Han Solo and the Pee Wars

Meet Han Solo.  No, not the character from Star Wars, although I'm sure he wants to be.  He's a Siamese mix who came to live with a family of 6: Mom, Dad, 2 boys and 2 resident cats.  The day he became part of the family was the day he decided peeing all over the house was a good idea since 2014.

Han Solo was urinating and defecating in various parts of the house.  Two pees and two poops on the living room couch on clean laundry.  A few pees near the door of the youngest boys room.  Many many pees on the floor of the master bedroom, which leads to the only litter box in the house located in the master bathroom.  You all should have seen us crawling around on our knees with the black light to find spots.  It was hilarious.

Han Solo previously had a standard veterinary health exam with no abnormalities or illness reported, so we ruled out a medical cause to his peeing escapades.  Detective hat is now on!  After discussing with the family, it was clear that Han Solo prefers to wee on clean or new objects that do not smell like home.  He also likes to pee in areas of stress, which are when he cannot access his litter box or when he cannot access a room to his favorite person.  This room was off limits at night.

Intuitively, and listening from my heart, I could feel that Han Solo wanted to enter into the younger boys room for protection reasons.  There was something that was scaring the boy at night.  Han Solo felt it was his duty to protect the boy in his sleep, as well as give him the proper wake up full of kisses in the morning.  The guardians confirmed this was true because of what the boy had revealed to them previously.

So, what did we do?

  • Separate water, food and litter into 3 separate rooms. 
  • Replace clay litter with non-clay litter in existing litter box, and remove the cover.
  • Add 2 more uncovered litter boxes with at least 2 inches of non-clay litter substrate.  A floor plan including litter box location was discussed and provided to the client.  One litter box was added to the boy's room during the night so Han Solo could also be in the room.
  • Scoop each litter box 2-3 times daily.  Replace litter once weekly.
  • Cover clean laundry and any new items with a "used" towel that smells like home while not under supervision.
  • Thoroughly clean the master bedroom carpet with an enzymatic cleaner.

And, what were the results?

  • Report #1: No inappropriate elimination.  Han Solo was allowed in the bedroom of the youngest boy with the addition of a litter box at night near his door. Yes!
  • Report #2:  One urination in the master bedroom.  One of the other cats started displaying aggression due to extra attention Han Solo was getting for being a well-behaved good boy.  Guardians took appropriate action to correct behavior and eliminate smell through previous recommendations I had given.  No more accidents.  Overall, a success!

Great job!  I love it when clients learn in the process of a consultation.

If you are in need of a cat behavior consultation, feel free to shoot me an email at info@catlanna.com.   I am here for you and your family.  Furry ones included.


Bark It Out: Fresh Dog Tips You Don't Want to Miss

What do you get when 7 animal behavior experts in one room with animal-lovers?  You get PAWSOME.  Ohhh yes, I said that.  Thanks to the IAABC, The Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, and the hard work of many individuals, this event was successful.   I was extremely impressed with the quality and integrity of the presenters.  Most tips are either specifically for dogs or can be applied across many different species.  Many of the suggestions I plan to try right away on my somewhat-willing domestic felines.  Enjoy the highlights below!

Chicago selfie

Chicago selfie

Human Animal Bond by Steve Dale

  • It is a misconception that stray animals are the largest reason that our shelters are busting at the seams.  The largest problem is the relinquished animals crowding shelters.
  • 1 cat or dog is euthanized every 11 seconds in a U.S. shelter.  7 out of 10 dogs make it out of a shelter alive.  4 out of 10 cats make it out of a shelter alive.
Steve Dale presented to us all when we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning.

Steve Dale presented to us all when we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning.

