Companion Animal Behavior and Training Module
In the case study, a young adult male cat, neutered and aged between four and five years old, undergoes extreme modifications in behavior in response to the birth of a newborn child to the owner-couple. The domestic short-hair lives in a single-cat household and prior to the birth of the first baby and the baby’s subsequently learning to crawl, the cat made appropriate use of 24-hour outside access, toileting outside in an acceptable fashion.
Since the baby in the household learnt to crawl, the cat has started unrinating in the upstairs area of the house and squatting in various different locations.
The cat also began grooming excessively. Based on this case study information, several determinations can be made about the causal factors relating to the behavioral issues displayed by the cat. For obvious reasons relating to the general health of the household, the cat’s behavior poses several hazards. One principle explanation for the behavior change, however, is the presence of the first child and the cat’s perception of the child, now mobile and a perceived presence from the cat’s perspective, as a treat to the cat’s perceived territory in the house.
The explanation for the behavioral issues rests upon the fact that cats sometimes undertake urine spraying or urine marking because of territorial disputes, during aggressive conflicts, and even during sexual encounters. The spray produced is pungent and designed to ward off potential predators or competitors. In the case study, the cat clearly fields that the child, crawling and thereby presenting what must be a visible threat to the cat, is a predator or a threat of some general kind to the cat’s domination of the household, his territory.
The objective of marking the territory is to establish its boundaries and ward off the child. It is classic cat behavior to advertise their presence in a territory by spraying visually conspicuous sites. Since cats naturally look to “time share” territories, marks enable the cats to space themselves out and prevent unwanted encounters. Cats can identify the urine marks so track can be kept of their neighbours (Hart, 1980a). Spraying serves to bring the male and female together during the breeding season. It is often done at a height convenient for sniffing (Beaver, 1992).
Cats that spray urine inside their homes are classically prevented from doing so by neutering. Since the cat in the case study is already neutered, other measures must be undertake to curb the behavior. Most often, spraying is undertaken by reproductively intact males. Females spray as well, but less rarely. In one study conducted by the ASPCA, 77 percent of cats stopped or significantly reduced spraying within six months. Ten percent of male cats neutered before 10 months of age will still spray as adults. In households with numerous cats, at least one cat will likely spray, even if all the cats are neutered (ASPCA, 2007).
Cats can become jealous upon the arrival of a new baby and this is particularly since the presence of a new child leaves the parents, the cat’s owners, exhausted and turmoil of a new baby, the cat is often neglected. This creates and exacerbates resentment about the presence of the child. Of course, it should not be ruled out that medical problems could be the cause of the cat’s unusual behavior. At the very least, this must be investigated as a potential cause. Medical problems such as diarrhea, urinary bladder inflammation, and the condition polydipsia or polyuria may promote unusual behavior from the cat.
The signs of these problems include soft to watery diarrhea, which may indicate a problem in the small intestine, or mucus visible in the stool, along with blood, which suggests an inflamed colon or colitis. Urinary bladder infections may include FUS, bacterial infection, calculi or bladder stones, and tumors. Diabetes insipidus, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease, adrenal gland disease, pyometra, and hypercalcemia are all possible medical causes for spraying and urinating in the house (ASPCA, 2007).
If the baby were not present in the house it would be viable to note that females in heat, male spraying, other cats outdoors, over-crowding indoors, and the possible presence of testicular tissue remaining and producing low level hormones. Overcrowding, unchained litter, interrupted access to liter boxes, a change in litter type, and the presence of objectionable chemicals may be causing the problem. Psychological stress factors such as moving to a new environment or undergoing a change in routine can leave cats of any age bewildered and under considerable psychological stress.
Overall, cats are loners and avoid interactions with other cats, except when with a mate, with young, or if several cats belong to the one household. The area traveled during normal activities is known the home range (Beaver, 1992; Bradshaw, 1992; Thorne, 1992). It is much larger for males than for females (Bradshaw, 1992) and the range may overlap other animals’ ranges (Thorne, 1992). Studies on free-ranging cats (Fox, 1975), showed that cats have a home territory and a home range that consists of places for resting, sunbathing and watching. A network of paths connects places and people may visit them regularly.
Cats have an order of dominance in a neighborhood, which depends on time and place. If a low-ranking cat has already entered a narrow passageway and a high-ranking cat enters, the less dominant animal will sit and wait until the way is clear. Cats go to great lengths to avoid meeting another cat on a pathway, and chance face-to-face encounters lead to fighting and chasing and the development of a dominant–subordinate relationship. Subordinate males are pushed around in a dominant male’s home range. They essentially become nomads (Liberg, 1981, cited in Thorne, 1992).
