Author Topic: Bonding problems - The dependant cat  (Read 7972 times)

Offline Tan

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Bonding problems - The dependant cat
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2007, 13:24:42 PM »
Reference CAT DETECTIVE by Vicky Halls 
Vicky’s books have a great insight into cat behavior.  Her books are highly recommended and available from all good books stores or online here
Her lastest book Cat Counsellor: How Your Cat Really Relates to You is now out.   
Vicky is currently tutoring the Intermediate and Advanced Feline Psychology courses for the Animal Care College and continues to lecture throughout the UK and Europe on various aspects of Feline behaviour.
Please visit her website here .

Here the stories at the bottom of Murphey and Peanut are a great insite a def worth a read!

Bonding Problems- The dependant cat

Most of us are happy to accept that we are at the beck and call of our feline friends. We seem to relish the way our cats control our every movement in order to obtain the maximum pleasure. We start with every good intention to feed them veterinary formuated quality cat food and end up supplementing this balanced diet with honey roast ham and cornfed chicken. Why? Because our cats want it. This always seems an adequate excuse for just about any indulgence. But is it really they who demand this haute cuisine?
Cats must live in a constant state of amazement at every little gesture that the average owner makes in the name of love. They are great opportunists, so why wouldn't Tigger hang round the fridge if something tasty came out of it every time he gave a pitiful miaow?

Spoiling a cat generally does no harm whatsoever providing you give the culinary extras in moderation. Unfortunately some of us believe the maxim `I love therefore I feed' and feline obesity is a growing problem. Some may believe that the size of their cat's belly is in direct proportion to the amount of love they receive but I beg to differ. Obesity in cats can cause diabetes, heart disease and joint problems and potentially shorten the lives of these beloved pets. There are other ways to love.

Occasionally the extent of the bond between cat and owner reaches a level that merits the term `dysfunctional'. The dilemma implicit in dealing with such an issue in a DIY manual is that the last person to see the problem is the over-attached owner herself. Yes, in my experience these owners tend to be female.   :shify:  As women we all have a need to nurture and care; occasionally that need is not fulfilled in our relationships with other humans. Cats have an ability to provide what is perceived to be unconditional love and a relationship with them just seems so much easier, somehow.
I have often described an over-attachment as `an emotional bond with a pet that is so intense that it is detrimental to the physical or psychological well-being of either the human or the animal'.

Most cases of problem behaviour that have developed as a result of over-attachment involve anxiety-related indoor soiling, attention-seeking urine spraying (or other unsavoury activity) and aggression. The most common presentation is unusual cat/owner responses on both sides. For example, a slightly incompetent and nervous cat goes to live with a caring, solicitous, emotional owner and the eventual result can be a `learned helplessness' in the cat and an overattached relationship. The owner is so busy reassuring the cat that it will be suitably protected that the poor shivering wreck sees danger everywhere and collapses in a heap, completely unable to do anything unless the owner is present. If the owner should be absent for any length of time the cat will stop eating and probably wet the duvet.
The other scenario tends to feature a highly intelligent, sensitive cat (for example a delightful but high-maintenance Siamese or Burmese) meeting the same caring, solicitous, emotional owner. The outcome here is very different, as undesirable attention-seeking behaviour, such as urine spraying or cable chewing, often becomes the problem.

This may fall on deaf ears, but if you feel that your home is no longer your own and you want your life back then you may have slightly overdone the whole compliant owner thing.

Do you have sleepless nights because, somehow, your cat takes up more of the bed than you do?
Do you stop what you're doing and attend to your cat's needs any time of day or night because he miaows?
Do you carry your cat around everywhere like a hairy brooch because he likes it but end up with a repetitive strain injury in your shoulder?
Do you read the newspaper with a cat's bottom firmly planted on the financial section?
Do you get up at 3 a.m. to microwave fish because that's when your cat wants it?
Do you constantly replace your telephone cable because your cat chews through it when you are on the phone?
Do you avoid going an holiday because the one and only time you did your cat went off his food and you had to get an early flight home?

Never forget that the pleasures of pet ownership should be a two-way thing. This could mean that you need to allow your cat outside sometimes, even though you worry about him, so that he can run around and do what cats do naturally. It also means that you have every right to a good night's sleep and a cosy bed for your cat in the kitchen is not hell on earth.