Fear Based Aggression by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • If submissive behavior signs are ignored by the dominant animal (humans included), dog will resort to aggression.
  • If the dog looks like it's giving you a very large toothy smile, the dog is showing fear.  If the dog only shows its front teeth and canines, the dog is showing confidence.
  • Any uncontrolled environment (yes, your friend's kids coming over does count!) with a fearful dog is an extremely bad and dangerous idea.  Ask yourself, "Does this dog perceive this situation as threatening?"
  • Ever heard someone say, "The dog is trying to protect me."  Wrong.  The dog is hoping you will protect him/her.
  • An easy way to differentiate counter-conditioning:
    • Classical Conditioning = good things happen when _____ happens (no treats or rewards)
    • Operant Conditioning = positive reinforcement for desired behavior (with treats or rewards)

Possessive Aggression aka Resource Guarding by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • Not all resources are equal to that individual dog.
  • Dog A can be dominant over Dog B in Room 1, but Dog B may be dominant over Dog A in Room 2.  Dominance is relative.
  • Don't give the dog a reason to feel like its resource is being threatened.

Separation Anxiety by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • Hypersalivation symptom is only seen in dog separation anxiety.
  • Separation anxiety is not a result of boredom.
  • Most solutions are complex and time-consuming, but possible.

Exotic to Domestic Animals: Lessons Learned That Come Full Circle by Laura Monaco Torelli

  • Always give the animal a choice to participate in training.
  • Go on happy vet visits to promote fear-free outings.
  • Play ping pong with your clicker cues to "hide" cue that includes medication.
Laura describing the excitement for a successful foot up cue!

Laura describing the excitement for a successful foot up cue!

Panel Discussion on What is a Veterinary Behaviorist, What is a Behavior Consultant, What is a Trainer? by Dr. John Ciribassi, Steve Dale, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler

  • A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian with board certification in animal behavior.  Their names are followed with the abbreviations DVM DVACB.  They can diagnose and medicate, if needed.  A parallel to the human world would make a veterinary behaviorist, a psychiatrist.
  • A certified behavior consultant is not a veterinarian, but can guide and advise on behavior modification.  A parallel to the human world would make a certified behavior consultant, a psychologist.  The main difference is that a psychologist must have a degree, where a certified behavior consultant is a result of documented peer-reviewed proven-effective work experience, not a degree.
  • The consensus was that all animal behavior professionals need to work together as a team towards the big picture, which is to reduce the number of animals relinquished to shelters or euthanized due to behavioral issues.  All behavior professionals should be communicating closely to provide the best care for the animal.
  • More awareness of identifying behavior issues, fear-free behavior modification methods and successful results should be the end goal for all animal behavior professionals.
From Left to Right: Marjie Alonso, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler, Steve Dale and Dr. John Ciribassi

From Left to Right: Marjie Alonso, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler, Steve Dale and Dr. John Ciribassi

Living With and Loving a Pet with Behavior Problems: The Impact on Pet Owners by Kristin Buller and Dr. Kelly Ballantyne

  • 87% of pet owners consider pets part of the family
  • Animal behavior professionals need to realize that each of us cannot wear all the hats, otherwise each of us may fall into compassion fatigue.  This is unhealthy and can lead to depression.  It is important for all parties to work as a team and support one another.

Introducing Highly Reactive & Aggressive Dogs - An Experiment by Ken Ramirez

  • Lips sealed regarding this research until the company that supplied the grant gives permission to share.  I will say that it was quite fascinating what Ken and his team of expert trainers were able to do with a highly aggressive dog that was confiscated from a dog fighting community.
Ken just finished his presentation which I cannot share the details of yet.

Ken just finished his presentation which I cannot share the details of yet.

Complex Tools by Ken Ramirez

  • Ken covered the varied cues that can be used in exotic animal training, as well as domestic animals.
    • Keep Going Signal aka Bridge - Usually not needed but does work.
    • Jackpot - Works if used very sparingly and delivered quickly.  
    • No Reinforcement Marker - Rarely works due to being a conditioned punishment.
    • Time Out - Only effective if animal leaves you, then you leave, so when the animal returns, it finds the positive reinforcement (you) is no longer available.  The animal will wish it never left.
    • Least Reinforcing Scenario - Works if neutral response is correctly executed.
    • Redirection Strategies - Definitely works.
    • Recall Signal - Works and should always be reinforced no matter the context.  Its purpose is to use during a crisis. Think of a house fire and you want your animal to come IMMEDIATELY.
    • End of Session - Large debate over usage.  Doesn't make or break a training program.
  • Every person utilizing them needs to understand each specialized use and the practical application of it.
Selfie infront of the entrace to the shelter.

