LETTERS TO LUCINDA 6: Cat Behavior Solutions
Hello, all. Again, Lucinda the literate cat is here to help solve another cat behavior problem. Today I will be teaching you a bit about an issue of great importance to cats, and one you may find baffling.
Let’s start first with our question from a reader. This one is from a Mr. Jack Lucas. He says: Lucinda, I have a small problem. I am a single man living with my cat, Felix. I work as a salesman, and my sales territory is the entire state.
My cat does not like it when I leave. In fact, when I return, he sometimes ignores me for a day or two, just to let me know he is not happy that I am gone so much.
I have tried taking him with me, but he does not travel well, and does not like motel rooms.
I am not sure what to do. I love this cat, but I don’t want him to be unhappy all the time. My sister says she will take him, and I am wondering if perhaps it would be best to give him to her.
What do you think, Lucinda? Is there any way I can keep the cat and keep him happy at the same time.
Dear Mr. Lucas:
You do, indeed, have a problem, and I sympathize, since you obviously care about Felix and want what is best for him.
I can offer two suggestions, neither of which you may choose as a solution. But here goes:
1) You can get a new sales job that allows you to stay in one place. Then you will be home every night and your cat will learn to handle that. When you leave for a long time, or when you attempt taking the cat with you, you are disturbing his established routine, and this upsets him.
You must understand that we cats are very territorial. When we move into a place, we must first mark the area with our scent. We can do that so easily, as we have scent glands in many parts of our bodies. The nine main ones are located on the outer ear flaps, temple, cheeks, mouth corners, under our jaw, between our toes, at the sides of the anus, and at the base and along our tail.
In more extreme cases, a male cat may spray his territory. This practice, however, is intended more to lure in unsuspecting females and to ward off competing males.
In our base of operations, we establish a daily routine. We select a time for morning and evening meals. We patrol our territory to make sure all is well. We know when our two-leggeds go off to work, and what time they come home.
We establish times to hunt, to nap, to play, and to bathe. We hate changes of any kind in our routine.
Once this routine is established, we consult our inner clock to know where we are in the day’s schedule. It is no accident that your cat wakes you up at the exact time he usually eats in the morning, or that he is sitting on your doorstep awaiting your return in the evening. At supper time he will be right at your heels, asking for that meal.
If you bring something home that smells strange, or that disturbs our ordinary pattern when we try to identify it, we will be stressed. Such an event can be unsettling. For example, if we are introduced to a new pet, or if we are taken to the cat torturer (vet), these interruptions of the routine can be very uncomfortable.
Does Felix let you know when you return home after an absence that he is not pleased with you? Some cats get so miffed that for a couple of days after their two-legged returns, they will have nothing to do with him. Your cat wants to be sure you know that your behavior is unacceptable.
Thus, you see, any change in our daily expectations can cause us to be upset. Consider changing jobs as one solution.
2) You can get married. As long as your cat likes your new partner, this solution works well. Then, when you leave to do your sales job, your cat still has his routine and his home territory. Granted, he will miss you, but he can spend valuable time training your new wife so she understands all his needs.
If you continue your same job and have to leave Felix for long periods of time, he will not be happy with you. Who feeds him while you are gone? Does he have a warm body to curl up with at night? Who loves him like you do? Who plays with him?
Perhaps if his routine is disturbed each time you leave, he might be happier if you moved him to your sister’s house. You could still visit him, and he would be able to have the security of an established territory.
Our second question is from a cat named Isabel. She says:
Why do my two-leggeds move around so much? They find a good place to live, stay a couple months, then move again. The two-leggeds seem to adapt to all these changes, but they are making me crazy. I just want a peaceful life in one place with a daily routine I can control because I know what to expect.
I am becoming anxious and short-tempered. Why don’t they understand what all this moving about does to my peace of mind?
Your two-leggeds obviously do not understand how important territory is to you. They do not attach the same importance to territory and it causes adjustment problems for you each time they move.
In the wild, a cat, who is both predator and prey, must establish solid territorial boundaries. These are for their own protection, and also allow them to monitor in case of interlopers. They will defend their home turf.
The wild cat establishes an area where he sleeps and eats. This is his home base. He will select territory where he hunts and mates. This is his home range. His territory spreads out from his home base to cover an area where the hunting is good.
We who have become domesticated, meaning we who have chosen two-leggeds to own, have to adjust this territory idea to fit our present circumstances. We establish our home base around the residence we share with our two-leggeds.
For many of us, this territory is only as large as the house, as some of us rarely go outside. Pogo and I share a house and fenced yard as territory, but we never go beyond the fence, at least not by choice.
When Carlos lived here, he had a much larger territory. He had a home base (house and fenced yard) and a home range (area outside the fence that was about as large as what you call a city block.) That was because he loved to hunt, and needed more than just the house and yard for his expeditions.
There are many stories of cats who traveled hundreds of miles to return to a place they regarded as home. In the last story I reviewed, we learned about a cat who traveled 1500 miles to get back to her home. These cats wish to be reunited with their two-leggeds and they want to be back at their home base. The cats are so attached to their territory and family that they will attempt the near-impossible to return there.
Perhaps, if your two-leggeds move someplace a short distance away, you can try returning to the place they left. I am not sure if they will get the message, but perhaps they will understand. It might be worth a try.
The only other solution I can suggest is that you leave them to see if you can find a two-legged family that is more settled and not so anxious to move. After all, in the best scenarios, we choose our two-legged family, and if the one we have is not working out, we can always look for a new home.
Be resourceful — you are a cat. See if you can come up with a satisfactory solution to your problem. I wish you well.
For more information about territorial behavior in cats, go to en.wikipedia.org
This concludes the column for this month. Please comment below if you found it interesting or if you learned something. If you have a question for Lucinda the literate cat, please write it in the comment section below this post.