Cats are an important family member for many people but, as with dogs, there are lots of myths and fallacies out there regarding their behaviour and care. We have invited leading Cat Behaviourist Sally Chamberlain to answer a few questions on her work with cats and some things all owners should be aware of!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your role working with Cats
I primarily work with cats by offering force-free behaviour consultations in my local area around Swadlincote, Derbyshire and also remotely for cases that are not too complex. In my work with cats, I combine scientific knowledge with a holistic approach, taking into account every aspect of the cat’s life and also the humans and other animals with whom they live.
I have a robust force-free ethos, which means that I only ever use kind and compassionate methods and never any pain, fear, force, discomfort or intimidation. I used positive reinforcement, work with the natural inclinations of each cat and make adaptations to their living environment amongst other things to encourage the desired changes.
In addition to my behavioural work, I have a few loyal cat sitting clients and I also offer Reiki for animals and animal communication, which are more spiritual and intuitive in nature.
2. How did you first get interested in the behaviour of cats?
I was brought up with cats and have always felt a strong connection with them. I started learning about feline behaviour at the age of 10 years when I bought my first cat behaviour book which also featured feline anatomy and physiology. I found it all rather fascinating but at that time, I had not considered a career relating to cats. It wasn’t until I started my pet sitting business in 2011 that I realised there was such a thing as a Cat Behaviourist. I mainly started out watching television shows featuring cat behaviourists in America and wondered how I could learn about cat behaviour in the UK. That’s when I came across courses from Compass Education and Training and started their Diploma in Feline Behaviour and Psychology in 2012.
3. What aspect of Cat behaviour interests you the most?
I am always intrigued by every cat I meet. It’s the uniqueness of each feline personality that interests me the most. Science can only go so far into understanding the enigma of the domestic cat and I can fully appreciate why they were worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians. Cats have never lost that wild core essence of what it means to be a cat. Thousands of years ago, wild cats chose to live within human communities and even to this day, they are often very choosy about with whom they associate and when a cat who isn’t always too keen on human company chooses to be friends with me, I consider it to be a great honour and emotional moment. I love the way that they can form strong bonds with us but will always retain that feline nature that we should nurture and respect. There is nothing quite like a cat.
4. What are the main myths/fallacies that need debunking?
The main myth that needs debunking is that cats do things out of spite or jealousy, such as urinating on human clothing, furniture or pooping on the lounge rug. Cats suffer because so many people do not take the time to learn how to understand them and provide them with everything they need. As a result, they are often punished or abandoned when behaviour problems arise due to humans not realising that the actual cause of the unwanted behaviour was likely to have been a medical problem or stress.
Another feline myth that should be debunked is that cats are anti-social and don’t need company. People who believe this often go on holiday and leave their cats with a huge bowl of dry food but don’t bother to hire a pet sitter or trusted friend or family member to visit the cat at least once a day. Cats DO need company and are capable of enjoying human company and also often form close relationships with cats and other animals, especially dogs. Cats can get lonely, even if they don’t always show it. This often becomes noticeable through their behaviour if they are destructive, start soiling around the home or over-grooming themselves.
One more myth I should mention is the all too common belief that cats cannot be trained. They are highly intelligent animals and with the right motivation and consistency, cats can be trained just as easily as dogs to do a multitude of actions and tasks. They respond well to clicker training or simply using reward-based training and cue words or actions. This is a wonderful form of enrichment for a cat and also strengthens the bond between them and their human carer.
5. What are the main emotional and physical needs of domestic cats?
Cats do feel emotions and when they feel anxious, stressed or afraid, this is often expressed through what humans often consider to be ‘behaviour problems’. They need to feel safe and secure within their territory and don’t always respond well to changes in their routine or home environment.
In a cat’s relationship with its human family members, trust is the biggest issue. They need to know that they will be treated well and be listened to when they express how they are feeling. Cats need a variety of essential resources including healthy food, fresh water, scratching posts, litter trays and toys for independent play.
In terms of a cat’s physical needs, they should ideally be neutered so that they don’t feel the need to roam and accidental pregnancies are prevented. They should also be regularly vaccinated against common feline diseases, treated for pests and parasites and given regular check-ups for their general health, including their teeth.
They should also receive regular enrichment and exercise to stimulate their body and mind and also satisfy their natural feline instincts. Cats thrive the most when they have access to a safe and natural outdoor environment as well as enrichment indoors.
6. Five simple things/considerations every cat owner can do to improve their cats lives.
- Learn about their body language and how to respect their boundaries;
- Provide them with appropriate kinds of play to satisfy their hunting instincts and reduce stress;
- Give them all the resources they need within their home environment;
- Ensure that they have the right level of enrichment for a happy life;
- Never punish a cat or use aversives to attempt to change a cat’s behaviour – learn about the force-free way or hire a force-free feline professional to help.
7. How does Pet Remedy play a role in working with clients.
Some clients have diffusers plugged in around their home in multi-cat households to help keep the peace, which is a great use for the product. One lady also used the calming wipes, which seemed to have a great effect.
Sally is an ICAN Certified Animal Behaviourist. She is also a Reiki Master Teacher and Animal Communicator. Sally has written three books, two about cat and dog behaviour and a third about intuition and the more spiritual side of her work. Sally’s website : https://karmapaws.co.uk/