Selfie infront of the entrace to the shelter.

I did squeeze in dinner time Saturday night with two of my college friends who now live in Chicago.  So fun!

I did squeeze in dinner time Saturday night with two of my college friends who now live in Chicago.  So fun!

Gino's East was down the street from the shelter.  They had this life-size horse statue outside of the restaurant, so of course, what did I do? II took a selfie.

Gino's East was down the street from the shelter.  They had this life-size horse statue outside of the restaurant, so of course, what did I do? II took a selfie.

Tips and Tricks: A Weekend with Cat Behavior Experts

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (I-double A-BC) hosted their first Feline Behavior Conference in Atlanta, GA on April 11-12, 2015.  It was a HUGE success.  I am extremely glad I flew up there for an amazing and educational weekend!  I could literally write a book on this weekend, so I am going to keep it short to a few points for each presentation that I found most interesting and useful.

Like the snazzy bag from the IAABC? I do! 

Like the snazzy bag from the IAABC? I do! 

Steve Dale of Pet World opened with a presentation with quite a few interesting facts:

  • 74% of dog caretakers are women.  78% of cat caretakers are women. 
  • 3.4 million of 7.6 million animals that enter shelters are cats.
  • Stress in cats leads to disease (such as FPV, upper respiratory infections and diarrhea)

Social Organization and Communication in Cats by Dr. Sharon L. Crowell-Davis:

  • Cats are family-based social animals.  They must learn their social behavior as a kitten from socially competent members of the species.  Adopt families together.
  • Feral cats voluntarily form colonies. Feral cat social organization is matriarchal.  Queens cooperatively rear kittens.

I Thought Your Ankle Was A Mouse! Human-Directed Aggression in the Cat by Dr. Sharon L. Crowell-Davis:

  • Human-directed aggression can be instigated through play, fear, petting intolerance, redirected or sexual aggression.
  • Be a “boring” human in order to discourage play aggression.
  • Cats primarily groom each other on the head and neck.

My Cat is Grooming Himself Bald by Dr. Lynne Seibert:

  • Skin problems can cause stress and be a result of stress.  There is an intimate relationship between skin conditions & stress in humans and felines.
  • There are several OCD disorders that can affect cats.

Geriatric Pets by Dr. Lynne Seibert:

  • 50% of cats presented for house soiling began after 10 years of age.  It is common.
  • Medical factors, cognitive decline and sensory deficits play an enormous role.
  • Studies show that cats do have preference in litter boxes, but not always for the uncovered (compared to covered) box.  Each cat has their own preference that they stick to.  Also, studies show that a bigger box doesn’t matter (as long as it is large enough for the cat to turn around in comfortably) as much as a clean box does.

Psychopharmacology: Understanding the Medications… by Dr. Sharon L. Crowell-Davis:

  • If the cat is showing abnormal behavior, drugs may be a suitable option.
  • No FDA approved psychoactive medication is approved for cats.  There are only three approved for use in dogs.

Using Negative Reinforcement to Work with Scaredy Cats by Beth Adelman:

  • Shelters need to have a room for cats to live that resembles a home, so they may have suitable places to hide and adjust easier to potential adopters.
  • It can take up to a year, for a previously traumatized cat to come out of his or her shell and turn into a lovebug (Beth did it!) using positive reinforcement.
  • Figure out what the cat wants, and give it to him or her, when they ever so slightly do what you’d like them to do.  Even if that means “human go away” as the reward.