If you want to ensure your relationship remains on an even keel then here are a few tips.

- Start as you mean to go on. There are many veterinary formulated foods that will provide your cat with everything he or she needs. The occasional tidbit is fine, but it is important to monitor your cat's weight because obesity can creep up slowly. You should always be able to feel your cat's ribs if  you run your hand down his side.

- It is perfectly all right to reject your cat's attentions when you are busy elsewhere; he will not love you any less. It is important for him to learn that you don't always get what you want when you want it.

- If your cat should demand attention at night do your best to ignore him. If you don't, you will end up with dreadful sleep deprivation symptoms and a cat that is very difficult to live with.

- Try to ensure that your cat has other interests apart from you, including visits outdoors whenever possible and activities around the house. Whilst a loving relationship is a joy it shouldn't be the only focus in your cat's life

Here are a couple of cases that you may find helpful if you are suspicious that your cat has the upper paw in your relationship.

Murphy -- the case of the attention-seeking cat

Murphy and Marco lived as indoor cats with Jane and Trevor in a spacious flat in central London. Murphy was six years old when I met him. Jane and Trevor acquired him when he was just seven weeks old. They chose him because he was a pretty tabby but they realized they had a difficult job on their hands because he was extremely timid when they first saw him. When Trevor picked up the little kitten he pushed his head into Trevor's arm and this was so endearing they had to have him.
Trevor and Jane lavished love and attention on Murphy and he grew into a beautiful healthy adult cat. He did, however, remain clingy and dependent on his owners and went to Trevor in particular if anything bothered him. Visitors, loud noises, changes in routine and sudden movements all sent Murphy rushing to the side of his owner.

Jane and Trevor were very concerned about Murphy's apparent dependency so they decided to adopt a kitten to keep him company. They chose a black kitten that had been reared by a local cat charity, and called him Marco. He was confident and sociable and a complete contrast to Murphy. As is often the case, Murphy was not exactly thrilled when Marco came along but he tolerated him reasonably well. Marco developed into an independent and laid-back adult. It was perfectly clear that the time he spent with his owners was for pleasure on his own terms. There was no way he needed them, but if there was any competition between Marco and Murphy for access to an owner's lap the younger cat would win every time.
Both cats used to enjoy the company of their owners at night as they curled up on the bottom of their bed.

A couple of years prior to my visit Murphy had started waking Trevor up in the early hours of the morning by clawing at his feet and crying. Trevor would dutifully rise, go to the kitchen to feed Murphy, and then return to bed. Murphy wasn't having that and pestered Trevor until he remained in the living room with the cat until it was time to get ready for work, just to keep him quiet. This was fine during the winter months, since Murphy started his crepuscular howling at a reasonable hour, but dawn breaks very early in the summer and Jane and Trevor started to feel in desperate need of a decent night's sleep.
They eventually decided they had no choice but to exclude the cats from the bedroom at night to try to resolve the problem. This was a shame for Marco who remained uninvolved in the disturbances but it had to be `one out, all out'. The following nights were a disaster as Murphy exhibited excellent problem-solving ability by learning how to hurl himself at the door handle to gain entry at the appropriate time.
Trevor continued to get up and feed him but every evening, before retiring, he would try various methods to secure the bedroom door.
 Eventually, with the aid of wire, string, cardboard and a heavy chair, Trevor and Jane managed to turn their bedroom into an impenetrable fortress. Murphy was not deterred. His new ploy involved sitting directly in front of the bedroom door with his furry face pressed up against it like an outside broadcaster's microphone, and screaming and screaming until Trevor came, fed him and played with him until it was time for work.

Over a period of time both Trevor and Jane realized that the situation was getting ridiculous. They were both irritable and showing signs of confusion and short term memory loss due to the lack of sleep. Trevor had started working at home a couple of days a week but this was proving impossible because he had to do everything with Murphy glued to his lap or shoulder. Something had to change and it had to happen quickly before Jane and Trevor went mad.

