Housecat Housecall presented by Purina Cat Chow is one of my favorite shows, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Dr Katrina Warren, the star of the show. Dr Warren is a veterinarian who is an expert in cat behavior.
If you’re not familiar with Housecat Housecall’s premise, it’s simple: Cat owners whose cats have behavior problems go on the show, and Dr Warren trains them — and their cat(s) — in how to resolve the issues. The key is often understanding the “why” behind bad behavior. Once you understand what your cat is thinking, it’s much easier to do what’s necessary to modify the behavior.
On this week’s show, Dr Warren visits Dancing with the Stars’ Judge Carrie Ann Inaba, so in Part 1 of this 2-part interview, we chatted for a bit about Carrie Ann’s cats, then about cat behavior in general:
Karen: Carrie Ann Inaba has five cats. Why did you make a Housecat Housecall to her home?
Dr Katrina Warren: You know, Carrie Ann was amazing because she managed to juggle five cats so well. She had her three cats who were slightly older, and her boyfriend has moved into her house with two cats. And whilst everyone has been getting along pretty well, but she wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help maintain harmony in the house, but also, there were a couple of things with these cats. The younger, energetic ones were keeping them awake at night and that was probably her main problem, was what we could do to help them be able to sleep through the night instead of having these cats bounding around the house.
But I have to say, Carrie Ann has done a remarkable job making her home as cat-friendly as possible, especially with five cats. I have to say, I was really impressed.
Karen: Great! We look forward to seeing that!
Dr Katrina Warren: The episode will be on this Saturday, and she was absolutely a delight to work with from beginning to end. And I hear you are Skeezix the Cat’s mom!
Karen: Yes, I am! We have four cats, and there’s one major personality conflict that we’ve been dealing with for about four years. We have an older, cranky Siamese who just detests a younger feral that we adopted. So merging households, and adding cats to a household are certainly issues that I’ve struggled with.
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, people often do it out of the kindness of their hearts because they love their animals so much, but cats don’t generally love to share their space with other cats in close proximity. You’re probably doing all the right things — do they have their own resources, their own litter boxes, their own feeding and their own climbing areas?
Karen: Yes, they do. And it’s really more of an intermittent problem. A lot of the time they’re fine. But if I’m sitting, say, on the bed, and the Siamese is with me, and the formerly feral cat jumps on the bed, the Siamese will have a fit. But if I then put him down on the floor, and have him jump back up on the bed, he’s fine.
Dr Katrina Warren: Yes, it’s the territorial issue of the bed at that time. And it seems like you obviously know how to manage the situation, just continue to manage it and understand that they may never be close buddies. And another thing that often helps are the calming pheremone sprays like Feliway. Have you tried that?
Karen: Yes, I have. I’ve tried both the diffuser and the collar, but didn’t notice a pronounced effect on his behavior.
Dr Katrina Warren: OK, that’s cool. It does work well in a lot of situations. The diffuser is the one I recommend, and you should put one or two in the one or two main rooms that the cat hangs out in.
Karen: What’s the optimal number of cats for a household?
Dr Katrina Warren: It’s really a personal decision. It’s interesting that in the States, more than 50% of the households that have a cat have two cats, and I think two cats is fantastic. I think once you start going beyond that and having three or four cats, you increase your chances of having problems. But it can be done…. if you have adequate space, and the cats have their own climbing areas, and they can kind of define their own territories, but it is a much easier situation when you only have a couple of cats.
I have one cat, and I find that works for me. It works for me because I’m not worried all the time about cats getting along and he is very well socialized to people. It’s really an individual decision.
Karen: We know that, especially now, so many cats are being surrendered to shelters because of behavioral issues, but of course, not everyone can be on Housecat Housecall. What advice do you have for owners who might be at the end of their ropes, or their spouses are saying, “Get that cat out of here!” and they have an urgent need to change the cat’s behavior?
Dr Katrina Warren: Well, I would actually recommend that they talk to one of our Purina Cat Chow mentors who they can access online. You can go there and ask questions and sometimes it might be just the simplest thing that you can do to resolve the problem. For example, maybe the husband is angry because the cat is scratching the furniture. Often, you just need to direct the cat’s energy onto something she’s allowed to scratch, like a cat scratcher. Some of the problems are more difficult, but certainly, it’s worth trying to resolve the problem before you surrender your cat — especially because so many behavior problems can easily be corrected if you know what to do.
Karen: Of the most common behavioral problems, which is the easiest to correct?
Dr Katrina Warren: It’s very dependent upon the individual situation, but I’ve find that in a lot of cases you can redirect the scratching behavior successfully. And the key to it is understanding that all cats have the need to scratch; your cat is not targeting your best couch in an attempt to make you angry or anything like that, it’s just innate behavior. So that one I would probably say is one of the most solvable. Also, litter box issues are often solvable. Sometimes they’re very difficult, sometimes it results from the cat being deeply stressed, but sometimes it’s as simple as changing the litter. The owner may have changed brands of litter a couple of weeks ago and the cat stops using the litterbox, and they don’t realize it’s because of the litter. Or the cat might not like the location of the litterbox, and resolving the problem might be as simple as moving the litterbox to a different location.
Karen: On the flip side of the coin, what do you find is the most difficult cat behavior problem to correct?
Dr Katrina Warren: That could also be litterbox issues. It could be due to something very very simple, but it could also be due to something that is stressing the cat and the cat is trying to tell you something and it can be quite difficult to solve. So it is absolutely worth getting advice from your veterinarian to see if you can rule out an issue, because often there could be an underlying medical reason that people don’t think about for some of these issues. So if your cat stops using the litterbox, speak to your veterinarian and get a medical examination because that may solve your problem.
And then the other thing that can be difficult to resolve is when cats really really don’t get along and it’s been going on for a long period of time. That’s a situation in which it might take you a long time to get harmony back in the house.
Karen: Yes, I’ve been dealing with that for a long time. I can manage the situations, but I still haven’t been able to get the Siamese to like the other cat. Will they ever get along?
Dr Katrina Warren: Not necessarily. They should be able to (if you have the space) come to a point at which they tolerate each other. It’s important not to force them together, and it’s important to let them to have their space. But no, they may not ever particularly get along. And that’s important for the cat owner to understand.
Karen: Just like people!
Dr Katrina Warren: Totally! And what you need to do is give them the tools to manage their situation but don’t expect that they’re going to curl up on the bed and sleep with each other.
TOMORROW: Part 2 of the interview with Dr Warren. We cover cats and grief, the downside to being a veterinarian, and lots more!
MONDAY: We’re giving away Housecat Housecall Season 2 DVDs with Purina Cat Chow swag!
Watch Dr Warren work with Carrie Ann Inaba on Housecat Housecall presented by Purina Cat Chow on Saturday morning, June 18th at 10:30am, and Sunday morning, June 19th at 8 am on Animal Planet.
Don’t get Animal Planet? Click here to watch the cats’ stories online.