Tag Archives: play time

Q&A: Can Cats Become Affectionate?

Q: I adopted a stray cat a couple months ago. The only thing is that he doesn’t seem to like me at all: he doesn’t like it when I pet him (he attacks me most of the time), he completely ignores me (except when he’s hungry, then he will rub against my legs), and he won’t sit on my lap. Will he ever change?

A: First of all, thank you for adopting him! And whatever you do, do not take his rebuffs of your attempts at affection personally.

Cats generally get more affectionate as they build a bond with you over time. The best way to bond with a cat, especially a young cat, is through play. If you find games he likes to play, that’s gold. Make sure to let him get the toy often, and praise him when he does.

Cats can also have a number of reasons they don’t want to be touched: if they’re in the mood for play or are agitated, in pain, have been hurt by humans before, or they just don’t know you that well. Strays are often mistreated, and it can take awhile for them to realize that not all humans are bad.

If he’s learning house rules, never yell at him. Offer alternatives. If he’s climbing somewhere he isn’t supposed to be, gently move him to a cat tree or something he can climb, and then praise him like it was all his idea. Give him praise and a treat (even if it’s just some kibble) when he uses those alternatives.

Always reward success. Never yell. Never punish. Cats don’t understand punishment. It only erodes trust, and makes them think you’re emotionally unstable, and that’s a massive setback. It makes everything worse. See my previous post for more information about why you should never yell at or punish a cat.

Also just spend time near him. Just in the same room, doing a quiet activity. Read a book, play a game on your tablet or phone, even watching TV (lower the volume, turn on captions if you need to), and just let him get comfortable with your presence, and observe you at a safe distance.

He’ll warm up with patience, play, and time. Once he figures out that he can trust you, that you care about him, he’ll start to warm up. Some cats take years to get to the cuddle phase, some only take weeks. It depends on personality, as well as their history. If he has been abused in the past, he may take awhile. But if you put in the time, it will pay off.

Thank you for adopting him. Good luck to you both!

Why You Should Never Punish a Cat

I’ve seen so many people talk about punishing their cats, and I am shocked every time. Even yelling at a cat is detrimental—they will think you are insane, and they will lose some trust in you—they don’t understand it, it means nothing to them, so you’re making your cat feel less safe without doing anything to change the behavior.

Every time you yell at or punish a cat, you are putting your relationship with the cat in jeopardy. They do not perceive their own activities as “bad” or destructive. That’s a human concept. When you punish your cat, your cat will associate the punishment with YOU—not with his/her own behavior. Often this leads to him/her avoiding you or being more confrontational. The people the kitties originally loved and trusted are now perceived as scary and hurtful. They are not friends anymore, they are now antagonists.

Punishing a cat does not tell the cat what to do. It does not aid in correcting the problem. And most often, the side effects will be extremely negative, both for you and the cat. Punishing and yelling at a cat often leads to an increase in “bad” behaviors because they feel threatened (you were a trusted ally, and now you have turned on the cat, and it may start to see you as an adversary).

Cats will also often avoid places where they were punished. This can be catastrophic, especially if the issue is related to the litter box. They won’t want to go anywhere near the litter box after being punished there.

And studies show that people who yell at others (people and pets) start getting a sense of satisfaction, and thus reward for this behavior. It can quickly become a very bad habit, and one that the person escalates as time goes on. No one wants to hang out with a person who gets high off their own rage. It can only lead to trouble.

Cats don’t do things for no reason. There is always a reason. Sometimes it’s a natural behavior for the cat, and thus you must offer alternatives. If the cat is climbing on the counter, and that’s a no-no, simply pick up the cat (gently) and move it to a cat tree, or another place it can climb. Then praise the kitty like it was his/her idea all along. Always praise and treat when they use those alternatives.

Cats like to have a good vantage point to watch what’s going on. This is especially true in the kitchen. If the counters are off limits, put a cat tree in the kitchen (counter height is fine) so that they can observe at a safe distance.

