Wednesday, 9 March 2016

‘Why is my cat scared of visitors?’ and other feline behaviour FAQs

Have you ever wondered why your cat does certain things or acts in a particular way? Cats Protection’s Behaviour Manager Nicky Trevorrow is here to help.

In our recent live Q&A on cat behaviour, Nicky answered the following questions:

Question: Why does our cat run when anybody comes to visit or rings the doorbell? He hides in the bed.

Answer: This is quite common and can be for a variety of reasons. For example, some cats are naturally more shy or nervous if they weren't well socialised to people during the socialisation period of two to seven weeks of age. The trait for boldness or friendliness comes from the father, so if your cat had a timid father, this could affect their behaviour. Or if this has been a more recent change, then it is important to rule out medical reasons that could affect their behaviour. There are ways to very gradually get cats used to things they find scary and a qualified behaviourist would be best placed to talk you through it. You can find one via www.apbc.org.uk


Cat hiding under bedsheets
Photo by Jessica Fiess-Hill via flickr / Creative Commons
Question: Why does my six-month-old cat keep eating plastic bags?!

Answer: Sorry to hear that your cat is eating plastic bags, that's quite unusual! I'd recommend that you firstly take your cat to the vets to rule out medical reasons for this behaviour and then get a referral to a qualified behaviourist such as the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (see link in the previous answer). In the meantime, try to keep all plastic bags out of your cat's reach. Maybe try introducing your cat to feeding enrichment, such as putting part of your cat's biscuits (if on dry food) into an empty cardboard egg box to keep them occupied. This article from The Cat magazine about creative ways to feed cats will help you. All the best.

Question: Why does my female cat stand and howl by her litter tray? She does it every day around about the same time, only for a few seconds.

Answer: First I’d advise that you take your cat to the vets to rule out medical reasons in case she is in pain or has a urinary problem, just as examples (there's lots of possible medical reasons to rule out). If the vet feels that it is behavioural, then read our blog post on litter trays including the check list. To get to the underlying cause of this behaviour, it would be best to get a referral to a qualified behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC).

Question: Why does my cat roll over to be fussed then bite me immediately!

Answer: Are you tempted to touch your cat's tummy by any chance? When cats roll over to show their tummies, it's a sign that they trust you and generally not an invitation to touch such a vulnerable area. There are a few cats that seem to like it, a few more that tolerate this interaction, but the vast majority would prefer we didn't go in for a tickle! Try talking to your cat instead and stroking their head.

Cat showing its belly
Photo by Alan Huett via flickr / Creative Commons
Question: Why does my male cat come back in from being outside to use his litter tray then go back out again?

Answer: Many cats do this, but at this time of year, I don't blame them as it's so cold and wet outside! In winter the ground is more difficult to dig too. For cats that prefer a litter tray indoors regardless of the weather, it is likely that they feel safer indoors and may worry about being in such a vulnerable position outside in the garden with the potential for other neighbourhood cats to come along. It's great that you've provided your cat with a litter tray that he's obviously happy with!

Question: My cat has prawns every night and goes mad if she doesn't have any. She’ll sulk and starve herself for days. Why does she do this?

Answer: I think many owners will identify with this. While some cats certainly seem fussier than others, we need to be mindful to not keep offering lots of different, even more tempting foods. If we do this our cats can quickly learn that if they just hold out for a little longer, something more tasty will come their way. It's then quite difficult when owners find themselves with all kinds of routines and often human treats on offer. Start by gradually reducing the number of prawns she has and try introducing feeding enrichment so that she is given food in a more stimulating way. Begin with something simple like an egg box – you’ll find instructions in our blog post about feeding enrichment puzzles.


Veterinary note: 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.

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 taking questions on 17 March; Nicky Trevorrow will be back answering behaviour questions on 14 April; while Neutering Manager Jane Clements will be hosting the Q&A on 12 May. All Q&As are held on Cats Protection's national Facebook page from 2-3pm. See you there!

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