The facts of the case
It's fascinating watching clients and the way they interact with their cats. Most relationships involve communication between owner and cat that the former carries out without conscious thought. As I was discussing the problem with Jane and Trevor they were both touching and acknowledging Murphy constantly.
He in turn was moving backwards and forwards between his owners in response to their actions. When I asked them if they were aware of their constant attention towards Murphy they seemed puzzled. They suddenly became self-conscious and, sure enough, they could see what they were doing. They focused constantly on Murphy and this had become so habitual they were not even aware of it.

These are some of the most relevant facts gleaned during the consultation:
• Murphy was insecure from a young age and sought reassurance from his owners.
• He was kept exclusively indoors.
• Jane and Trevor provided constant attention.
• There was an uneasy alliance between Murphy and Marco, with the latter often denying Murphy access to his owners.
• Trevor was getting up early in the morning in response to Murphy's actions.
• Murphy tried even harder to seek Trevor's attention when they banned him from the bedroom at night.
• The situation appeared to be getting worse.

Some kittens are born timid and, in the absence of important early socialization, they can remain so when they become adults. Many such cats will shun human attention but occasionally a nervous kitten will seek solace in the arms of a caring owner. Murphy was one such kitten. Trevor in particular had lavished attention on Murphy from the very first day and this had created a relationship born of dependency. As Trevor reassured Murphy in the face of any situation, threatening or otherwise, he taught the cat to rely on him for comfort and safety.

Murphy also learned very quickly that any request for attention was always fulfilled. Cats kept exclusively indoors rarely expend the energy they would if they lived a more natural outdoor lifestyle.
Cats are nocturnal hunters with particular preferences for dawn and dusk so it would be perfectly natural for Murphy to be active at those times. Trevor's provision of food was all very well but Murphy probably just wanted to be entertained and stimulated. Forget the food - let's have a bit of company!

Murphy's world revolved round Trevor and all his obvious charms as the perfect provider. He was a source of food, play, comfort and company and a good all-purpose entertainer at any time of day or night. Whilst this sounds like the perfect relationship (cat loves owner, owner loves cat) it is clear that it is potentially a nightmare. Pet ownership is admittedly all about pleasure but it has to work for both parties. Trevor was not getting pleasure and, ironically, neither was Murphy. He was demanding more and more attention and he had become so focused on his owner that he was finding it hard to function on his own.
Marco was causing problems for him also as he would on occasion prevent Murphy from approaching his owners, just because he could. This had added further stress and created even more tension between the two cats. We had to break the cycle for everyone's sake.

The behaviour programme
I explained this to Trevor and Jane and they agreed that things had to change. I made the following recommendations:
•Trevor and Jane had to start to interact differently with Murphy. They had strict instructions to ignore Murphy when he started his night-time howling. Ignoring would involve no verbal communication and no action that could be interpreted as a response. They had to stay firmly fixed to their bed and not venture forth until the alarm went at a reasonable hour. I explained that it was almost inevitable that Murphy would try harder to get their attention and it was imperative that they did not relent.

• Trevor had to understand that denying Murphy's requests for food or attention was not an act of cruelty. He would still be provided with attention but it would be rationed at times to suit Trevor and Jane.

• When Trevor was working at home it was also important for Murphy to understand that he couldn't have unlimited access to his owner.
Trevor was asked to sit near to his desk to prevent Murphy from jumping onto his lap. He was also asked to ignore him with no eye contact or verbal communication. If Murphy jumped up and became too disruptive he would have to be shut into the bedroom or bathroom (with litter facilities, food and water) for a period of time to allow Trevor to finish his work.

It is important in these cases not to leave the cat in a void. We had to ensure that Murphy had a choice of alternative activities to provide a suitable distraction from Trevor. Murphy and Marco's environment within the flat represented their entire world and it wasn't the most stimulating or dynamic space for cats.

- We set about making it a veritable adventure playground. Shelving was erected to provide both cats with opportunities to rest and observe life from a higher level.

- Trevor was a real DIY enthusiast so we agreed that he would construct some wooden climbing frames that could be placed against the wall to give access to the high shelving. They would also make great scratching posts.

- Trevor also put a rectangular section of carpet on the wall for climbing and scratching.