Make sure you’re playing with your cat enough: 2 sessions of at least 15 minutes of play for adults over 3, 3-4 15-minute sessions a day for 18 months to 3 years, at least 5 sessions of 10-15 minutes of play for 6 months to 18 months. For kittens who are just starting to play up to 6 months, they really need to be playing or being mentally stimulated any time they aren’t sleeping or eating. They have this very short window where they must learn to hunt through play. They are evolution’s finest predator, and this means that play is absolutely essential to kittens and young cats in particular. Cats should never lose their drive to play. If they do, it could be a sign of illness, depression, or they might just need a new toy to get them excited again.

Redirect, guide, offer alternatives, and use positive reinforcement to show your cat that s/he is doing a great job. Praise, praise, treats, affection, play, praise. You will both be happier in the long run, as well as healthier because you avoided all that stress caused by yelling and punishment.

Wacky Wednesday! If My Cat Were Bigger, Would He Kill Me?

Q: If my cat, who is a gentle house cat, suddenly became as big as a lion, would he kill me?

A: That depends on a lot of factors like age, activity level, if he’s neutered, how he plays with you, his personality, and your bond.

If he’s young, and very exuberant about play, and is serious about his aggression toward toys, then it’s a possibility. If he was taught (or not corrected—gently and positively—when he has attacked your leg or something) when young that human hands or other body parts are toys, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

I actually use this example as a thought experiment a lot when I’m talking about why big cats do not make good pets. Think about a young cat, maybe a year old. At that age, you can see how intent the kitty is about attacking and “killing” a toy, which is a thing it just perceives as being something fun to maul, not even real prey. Then imagine that he was the size of a medium-sized dog, and ask yourself what kinds of things he might think look like fun things to attack. A little kid would be fun sized then. Then imagine the kitty is the size of a tiger, and you should get it right away. It would be a disaster for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are fundamental differences (at the genetic level) between domestic cats and wild cats (big and smallish). Domestic cats have changes on genes dealing with aggression and learning. They are less aggressive and are able to learn more and learn faster than their wild cousins.

However, older cats, especially neutered cats over the age of 7 or 8, wouldn’t necessarily pose a deadly risk if you magically scaled them up. By that time, they don’t see you as a plaything (again, unless you have encouraged them to play with your hand or not corrected them—gently and positively—when they have attacked you), and are usually more interested in naps, food, watching Cat TV (AKA the window), and other things.

Q&A Does Catnip Have Health Benefits?

QDoes catnip do anything for a cats’ health or is it just a recreational drug for them?

A: It depends on the kitty. If your cat has the gene that makes it sensitive to catnip, it can have some health effects.

If your cat consumes it rather than just smelling and rolling in it, it can have a calming effect. Our little guy, Stiles, has feline insomnia. He gets enough REM sleep, but not enough NREM sleep. Kitties usually grow out of it by the age of 3, but he’s just about to turn 2. He licks it instead of rolling in it. It mellows him out, and it helps him catch up on sleep. So that’s a definite benefit.

Our 2 older kitties who have the gene, Kiki and Kagetora, tend to roll in it and sniff it, and it makes them playful, which is good, especially in the winter months when they nap a little more than usual. This helps them get some much needed exercise. Our oldest, Kagome (19 years old), doesn’t have the gene.

But we can’t give it to the 2 older cats and Stiles at the same time because they get a little aggressive, and he gets really chill, and will just let them bite him if we don’t direct that aggression toward play.

It can also be a powerful training aid. If your cat is scratching the furniture, carpet, or walls, then using catnip on scratching posts (try to get ones made of the materials they like to scratch). If you want them to use the new kitty bed you got them instead of your laundry basket, catnip can also help with that.

If you don’t have a plant, then try to buy it as fresh as possible, and store excess in the freezer. Also, don’t give it to them too often because they can lose their sensitivity to it.

Q&A What’s Wrong With My Cat?

Q: I have been a cat owner a long time. They are extremely curious and stick their nose in every drawer or hole. But this one sits still and has no interest in his surroundings. He is 2 years old now. He is also anxious and does not like us petting him. The vet examined him and run some blood tests when he fell down from 7th floor. All was good. He survived from this incident with little scratches. The vet said he is a very strong cat. This happened 4 months ago. So we took him to vet after he fell down from the balcony. We adopted him from street when he was 1 month or so. He was almost dying but still very playful.