If a group of cats is maintained in colony pens, they need to be provided with shelves so they can ‘own’ one and retreat there from other cats (Hart, 1980). The cats work out an arrangement where certain ones use the floor at different times to others. Rubbing may help reinforce social positions, with subordinate individuals generally rubbing more dominant conspecifics (Macdonald, Apps, Carr and Kerby, 1987). The socialization period is the time when all primary social bonds are formed and is the most important period during the cat’s life (Beaver, 1992).
Active social con tact with more than one adult cat at some crucial development stage is necessary for an adult cat to adapt later to social living conditions (Bradshaw, 1992). Given this, the lack of socialization with a new infant introduced to a household is going to cause problems and, after official confirmation that there are no medical explanations for the cat’s unusual behavior, the likely best response will involve heavy bonding efforts to help the cat overcome feelings of displacement, in addition to efforts to help the cat to perceive the baby as a non-threat to its territory.
SECTION B: To modify the behavior of the cat in the case study, several steps need to be undertaken to ensure that the cause of the problem is properly assessed and to assure that the problem does become resolved as quickly and as efficiently as possible. The first step in the behavioral modification process will be to identify the reasons that they cat is spraying. Presumably, the new baby is the issue, however, it is necessary as a precautionary measure at least to have the cat subjected to a physical examination by a qualified vet.
Physical problems can lead to inappropriate urination and spraying and should at least be ruled out before any psychological issues are investigated. To assess the psychological state of the cats it is quite important to begin by discouraging other cats from hanging around outside the home, if there are any signs that cats are doing this. Ideally, one of the various types of commercially available motion-activated devices, such as the Critter Gitter™, the Scarecrow™, or the Scraminal™, serve the function to frighten outdoor cats away.
The Scat Mat™ and the Sofa Saver™ can be used to keep outdoor cats away from doors and windows if there is evidence that other cats are coming this close to the house (ASPCA, 2007). Although it is not likely that this type of territorial issue is in play in the case study, the cat’s owners would to well to investigate and rule out the possibility. Multiple factors could easily be in play since the cat’s behavior is altered so drastically and since there is evidence that it is only since the new baby began crawling that the cat’s urination and spraying have been a problem.
If the cat is spraying in several locations, areas should be made less appealing. Commercially available are such deterrent systems as Ssscat™ may be used and the cat’s owners might also try establishing a different behavioral pattern in the sprayed locations by placing items that stimulate behaviors incompatible with spraying, such as the food dish or toys in the appropriate locations. A litter box may also be placed in each location to try to establish the same change in behavioral pattern. The ultimate treatment objective is to revolve the cat’s sense of insecurity in their home environment.
Any form of direct punishment is to be avoided. Punishment simply makes the cat feel more insecure. If the cat has singled out one new person to be the target of marking, as in this case, the baby, it is helpful to have the child present and seeming to participate in the feeding of the cat as a means of establishing trust for the cat. In general cases, it can also be helpful to have family members use the same soaps, shampoos so as to homogenise the group in terms of smells. This stops the cat from singling out one human being for attention.
A behavioral modification campaign along these lines can be supported with the use of anxiolytics, tranquilisers, and pheromonatherapy if little or no progress is seen over time. However, these drugs should be given only in combination with behaviour modification and essentially as a last resort, on advisement of a vet. In the , it is highly likely not only that the threat is correctly identified as the new baby and that extra attention given to the cat combined with certain modified methods of feeding, for example, involving the young child, the issues surrounding the urination and spraying should quickly be resolved.
REFERENCES. American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [ASPCA]. 2007. Animal Behavior Center: Cat Behavior. http://www. aspca. org/site/PageServer. Beaver, B. V. 1992. Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W. B. Saunders Company, Sydney. Bradshaw, J. W. S. 1992. The Behavior of the Domestic Cat. C. A. B International UK. Fox, M. W. 1974. Understanding Your Cat. N. Y. : Coward McCann (London). Fox, M. W. 1975. The behaviour of cats. In: The Behaviour of Domestic Animals.
Ed. E. S. E. Hafez. Bailliere Tindall. Hart, B. L. 1980a. Feline behaviour: A practitioner monograph. Vet. Practice Publishing Co. , California. Liberg, O. 1981. Predation and social behaviour in a population of domestic cats: an evolutionary perspective. Ph. D thesis, University of Lund, Sweden. Macdonald, P. W. , Apps, P. J. , Carr, G. M. and Kerby, C. , 1987. Social dynamics, nursing coalitions and infanticide among farm cats, Felis catus Advances in Ethology 24, 1–66Thorne, 1992