Friday, 22 May 2015

‘Why does my cat dribble?’ and other feline behaviour FAQs

It’s that time again – every two weeks a feline expert at Cats Protection takes over our Facebook page to answer your cat care questions. This week it was the turn of behaviour specialist Nicky Trevorrow.

Here are just some of the cat behaviour questions she answered:

Question: How do I stop my two cats waking me up all night long? It can be as many as eight times that I go to the door to let them in or out. I don’t want a catflap, as they would bring live mice in.

Answer: The solution depends on why they are waking you up. Many owners find themselves in this situation and it's really difficult once we've been getting up and reinforcing this behaviour! If it's for food, then it can help to spread the meals out of the day and night (using the same amount of food) and try introducing feeding enrichment. Start off with something really easy such as a cardboard egg box and put dry food in the cups. Most cats should figure out that they need to paw it out. With enrichment, it's best to show to the cat to avoid frustration so 'paw' it out with your fingers to show the cat. Over time you can build up the level of difficulty. Check out our boredom busters videos on our YouTube channel for even more ideas.



Question: How can I get one of my four-year-old neutered cats to stop scratching the wallpaper, furniture and corners of our divan beds? We have proper scratching posts around the house plus we live in an area surrounded by trees so it's not like he is short of items to scratch on!

Answer: You're not alone, this is a common problem. Ideally scratch posts should be tall enough (at least 60cm), sturdy enough for the cat to put their weight against and have vertical thread (as opposed to horizontal rope), but these are hard to find (although you could try making your own scratching post!).

Check out our leaflet for more advice on managing your cats’ behaviour.

These posts need to be next to the areas that your cat is scratching and the beds, walls and furniture next to be covered in something that is unappealing to the cat (eg plastic bin liners, sticky back plastic etc, do a patch test first though). You can encourage the cat to use the post by plugging in a synthetic scent pheromone product like Feliway nearby, rubbing cat mint leaves (containing catnip) on the post or playing with a fishing rod toy near the post.

Cat claw
Cats scratch to keep their claws in good condition and to mark territory. Photo by Jill Allyn Stafford via flickr / Creative Commons
Question: My cat recently became stressed and anxious following a move (we think) and she has a patch on her back which is bloody and scabby. The vets said it could be stress as she's had medication for a virus. How can I help stop my kitty feeling stressed?

Answer: Sorry to hear that your cat is potentially feeling stressed. It's hard to comment without seeing the medical history or speaking with your vet. It's good that she's seen your vet and hopefully they've ruled out all of the various reasons that can cause a bald spot as there are many different possible causes. It's always important to either rule out the medical reasons or get them under control before looking at behavioural reasons.

While there are common stressors for cats, each cat is of course an individual so it's important to find out the underlying trigger/s for your cat. Basic stress relief measures include having enough essential resources (litter trays, hiding places, water bowls etc) and ensuring that they are spaced out all over the home. Check out our free e-learning course for more information on where to place resources (it's near the bottom of the course called 'putting it into practice').

Also look at the entry and exit points for your cat. Many people have a cat flap that allows any cat to enter. So if neighbourhood cats are entering your house (and you may not be aware as they are very sneaky!), then this can greatly stress out a resident cat. Getting an exclusive entry cat flap such as a microchip or magnet operated one can help to keep out intruders.

However, your best bet is getting a qualified behaviourist in to meet your cat and find out the underlying issue to get tailored advice. We recommend the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Bald patch in cat's fur
This cat's bald patch could be caused by stress. Photo by Terri Acton via facebook
Question: My cat dribbles and purrs when she’s being cuddled and she drools when being held or when she lays on me. Is this normal?

Answer: Yes many cats seem to dribble. Some cats may be more likely to do it depending on the physiology of their mouth and tongue, and emotionally, some cats seem to have a dribble when they are feeling happy and content. It’s nothing to worry about if she's always done it. If your cat has only recently started dribbling though, then get her checked out by the vets in case there's a medical problem. Thankfully many owners think ordinary dribbling is a little bit cute!

Question: I have two cats aged two years (they’re sisters). One is quite aggressive and is always nipping, biting and putting her claws out. She's very temperamental when stroking her and she constantly miaows very loudly. Is this normal?

Answer: Sorry to hear about your cat. Do get her checked by a vet first but if she doesn’t have any medical reasons that would cause her to be aggressive while being picked up or stroked, here are a few behavioural tips with interacting with cats.

Cats can get quite stimulated or excited when they are playing or in ‘hunting mode’, and it is generally not advisable to touch any cat in this state. Even when touching a calm, relaxed cat, there are many places on the body that are quite vulnerable or sensitive and as a general rule, many cats don’t like to be touched in some places. The vulnerable or sensitive areas include:

1. Belly (which for some cats can include their sides and chest too)
2. Paws
3. Under legs (i.e. armpits)
4. Legs (trousers-back legs)
5. Stroking the fur against the normal direction
6. Bottom half of back (particularly if stiff or painful)
7. Base of tail
8. Genital area

All cats are individuals so some cats may seem to tolerate or in some cases, even appear to like be touched in some of these areas. However, as a general rule, cats don’t tend to be like being touched in these areas.

It is a common misconception that cats that roll on to their backs and expose their belly want it to be touched. This behaviour is often seen after a period of separation and is used as a greeting. What cats are communicating when this do this is that they feel relaxed in the person’s presence, enough to expose such a vulnerable area. The best way to address this behaviour is to verbally acknowledge the cat’s greeting, which is all the cat needs. For a cat that is resting on the floor with their belly exposed, if someone really wanted to stroke the cat, I would recommend only stroking the head, or you may be able to stroke their neck and back too. In general cats like quite brief, low intensity interactions that are quite frequent.

Cat showing its belly
 A cat lying on its back does not want its tummy rubbed. Photo by Joanna Potratz via flickr / Creative Commons
When cats in the same social group greet each other, it tends to be a brief head rub. Unfortunately, humans are the opposite! Our interactions are generally less frequent, but high intensity and prolonged. This is often another source of confusion.

It would be worth ruling out medical reasons with a health check from your vet and then we'd recommend a referral to a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC).


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 here.


Would you like to ask one of Cats Protection’s feline experts a question about your cat? Don’t miss the next live Facebook Q&A sessions: Vet Vanessa Howie will be answering veterinary questions on 4 June; Neutering Manager Jane Clements will there on 15 June; and behaviour expert Nicky Trevorrow will host the Q&A on 2 July. Every live Q&A is on our national Facebook page from 2-3pm. See you there!

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