My mum actually is authoritarian and she tries to educate him by yelling. So let’s say he poured a bottle of milk, he would be scolded. She loves him but that’s her way. I believe he thinks he will be punished if he accidentally breaks something. If he hears a noise above certain level (door bangs or closing a cupboard) he startles and hides under the bed. He is also defensive. He does not let us pet him a lot. For your comfort, I show him sooo much affection and actually my mum does as well. But still.

A:  Where to begin? I have a few questions and observations.

  • When he fell from the 7th story, did the vet take X-rays and do neurological tests, or just a physical exam and blood work? This is important. It’s okay if you aren’t sure.
  • How much and how often do you play with him?

I’m concerned that your cat is in pain. A young cat that doesn’t move much, and does not want to be touched, is either in pain or depressed, or possibly both. This is serious. This is not normal behavior for a young cat at all, even a skittish one. If it’s just depression, then play is the best way to boost a cat’s confidence and mood. No matter what it is, you need to get your cat back to the vet ASAP. The question above about what the vet did or did not do will determine whether going back to the same vet is a good idea or not.

You mention that he’s skittish already and that your mother yells at him. Yelling at a cat does nothing to correct behavior, it only makes them afraid of you. Your mother needs to know this. If you can’t tell her this, then when you schedule his next check-up (again, ASAP), you be the one to call, make sure your mother is there when you take him, and ask during the call if they can tell the vet that he’s skittish, and your mother yells at him when he does something that she doesn’t like. The vet, if s/he is competent, should be able to work that into the conversation.

You should use positive reinforcement to teach a cat what it should be doing. Every time you say “no” to a cat, you should provide a “yes” solution. Yelling will only make the problem worse. For example, if a cat likes to climb, and does so on the kitchen counters, simply pick the cat up and take it to a place where it is allowed to climb (like a cat tree). Then praise the cat like it was his idea. You have to do this every time. And every time the cat does use the tree instead of the counter, you should reward it with praise and a toy, or perhaps a treat (if weight is not an issue. If it is, you can use some kibble as treats). Again, you have to do this every time until the cat is no longer doing the unwanted behavior.

Let me know if you have more questions. Good luck!

Q&A: Are Cats Usually Afraid of Water?

Q: My sister’s cat takes showers with her. I think this is weird. Aren’t cats afraid of water?

A:  Nope. In fact, a lot of cats are fascinated by water and like to play with water. The number of times people have asked me what to do about their cat’s fascination with toppling water bowls, drinking out of their bedside water glass, playing in the bathtub, etc. is too numerous for me to even put a number on.

Many cats don’t like getting wet unexpectedly, and some are very sensitive about water getting on their fur. They just don’t like the feel of it, but it doesn’t mean they are afraid of it.

Our little guy (Stiles, 21 months old) likes to knock over any container of fluid that he can. We have water fountains in every room so he can’t knock them over. We give him play time in the bath tub where he can perform his experiments in fluid dynamics to his little heart’s content. He used to do it every day. Now he asks to play about every 2 or 3 days, and the play sessions last about 20–30 minutes each.

Our Norwegian Forest Cat (Kagome) likes to dip her huge furry paw in the water and lick it off rather than drinking directly from the bowl. Maine Coons often do this as well.

Some cats love water so much that they enjoy swimming. Breeds that tend to enjoy a dip in the pool, bath, or even hop in the shower with their humans—just like your sister’s cat—include, but are not limited to:

  • Abyssinian
  • Manx
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Turkish Van
  • Turkish Angora
  • Savannah
  • Bengal
  • American Bobtail

Here are some of my favorite videos of cats enjoying water:

 

Q&A: Why Doesn’t My Cat Want to Play?

Q: My cat is almost 6 years old, she used to love playing with toys like laser pointer and wand toys, but the past few weeks, she shows no interest. She doesn’t look sick. What could be the cause?

A: The drive to hunt doesn’t end in a healthy cat, and thus the drive to play should not end in a healthy cat. Sure, mature cats don’t play as much as kittens, but that’s because kittens have a very short span in which they must learn to hunt and fend for themselves. Seniors and elderly cats slow down a little more, but that is a way off for your fur baby. Adult cats should play for at least 15 minutes twice a day. If your cat isn’t playing, even though you are providing it the opportunity, it should see the vet first.

