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The cat in a rut

There’s two kinds of bored: passive and active.

People can’t help but notice the active kind. Which often results in mayhem as our cats seek out things to play with.

People also need to notice the passive kind.

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As intelligent creatures, cats can become bored when their environment does not offer enough mental stimulation. Yes, to us, cats spend an absurd amount of time in some form of sleep. But the rest of the time, they need the opposite.

notice passive boredom

There are cats whose environment is not offering enough stimulation, and the cat’s attempts to find some have met with resistance. This can be anything; from us chasing them away from delicate or dangerous objects, to our cat not finding anything interesting enough to watch or play with.

When our cats try to cooperate under such circumstances, they can wind up trying to do too much with what they do have. Behaviors like as overeating, having elaborate litter box rituals, or suddenly not getting along with other beings in the house signal a cat under stress. They can often react by becoming over-fussy about every little thing.

This is certainly the pattern Olwyn has. When schedules are disrupted by someone being sick or upset, Olwyn worries herself into incessant human pestering and then wandering around the place throwing up. Before it reaches this point, we try to distract her with an important task and reassure her that things will go back to normal.

While Tristan views a time-out in the bathroom as a punishment, Olwyn can see it as a refreshing break from her self-imposed duties. Such isolation can break her train of overwhelming thoughts and let her calm down.

While Olwyn is not exhibiting this behavior from boredom, she is definitely acting from frustration; which is the core of the passive boredom problem. Olwyn is seeking the satisfaction of “her” supervision running smoothly. Bored cats are seeking the satisfaction of obeying the survival instincts which are telling them to observe, plan, and act.

The bored cat’s brain is asking for proper input, and their environment is not delivering.

recognize the need

The most likely victim of passive boredom would be the Gamma Cat Type. They are the cat type most likely to need direct intervention from their human, and the least likely to be able to ask for it.

Gammas have an absolute horror of “being a bother.” A quick intake of breath is enough to warn my Gammas away from anything. So we need to check in with them regularly, fussing over them and making sure their special input needs are met.

Of course, all our cats want to behave in ways which please us. Gammas are the most likely to suffer in silence. Until they can’t any more.

I never have to worry about knowing if Tristan is bored. He is an Alpha Cat Type, and he will either find something to play with or tell me he’s looking. Now that he is an adult, he prefers to tell me when he is looking for amusement; or when his buddy, Mithy, needs some.

Mithrandir, a recovering feral, often routes his requests through Tristan, who has more advanced human communication skills. While Mithy is a Beta, he has Gamma-like sensitivity to correction (since kittenhood, a quiet “Now Mithy” is all that is needed) and his communication is under-developed for his age. He also needs special attention when it comes to being properly occupied.

Our cats also differ in how much input they need. Reverend Jim has long been highly creative and self-amusing. As a kitten, he was happy to play Trackball for hours, fall asleep with his paw in the track, and wake up to play some more. He will look out various windows all day, perfectly content.

We have created this situation for him by making sure we have his favorite toys handy, putting Outposts at his favorite windows, and sometimes sharing his pleasure by fussing over him while he does these things. RJ needs no more, while Tristan is always ready for more.

Since we have a Cat Civilization, there’s usually another cat to observe, chase, or wrestle with. This also means any cat who wants something can convince another cat to request human assistance.

Thanks to this smoothly working organization, I rarely don’t know that something is going on. What that something might be could require a conference, but I do have an early warning system in constant operation.

enhance their mental flexibility

Good change is something that intrigues, puzzles, or fascinates them, and we need to supply this to all of our cats. This can easily prevent the passively bored cat.

Often, these are the cats whose people complain that they don’t like to play. But this might be misleading; they could be cats who don’t like to play by themselves. But if we do have a cat who yawns at wand toys and simply watches the sponge ball bounce itself into a resting state, this is not necessarily a problem… for the cat.

As a cat ages, their amusements shift more towards contemplation. We still need to make sure they are interested, and capable, of being engaged, such as seeking out their favorite form of affection, showing enjoyment in their meals, and still checking on whatever duties they might have around the home. A cat who no longer wishes to expend great physical effort might be perked up by opportunities to exert mental effort.

