LETTERS TO LUCINDA #17: Cat Behavior Solutions

Hello, two-legged cat advocates, from Lucinda the literate cat. My CCL (Cantankerous Cat Lady) has asked me to write a new column for you. In digging through our mailbag, I came up with a new topic. This column will be about the importance of play.

Now, let’s see what our readers have to say. The first letter comes from a Mrs. Scott, and she has this question:

Mrs. Scott: Lucinda, I need to find a solution. I have to go to work every day, and while I am gone, my cat, Benji, gets into all sorts of trouble. Lately, he’s been getting on the top shelf of my bookshelf, where I keep all my knickknacks. He pushes things off onto the floor. I’ve put things away, but he’s already broken a couple of treasures.

I know it does no good to punish a cat, because the cat doesn’t understand what he is doing wrong. So, how do I teach him he can’t knock everything onto the floor?

Lucinda: First of all, my compliments to you for recognizing that it will do no good to punish your cat. In his eyes, he’s done nothing wrong, and all you will do with punishment is to confuse him. He trusts you, and when you punish him for something you feel is wrong, you will erode that trust a bit. It’s too bad you can’t talk to him about it.

Before cats were “tamed,” things played out much differently. First of all, in our wild days, our active times were dawn and dusk. Because we were both predator and prey, we had to hunt when the darkness protected us from watchful eyes. Now, we live with two-leggeds, and our instincts can’t give us reliable information any more. We have to readjust to fit your two-legged lifestyle.

spotted Asian wildcat
Asian Wildcat

However, we still have our instinctual needs. We must hunt; we must have good hiding places; we need a high lookout point; we must be able to keep our claws sharp and ready.

You must consider these needs and be creative in finding a way you can help us meet them, since we must now live in your house.

Use your imagination — your cat does! He has been doing so since kittenhood, When he stalked and tumbled with his siblings, he was learning the techniques of hunting.

Why do you think your high shelf of small articles is so appealing to him?

If you want to know the reason why he is knocking things off the shelf, it’s because he’s bored! He needs pastimes to stimulate his mind, and you must supply them for him. To him, knocking things off the shelf allows his imagination to turn a game into a way to fill his needs. Let me see if I can give you an idea of what is going on in his head when he plays this game.

Mom has gone to work — ho, hum — what shall I do to pass the time until she returns? After all, I just ate breakfast, and feel like being awake for a while. I think I’ll check out that top shelf. (Jumps to shelf-top.)

Here I am, hunting in the bushes. Oh, look, there’s a little critter under there. Sssh — I hear it rustling through the grass. I’ll quietly sneak up on it…with a little shove with my paw, I’ve knocked it to the floor and watch with great interest as it falls.

Good, I’ve killed it! Now I can gather it up later.

Let’s do that again — it’s such fun!

Oh, here’s something bigger — it’s that big cat that keeps invading my territory. Well, I will take care of him!

(Bump — crash –the glass vase falls down and breaks into a million pieces.)

Oh, what fun! That big cat won’t ever invade my territory again. Watching him break into many tiny pieces made me feel great satisfaction.

(Cat jumps down.)

Well, after that successful hunt and adventure, I think I’ll take a nap.

As you can see, the cat imagines a successful hunt or a battle scene in his head, and he feels great satisfaction in this imaginary adventure. The cat has no other avenues to relieve his boredom, so he uses his imagination on objects at hand to supply an alternative.

2 cats in a cardboard box, bored

Furnish toys that he can interact with. Replace the top shelf fascination with the use of a tall cat tree with toys attached, places to hide, and to sharpen his claws. Give him a box of toys that he can interact with, and change them now and then, so he doesn’t get tired of them.

Furnish a cat tunnel for him to play in, or cardboard boxes he can make his own. Put a high perch in a window where he can watch birds.

Until you can gather all those things, you might put some objects on the high shelf that are acceptable for him to push off, such as pencils, spools, some wooden or plastic objects or maybe a couple of small rubber balls. I can see him liking these because when he pushes them off, they will bounce, and he may jump down to chase them.

