Strange Behaviors

Cats do a lot of things we humans don't understand. But cat lovers sing "Stand by your cat" anyway.

One day, one of our cats just stopped what he was doing (darting around on a table like he was attacking invisible bugs) and stared at the ceiling. There was absolutely nothing to see up there. But he was transfixed with something for about five minutes and sat completely still, as if listening to or watching something hovering above us. Eventually he resumed his game of bat-the-bug for a few more minutes, then zoomed off across the room and down the hall. When I caught up with him, he was snoozing on the dirty laundry ready to go into the washer next.

There are plenty of entertaining things to watch cats do, but some behaviors are worth noting, as they can signal a problem.

Head shaking - If your cat shakes her head now and then, as if trying to get rid of something, she probably is. And it probably is ear mites. This is very common, especially in multi-cat households, and is very difficult to completely eradicate. Just be diligent, don't let your cat(s) out of the house (where they can just get them again), and keep the cat's ears cleaned out, no matter how hard they fight you. Keep some ear mite drops on hand and drip some into each ear every 10 days (usually) until the mites are gone. Follow instructions on the bottle, and talk to your veterinarian. Cats also can shake their heads for other reasons, so if no mites are found, take your kitty to the vet right away to rule out neurological problems or other types of infection.

Scooting - This is an obvious one. Worms, usually. Check with your vet to identify what kind they are and get the correct medication to get rid of them. Do this immediately, as worms can quickly become overwhelming and even cause death, especially in a kitten. Be sure to treat all the cats in the home, if your vet advises it, to be sure they don't reinfect each other again.

Sleeps all the time - If your kitty used to be playful but is now lethargic and inactive, get to the vet! There are dozens of conditions that could explain this. And don't just assume that your older cat isn't interested anymore because of age. We have had 15 year old cats who played like kittens. Maybe not as often or as long, but it's a sign they feel good and are happy. That is normal. Lying around all the time is not. Check for injury, disease, arthritis, digestive problems, and changes in the home. Some cats can become depressed if you add (or remove) members of the family - including kids or other animals.

Any change in the cat's movements - If he seems truly uncoordinated, and it's happening more often, take him in for a neurological evaluation. One of our shelter cats was returned a year after the adoption because he was losing control of his back end. He couldn't jump anymore and frequently fell over if he tried to run through the house. The vet found an old injury of his lower spine - a subluxation, which is a vertebra out of alignment. He surmised that this cat had been hit or had fallen onto something that knocked the bone out of place and ended up pinching the nerves to his legs. We surmised that the family either witnessed the accident or the kids were involved, and they didn't want a cat that was going to cost a lot of money with vet visits from then on.

Sudden loss of bowel or bladder control - Time for a vet visit! It could be a behavior problem, but more likely it's a medical problem. Better rule that out before you feel the urge to punish. Besides, punishing doesn't work well with cats anyway. You'll just alienate your little buddy if you hurt his feelings and he doesn't understand why you're suddenly being mean. Then you could have the next problem:

Urinating in the wrong places - Having a multi-cat household seems to elicit a strong feeling of competition for your attention and for food. If someone isn't getting what he thinks he deserves, you will be notified. Urine is used in the wild for leaving messages. Cats of all kinds mark their territories, mark other cats' territories just to let them know they are in the area, and to leave notice to other cats that a breeding partner is ready and willing nearby. In your home, however, the messages may be for you ("Pay more attention to me!") or for the other cats ("This spot on the kitchen counter is for me, not you!"). Marking is by far the most common problem associated with urine showing up in odd places. So, to remedy the problem, you must figure out what the cats' issues are. Is someone getting too much attention (according to the misbehaving cat)? Does the new guy feel outnumbered? Is one of the cats suddenly not feeling well and is trying to get you to notice? Having more than one cat can take up more of your time than you may have anticipated. It's like having kids - you need to supply each with all its needs - but pets don't grow up and leave home.

Bringing creatures into the house - Oh boy, a dead mouse or a semi-conscious bird on your kitchen floor. Or worse, a very lively worm - which one of my cats regularly presented to me every summer. If you have indoor/outdoor cats, you can expect "gifts" of small prey, which your cat proudly gives to you as a token of his love and esteem for you as his leader. Cats are not pack animals, like dogs, but they do observe a hierarchy in the home, and you had better be at the top. If you are, getting these things is proof of kitty's respect for you. The best thing you can do is NOT get upset. This confuses the cat. Instead, praise him, then nonchalantly get rid of the little beastie. If you simply cannot tolerate this kind of thing, then do not let your cat go outdoors. They are safer indoors anyway.

Copyright 2009 - Dr. RJ Peters 
The Problem Cat