It can be a simple matter of noticing what our cats enjoy, and arranging our routines to supply this regularly. We get a lot of packages delivered instead of going shopping. So our cats are told “we ordered boxes for them” and they get a steady stream of interesting-smelling Fun Cubes.

Cats who freak out about change are often cats who don’t get enough change.

Keeping those mental gears well-oiled with fun challenges keeps all parts of our cats flexible. This will thaw the cautious cat, amuse the lively cat, and intrigue the intellectual cat.

This keeps all of us from being bored.

    Find out more about Toy Rotation.

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    There’s more ways to understand our cat with The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my posts on WHY CATS DO THAT.

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Cats with chronic conditions

The sad thing about having our cats for a long time is that this increases their chances of developing a chronic condition.

Kind of like humans.

Reverend Jim, the magnificent

Our Reverend Jim barely escaped a criminal case of animal neglect. For his first six months with us, his digestive system was not that optimal, and we juggled his dietary needs with his insistence on only eating certain kinds, and flavors, of food. As he bloomed under continuing vet care, got over his eye and ear infections, and started putting on weight, everything settled in. By the time he was a year old, he looked, and acted, great.

Two years ago, the trouble started again. We’ve been managing with dietary changes, tummy-soothing herbs like catnip and chamomile, and the decision to keep any interventions as low key as possible. Now, a plan to start steroid treatment is on the horizon. Considering that he’s nine years old, we’ve done well holding off the “big guns” until now.

Here’s the considerations I have lined up as a guide to chronic care:

annoyance factor

I’m not just taking about the difficulties we face. We must consider the challenges our cat faces, too.

If we need to take our cat to the vet every week, and our cat really hates going to the vet, we do not have a promising scenario for recovery. If the term of treatment is short, and the results highly likely to succeed, we can power through this tough time, and then work on our cat’s mental recovery. By the end of both interventions, we should have a well cat.

But such is not always the case.

That’s the added issue with chronic care. We’ve dodged a lot of the mental mayhem for RJ by having our vet come to the house. RJ isn’t happy about being examined, but that’s a fraction of how unhappy the journey in a carrier to a strange place makes him.

This has factored into our diagnosis procedures, too. We haven’t left him there for the invasive procedures that might nail down what’s wrong; because very often, with these intestinal issues, they can’t figure it out. We’ve eliminated parasites, blockage, and any underlying disease like a virus or an infection. When we adopted him there was a full workup, and he’s been an indoor cat since then, hanging with healthy cats.

There was a period where his skin was getting dry and his fur was matting easily; we changed his food yet again, and that cleared up. The doctor says he’s in good shape for a cat who has trouble digesting protein.

In the times he flares up, it’s a cleaning ordeal for us (though he’s very good about using the litter box at such times) and a physical ordeal for him. His distress upsets the other cats, too. But as long as it resolves in a day or two, and RJ’s back to his happy self, we’re all okay with it.

As my friend says, who is dealing with a similar mystery issue with her dog, “It’s about quality of life.”

think like a cat

I’ve decided it is a pitfall to think of these issues with a human template. After all, Mr WayofCats has a chronic condition. But he has far more of an ability to think ahead, past the current difficulties. Several years ago, we embarked on a challenging therapy for him, which did lead to an improvement in his quality of life.

But it was often a miserable time, and suspenseful, too, since the treatment did not have a guaranteed outcome. This was the advantage of Mr WayofCats being part of the decision process; he decided it was worth trying.

Treatment is not something our cat can decide.

As discussed in my post, Dear Pammy, But my cat still has good times!, we must not let our own enjoyment of the cat’s presence let us lose sight of what our cat’s life now contains. With chronic conditions, we could encounter a situation where the painful parts can start to loom much larger than the happy ones. If our cat starts to see a pattern in their illness, and begins to be fearful about their recurrence, then we have an unhappy cat for more of the time than just the episodes themselves.

