News and Research

Cats: Behaviour and training


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The effects of social interaction and environmental enrichment on the space use, behaviour and stress of owned house cats facing a novel environment. 

Ways to reduce stress for cats in unfamiliar environments

Source: L.K. Rehnberg, K.A. Robert, S.J. Watson, R.A. Peters 
Applied Animal Behaviour Science  vol 169, August 2015, pp 51-61

Cats can become stressed when they are away from home, for example in a cattery or a shelter, so it is worth investigating ways to help them by changing their environment. This study involved 20 neutered cats away from home, observed over a period of two days.

Cats were more likely to show signs of stress if they were older, male, and had no previous experience of being in a confined space. Signs of stress included hiding in a concealed area, or being inactive, rather than eating, grooming, and using open spaces. Cats especially liked some parts of their enclosures, like cat igloos, which were used more by cats showing higher stress levels. Cats that showed fewer signs of stress tended to use the upper tiers of a climbing tree.

 Cats did not appear to be especially interested in items which smelled of their owners, though it was expected that the owners´scent might calm them. The cats did, however, show less stress when their carers interacted with them for longer periods.

Putting both igloos or other hiding places, and climbing structures like cat trees in cattery enclosures could benefit cats housed there, and the cats would also benefit from their carers spending more time with them.


Is your playful feline playing up?

Solving common feline behavioural problems

source: Guardian supplement, Pets: cats and dogs, March 2010, p21

Cats' behavioural problems include scratching furniture. When cats scratch in just one or two locations, they may need a scratching post to keep their claws in trim. Catnip sprayed on the post can persuade the cat to use it as an alternative to furniture. Cats may also scratch to mark, especially if they are stressed. Enzyme cleansers help mask the odour, and keeping cats' food and litter trays away from other cats can remove sources of stress. Litter trays should be clean, provide enough room, and in quiet locations, and be away from feeding and resting areas. Two or more cats need two or more trays. Feline houstraining problems often arise from inadequate litter trays.

Cats are naturally playful, and providing toys like puzzle feeders and fishing rods helps calm them if they are too enegetic. When humans share feeding and play time, cats are less likely to depend on a single person. Cats may also benefit from daily play sessions to channel their energy.


Does your cat know its name?

Training and naming cats

source: Perri Lewis Guardian supplement, Pets: cats and dogs, March 2010, p29

Cats learn to come to their owners when called by name because they are usually rewarded for doing so. Cats can also be trained to mew or sit on command by rewarding them for it. Owners usually train cats to respond to their names without thinking about it. Shorter names, like Socks or Sam, are better than longer names, because cats can more easily recognise shorter names.


First Impressions

Bringing a new cat into the home

Source: Sarah Whitehead
Feline Advisory Bureau Volume 39 (2) 2001 p 43

Cat owners often overlook the fact that cats need time to accept a new individual into the home, be it another cat, dog or human. Most cats will view a feline newcomer as an ‘intruder’ in their territory so it is important to take things slowly with no visual contact initially so that each cat can become accustomed to the scent signals of the other. Scents can then be exchanged by petting one cat and then the other, so that there is a collective ‘group’ smell. The new cat can then be placed in a large pen in the same room as the existing cat so that there is visual contact without risking physical conflict. Once the cats are more relaxed in each other’s presence they can be fed in the same room, with the new cat still in the pen, gradually moving the food bowls closer, until progression to first meetings without the pen. It’s important to remember however that with some cats, personality differences may never be overcome.


Postmen put boycott on house where 'Danger Puss' lies in wait for them

Postmen refuse to deliver to house with dangerous cat

source: Martin Wainwright Guardian June 28 2003 p5

Postmen are refusing to deliver mail to a house in New Milton, Hampshire, England, because a tom cat called Purrdey has been attacking them. The cat has spat at postmen, and jumped up at their throats where it digs its claws in. It has been leashed, but will still attack while on the leash. The cat's owner is a 79-year-old councillor, who receives a lot of mail, which he now has to collect himself.


Behavioural problems in cats and dogs

APBC review of cat and dog behavioural problems referred in 2001

source: Veterinary Record vol 151 no 9, August 31 2002 p252

The Association of Pet Behavioural Counsellors (APBC) has issued a review of feline and canine cases seen in 2001.

Indoor marking, mainly spraying, was the most common problem found with cats, accounting for 25.5% of cases. Housetraining problems and aggression towards people or other cats were also common cat problems. There was little difference in numbers of male and female cats seen. The domestic shorthair was most common cat breed seen, though this could be because it is the most common breed kept in the UK.

Aggression shown towards humans accounted for 36% of cases of more than 1,000 dogs seen, with dog-dog aggression accounting for 19% and phobic and separation-related problems each accounting for 9% of the total. Males were seen more often than females. The breeds most commonly seen were crossbreeds, border collies and German shepherds, though this could simply be because of these breeds are common in the dog population of the UK as a whole.


