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Feline Friday: Solving Behavior Problems in Your MultiCat Household

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It’s HERE! The latest Kindle-ized book ComPETability: Solving Behavior Problems in Your MultiCat Household has been released and it’s all about explaining why cats do what they do (aka DRIVE YOU CRAZY) and how you can solve those peevish problems.

Did you know that the United States is home to 86.4 million owned cats, and 52 percent of owners own more than one cat? That means more furry love for owners, but also can put your cats’ tails in a twist over that (HISSS!) new feline friend. From conflicts over favorite sleep spots to sharing potty facilities, adding new pets rubs fur the wrong way and creates hairy situations for everyone—including you.

I’ve written this new guide to save owners from hair-pulling angst. It helps explain the kitty aggravation, and how to soothe the growls and turn your household into a peaceable kingdom. You’ll find detailed how-to advice focused on the most common problems found in the multi-cat household. Use these fun techniques to calm fears, explain cat body language, and strengthen the bond you share with your cats. Step by step tips explain how to:

  • Recognize and diffuse cat-to-cat aggression
  • Settle disputes over territory, potty problems and mealtime woes
  • Choose an appropriate furry friend that resident cats welcome with open “paws”
  • Introduce the new arrival (including babies and kids) to the current cats
  • Solve common pet peeves: meowing, clawing, countertop cruising, door dashing and more!
  • Understand weird behaviors: phone attraction, mirror fear, “elevator butt” and toilet pests

Below I’ve included an excerpt from Chapter 2: How Cats Think and hope you’ll enjoy. If you’re having kitty cat-astrophes or would just like to better understand what’s going on between your cats’ pointy ears, I hope you’ll consider checking out the new book. By the way, the “dog version” should be available sometime next month. 🙂

Together with Mom!! (Copr. KrazyBoutCats/Flickr)

The “Whoops” Effect

A “whoops” experience can be happy accident or create behavior problems down the road. Kittens and cats continue to learn an incredible amount through observation, even after the prime socialization period ends. A friendly, trusting cat needs only a few positive interactions with a strange person to show positive behavior toward them, and it takes significant negative experiences to override this initial response. On the contrary, a shy cat needs LOTS of positive experiences with a stranger to overcome lack of socialization during the sensitive phase, and will react adversely toward even minor negative encounters.

In other words, the socialized cat generalizes positive experiences quickly, but the unsocialized cat must learn gradually to trust the individual person or family and does NOT generalize later positive experiences. Instead she expects that one negative experience will apply to all new situations.

When your current cat(s) know good manners, they serve as wonderful role models to new pets. By observing your interaction with a resident cat that meows at a certain time each day to get fed, Sheba more quickly makes that connection. Think of this as a positive “copycat” behavior. New cats also learn bad habits from a resident feline and vice versa. If you allow Sheba to get away with wild antics, the older cat also may start pushing your buttons. Adult cats learn by watching you, too. After seeing you open a door, they learn to jump up and hang on the door ‘lever’ to open it.

Cats are experts at getting their way. They are so good at training owners, that we often don’t recognize we are being manipulated. Sheba easily trains you to fill the food bowl when she paw-pats you awake you at 5:30 a.m. It only takes one or two repetitions of this cause-and-effect for cats to remember what works in each situation. If rattling the wooden window blinds makes you let her out the door, she’ll remember and use that ploy again and again. Therefore, pay attention to not only what Sheba does, but your own resulting behavior, to get a clue how she’s training you.

There are times when our patience runs out, and owners may be tempted to react with anger. To be blunt, corporeal punishment doesn’t work. Hitting, yelling, or using force not only is inhumane, it almost always makes the bad behavior worse. Dr. Lansberg explains that any strong arousal interferes with Sheba’s ability to learn because that portion of the brain must deal with the emotional fallout instead. Instead of thinking, these cats react out of instinct (the fight-or-flight response) and typically either attack, or hide. You’ll teach a lesson you don’t want Sheba to learn—to fear or dislike you.


So then–have your cats ever learned a lesson you didn’t expect or appreciate? What did you do? Have your cats taught each other positive behavior or have the juvenile delinquent cats been a bad influence? Please share!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with excerpts from the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND, and pet book give-aways!

About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

8 responses »

  1. Nancy J Nicholson

    Congratulations Amy! What a great book and it brought back questions from our past of having two cats. One old, one young. Somehow I haven’t connected how the young one became the Alpha cat, but she did.

    • Hi Nancy, thanks for commenting. It can be tricky to figure out all the kitty dynamics. Often when the youngster assumes the top cat spot it’s either because the older cat doesn’t care–or has health/personality/other issues that tip the balance.

  2. I wish I could train my cats to stay off the dining room/kitchen table! Indeed, it takes a long time for a cat to come back around. Our cats were terrified of our then 7 year old boisterous son. It has taken them 2 years, but they finally now come to him and jump on his bed and allow themselves to be pet and picked up. Our son is thrilled!

    • Hi Donna, there’s a whole section in the book covering countertop cruising. *s* Basically, you WON’T teach them not to stay off–unless you give them something better.

      So glad the cats now enjoy your son. That’s win-win for everyone.

  3. Amy , I just know this is going to be a huge success!

  4. Joanna Rousseau

    Buying the book because we have always had two but never with these issues.
    2 Cat household. Both males. One showed signs furmowing/excessive grooming. One vet said he was nuts. One vet said it was allergies. 2.5 years later nothing has changed and now cat #2 is now over grooming and cat 1 is as fat as ever. Do they need more attention, more stimulus, more alone time??? Frustrated owner.

    • Wow, Joanna, so sorry for your frustration. There’s a reason they call it the “practice” of medicine–with pets it’s doubly difficult because the cats can’t tell us why. I think that in addition to look at behavior/stress issues I’d ask for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. Unfortunately the treatment for allergies is to avoid the allergens and sometimes that’s not possible. I hope the book helps (it does have lots of tips for reducing stress among other things). Without a full consult I would only be guessing what’s needed. Sometimes overgrooming has to do with discomfort/pain deep under the skin, too and I’m not a veterinarian and can only speculate. Good luck with the kitties–more attention and stimulation almost always help. *s*


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