When we humans are sick, we get through it by thinking ahead to times we will not be sick, or how our distress can be treated. Cats live far more in the moment; they don’t have this safety valve in their minds.

If we are close to our cat, we can let our own distress shield us from what our cat is feeling. But at the same time, we know a lot about how they feel, day to day. When RJ takes long long naps, doesn’t join the other cats for group activities, looks distressed, and acts frantic; we know things are not going well for him.

We can’t let him deal with this all by himself.

big picture

I was hoping RJ would make it all the way back from his ordeal. And he mostly has. But I suspect (though our vet is dismissive) that going eyeball to eyeball with Death left a mark.

His ordeal could have damaged some organs that aging has made into more and more of a marginal situation. Which is why we are planning to ramp up our efforts to cope with it. Long-term steroids can do wonders, but create further issues. But then, all of life is a balancing act. Whatever happens, RJ has gotten much more out of life than that pathetic little kitten had any reason to expect.

Yes, rescue is a gamble, but no more of one than any other relationship decision. We can get a kitten so we can give good care from the beginning, but we don’t know their genetics and how it will all play out. We can be shy about adopting a senior, not realizing they had to have some good care in the past to make it to the age they are at. We can decide to get a purebred to dodge these issues, only to deal with genetic factors in the gene pool, or breeders who are not as caring and careful as they should be.

If I had not come by that day, Reverend Jim was doomed. He wasn’t responding to his medical interventions because he needed the focused care and love of being adopted. The shelter manager there doesn’t want them to “spend their lives in a cage” and brings the older kittens to a managed barn cat situation; but RJ wouldn’t have lived long there, because he couldn’t have gotten care for his issues in such a situation. No one would have seen them.

Love is a gamble that we all win.

I have come to believe that the length of the outcome does not matter. If we look at Reverend Jim through such lenses, we realize that whatever comes next, he already got his happy ending. He’s already contributed to the lives of his humans, his Cat Civilization, and –via this blog– the entire rest of the world.

He’s loved and been loved.

In the cosmic scheme of things, the rest is commentary.

    Remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

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Program Allows Shelter Cat To Visit With Critically Ill Hospital Patients

A very special intensive care nurse at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco is spreading joy, hope and healing – all without even standing up!

Duke Ellington Morris the Cat is a robust black and white rescue from the San Francisco SPCA. The laid-back kitty happily cruises the hospital halls soothing patients and stressed-out staff alike.

Image Credit: Facebook/UCSF Medical Center


Duke is part of a unique partnership between the SPCA and the hospital known as the animal-assisted therapy program in which shelter pets visit with critical patients. The goal is to help reduce blood pressure, pain, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Concerned about the safety of a cat in the ICU? UCSF Adult Critical Care Director, Dr. Matt Aldrich says there’s no need to worry. All of the pets who participate in the animal-assisted therapy program are thoroughly vetted and vaccinated. A response on the UCSF Facebook page explains,

Our staff screens for patient allergies before the cat visits, as well as taking precautions with hand and room hygiene etc. In addition, the SPCA’s animal-assisted therapy program has specific grooming guidelines.

What do you think about hospital kitties like Duke Ellington? Do you think this big fella could help you feel better during your recovery?

Featured Image via Facebook/UCSF Medical Center

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Cat Affection Move: Invisible Petting

When I am dealing with a shy cat, I don’t actually pet them. I pretend to pet them.

In my experience, any cat can figure out this move, and then understand what we are saying. They “feel” the petting without the stress of my actually approaching, or touching, them.

Invisible sinister church organ solo

Invisible Petting is a powerful, and easy, move we can do most times and places. As we and our cat become comfortable with the concept, it gets better and better. I use this all the time with my own cats, from recovering-feral Mithy to practically-a-stuffed-animal Tristan.

shy cat connections

If we have a shy cat, we should use moves like Cat Kisses and Their Song to reach them without touching them. Or even thinking of touching them. At this early stage, we don’t want to do any affection moves that will create anxiety for them.