Patterns of cat behavior at feeding occasions

Cat-human relations when cats are fed

Source: John S. Bradshaw and Sarah E. Cook
Applied Animal Behaviour Science vol 47 no 1-2, April 1996
starts p61, 14 pages long

There are different ways of studying relationships between cats and humans, and one way is to focus on interactive behaviour in terms of sequences and motor patterns. Feeding is not the only way in which cats bond with humans, but it is important, since cats do not usually develop attachments to households unless they are fed there. It is also worth studying, because it occurs regularly and is easy to observe.

This study involved 36 cats from Southampton, UK, all of which were spayed or castrated, apart from one tom. Nervous cats that did not trust strangers observing them were excluded, as were cats only appearing for food on an irregular basis. The cats’ behaviour was recorded from when food was offered until they went out of the house, or five minutes after finishing their meals, whichever happened first.

Some behaviour did not involve the cats trying to communicate with humans feeding them, and this included grooming, lip licking, and looking around. Other behaviour did involve communication, and included following, looking at and rubbing the owner. A third set of behaviour, such as flicking the tail and miaowing, is important for cats communicating with other cats, though this type of behaviour was observed without any other cats being there.

The most common behaviour before a meal consisted of the cats interacting with the owner and using cat-cat communication signs. Cats were less likely to interact with owners after feeding, and tended to groom themselves.

Cats also tend to have their own behavioural styles. The way that these cats behaved after feeding did not appear to be linked to their behaviour prior to their meal. Younger cats were more likely to go out of doors following their meal, but otherwise there appeared no link between cats’ behaviour and other factors such as age, sex, the cat’s origin, and whether other pets were in the household. Owner characteristics also appeared to have little effect on the cats’ behaviour when feeding, though owner attitudes will probably affect how cats respond to grooming and playing, ie activities where owners are more directly involved. Inherited tendencies and developmental factors may therefore explain behavioural differences between cats at feeding time.


Can cats be trained?

Training cats

source: Sarah Heath
Your Cat January 2000
starts p32, 3 pages long

Most people would think that a cat could not be trained to perform tasks on command, but to some extent we do try to control our cats, by calling them in at night and stopping them walking on kitchen work tops. Training a cat requires an understanding of its motivation, and certainly reward-based training is appropriate and can increase the chances of success. The rewards would depend on the individual cat, but food and play are inherently rewarding. Teaching a cat that something is unacceptable requires a deterrent that the cat will not associate with you, and a reward when the unacceptable actions are stopped.


How to foil the cuddly killer

Measures to curb killing of wildlife by cats

source: Penny Wark
Times February 1 2001
starts p8, 2 pages long

The Mammal Society has estimated that British cats kill 275 mllion animals annually, representing an average 30 killed per cat. Bells are not a deterrent, but confining cats indoors at dawn and dusk does reduce their kill rate. This is because cats tend to hunt at these times, argues vet, Roger Mugford. Birds tend to be safer from cats when they are older, though rodents tend not to learn to avoid cats. The RSPB offers advice to cat owners who also want to protect birds. Birds are most vulnerable when they are nesting, and benefit from cover offered by hedges, and plants with berries, Nest boxes should be located by prickly bushes, and birds should be fed on tables located away from possible cat launch pads, like walls and trees. Cats can also be fitted with a device called 'The Liberator' from Highcraft, which warns birds by flashing and beeping when cats jump up, but does not warn mice since cats move down to catch mice.


What makes your cat a killing machine

Factors affecting cats' ability to catch prey

source: James Allcock
Times February 1 2001 p9

All cats have an inbuilt desire and ability to stalk and catch prey. Some breeds are better hunters than others. Somalis, Burmese and Siamese cats like to be outdoors so have more time available hunting. Russian Blues prefer to be indoors. Breeds with long faces are better able to grasp prey, while flat-faced breeds like Persians cannot hold prey as easily. Most British cats are not pedigrees and their ability to hunt is linked to the way their mother brought them up. Feral cats hunt, but hungry cats do not hunt better than well-fed cats, since patience is needed for hunting, and well-fed cats are better able to be patient. Cats do not hunt any less if they are neutered, and can focus on hunting more if they are not distracted by sex.


Home alone

Home alone cats

source: Your Cat April 2000
starts p4, 3 pages long

Animal behaviourists are seeing more and more problems in cats that are left at home alone, particularly amongst the foreign breeds, such as Bengal and Burmese. Such problems can be resolved by first looking at environment enrichment so that cats are able to express their natural behavior. This can be as simple as hiding dry food in various place around the home, so that the cat uses its natural foraging behavior. There are also feeding devices that encourage the cat to paw the food out. Access to outdoors is not always the answer to boredom, as this can cause problems due the territorial nature of the cat.