- Murphy and Marco were eating a dry diet so it was agreed that they would start to forage for their food. Trevor and Jane were asked to hide the daily ration in various locations and allow the cats to find it. When two or more cats are in the household it is important to monitor this new feeding regime because some cats can be more adept at finding the food than others.

- Extra water bowls were placed around the flat and I recommended that Trevor and Jane purchase an indoor water fountain or pet drinking fountain as a source of running water. Murphy used to jump up onto the basin in the bathroom and scream to summon Trevor to turn the tap on. This really had to stop too but I asked Trevor to ensure that Murphy was using the fountain or other sources of water first before he ignored Murphy's requests. It is extremely important that cats drink plenty of water when they are eating a dry diet.

- Both Jane and Trevor would play games with Murphy using fishing-rod toys and ping-pong balls rolled along the wooden floors. These would take place in the evening for a period convenient for Jane and Trevor and not on demand from Murphy. We had to make sure that he didn't take advantage this into another attention-seeking and turn thing.

All the other recommendations for indoor cats were also suggested (see separate thread indoor cats) so that their flat would be as cat-friendly as possible without turning it into a stimulating zoo enclosure.

As I left Jane and Trevor I suggested they call me in a couple of days to report on their progress. The following day I received a telephone call from Trevor. They had decided to ignore him that first night to see what happened and they were amazed at Murphy's resourceful nature. He miaowed loudly outside the bedroom door and they ignored him as requested. He then screamed even more insistently whilst scratching destructively at the softwood door. He continued for some time and, to their credit, Jane and Trevor remained silent with their hands clenched tightly on the duvet to emphasize their resolve. Silence ensued and they thought they were victorious until they heard a thunderous crash from the kitchen. Without thinking, Trevor leapt from the bed and found Murphy gaily pushing items off the work surfaces onto the floor. What a clever cat! I explained to Trevor that this is what I had meant when I had warned him about Murphy's `trying harder'.

I suggested that they put the rest of the programme in place before they started ignoring Murphy and that they removed all breakable or heavy objects from work surfaces, shelves and tables to prevent further displays of this new and effective technique. I also told him it would be a good idea to leave soft toys on the shelves and high surfaces that he was constructing for Murphy and then he could push things off to his heart's content, thus providing the entertainment without the noise.

The outcome
Ten days later and Trevor was busy constructing a huge cat gymnasium for Murphy and Marco. All my suggestions had been implemented and the results had been extremely encouraging. Murphy was a little baffled by some of the additions to the home but this didn't stop him exploring all of them in some detail. He soon got the hang of the food foraging and, when the containers were empty, he would sit for hours just staring at empty egg boxes and toilet roll tubes waiting for the food to come out.
Trevor followed my instructions to the letter and, whilst finding it hard, he managed to ignore Murphy at all the right times. Murphy had yelled his head off for several mornings after my visit but he soon got the message and the flat was silent at last until the alarm went at 7.30 a.m.

During the evenings, when Jane and Trevor were relaxing after a hard day, they spent quality time with Murphy and Marco. The two cats even seemed to be getting on better and both Jane and Trevor felt that the sense of tension and competition between them had become less evident: The extra work involved in-providing stimulation for Murphy outside the relationship with Trevor paid off and he continues to behave well. He's still active at dawn but he uses up his energy by running up the carpeted wall and chasing ping-pong balls instead of bothering his owner.

Peanut - the case of the `home alone' cat.

Peanut was a beautiful young Birman with sapphire blue eyes. When I met him and his owner, Fran, he was approaching his second birthday.  Fran was a busy lady who desperately wanted company after long hours away from home. She had decided to buy two kittens (so that they weren't lonely when she was out) and eventually decided on Peanut and his brother, Cashew. Tragically Cashew died when he was only a few months old of a dreadful illness called Feline Infectious Peritonitis.

Both Fran and Peanut were inconsolable and the next few months were spent in each other's embrace to try to soften the blow of their bereavement. Time is a great healer and they both came to terms with their loss: However, the bond that had formed between the two had become extremely strong and Peanut would cling to Fran every minute she was at home. He would go to the bathroom with her, he would sleep with her, he would be under her feet (or halfway up her leg) when she was cooking, and generally would perform the role of a small furry shadow. Fran loved the relationship and looked forward to coming home every evening to such an affectionate companion.
Peanut was kept exclusively indoors on the recommendation of his breeder. Fran left a box of toys in the living room for his entertainment but she found that he had got into the routine of sleeping during the day until she returned from work.

