Friday, 10 April 2015

‘How can I help a timid cat trust their new owner?’ and other behaviour FAQs

Once more behaviour expert Nicky Trevorrow took the reins of our Facebook page and answered live feline behaviour questions from our supporters. Here are just some of the questions that she answered for our supporters:

Question: Please could you offer some advice about how to help a timid cat to trust their new owners?

Answer: The main thing is to do this gradually and on the cat's own terms. We are often asked how long it will take for a cat to become more relaxed, however it would be hard to say as every cat is an individual. Depending on how timid your cat is would affect the starting point.

In general, sitting on the floor, reading a book and completely ignoring the cat (no eye contact, not talking to them etc) is great to show the cat that you are not a threat and come in peace! You can also try a bit of bribery (as long as there's no medical reason you can't) such as a bit of cooked chicken or a prawn to help your cat make positive associations with your company and getting small tidbits. Ensure any treats you give your cat are taken from their daily food allowance. With time, patience and empathy you'll get there. For further reading check out our leaflet Managing your cat’s behaviour.

Pyramid feeding toy for cats
Photo: CP Mansfield Adoption Centre
Question: Why does my cat go completely crazy with excitement every time he uses his litter tray? And why does he jump on me for attention at 3am?

Answer: It depends how the cat is responding and what the circumstances are. If the cat is making frequent small trips and vocalising then it may be that your cat could have a medical problem and needs to go to the vets for a health check.

If your cat miaows afterwards, it could be for attention or to get you to clean the litter tray.

As for 3am antics, cats are naturally crepuscular (awake at dawn and dusk) so will be more active at these times. If they are awake, they see no reason why not to have some fuss, attention or food at that time! Try giving your cat several interactive play sessions during the day and provide some feeding enrichment at night to keep them occupied. You could try a toilet roll pyramid where you tape the rolls together and place a portion of the cat's dry food in the tubes. Do 'show' your cat how to use the enrichment to prevent frustration. We offer some more ideas in this blog post about feeding enrichment and you could also check out our free course on cat behaviour.

Question: My two-year-old cat often has the tip of her tongue poking out. Is this just an oddity or should I be concerned?

Answer: If your cat has always done this, then I wouldn't be concerned. However, if your cat has only recently started doing it, then it may be worth having a health check with the vet to check your cat's mouth.

Question: My cat loves to scratch the carpet when he wants us to open the door for him. Can that be changed?

Answer: This is a common situation! It can be changed with some patience and determination. It's important not to tell him off for scratching the carpet as this won't change anything. Instead the trick is to cover and protect the carpet and teach him another behaviour to open the door. Check out Karen Pryor's book on clicker training for cats for tips on how to train cats in a positive way. Or you could try leaving the doors open (if they are internal doors).

Cat looking out window
Photo by emdot via flickr / Creative Commons
Question: I have a new cat who is three and is showing some stressed behaviour as she can't go outside. How long do you have to keep a cat inside for? I have had her for three weeks since her previous owner moved two miles away. Any help gratefully received.

Answer: There's no exact science as to how long to keep a cat indoors for. At Cats Protection, we often recommend three-four weeks but it can depend on the situation. The main thing is to ensure that your cat has everything that she needs in the house (resources such litter trays, food bowls, water bowls, hiding places and sleeping areas) and that she is microchipped with your details (if you now have legal ownership of this cat).

If the previous owner has recently moved house then the cat is unlikely to return to the previous owner. When a previous owner hasn't moved house, it's possible for cats to sometimes travel a couple of miles to the previous home.

Getting your cat used to her name (or the sound of her food) and coming back to you can be really helpful when you start letting her outside. For more information, have a read of our leaflet Indoor and outdoor cats.


Please note that we are unable to give specific advice on your cat's health or any change in behaviour observed. For medical problems consult your vet who will have access to your cat’s medical history and will be able to examine them.

You’ll find more information about cat care and behaviour in our selection of Essential Guide leaflets and do check out our free online e-learning course too which explains the ancestry of cats.

Fancy asking one of our feline experts a cat care question? Don’t miss the next live Facebook sessions: Our Field Vet Officer Vanessa Howie will answer your veterinary questions on 23 April; Neutering Manager Jane Clements will host a Q&A on 7 May; and Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow will be taking questions on feline behaviour on 21 May. Each Q&A takes place on our Facebook page at 2pm for one hour. See you there!

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