DEAR DR. FOX: When my three littermate kittens turned adult back in 1998, one developed a urinary tract infection -- I believe from one of the controlling littermates not allowing him to use the litter box.
I read your column about using a squirt gun around that time, and I tried it on the aggressive cat. It worked for a while, but then he got used to it and put up with getting soaked. Nobody got hurt, and he finally quit doing it.
Years later, the third littermate would come to the kitchen and get under my feet all the time. I would put him back in the living room, sometimes forcefully, but he would keep coming back in the kitchen. He would not mind me; he had a mind all his own. Once he made up his mind to do something, he wouldn't quit unless I got mad. Finally, I tried showing him the broom. This was scary to him, and he finally quit coming in. I got this idea from my father who I saw once grab the canoe paddle to discipline my brother! -- D.L., Maryland Heights, Md.
DEAR D.L.: Your observations on training your cat may be helpful to other people who are learning the ropes with their felines when it comes to inhibiting unwanted behaviors. Pain from slapping is unacceptable, and acute discomfort with a spray of water can become habituated to, as you found out with your cat. But hold on! The cat getting "under (your) feet" may be showing affection or really hungry, so keep your cool.
In many instances, as when your cats are playing too rough, a loud yell followed by a handclap, or tossing a towel over them, will break up a spat. You are distracting them by triggering the startle response. I do not intervene until one of our cats gives a distress scream or is cornered and assuming a defensive posture. A degree of rough play is acceptable; the odd scratch is all part of being a cat. Separating your cats while you are away from the house may increase the tension, so I would have let them stay together with escape and refuge hideaway boxes and tubes and a few extra litter boxes.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a housing issue regarding my daughter's cat who has lived with us off and on for most of her 6 years, so I feel like I'm part owner. My daughter is moving across the country and can't take her cat. She has asked us to keep her, which would be a nonissue except that we go to Florida several months a year, and this cat is a horrible traveler. We also have our own cat who travels extremely well. I have considered trying to find someone to come in and feed her, but this seems cruel for such a long time. I also considered finding a temporary home. A shelter or total rehoming has been considered, but I don't want to do either.
Ultimately, I realize this is my daughter's cat and responsibility, but under the circumstances, I know without a doubt the cat will be without a home. I'm sure she'd be put in a shelter -- to me, that will be synonymous with death. By my standards, when you take on the responsibility of a pet, it is for its lifetime. If nothing else, I need support in that belief. Thanks for listening. -- C.E.W., East Stroudsburg, Pa.
Dear C.E.W. Shame on your daughter! Why is she not abiding by your standards?
In caring for her cat, you are enabling her irresponsibility, and she will never grow up. Delay your trip to Florida so the cats can bond and you can train your daughter's cat to enjoy eating and sleeping in an open cat crate.
It is not clear from your letter if you are driving or flying to Florida. Either way, have the cat microchipped and get her a breakaway collar with your address on it. If you are flying, arrange to take the cat on the plane with you, or at least taken by courier at the check-in desk, rather than going through the regular baggage chutes. Have rabies and health certificates on hand. If you are driving, use a larger dog crate and keep the litter box on the floor. A harness and leash on the cat may be a good safety precaution.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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