Friday, 3 March 2017

‘Why does my cat miaow at me?’ and other behaviour FAQs

Don’t understand why your cat behaves the way they do? Behaviourist Nicky Trevorrow took to our national Facebook page to answer live questions from curious cat owners. Here are just some of the topics discussed:

Question: I have a five-year-old female cat who constantly miaows at me. She’s eating and drinking ok, it’s just that every time I look at her she stares and miaows! She's neutered.

Answer: It would be worth taking her to the vet and making sure that she doesn't have a medical problem, even if she seems healthy. The increased vocalisation could be a sign of a medical problem. Keep a note of any other changes in her behaviour to tell the vet. If there's nothing medically wrong with her, then she could just be a chatty cat.

Some owners and their cats can build up a mutual understanding whereby the cat does certain miaows for different things. If you're concerned, you could get a referral to a qualified behaviourist. Ensure that she has all the resources (like a litter tray, scratch post, food and water bowls) she needs in the house and has plenty of fuss and play sessions with you. You could try introducing feeding enrichment to her (giving her food from her daily allowance in items that aren't from a bowl as it's more mentally stimulating). Start with something very simple like a cardboard egg box (see our post about feeding enrichment). Always show your cat how to use it first for a couple of minutes and then let her have a go!

Miaowing cat

Question: How do you stop an eight-month-old cat ripping at the wallpaper? She has a scratching post and lots of toys but prefers clawing at the wallpaper. We only decorated recently!

Answer: Sorry to hear about the scratching behaviour. I hate to say it, but cats absolutely love textured wallpaper in particular! Sorry to hear that you've only just redecorated too. If you redecorate again, then perhaps going for paint (a cat-safe one) would be better. Scratching is a normal behaviour for cats and therefore they need an outlet in order to express this natural behaviour. The main two reasons that a cat will scratch is:

1) For claw maintenance where they remove the outer sheaths of their claws. This tends to be more of a plucking motion with their paws.

2) As a territorial marker – both a visual mark from the long scratch lines left behind and a scent mark from the scent glands in between their toes.

Cats can also increase their scratch marking in times of stress. For stressed cats, it is important to rule out the underlying cause of the stress. The first port of call is a health-check by the vet to rule out any underlying medical problems. A referral to a qualified behaviourist can help to identify the cause of any anxiety.

All cats should be provided with scratching facilities.

Ideally a scratch post should:

  • be tall enough (at least 60cm) for the average adult cat to allow them to stretch up on their toes while scratching
  • be sturdy enough as cats like to lean their body weight against the post while scratching
  • have vertical thread to facilitate a full range of vertical scratching movements

Find out more here.

Best of luck!

Question: One of my cats has recently started licking my face but only does it at about 4am! If he can't get my face he starts licking my hands. He does it for ages every night, not just for a few minutes. I had him nearly a year before he started doing it. It's only when I'm in bed. Any ideas why he is doing this?

Answer: As strange as it sounds, there are actually medical reasons that can cause cats to start licking things or people that they didn't used to, so it would be worth ruling this out with your vet first. It would be worth chatting it through with a behaviourist too to see if there is anything that coincides with the onset of the behaviour. I can fully appreciate how it feels to be woken up at 4am! It's not fun. Cats are naturally more active during this time. Ensure your cat has plenty of play sessions throughout the day. Hope he stops soon.

Veterinary note: Please note that we are unable to give specific advice on your cat's health or any change in behaviour observed. For more cat care advice, please see www.cats.org.uk/cat-care or consult your vet if you have a specific concern about your cat.

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: chat with vet Dr Sarah Elliot on 9 March or Behaviourist Nicky Trevorrow on 6 April. We're also hosting a Q&A about pet grief on 16 March. All Q&As are held on Cats Protection's national Facebook page from 2pm. See you there!

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