The Cat Who Cried for Help
by Nicholas Dodman, DVM
a review by Tehani Mosconi
Fifteen years ago I knew nothing about cats and, when asked, would say that I was a "dog" person. I found cats to be beautiful, graceful creatures, but they seemed mysterious and much more complicated than dogs. Thanks to a very special Himalayan kitten named Lefty I learned to love cats. Lefty also inspired me to discover as much about his species as I could.
Over the years I have read books and articles, viewed videos and taken numerous classes in my quest to understand cats better. I have also acquired a wealth of knowledge from the people who call me on the humane society's Animal Behavior Helpline. I recently read Nicholas Dodman's book, The Cat Who Cried Too Much. If I could only recommend one cat book, this would be it. Dr. Dodman is both a veterinarian and an animal behaviorist. I became a fan of his after reading The Dog Who Loved Too Much a couple of years ago. Dr. Dodman has a keen understanding of animals. He also has a very interesting way of talking about animal behavior, making his books interesting reading for any lover of animals.
Seeing it through a cat's eyes
The bottom line: it's often difficult to figure out why cats act the way they do. Most dogs who urinate or defecate in the house either (a) are not housebroken or (b) are marking territory. When a cat urinates or defecates outside his litterbox it may indicate that the box is not clean enough, he doesn't like the litter, the box has been moved, the box doesn't have enough privacy, the box was cleaned out with Clorox, he is marking his territory because a feral cat sprayed outside, he has a urinary tract infection or crystals in his urinary tract, he is reacting to his owner's new boyfriend -- and the list can go on and on.
Dr. Dodman's book is a wonderful tool for understanding all the basic cat misbehaviors. He does this by describing case studies from Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine, where he is on staff. The names of the cats and their people have been changed to protect their privacy, but their stories are real. And as the stories unfold, they seem more than a little like something out of Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Dodman interviews the humans, examines and observes the cats and then arrives at an interpretation of the behavior and some possible solutions.
Here is one of Dr. Dodman's case studies to whet your appetite for this fascinating book:
Stormy, a Siamese cat, had lived happily for three years with his guardians, Cynthia and John Piper, and their three other Siamese cats, Rusty, MJ and Penny. But when Penny's littermate, Yoshiko, came to live with the Pipers the peaceful coexistence came to an end. Penny took an instant dislike to Yoshiko. On the other hand, Stormy started spending a great deal of time with the new cat and then actually started defending her against Penny. There was a very obvious feline hierarchy at the Pipersí and Stormy was clearly in charge. The fighting between Stormy and Penny escalated until Penny was not free to roam the house without fearing an attack from Stormy.
The Pipers turned to Dr. Dodman, who recommended they do the following to modify the behavior of both cats:
This program worked quite well but there were still occasions when Stormy would flash an evil eye at Penny or approach her in an intimidating manner. At this point Dr. Dodman recommended the use of the anxiety-reducing drug Buspirone which also has some antiaggressive properties. With the introduction of the drug in conjunction with the behavior modification, Stormy became much more tolerant of Penny.
I mentioned this case because it included the use of drugs, and drug intervention for animal behavior problems is becoming increasingly common. However, it should be noted that not all territorial aggression is as time-consuming as this case and not all cases require medication.
The Cat Who Cried For Help is a wonderful resource for anyone who loves cats and wants to understand their behavior. Just remember that, like us, each cat is an individual: you must take their personality and background into consideration when trying to interpret their behavior.
(If you need help trying to figure out your kitty and his behavior, please call the Peninsula Humane Society's Animal Behavior Helpline at 650/340-7022, ext. 306.)