About eighteen months after Cashew's death, Fran decided it was about time she had a holiday: She felt' that Peanut had recovered sufficiently from his brother's death and would cope with her being away for a week. She arranged her break and asked a neighbour to visit twice a day to feed and entertain Peanut. Fran had a great time but her pleasure was shortlived when she returned to her beloved Peanut. She noticed he seemed rather strange when she got home; a little distant and unsettled. She thought he was probably sulking because she had left him for a week but she certainly wasn't prepared for the surprise gift he had lovingly arranged on her duvet.
Her beautiful Egyptian cotton bedding was festooned with faeces in the most disgusting `dirty protest' that Fran could possibly imagine. How could he? What a dreadful punishment for a week away. Fran could barely look Peanut in the eye as she went straight round to her neighbour to see if she could shed any light on this unpleasantness. Fran's neighbour was distraught; she had not entered Fran's bedroom and just presumed that Peanut was a little constipated given the lack of deposits in the litter tray. Peanut had apparently been very vocal when she came every day to feed him but she wasn't aware he was then disappearing upstairs to perform his dirty deed.

The facts of the case
I listened to this story with great interest whilst watching the interaction between Peanut and his owner. He watched her and touched her and she watched him and touched him ... constantly. This really was an intense relationship. Here are a few more relevant points.
-   Fran and Peanut's relationship had intensified after the death of Cashew.
-   Fran's week away was the first time that Peanut had been left home alone since the relationship had started.
-   Peanut didn't have much stimulation in the home apart from his interaction with Fran.
-   Peanut lived exclusively indoors.
The death of a companion cat is distressing for the whole family and Fran would have gained a great deal of comfort from the idea that both she and Peanut were grieving. In reality she was probably merely creating a dependent relationship as Peanut turned to her for all his entertainment and security.

Indoor cats need a great deal of stimulation to compensate for their lack of the exciting challenge of a natural outdoor life. Peanut wasn't really getting this sort of activity so his entire focus became interaction with Fran or waiting to interact with Fran. When she went away Peanut would have suddenly found himself alone. Deprived of his one source of entertainment and security he would have had a strong sense that the defence of his fortress lay solely in his paws. It would have felt like an enormous responsibility and poor Peanut probably panicked. He may well have passed faeces on Fran's bed in a marking gesture to signal to all invading farces that he was a formidable opponent. Combining his own scent with that of his owner would have reassured him considerably.

The behaviour programme
I explained to Fran that we needed to encourage Peanut to explore life outside their relationship. It wasn't healthy for either of them (or the bedlinen) to continue with this level of dependency.
We discussed the following programme.
- Fran was asked to interact with him differently and avoid all the touching and focusing that seemed to be such a large part of their time together.

- The few toys in the basket were not sufficient incentive for Peanut to entertain himself. They didn't move and they weren't particularly exciting. Fran was encouraged to make new toys including fishing-rod games and home-made catnip mice (see thread on Indoor Cats for more information about exciting toys).

- Peanut was encouraged to forage for his food (this really is a useful technique) and his dry food was placed inside egg boxes and toilet roll tubes to challenge him when he was hungry.

- Peanut used to shout at Fran to turn the tap on when she was in the kitchen so that he could play with the running water, so she bought an indoor water feature for him to use as a drinking bowl.

- Fran attached a section of carpet to her wall next to a shelving unit so that Peanut could run up the wall and sit on the high shelves.

- I also suggested that Fran did a little research to find a suitable local cattery for future holidays. Some cats are better off away from home while the owner is absent, precisely to prevent this type of         panic response.

The outcome
Basically, Fran enriched Peanut's environment and gave him loads of things to do whilst withdrawing gradually from the relationship. Peanut continued to be pleased to see his owner when she came home from work but he soon had plenty of other things to occupy his mind. Fran found a lovely small cattery a few miles from her home and she booked well in advance for her next holiday.

« Last Edit: June 05, 2007, 18:04:37 PM by Tan »


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