Pretty in Lavender

I’m at home and made the mistake of going online to buy a new pheromone collar for Shadow (more about that shortly). While I was there, I was looking around and well, you know, it’s Valentine’s Day and I just have to have a little shopping spree for the kitties!

Little. Shopping. Spree. Not allowed to have a big one. (We’re saving for new windows) Oh – but there are so many MANY things I want to buy for the furry brigade! I have some self-control. Some. And – she said justifying it to herself – they didn’t get much for Christmas.

So here’s the list…

  • New Da Bird with one piece rod – have had ours for years!
  • Refills of ‘Da Bird’ spinners (a few) – the most wonderful thing (for cats) is that now and then they actually catch ‘da bird’ and though I’m really good at quickly releasing their jaws to free it, those feathers go through a heck of a lot of play. Cooper is relentless… even when he’s panting he will continue running and leaping after it. I have to slow him down and give him ‘rests’. And I’m getting the real ‘da bird’ spinners with the 3 stiff guinea feathers so it really ‘flies’ and ‘flaps’ its wings. There is no cheap substitute for awesomeness.
  • A window cat bed – I really want one. It’s on sale. And though the kitties have stools, couches, climbing tree, scratching post at various windows, this one is something I want for our ‘foster’ room. Just in case. You’ve seen that main big window – it really needs a perch. And in the mean time, I’m going to set it up as a high hang-out for our kitties.
  • And three pheromone collars for Shadow.

Is that bad? Not really right? I am all about the toys I love – I’m the loyal sort.

Now about Shadow… she’s come a long way. Her behaviour is not as fearful or extreme and she has not had any stress-related peeing inappropriately, no relegating herself to one corner, or stopping eating for fear of going near the food bowls. It’s very hard to distinguish whether the improvements stem from our hard work to integrate her with Cooper, reduced-fear based on bringing in a small kitten,  Cooper’s more gentle and sedate (sometimes) personality, or the pheromone collar. Or is it a combination of some or all of these?

Shadow is now an older, rescued cat who is terrified of change and other cats – a history of hurt and fear. We tried to bring in Merlin and she shut down and began peeing in corners and had other fear-related behaviour issues. We opted to adopt a kitten (smaller and thus less threatening – and more behaviorally malleable) and integrate them very slowly. Since my problem is with Shadow and not a room, it didn’t make sense to use the recommended plug-ins. I’d have needed many of them to cover the house! (Or at least a few – litter area, food area, most-time rest area, and sometime rest area.) That’s WAY too expensive.

I decided instead to try this collar (Sentry Calming Collar – and no one is paying me to mention them) – since it addresses the cat instead of the space. She took to it easily, it didn’t irritate her, and her behaviour was more calm. She’s not placid: she’s herself with less of an edge. It’s not a miracle but it’s making the process much easier – one collar a month. There is a whitish powder which is the active ingredients, but that is not bothersome for humans and not an irritant to the kitty as far as I can tell. The lavender-coloured collar smells strong at first – pleasantly floral. Strangely, that smell doesn’t seem to bother her (we don’t buy scented stuff for the kitties normally). It’s very long and you trim off the bit you won’t use. Since that bit is also infused with the pheromone, make use of it- rub it on where you want your kitty to go. You need to make sure it’s on snugly, or the dangerous cat-getting-its-mouth-caught-in-the-collar or getting hung up can occur. While the box says it’s break-away, they are deluded. And while these are not cheap, they are much cheaper than the plug-ins.

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I even have a slight sneaking suspicion that the pheromones (made to mimic the scent a kitten gets from it’s mother and remembers forever) might be what makes Cooper fascinated with Shadow and wanting to get close to her. Hmmmm…

I will keep Shadow on these for a few months until her interactions with Cooper become naturalized habit and routine.

Okay, bye for now – I’m off to enter my credit card. I know none of this is about fostering… but you are creative and can apply what you’ve learned here for a foster kitty. Integration and calming kitties are topics that fill many help boards!

 

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The Integration Question

One of the biggest questions and challenges of having cats is integration. Done well, it can lead to an exceptionally happy home and bonded cats. Done badly, it can be a miserable existence for everyone.

There is a persistent myth that cats are solitary animals. They are solitary hunters and in the wild, they will maintain a territory for feeding purposes. It’s called survival.

The truth is that it is better to have 2 cats than one. They self-train, amuse each other, and give each other companionship in times of stress. The easiest way to do this is to adopt two kittens together. Of course it’s much easier if you adopt siblings because there is no effort to integrate them, but you can also get two unrelated kittens and gently socialize them.

It’s also easier to bring in a kitten (and fix them at 5-6 months of age before sexual maturity – which changes behaviours) to integrate with a mature cat under age 6. You just have to take it easy and monitor all interactions for the first weeks. Even initially resistant felines will accept a kitten when given the right guidance and lots of patience.

