your cat to feel a little hidden. Also, on the subject of kennels have one that you can remove the top off of if kitty doesn’t want to walk out once you are in the exam room (super handy).
  5. As with Droolers WARN US if your kitty is a known biter or typically aggressive towards yourself or strangers, this really informs our handling approach. We may leave kitty be while we take a history instead of immediately opening up the kennel door.

While kitty temper tantrums may be harder to avoid than Drooler ones, there is still a lot you can do to prepare and “train” your cat for clinic situations. These things are part of the fifty percent of behaviour that is under your DIRECT control with your cat.

The other fifty percent could be them keying in on your indirect reaction to being in medical situations (maybe you’re breathing harder, or your heart is pumping faster) and reacting themselves, it could be a smell on the vet that they aren’t keen on, it could be them having a bad day (Droolers have these too), it could be them feeling one too many bumps on the car ride, it could be that a dog barked as you walked into the exam room. Whatever it is these factors have to be dealt with in the moment, but like with our D-O-G-G-Y friends, setting a firm foundation of correct behaviours prior to arriving at the vet is a HUGE part of helping them cope with the new situation.

Cat handling techniques in clinic have dramatically changed over the last two decades, favouring low stress, and minimal handling techniques in order to improve their experience with us but we really appreciate if you do your part too!

A calm cat is a cat that has blood drawn without blowing the vein (more often, if veins are super friable this may still happen), its a cat that purrs in the exam room and rubs up against the vet, its a cat that stays collected for a temperature, and climbs onto the scale because its just chilling out, exploring, its a cat that will take a treat nicely after its vaccine, and often doesn’t need our help to get its nails trimmed.

Frankly, a relaxed and well adjusted cat is a cat we simply see less often and for shorter periods of time, because it doesn’t have to come in to be sedated to be groomed or to have four people help get its nails trimmed (I’ve seen this happen!), and it’s vaccine appointments take no time at all.






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