Using Behavior Therapy, Environmental Enrichment and Humane Handling to Reduce Stress in Shelters by Dr. Leticia Dantas:

  • 70% of companion cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized.
  • Setting up cats for a successful adoption includes handling, socialization, teaching behavioral skills and fostering.

Dogs and Declawed Cats: Extra Caution Required by Jacqueline Munera:

  • Declaws are for the human’s benefit only.  It is a partial-toe amputation.
  • Humans rarely consider the cost of post-surgery complications, such as aggressive biting and/or improper elimination because the litter box hurts their sensitive declawed paws.
  • Declawed cats need a safe space that they can hide in, where the landing is soft and high.

Foundation Behaviors Are Going to the Cats! by Jacqueline Munera:

  • Name Game, Recall, Nose Target and Go To Place are fun and rewarding!

It Takes Two: Successful Cat & Dog Interactions by Jacqueline Munera:

  • There are relatively few cat behaviorists, putting canine behaviorist in a position to diagnose interspecies problems since cat-dog households are very common in the United States.
  • Declawed cats need ramps or steps to access safe space from dog.  They need to be safe.
  • Research indicates that cats and dogs can learn each other’s communicative signals.

Handling Aggressive Cats: Simply a Nightmare, or Just a Matter of Techniqe? by Leticia Dantas:

  • Do not elicit aggression to just “test the waters”.  Less is always more with cats.
  • Scruffing is stressful.  A cat is scruffed when it is a kitten, or as an adult when it is being killed by a predator.
  • A belly rub is a violation of trust.  A cat showing its belly is a greeting only.
Dr. Tony Buffington

Dr. Tony Buffington

Cat Nutrition and Relationship Between Food and Behavior by Dr. Tony Buffington:

  • There are roughly 30 calories in a mouse.
  • Geriatric diet generally not needed.
  • Cat food labeled “real chicken” is mechanically deboned chicken, aka “slime”.
  • Cats are not neophobic about new foods.  “Finicky eater” is a product of environment, not the food.
  • Feeding is an opportunity for an enrichment activity.

Lower Urinary Tract Signs in Cats from Feline Urological Syndrome by Dr. Tony Buffington:

  • Signs include Frequency of Urination, Inappropriate Elimination, Straining and Hematuria (blood in urine)
  • Similar to Functional Bladder Disorder in humans.
  • UTI specialized food does work.
  • No evidence that there are drugs to help LUTS.
Mikel Delgado

Mikel Delgado

Singing a Different Tune: Cats and Their Owners by (future) Dr. Mikel Delgado:

  • Humans who have cat companion animals tend to be neurotic.  More research to come on this!


Panel Discussion
The panel discussion on Saturday evening had Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, Dr. Leticia Dantas, Jacqueline Munera, Mikel Delgado, and Ingrid Johnson.  One of the two main topics of discussion was how to add a new cat to a household with an existing cat.  

  • Ingrid pointed out that the new cat should be personality-matched for the existing cat, then there needs to be a slow introduction including the most important detail of swapping scents.  
  • Mikel chimed in with advice that clients should enlist help of a professional behaviorist to properly set up home for success and help select the new family member.  
  • Jacqueline reminded us to incorporate operant learning, her preference being clicker training, into the new cat’s life at home.  
  • Dr. Crowell-Davis stressed the importance of olfaction to a cat, thus the introduction needs to be positive, mutually agreed upon and scent centered.  She added, “Don’t molest the cat with scent.” She noted she had seen this before.  Good to know!  I didn’t even realize that people did that!

The second topic was how to treat the relationship between the client, the feline patient, the primary care veterinarian and the behavior consultant?

  • Confidentiality rules are governed by state, and only veterinarians are legally bound by them.  Some states require written permission to share records, some require only verbal and some require no permission by the client.  All panelists agreed that with the cat’s best interest in mind, all parties involved should share information to provide the best treatment and create a happy home.

Speaker’s Recommended Resources:
Catalyst Council
American Veterinary Medical Association
Cats Protection
Paw Project

End of Day 2.... Peace Out!

End of Day 2.... Peace Out!