Feline-Specific Outlets for Natural Behavior are Essential

Question:
We have a 3 year old female cat, “Tuxie”. Our other cat “Merlin” was adopted by a fellow who later hanged himself. Merlin wants to play more than Tuxie. Sometimes the play gets a little rough. Then she’ll run under a bed. Sometimes ears are back on both cats, she’ll hiss at him, and they’ll slap each other. We wonder if he’s got a mean streak. We’ve said No! in a firm voice, or banged a pot and lid together, or used a squirt bottle to make him back off. Other times they sleep near each other. Are we being helicopter parents?

Dr. Nichol:
Stories of suicide, a mean streak, domestic violence, and helicopters belong on the front page-above the fold-don’t they? Hissing and pinned back ears are signs of serious conflict but Merlin and Tuxie actually like each other. OMG, they’re codependent too! As the hovering cat police you never will see a reduction in the feline crime rate. It’s time to address the cause of the dysfunction.

Occasional play and rare conflict are normal but Tuxie and Merlin engage each other way too much because they’re stuck in a barren environment. The assertive, high-status Merlin gets in Tuxie’s meek and mild face because she is all he has for play and prey. He is a beast and she is his toy. Merlin, that animal, needs healthy after school activities; Tuxie needs a sewing circle.

We love our cats like little children in furry suits but as members of a much different species they have some very particular needs. To stay occupied Merlin can forage for his sustenance.by extracting his daily nutrition from food toys and puzzles instead of eating fast food from a bowl and then hanging out on the corner and victimizing some sweet young thing.  .

Both of your cats need lots of vertical real estate (floor-to-ceiling cat trees), a plethora of snug little hide boxes in different rooms and at various heights, and hunt-and-pounce activities involving unpredictable movements. Tie string with feathers to your ankle in the evening. The erratic flopping as you walk will delight the inner savage in each cat. Find the full list of Feline Environmental Enrichments on my website, drjeffnichol.com.