Tagged with " socializing"

Tips for Adopting a Stray Cat

Feb 2, 2014 by     6 Comments    Posted under: Behavior, Personal Opinion, Tips & Advice

It is easy to welcome a well socialized kitten into your home, but what about an abandoned kitten or a hungry stray cat who adopts you? Kittens (or cats) who have not had good early socialization can be guided along the path to a healthy happy relationship with people. Behavior is shaped by two opposing forces. One is repetition: each time we respond to a certain stimulus in a certain way, we are more likely to respond the same way in the future. The opposite force is extinction: the longer we go without repeating a behavior, the less likely we are to act the same way. For example, the more frequently you walk by a doughnut shop without stopping,the less likely it is that you will stop. These two principles will guide our behavior modification strategy as we integrate a new cat into our family.

It is helpful to view these felines as having low self-esteem and needing a wide personal space. Because of minimal or non-existent past socialization, these felines are always on high alert. When a person or animal enters that cat’s personal space, its defensive neurons prepare to fire. In the opposite situation, if we allow the cat to enter our personal space, the defensive neurons are subdued. Over time, if those neurons do not fire, the behavior they elicit ( e.g. running away, hissing, scratching) will be eliminated. Although, it is counterintuitive, the best way to make a cat feel safe is to ignore it. Do not make direct eye contact. Staring can be seen as a threat. Allow the cat to come to you for attention. When it feels secure, the cat will begin to join your social group, first by sitting at the periphery or choosing to come into the room. Gradually the kitty will get closer to you, perhaps sitting on one end of the sofa while the you sit at the other. One day the cat will sit next to you. Even then , for the first few times resist the urge to reach out and pat him. He may begin to rub his scent on you, thereby making you familiar to him. The same logic should be followed when you are standing. Once comfortable, you may be graced with a happy cat weaving in and out and rubbing up against your legs. Resist the temptation to reach down. ( We’ve all done that with a hunger aroused cat, only to be feel the claws against our skin!)

Monitor the cat’s level of socialization by observing his sleeping pattern. It is not uncommon for a client to note that a newly adopted cat will get up on the bed once the person is asleep, when cat knows he is safe from unwanted attention, and depart as soon as the person wakes up. At first the kitty will sleep at the end of the bed in case he needs to make a fast exit. Gradually he will come closer to sleep near or next to this now less threatening human.

When adopting a cat whose early life was not one of security and comfort, it is best to see things through the cat’s eyes. In the wild, cats are hunters for their food, but also prey for many other species. From that perspective, in your home, you are viewed as a predator and the cat is in alien territory. Ask yourself what would make the house a more welcoming environment? One solution would be provide multiple hiding spaces at different heights for escape during times of sensory overload. A threatened cat will go to a place in which he feels secure to process all the incoming information. Place food dishes in multiple places for the same reason- giving the kitty many options to sneak out and eat. The same logic is true for litter boxes. Use more than one box and place them far apart so he can establish safe routes to them. Creating a “safe room”, e.g. a spare bedroom where no other animals are allowed to enter, for a cat is also an option- with food, water, litter pan, and resting places- that he can call his own

The physical environment is not the only one to modify to help a less confident cat or kitten become well integrated into your family. A cat’s senses are much more acute than ours. Two more questions arise as you welcome this feline into your home are. What does my house sound like? What does my house smell like? Cats can hear higher frequencies even into the ultrasonic range. They can hear sounds 2.5 octaves higher than either people or dogs, have movable ears which allow them to pinpoint location of sounds. Their hearing is approximately 10x as sensitive compared to humans. Imagine what loud music sounds like to a cat! Even the noise of everyday life can be jarring; another reason why cats, are inclined to be nocturnal. The cat’s sense of smell is also markedly different than ours- they have 20 times the olfactory cells that people do. Many things we think smell good, cats find repulsive- citrus is one good example. It is best to keep the air clean. Avoid using scented candles, room air fresheners, potpourri.

The poorly socialized cat has a large hurdle to overcome. Because he responds to human contact the way he learned to survive outdoors, the cat may become labeled as unfriendly, mean, or nasty. It takes a great deal of patience, understanding, and time to convince a cat with this background that he will be loved and is being given a secure, comforting home. The reward however is great. Ask anyone who has welcomed a neglected cat or kitten into their home.

It makes a heart sing to see a previously scared, wide-eyed, ears back kitty ask for head bumps or curl up contentedly purring in one’s lap.

