Pet Care: Cat just trying to playDear Dr. Fox: Our daughter and her family have a 1-year-old female Russian Blue cat. They have a problem with her biting. She wants to bite their ankles when they walk past and, at other times, their hands. Is this typical for this cat breed, or are there other reasons for her behavior?
By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM
Dear Dr. Fox: Our daughter and her family have a 1-year-old female Russian Blue cat. They have a problem with her biting. She wants to bite their ankles when they walk past and, at other times, their hands. Is this typical for this cat breed, or are there other reasons for her behavior? – M.E.F., Hurst, Texas
Dear M.E.F: Please pass on this information to your daughter and family before they decide to get rid of their cat, if they haven’t done so already. Leaving this behavior unaddressed could mean painful injuries and infections for family members, especially children.
The first step is to understand that this is not aggression, but a young cat’s desire to play. This is typical behavior for a young cat, regardless of breed, and reflects the animal’s attempt to adapt to living exclusively with humans in an otherwise cat-deprived environment. The family must learn how to play with the cat, especially early in the evening (cat “crazy time”). Transfer the focus of the cat’s game of ambush, bite and scratch from humans to interactive toys like a play wand (toy on the end of a fishing pole) that you animate. Check your pet store for a variety of toys to try.
The best solution would be to adopt a healthy, easygoing cat of about the same age so the two can entertain each other. Cats do best when they have the company of their own kind; humans cannot fully satisfy all their needs.
My book “Supercat: How to Raise the Perfect Feline Companion” (Howell Books) will be very helpful in educating your daughter’s family about the ways and whys of cats.
Dear Dr. Fox: Soon after we put a mirror in our parakeet’s cage, we found it smeared with some kind of milky goo. He keeps wiping his beak on it. Should we remove the mirror? We gave it to him because we thought he might be lonely. – K.F., Silver Spring, MD.
Dear K.F.: I appreciate your concern over your highly sociable, naturally flock-living parakeet enduring a lonely life in a cage with only human contact.
Providing toys, balls, ladders and mirrors is one step toward environmental enrichment, but it is no substitute for providing your bird with a healthy young female parakeet. Set her in a cage next to his until they become habituated, then connect the two cages so they can be together as they choose.
You may need to remove the mirror if your bird starts to lose condition and seems thinner, and if his plumage becomes dull and unkempt. Some birds become addicted to or besotted with their mirror images, which I do not find amusing. Rather, it is a pathetic reflection of a deprived existence, as well as a profound insight into bird emotions and physiology. He is probably courting his own image and producing crop milk as he would for a mate and to help feed offspring – a shared responsibility. The visual stimulation of his reflected image activates internal hormonal changes that underlie courtship and parental care under more natural social and environmental conditions.
Dear Dr. Fox: I have a huge tricolored male cat that insists on mounting my 2-year-old spayed female cat and, in the process, removes hair from her belly. My local vet has no ideas and just mentions one medication that he hesitates to prescribe. I am an 80-year-old grandmother, and I want the lovable, aggressive male (named Ben) and his partner (named Rachel) to have the best life possible. – M.M.B., Virginia Beach, Va.
Dear M.M.B.: Cats engage in attack, prey-killing and sexual behaviors as part of their often elaborate playful interactions. This can include boxing, wrestling, inhibited biting and mounting, which may have elements of dominance as well as sex play.
Clapping your hands, squirting a jet of water from a bottle or tossing a towel, preceded by a loud yell, should break things up, and the larger male cat should soon learn to “cool his jets.”
After disciplining, get the male cat to chase a toy – perhaps a furry toy mouse or a bunch of feathers tied on the end of a string attached to a short stick. This is a good distraction and re-motivation strategy.
You didn’t mention whether Ben has been neutered; if not, he should be. I presume he has been since the veterinarian mentions one medication – most likely a calming female sex hormone injection such as progesterone – that’s worth trying if disciplining efforts fail. If the animal doctor is considering a psychotropic drug, he should sign up for a Cat Behavior 101 seminar!
Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.