But I have a different situation… and 3 very different cats. I wanted this challenge, but dreaded it too. I expected that my house would be turned upside down a little. I expected that it would begin with a solid quarantine to eliminate any threats of illness or physical problems. After that, I knew it would take a little time.

Both my spouse and the rescue give me the sense that I need to get Merlin adapted and ‘out there’. It’s in his best interest. However, there are still things I am concerned about with him. He is bitey – when he doesn’t want to be touched he is bitey. It will take a little time to gently train him out of this. He has his moments. He also howls every morning at 5am and is very chatty and demanding of attention. This too can be worked on gently. I need to get a move on though – because the goal is adoption he’s been with me for 4 weeks.

Yesterday we decided to put him on Nuala’s harness and a leash and let him leave the room. Nope! Merlin decided that it was too soon for him and he tried to bite J every time he tried to put the harness on. We’d got him used to a collar for the last couple of days (I know 2 days is not much, but he has known a collar I believe, because he was immensely calm with it). The harness was a no-go. Though J wanted to push on and force him into the harness, I insisted that we stop. I didn’t want the harness or his first time outside in the open house to be a negative experience.

I’m no expert in integrating cats, but I firmly believe you can’t rush them and that time and care upfront will pay huge dividends later. Cats need to feel supported and confident – and personalities need to be respected. So far we’ve done the following to begin integration:
* Separated Merlin for 3 weeks in an area with a 2 door separation from the rest of the home. This was his quarantine period. He had 2 weeks at the vet/animal services, 2 weeks with the rescue and then 3 weeks with me.
* A few times let Nuala come to the one door and sniff and look under it.
* Take his towel/blanket and put it in the hallway for Nuala and Shadow to sniff on their own schedule
* Took Nuala’s cat bed for Merlin to use (she has a few)
* After petting one of my cats facial pheromone areas, giving my  hand to Merlin to sniff and then petting him with    that hand (scent blending). Vice versa with Merlin’s scent to Nuala and Shadow.
*Separating Merlin by 1 door … so scents and sounds travel easier. Without being in sight of one another they can get used to there being another cat in the area. I left it like this for only about 36 hours because I wanted to speed up integration and I felt both parties were ready – then I cut a hole so Nuala and Merlin have a glass window into each other’s world. They can see each other when they decide to purposely look though the ‘window’; otherwise they have privacy.
* Beginning when Merlin moved downstairs, we play with both cats at the door. Each is playing on their side, but some games (like string games) are shared on both sides of the door. There is growling from Nuala but curiosity too. There is just curiosity from Merlin.
* Treats! While I have not moved the food areas to beside the door, I give each cat treats at the door… just a few inches from each other. I want them to have positive associations being near each other.

I will read the cats carefully over the next few days as I make moves to get them together. Yes, I will be rushing just a bit – for Merlin’s adoption interest but I won’t put Nuala or Shadow into a bad situation.

Here Are Some Resources (Begin your reading here)

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February Flashback

Since I began using a digital camera, I have a big buildup of folders full of photos. Most are truly crap – but some gems are in there too so I don’t delete them. The wise idea is that I go through all the folders each January and sort the photos I want to keep into other more organized folders and delete the rest. Confused yet? Well it’s tiring! I’ve gone through about 2500 photos so far – mostly garbage since I hate my new camera (for the fact that don’t really know how to work it and haven’t read the online-only user guide which is unexaggeratedly 1000pgs long and a 200pg manual of how to make it work wirelessly).

Muddling through this mess, I found a few photos of Oscar that I’d forgotten I had! I had looked for these when I made his slideshow, but couldn’t find them. And I found a great video -albeit really dark- of J playing with Oscar almost exactly a year ago today. He had just learned about ‘play’ and to be unafraid of the toys. I remember the days when I rolled a ball at his feet and he looked quizzically at me as if to ask why I was attacking him instead of sitting by the window so he could glue himself to my thigh. He ducked and hid from the bug toy in this video the first time he saw it.

Here’s Oscar’s Video

Yes – he came such a long way! Here are some of the photos too…

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Breaking Bad

Oh no! I’m going to be breaking bad behaviour.

Nuala is savvy and a quick study. She is a good match for Oscar – they are fast, playful, and willing to take the other on. Nuala is meant to teach Oscar indoor behaviour – not to be afraid of noises, to use the scratching post, to roll the treat ball, to look at birds from the window, to jump for the bird toy. She’s good at this!

Nuala is also a superlative little sh!t. She’s an alpha cat, and you simply can’t train that out of her. You can adjust behaviours, but you can’t change inbred cattitude. She is smart and a smart-ass – and determined to do things her way. This was discovered early on with certain things that it seemed almost impossible to teach her. Counters were one. Sitting on the arms of the sofa was another. Jailbreak is a newer one (aka finding ways out of the house). She seemed like she was in a battle of wits with us to see who would win. Who would give in first and concede based on sheer exhaustion? Some smaller battles we tried to be flexible with and acknowledge her win with humble good sportsmanship.