Dr Kathleen Keefe Ternes

Dr. Kathleen Keefe Ternes grew up in western Massachusetts. She received an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1974; a BS degree in 1978 and a DVM in 1979 from Michigan State University. Dr. Keefe Ternes returned home to New England in April 1980. In 1984, she achieved one of her professional goals by opening The Feline Hospital in Salem, MA. . Dr. Keefe Ternes, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), initially certified as a companion animal specialist in 1990. She became certified as a feline specialist in 2000 and recertified in 2010. Dr. Keefe Ternes is a member of AAFP, the AVMA, the MVMA, and her local organization, the Veterinary Association of the North Shore (VANS). Her involvement in organized medicine includes having been a past president of VANS and current member of the board of directors. She is also a case reviewer for the ABVP and recently joined the Feline Welfare Committee of the AAFP.

Dr. Keefe Ternes lives in Salem with her husband and two college age daughters. Her two senior cats Toby and Petunia keep her on her toes medically.

The Feline Hospital
81 Webb St
Salem, MA 01970

Phone: 978-744-8020
Email: thefelinehospital@gmail.com

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Are Cats Social?

Aug 18, 2012 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

Those of us that live with and love cats know that cats are different from dogs, people, and other species. We also recognize that cats can be important family members, friends, companions, and even “the love of our life”. The cat’s social structure is sufficiently different from ours that it was once thought that cats were not social animals. We now know that cats are indeed social, just different.

The cat’s social structure usually consists of related females cooperatively caring for kittens in a colony. Many of the adult males leave the colony and may remain solitary; some will try to integrate into a colony, which can take a very long time of slow and gradual introductions.

Cats choose with whom to be social and when. When we understand that social groupings usually consist of queens and kittens, it makes good sense to adopt littermates or siblings together. These kittens already have a great social group and are much more likely to be “best buds for life”. Being the same age, they can play rough together, without a younger cat hurting an older cat. The next best choice is a kitten and the mother cat.

Trying to introduce different cats to each other is like a solitary cat trying to integrate into a colony – the introduction needs to be very slow and gradual. Even if the cats live together without hissing or fighting, they may pass each other without any interest to sleep together or play together – or they may choose to become great friends just as mine did. The rule with cats from different families though is they need to choice; if we try to force them to be friends, it will backfire.

How can you tell if your cats are friends (called “affiliates” in veterinary medicine)? Cats that like each other rub against each other, and often sleep or rest together. They also lick each other, preferably on the head and neck. (see pictures) In fact, when introducing ourselves to a cat, it’s best to massage in front of the ears, under the chin, or on the cheeks. But first let the cat come to you and then do so; forcing them, will greatly delay the loving relationship.

Dr Ilona Rodan

Dr. Ilona Rodan, ABVP Certified in Feline Practice
Medical Director and Owner, Cat Care Clinic, Madison, WI
Feline Behavior Consultant

Dr. Ilona Rodan has been a leader in the field of feline medicine for more than 25 years. She started the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wisconsin in 1987 to provide the best feline health care individualized to each patient in a compassionate environment that is more comfortable for cats and cat lovers, and where cats are better understood and handled in a respectful manner. With her extensive knowledge of feline behavior, she also understands the cats’ needs at home, and strives to enhance and prolong the relationship between cats and the people who love them. Our clients frequently tell us that our knowledge and caring has increased their cat’s length of life, often by several years.

When Dr. Rodan is not practicing and teaching at the clinic, she lectures internationally
and writes about feline-friendly hospitals, cat behavior and prevention of behavior problems, and recognizing and treating pain in cats. She has been active in the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) since 1982, and has served in every office, including President. She is most proud of her accomplishments in helping to establish guidelines for feline medicine, which include retrovirus testing, vaccinations, senior care, feline life stages, behavior, pain management, and feline handling guidelines (the latter published in 2011). Dr. Rodan was also an ambassador in the development of a specialist category in feline medicine.

In 1995, she became one of the first board-certified feline practitioners. Her hospital is an AAHA-Accredited Feline Specialty Hospital. She and her team are involved in community service, including free spays and neuters for Friends of Ferals. Dr. Rodan also lectures to the public and staff members of the local shelter, Dane County Humane Society.

Dr. Rodan received the national Friskie’s award for outstanding accomplishments in feline medicine in 1998. In 2005, she was chosen from 70,000 veterinarians to receive the most prestigious award given to a veterinarian, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Welfare Award, This award was given to Dr. Rodan for her work locally and nationally to enhance the welfare of cats through medical and behavioral advancements, and her contributions to community and society. Dr. Rodan’s passion and desire to help both cats and their people is unwavering.

Dr. Rodan continues to be well trained by the two feline family members she lives with, their predecessors, and the cats she has treated for more than 30 years. They have taught her how to respectfully handle and work with cats, to understand that the needs of cat’s in their home is an important part of their healthcare, and to ensure that they have the best quality and length of life.

Cat Care Clinic
322 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717

Phone: (608) 833-9750
Fax: (608) 829-0345
Email: catcare@catcareclinic.net

Website: http://www.catcareclinic.net/
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