Make sure he has a puzzle feeder so he can snack while you are gone, but not unless he figures out how to retrieve the food first. This practice becomes a kind of hunt in itself.

I guess I’m telling you to try to learn to think like a cat. If he must stay indoors, bring the outdoors in to him. Consider his instinctual needs, and try to find a way for him to imagine that, with play, he can satisfy those urges.

The crux of the reason why play is so important: It builds and strengthens the cat’s imagination, a skill that will become very valuable as he gets older.

It’s imagination that allows a hunting cat to hear a small sound and, as he watches a slight movement in the grass, in his mind’s eye, he can see a small creature on a journey, and he will intercept the creature at just the right moment.

Grey striped cat outdoors in vegetation

I wish you the best, Mrs. Scott. You asked because you cared, and thus I believe you will find a solution.

Our next letter comes from a young adult cat named Samantha. Here is what she has to say:

Samantha: Lucinda, I am quite unhappy. My two-legged leaves me alone all day, and I have to fill the time somehow. I sleep a lot, but do not sleep the whole time she is gone. I am up, feeling energetic, and looking for something to do.

My two-legged has not given me many toys. Therefore, I must make do with what I can find. She keeps some objects on her coffee table and end tables. Often I check those spots to see if they hold anything interesting.

I’d love to get out and go on a real hunt, but I am no longer allowed outside. Therefore, I have to pretend to hunt, which is not as satisfying, but I can imagine it vividly enough to fill my hunting desire.

So, why does she get so mad when I push something on the floor to play with? I’m only trying to satisfy my inner urges. Can’t she see that I am looking for meaningful activity?

Lucinda: I can understand your unhappiness. So often, the two-leggeds do not realize our inner needs. It’s so unfortunate we can’t share a language.

Somehow you must get your message across to her that you need more to keep you busy when she is gone.

Does she ever play with you? You might try this: Pick up a small toy such as a stuffed mouse, carry it to her, and drop it in front of her. Perhaps she will get the message that you would like to play. An even better thing to take to her might involve finding a long piece of string and dragging that in to her.

Follow her around and meow at her. She will realize you want to tell her something, and perhaps she will figure out what you want her to know.

Maybe you can make such a commotion at the door continually that she will relent and let you out. Do you have a harness and leash? She could take you out for walks if you had one.

Your problem is a difficult one to solve, as you have to find a way to make your two-legged understand that you must fill certain needs. If necessary, you can use your imagination to fill them, but then you need the equipment that will allow you to do so.

I do wish you luck. If you could get her to read this column, perhaps she would understand. The two-leggeds are quite smart, but often they do not do well when it comes to understanding their cat. Push a cat behavior book off the shelf if she has one. That might give her the message.

We thus conclude our column for this time. Never fear — there will be more later. If you wish to leave a comment or ask a question, please do so at the end of this post.

6 thoughts on “LETTERS TO LUCINDA #17: Cat Behavior Solutions”

  1. Dear Lucinda,
    You are inspired and devoted to your friends and your CCL!!! A great team ;).
    Keep up the journey!!!

  2. Hey Fran not in a million years did I think of putting myself into a cat’s mind. Now that you have shown me this perspective wow. I appreciate now that a cat’s activity is likely tied to curiosity or wanting to be active. And that punishing cats like Samantha is no good as her behaviour is normal or instinctual rather than just being disruptive. Next time I am at my sister’s house I will have more patience with her cat and see if I can listen to the signals she sends.

    • It is challenging and rather fun to try to figure out things from the cat’s point of view. They try their best to tell us what they want in cat talk, but we don’t seem to be very good at figuring things out. Lucinda will be writing another post soon on understanding cat communication. Maybe that will help some people.

  3. I find cats to be very interesting, how they move, play, and hunt for their meal. Cats are really playful and love to cuddle it seems with each other and with humans. What I love to watch is how they bathe themselves. We had a cat once before from a kitten until he became an adult but one day he left home and never returned. To this day we don’t know what happened to him. Thanks however so much for sharing.

    • Cats are wonderful companions. Too bad you lost your cat. Sometimes it’s better not to know what happened to the cat, as it could be a bad ending. Perhaps you should try another cat.


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