Oscar has learned some good things from Nuala. There are some lessons that are hard for him and she’s eased the way. He is very attentive and can learn positive behaviour by watching and later emulating.

Unfortunately, it seems that teaching is a two-way street. Nuala’s newest trick is to scratch in inappropriate places – like on the rug like Oscar does. Now she’s trying it on a couple of arms of our sofas. Today I found a little damage. I was ready to scream. She’s never done this before. Do I feel an epic battle coming on?

If she weren’t such a pain, I’d have to laugh!

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Nuala poised to bop Oscar on the head. Once an alpha, always an alpha

 

Such A Player

Last night I heard a strange sound… a hard plastic ball being batted around on a tile floor. Oscar had discovered one of the balls and had a good 5-minute session of kitty tennis all on his own. Hurray!

Just drawing the McD’s straw across the floor drew out the kitten in Oscar today. He was happily swatting it and so happy to have interactive play (maybe my absence brought this out in him). So after a purry petting session and some swats at the straw (my what big claws you have Mr Oscar!), I decided to pull out the bug toy.

Oscar has been interested in the bug toy (aka catnip dancer) for well over two months. At first he watched it. Then he ducked when it went by. Later he began swatting at it. He won’t chase it, but he will lunge at it and chew it. So today, I spent quite a while in creative play with the bug – it swooped down from above, it flew past his ear, it hid behind me, it ran along the carpet. It was irresistible for Oscar and he had a long session of swatting, biting, pawing and some pretty impressive lunges at it.

Oscar has the most serious eyes. Bug swatting is serious stuff. Rolling on his side to be petted is serious. Getting up to chase a treat is serious. Everything is looked at with a level of consternation.

Before bed, I sat petting Oscar and I spied the Senses Circuit toy. Oscar has ignored it since it was introduced. I started batting the ball… and suddenly serious eyes were interested. He watched me as I sent the ball around and let it slow and stop. Then again. And again. Suddenly a little buff paw swatted at the ball! I could actually see him think – he was puzzling out how to swat at the ball, how the ball worked, where it was going. He was fascinated and clawed at the ball again and again. We played for about 20 minutes – he was so engaged! I was happier than I can describe – a blissful giddiness – and grinning like an idiot.

I was still smiling as I snuggled into my pillow.

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Not the balls he decided to play with – he liked the hard plastic one

In case you are wondering about these toys – I don’t buy expensive toys for the kitties. It’s not in my budget and I’m a believer that cats can be engaged with and play using the simplest of things. My kitties share their toys, and some things go into rotation so they don’t get bored. This link is to the toys Nuala and I suggested at Christmas

Pyjama Swipe

Oscar is a puzzle – a charming, warm furry puzzle. Long ago I decided that part of this comes from being loved as a kitten but also at some time being treated less than well by a person. He becomes unsure and scared with some movements – approach from the front or even petting from above. You can see it in his eyes – or I can see it in his eyes now that I know him. It’s an imperceptible shift from happy bonding to ‘why did you touch me like that?’ and suddenly he is threatened.

It’s been weeks since I’ve seen any half-considered bite attempt. I think there were 4 total in the time he’s been with me. All of them (other than the first when he was coming-out-from surgery and anesthetic) were half-hearted and confused – like he didn’t know how to communicate with a person. I can see the confusion – he knows he trusts me but something makes him feel strange and uncomfortable. And each time I scolded him for it, he cowered back and hissed… a protective rather than angry stance. This was a learning process for him… and he’s done so well. He doesn’t like to be approached head-on – maybe a sad story there, but time will teach him differently.

The new thing is the pyjama swipe. It’s not every day, but it happens to both J and myself – maybe a total of 10 times so far. You are standing with him and interacting and suddenly there is a claw swipe at the back of the pant leg. I’ve got 2 minor scratches from it – and he gets scolded each time. He cowers down and away and looks so guilty that you want to give him a treat. (Of course I can’t – that would just be a cruel, inconsistent training error).

What on earth is this? J thinks it’s the movement of the pyjamas. I think it’s a confused way to try to get attention, since it always happens to me when he’s literally underfoot and I’m working on giving him his food, fresh water and puttering at the sink. It seems to happen when he’s clingy and wants attention. To be consistent, he gets scolded and then we leave the room. He’s learned that a slightly raised voice and ‘NO’ means that he’s in trouble, and he’s realized that it doesn’t mean he will be hit or harmed. So his fear is diminished.

I know how to train around it, but I still don’t know what it is. Any ideas?

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Oscar in ‘paint’ (aka Natasha plays with the computer)