Invisible Petting happens when we have established our good intentions with these non-touching moves. They aren’t ready for actual touching yet, but they are now better able to handle pretend touching. This harnesses the incredible power of the cat’s imagination.

Cats are all about the body language. This is how they speak to each other. So when we use body language with our cats, we are literally “speaking their language.” That is how Invisible Petting works so well. Our cats understand that we are longing to pet them, yet we are sensitive enough to their feelings that we aren’t going to pet them.

It is catspeak for “I love you but I also understand and respect your feelings.”

we become mimes

The first step is to get their attention; from gently saying their name, making eye contact, or getting the slow-blink of a Cat Kiss from across the room. With the cat’s ability to see motion, we can do this from pretty far away.

I also signal my cats what I am about to do by making a circle with thumb and forefinger and looking through it, like I am sighting through a telescope. This is a great Sign Language signal to help them understand our next moves. Feel free to create our own signal to be the beginning of the Invisible Petting ritual.

Now we pretend we are scritching them with our fingertips. Or we cup our hand and rub their head. Or we swoop down their imaginary spine or gently rub their belly. We can even do an elaborate presentation of scooping them up and hugging them to our chest, swinging our head down to rub their head.

At first, our cats might look puzzled, or even startled. That’s okay. Do a few different petting moves, to help the idea come across. If we have another cat handy, use the same moves to actually pet them. This will help the concept get across to our shy cat.

I’ve found it’s helpful to actually treat the “tiny cat” we saw through our finger telescope as the imaginary cat we are petting. I use a single finger to pet their head, going around the ears and under the chin, the way they like. Or I pet the tiny cat along the spine, all the way to the tail, where I get even more gentle. Or I pretend I am sneaking a finger under their body to “tickle” their belly.

It’s fine to do a few invisible pets and finish with an extra slow blink or the bit of their song with their name in it, then go back to what we were doing. If we have another cat to pet, use our finger to pet them the same way, only for real. It’s also fine to let them puzzle over our behavior.

Any time they spend thinking about us is time that moves our relationship forward.

concept of our love

We can do this as often as we wish, at times we want to pet our shy cat, but cannot. We are creating an imaginary world where we are petting our scaredy-cat without stress. This is the first step to making it happen in reality.

As we continue to Imaginary Pet our cat, they continue to develop the mental picture of us showing them affection. This virtual representation is not nearly as frightening to them as the actual petting. This lets them relax and enjoy the imaginary petting. As they signal their enjoyment of our gestures, we can get closer to them all the time. By backing off the distance when they show anxiety, and advancing a little when they respond, we get closer and closer to actually touching them, and petting for real.

Don’t rush it.

The number one problem with any fearful cat situation, from introducing a new cat friend to moving house to getting them to enjoy our touch, is the human getting impatient while the cat still needs to make mental adjustments. Remember that we humans are coming at the situation with a lot more information about our intentions than our scaredy-cat has.

Scaredy cats have had their survival instincts activated. Maybe for a long time. They will need to silence all their alarms about human contact before they can enjoy human contact.

But they want to. We can help.

And in the meantime, we get to pet them! Best of both worlds… until those worlds can come together.

    We also calm a shy cat by petting with our voice.

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The cat’s incredible variety

One of the first things to astonish me about cats was the incredible range of their personalities.

Each new cat I acquired was different. It took a while for me to come up with my Cat Type concept, because each cat was a fresh discovery.

Here is a tall cat vs a pile of cat.

This has led to me being a fervent advocate of choosing the cat we get. Human to human compatibility is based on both shared traits and intriguing differences. This same alchemy is at work in the human/cat bond.

asserting preferences

This process starts with we, the human, figuring out what we would like.

This is an overlooked first step, in my experience. People want a pet, find barriers to a dog, then get a cat. Probably from a background where they always liked having pets, but didn’t get involved in the full responsibility. With the best intentions in the world, they can wind up with a mis-match; because they didn’t know about about the different kinds of cats, and they didn’t think about what they wanted.

We can start by figuring out what Cat Type we are.

Sir Tristan is a large slice of ham, a boisterous personality who wears his heart on his sleeve and likes intense play sessions. He’s an Alpha, and so am I.

