On Cat Behaviorists

April 26, 2011

The Happy Litter BoxI hear time and time again from readers that they’ve “tried everything!” to solve their litter box issues. Well, if you haven’t yet consulted with a certified cat behaviorist, then you haven’t yet tried everything.

I’ve spent the last few days talking with several of these experts and I’ve quickly become an advocate of this type of service.

Why? Because every cat and every situation is different. Sometimes your solution will be simple, like moving a litter box to another location or removing the lid from a covered box. Other times, there may be factors you wouldn’t even dream would affect your cat’s litter box activities.

One of the experts I spoke with is Marilyn Krieger, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and founder of The Cat Coach, LLC®

Marilyn, who is also the author of Cat Fancy’s Naughty No More! explained to me just how a certified cat behaviorist can help normal people like you and me and our litter box-challenged kitties.

A cat behaviorist will work with you to understand your cat(s), your circumstances and the nuances of your household so they can pinpoint the exact reason your cat is marking, spraying or otherwise peeing or pooping where he shouldn’t. Armed with this information, your cat behaviorist will then come up with a plan that will work for your unique situation.

Marilyn and the other experts I spoke with agreed that their rate of success is very high, as long as the cat parent follows this plan. If you get lazy, cut corners or take a day off from the new system, you’ll never solve the problem.

But if you’re committed – and I think if you’re here you must be – then you may well be on your way to a happy litter box.

And, several experts told me that, while definitely challenging, litter box issues are not necessarily the most difficult cat behavior problem they deal with. That is encouraging!

What’s different about talking with your vet and hiring a consultant? Your consultant will be able to spend time really diagnosing the reason for the behavior. And, as countless cat experts agree, there is always a reason. Figure it out and you – and your cat – will be well on your way to freedom from frustration.

But, as Marilyn points out, you should enlist your vet and a behaviorist as your “team of experts” or, as I like to think of it, “Team Pee Pee!” Medical issues should always, always be ruled out before any other measures are taken. If it’s a medical problem, no behaviorist in the world will be able to help.

Your consultation may be by phone or in person or a combination of both. In person is the preferred option because the specialist can meet your cat(s) and you and see how your household is set up. One consultant told me he’s even done Skype sessions with his clients when the session is remote!

Marilyn talked with me about the importance of certification. She recommends looking for behaviorists who are certified by the Animal Behavior Society, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. The IAABC even has a way to search for certified consultants in your area.

There are lots of folks out there who consider themselves behaviorists but are not certified. It’s best to go with someone who has the credentials to back up their advice and insights.

So the burning question is: what do consultations cost? You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 – $400 to get your problem diagnosed and solved by an expert.

Does that seem like a lot? Well, consider the cost of replacing items that are ruined. Consider the cost of trying every cleaning product under the sun. Consider the emotional cost of giving up your cat. I think it’s well worth the money, personally.

Of course for some, it’s just not feasible. But if you can swing it, or save for it, I urge you to do so.

Readers, have you had experience with a behaviorist? Tell us about it below!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Debby April 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Yes, our vet recommended a veterinary behaviorist and we went for a couple of sessions. My impression was that since we had already gone beyond taking lids off the boxes, removing liners, etc, there was not much more she could do to help us. I think it is a territory issue in our home between two of our three cats, and as she was not able to drive to our home to see our rooms (though I did draw out extremely detailed floor plans for her!), she was limited in her ability to intervene.

We started by experimenting with different types of litter (mine use wheat litter, as the one cat who has the problem was declawed before we adopted her, and that litter is soft on her paws). All the cats were happy with what they had. Next we sent photos of the locations and sizes of the boxes, which seemed to be fine. We kept a diary of where, when, and under what circumstances the accidents occurred, but there was not an obvious pattern. Finally, we brought in two of our three cats together, the two girls who were not getting along, so the vet could observe them. (Our boy cat is mellow and they don’t have a problem with him). She suggested a bell for the younger girl, so that she could not stalk and surprise our older girl. We had pretty good success with this.

Because our older cat was declawed, and the other two cats are not, I believe she feels very defenseless living with them, and tries to assert her “alpha-ness” by marking the carpet. Prozac has helped her to calm down, to some degree, but she probably would have been happier in an only-cat household, or one with another declawed cat. She has been checked extensively for physical problems, but all her tests were negative. And so, we’ve moved rugs, don’t leave towels on the floor, and have managed to find a balance for her where messes are now infrequent. She knows she has a home for life with us, and we just keep the enzyme cleaner handy for when she’s especially stressed.

I think a behaviorist is a great idea for anyone whose cat has issues, even if it wasn’t the magic wand for our household. You learn a lot about how cats interact and what makes them most comfortable, and that can only help.

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Layla Morgan Wilde (Cat Wisdom 101.com) January 6, 2012 at 4:54 pm

With shows like Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell, we’re going to see more cat whisperers, experts, behaviorists, consultants whatever you want to call them. As always it’s: consumer beware but just because a cat behaviorist is certified doesn’t mean they can help you. I founded a cat rescue organization in 1997, implemented innovative methods of foster care and adoption compatibility, but it was though my work as a life coach, that dovetailed my expertise of working with cats. I’m not certified but neither is Jackson Galaxy.

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