They can get bored with the same toys and games, which is why it’s important to keep providing new enrichment. You should also rotate toys. And keep in mind that not all cats like the same toys. One of our cats, Kikiyo, has never shown much interest in the wand-type toys. She’s far more interested in mystery. If I put a toy inside her crinkle sack and let it peek out, then retreat back into the bag (I use a string), she’s interested. Sometimes I have to move it around a bit inside the sack so it makes a little more noise, but she’s very fond of that game.

She also likes it when she’s on the other side of a door, and I peek toys out, then have them retreat, then slooowly poke them out again.

You might also consider harness training your cat. Being able to explore all the sights and smells outside may reinvigorate her interest in hunting behavior, which is what playing is.

You can also try keeping some toys in a plastic bag with some catnip (if she likes catnip). Just make sure not to expose her to catnip too often. Once every 4–7 days max. Cats can lose their sensitivity to catnip if they are around it too much.

Q&A: How Do I Get My Kitten to Like Petting?

Q: My kitten is 4 months old. She bites me every time I try to pet her. How do I get her to like petting?

A: This is absolutely normal. Kittens do 3 things: eat, sleep, and play. They cannot control any of those things. They need food and sleep to survive kittenhood. Play includes the use of claws and mouths because 1) they need those to hunt and 2) other cats have fur and thick skin that can withstand it. That’s why you don’t use your hand as a toy when playing with a kitten. They must learn to hunt very quickly because, for many cats, soon they will be on their own, and if they don’t learn to hunt, they will die.

So, from an evolutionary perspective, she’s learning to hunt by play. Most kittens this age are learning their independence as well. Depending on the kitten, it is possible to get them to be cuddly, but this is usually when they are too tired to play. And even if you can’t cuddle with your kitty right now, if you bond with her through play, she will repay you later.

My little guy is now 19 months. He’s super empathetic, very smart, and he will cuddle with me when he knows I’m not feeling well (which is often, since I have MS and chronic pain that is unrelated to the MS). He and I have such a close bond that he pets me when he wants to soothe me. It’s adorable! But at 4 months, he only cuddled while sleeping.

Stiles
Stiles in my lap, petting me before snuggles.

So let me tell you how we developed this close bond.

  1. Play is THE key. Play with her several times a day until she starts panting. This fills her need and it gets out all that baby energy. With a kitten this young, I recommend at least 3 play sessions a day. My baby needed 5.If you use a string (elastic string is the most fun, with feathers or other toys at the end) toy and use it to make them do a lot of running and climbing to get it, this wears them out fast. If she’ll chase a toy that you throw, that’s a good way to do it as well. My little guy started playing fetch when he was about 5 months.
  2. Praise, praise, treats. Make sure you praise her when she does things that she’s supposed to, when she gets the toy during play (you should allow her to get the toy frequently, this triggers the reward center in her brain, and that is also key because she will later relate that reward to being with you even without play.) Try to get her to eat a treat or two out of your hand. This is also creating a good association with you, and building that bond.
  3. Eat after play. With play done, and a full belly, she’ll be sleeeepy.
  4. Gently handle her several times a day. Pick her up to carry her to her food (even if it isn’t necessary), to a different room to play with her, etc. They’re wiggly, but if they know you will put them down quickly when they protest, they will start being more comfortable with it.
  5. If you have a plush blanket, put it on your lap, and encourage her to sleep on your lap. Don’t force her. But if she’s wiped out, she’s more likely to snuggle into your warm, inviting lap.
  6. You can pet her head, rub her cheekbones, rub under the chin, but don’t do it too much. You’ll interrupt her sleep, which will make your lap less inviting. Right now you’re just creating the bond.
  7. Never raise your voice to her.  Cats don’t understand the concept of punishment. If she’s somewhere she shouldn’t be, just move her (gently) to someplace where she can be. If she’s climbing shelves that are off limits, you need to provide a cat tree or something else for her to climb on. Always give alternatives. Praise her when she uses the alternatives.

If you keep this up, then once that kitten play stage starts to calm down in a few months, she’ll trust you, she’ll associate you with all things good in her world, and she will be sleeping in your lap and asking for petting in no time.