Chris Kouwenhoven

Solving the mystery

Consider these statistics from Cat Behavior and Training Veterinary Advice for Owners by Lisle Ackerman:

* Behavior problems are the number one killer of pets in this country

* Eight million pets are euthanized each year because of behavior problems.

* Between 50% to 70% of animals in shelters are there because their owners either couldn't or wouldn't deal with their behavior problems.

You can help to change these statistics by sharing what you have learned about cat behavior with others. Sometimes the simplest suggestions can save a cat's life. The first step is getting a detailed history of the problem so that appropriate recommendations can be made. The following questions will provide a good basis for a behavior problem investigation:

1. Find out basic information about the animal (or animals) involved including the sex, age, is the cat spayed or neutered, declawed?

2. How long has the owner had the cat? How long has the problem been going on?

3. What exactly is the problem? When and where does it occur? Under what circumstances?

4. Are there any people or animals present when the behavior occurs? What are they usually doing before, during, and after the problem happens?

5. How often does this behavior occur? Is there any pattern or regularity to it?

6. If it is sporadic, have you noticed anything in the cat's environment that could trigger the behavior? (If the owner hasn't observed anything in particular, suggest keeping a journal).

7. When and under what circumstances did the first problem occur? Describe subsequent occurrences.

8. What treatment methods, if any, are the owners trying or have they tried to correct the problem? Are they punishing the cat?

9. When was the cat last seen by a veterinarian? What tests, if any, were done at that time? Has the cat had a history of health problems? Is it currently undergoing any form of medical treatment?

10. How would you describe the cat's personality? Outgoing, friendly to strangers, curious about new things brought into the house, or shy, nervous, afraid of loud sounds, new people?

11. What is the cat's daily routine? Is it an indoor cat or does it have free or limited access to the outdoors? Is there anything in the cat's environment that regularly frightens it? (For example, the vacuum cleaner, the doorbell, animals outside, etc.).

12. What is the composition of the household? Are there other pets? What are the behavior and attitudes of the rest of the family towards the cat? How much attention does the cat get on a daily basis, and from whom?

Any further questions will be specific to the particular behavior problem --whether it is housesoiling, aggression with people, aggression with pets, etc.

During the course of the interview you will get a feeling for what life is like for this cat. Having a good, basic understanding of the needs and nature of the cat and the treatment of common behavior problems, you should be able to make recommendations to improve the situation for the cat and thereby solve the problem. If a solution is not forthcoming, please recommend that the owner contact an experienced feline behavior counselor for more advice.

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