Cat behaviour research and resources.
August 28, 2017 10:54 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone point me in the direction of some up to date resources on domestic cat behaviour and theory? Snowflakes inside.

I am looking for some resources on up to date theories on cat behaviour and psychology to pass on to my parents at the request of my father. They have two cats, one of which displays problem behaviour such as peeing everywhere in addition to being extremely skittish. The cat is not to my knowledge at all aggressive but it has scratched my mother up pretty badly after getting spooked. My parents methods of dealing with this behaviour are less than ideal.

Both cats are indoor cats, male, and both are rescues if it matters. The "problem" cat has been in the household about 18 months and has always displayed behaviour that would seem to indicate it is extremely anxious and quite possibly not socialised properly during the critical window.

The second cat was a more recent addition a month or two ago, and is very chill. The two cats actually get along well, which is a miracle as my mother ignored all advice when introducing them. The first cat's behavioural issues predate the addition of the second cat but appear to be getting worse.

My parents have had pets most of their lives but their attitudes towards animals are fairly typical of their generation (or at least seem to be in Australia) and very out of date. What is most troubling to me is that they reportedly react to finding yet another puddle of piss by grabbing this poor animal and literally rubbing his nose in it, regardless of how long ago the accident occurred. Stopping this cruelty is primarily what I would like to achieve.

My parents are very smart and very well educated, but they are the kind of people who Just. Will. Not. Be. Told. Other family members have gently and not so gently tried to explain why their methods are counterproductive but it doesn't seem to have registered. The fact that Dad has reached out to me to ask for resources seems to indicate that he at least might be open to some guidance if I can find it in a palatable enough form.

They can also be intellectual snobs, so while I love me some Jackson Galaxy just pointing them in the direction of "My Cat From Hell" probably won't cut it.

Engaging journal articles, documentaries or books would all be helpful. They are reasonably technologically savvy so websites are also good, but YouTube less so. Thanks heaps for any guidance.

(I also realise that the kindest option would be rehoming the cat. We are working on it. The situation is complicated by my mother's current health and emotional state and the fact that they live four hours away. No one in the family is in a position to be able to take this cat in, and I doubt it could be easily rehomed elsewhere given it's behaviour)
posted by arha to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't mean to imply that rubbing an animal's nose in its own urine was ever acceptable. Ugh.
posted by arha at 10:56 PM on August 28, 2017

My husband and I just watched a three-part documentary on domestic cats, headed by a research scientist, based in the U.K. I think we checked out of the library, but it might have been on Netflix - regardless it looks like at least part of it is on YouTube. We're in Australia too, so it should be accessible one way or another.

Yeah, cats aren't dogs, and that's probably not even best practice for dogs...

Here's a few other suggestions too!

On preview: the youtube one is not the one I was thinking of, I'll have to ask my husband!
posted by jrobin276 at 11:16 PM on August 28, 2017

The canonical source is Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the vet at Tufts who pioneered the use of human psychotropic drugs on domestic animals. All of his books are listed at the link.

Any good vet will recommend treating the cat with an SSRI, usually prozac, for elimination issues - treatment which was, as I say, pioneered by Dr. Dodman, but is widespread today. I can say, from extensive experience with fosters, that this is truly a magic bullet for cats who are eliminating inappropriately as a behavioral issue. (Of course, medical issues have to be ruled out first.) You put the cat on prozac for up to six months. The problem peeing will usually resolve after the first two to three weeks. At the end of the six months, you take the cat off, and the peeing does not return. Unless some new anxiety comes along later on. Then, lather, rinse, repeat.

In fact, I am currently setting up a nanny cam in my bedroom to figure out who the malefactor is in my household who is peeing on my bed once a day. As soon as I identify the miscreant, she (and I'm reasonably certain it's a she in this case) will be going straight to the vet for a basic check up with urinalysis, and then a course of prozac.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 11:37 PM on August 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

John Bradshaw, who is one of the cat experts in the programme jrobin276 links, has two books, Cat Sense (pop-up) and The Trainable Cat (with Sarah Ellis). Both books would be good for intellectual snobs. The Trainable Cat definitely discusses spraying and I think the other book does too.

Celia Haddon is also good - here are her pages on spraying, aggressive cats and stressed cats.
posted by paduasoy at 12:42 AM on August 29, 2017

Oh man, i feel for you. I struggle with the same thing with my mom. Luckily for me however Jackson Galaxy has worked (his instructional videos on youtube, not so much MCFH). That, and relating the cats behavior to her own medical needs. "Mom, the cat is not pissing upstairs because she's angry at you. She's pissing upstairs because she's old and can't make it down two flights of stairs to the litter box in time. Can you make it down two flights of stairs every time you need to go pee? " worked surprisngly well for her understanding, for example.

In terms of resources, I also like Ingrid King at It's probable there are also additional useful resources at her site, but i'm on my phone and can't check.
posted by cgg at 2:54 AM on August 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've read the Cat Sense book, and while it's got a lot of interesting research, the author kind of riffs on it and draws unsubstantiated conclusions throughout. However, I haven't had a lot of luck finding a better book, and for your parents' purposes it might be a good fit.

It's long; depending on how patient and read-y your parents are, if you go with it, you might want to get it and pick out the most relevant/interesting parts before you give it to them. It's part of the gift, your time, that is, and you'll find it interesting too.
posted by amtho at 7:47 AM on August 29, 2017

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