Olwyn is a cat who likes social interaction, even though it often takes the form of her giving orders. (That’s the Tortie in her.) A born Supervisor who adores figuring out the best way to do things, she has a lot in common with her favorite person, Mr WayofCats. They are both Betas.

While neither of us is particularly Gamma, we both loved our little Smokepuff. Because his charming little ways were also what we wanted from our cat experience.

This is just a light-hearted approach to understanding Cat Types, but might help us figure things out. We can also use my quiz, What Cat Personality Will Be a Good Match?

Knowing if we would love a play machine, or wish to have a gentle cat who needs a minimum of supervision, lets us make our wishes clear to shelter personnel. This is where knowing how affectionate and interactive, playful and inquisitive, a cat can be will help us find the right cat.

If we think cats aren’t friendly, we can emphasize that we want a friendly cat; and then get a cat who needs more social interaction than we can provide. If we emphasize playing with the cat, thinking they tend to be lazy, we can be taken aback by how that very playful Alpha kitten will not slow down — for years.

An excellent example is described in a previous post, Dear Pammy, I’m right because shut up that’s why, where a commenter claims to have gotten the “rare affectionate cat.”

Whereas I have had lots of cats, and in my experience it is rare to find one who is not affectionate.

picking up clues

The next step is figuring out how to tell which cat will bring us the qualities we have decided to look for. The older the cat, the easier it is to tell what they are like. We can simply observe them in action, and ask the shelter people about their likes and dislikes.

Kittens are trickier. Under six weeks, they tend to be clumsy little balls of fluff who are more reflexive than anything. Even in the same litter, cats can be all over the map regarding the genes they inherited, as I discuss in Gracie’s babies, which has tips for picking young kittens.

If our cat is at least few months in age, they will already be showing breed and personality clues which will help us understand how this kitten will probably develop.

If our prospective choice has already reached adolescence, they will be showing a lot of body development that lets us know where they lie on the Cat Type Spectrum. Cat body types range from long and lean (more Alpha) to stocky and muscular (more Gamma.)

These are clues: they are not the final word. See how the kittens play together and how they play with toys. Even more important, see how they react to us, and how we feel about them. The most important thing is that we feel the connection with our new friend.

It’s also important to know if we have deal breakers and what they are. If we have a household which already contains big dogs and little children, we probably should get an adult or older cat, at least to start. A recent post, The awesomeness of senior cats, was about a senior cat who took a family like this into his heart, with great success.

The possible choices are so much wider than many people realize.

going for quantity

Another element where I find people don’t give much thought, and should, is how many cats we will want.

Because: What if we like it?

It’s not just us wanting more cat enjoyment, though that is a great reason. There’s also the Ease of Use that comes with more than one, what I call the Multiple Cat Advantage. If our present cat is not playful or lovebuggy enough, we can get a cat for that purpose, and also enjoy their other fine qualities, and still enjoy our original cat, and their fine qualities. When our cat slows down, we can get two kittens. Getting cats in twos, what I call Cat Social Units, will avoid all kinds of problems.

If we go in planning for a Cat Civilization, which is three or more cats, we can make our original choice in ways which make things easy; or difficult. After the first one, every new cat choice we make will need to take our present cats into consideration.

In our current situation (small apartment, Mr WayofCats chronic illness, current Civilization) I tend to look for a laid back Beta under six months old. I don’t have the room for Proper Introductions, so I need a cat young enough to avoid territory issues and social enough to send the right signals. Three times in a row, my choice has blended smoothly into our existing Cat Civilization with a minimum of friction.

But if I had a separate room to make the transition gradually, I could choose almost any cat, as long as they were willing to be social. Because my present cats are all willing to be social. One of my discoveries, running a home rescue situation, was how well most cats got along in groups. The more cats, the more likely the new one will find a friend in the group.

Whatever we decide, and however far we go, choosing a cat is a responsibility which can last for the next two decades.

A decision that deserves some pondering.

    Find out more with a visit to my page on How to Choose the Right Cat.