Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat--Not a Sour Puss

Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat--Not a Sour Puss

by Pam Johnson-Bennett


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America's favorite cat behavior expert, author of Catwise and Cat vs. Cat, offers the most complete resource for cat owners of all stripes, now fully updated.

"The queen of cat behavior" - Steve Dale, author of My Pet World

Think it's impossible to train a cat? Think again! By learning how to think like a cat, you'll be amazed at just how easy it is. Whether you are a veteran cat lover, a brand-new owner of a sweet kitten, or the frustrated companion of a feline whose driving you crazy, Pam Johnson-Bennett will help you understand what makes your cat tick (as well as scratch and purr). Topics range from where to get a cat to securing a vet; from basic health care to treating more serious problems; choosing an inrresistible scratching post and avoiding litterbox problems.

A comprehensive guide to cat care and training, she helps you understand the instincts that guide feline behavior. Using behavior modification and play therapy techniques, she shares successful methods that will help you and your cat build a great relationship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143119791
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/27/2011
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 199,826
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Catwise, Cat vs Cat, and many other books, is one of the most popular and sought-after cat behavior experts in the world. She has a private cat-consulting practice in Nashville, appears on Animal Planet UK and Canada, and lectures on cat behavior at veterinary and animal welfare conferences around the world. She's been featured on CNN, Fox News Channel, CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox & Friends, Animal Planet Radio, and many more shows. Print profiles include Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Woman's World, Newsweek, Prevention, USA Today, Family Circle, Complete Woman, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, USA Weekend, Washington Post, and Parade. She was VP of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and founded the IAABC Cat Division. Pam served on the American Humane Association's Advisory Board on Animal Behavior and Training. She lives in Nashville, TN.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Cat of Your Dreams

Will You be a Match Made in Heaven or The Odd Couple?

Cats aren't shirts that you buy at the store and then return if they don't fit. Nor are they a pair of shoes you give away or toss out when you've outgrown them. While these comparisons may seem ridiculously obvious to you, the sad fact is that too many cat owners actually do view their cats that way. As a result, countless cats end up relinquished to shelters or just abandoned because they didn't meet their owners' expectations of "the perfect cat."

    Why do you want a cat? Taking the time to examine your desires honestly can help ensure a lifetime of love.

    Choosing to become a cat owner is, of course, an emotional decision. It's also choosing to take on a serious responsibility because the cat's health and welfare will be completely dependent on you. If your impression of cat ownership involves filling up a food bowl and putting a litter box in the extra bathroom, then both you and your cat will soon become very unhappy. Although a cat may seem to be a lower maintenance pet than a dog, you must be prepared to meet his emotional, medical, and physical needs.

    Being a cat owner also involves a financial commitment which some people aren't prepared for. Cats or kittens acquired for free need the same veterinary and nutritional care as the purebred you paid top dollar for: the initial vaccinations and neuter or spay surgery, then yearly vaccinations for the rest of his life. He'll also undoubtedly needperiodic medical care for unexpected ailments or injuries, and veterinary care isn't cheap.

    Over the years I've seen many incredibly close cat/owner relationships. I've also seen cats and owners who seem to be just co-existing in the same house with no emotional bond. Many times, that's the result of the owner having had the wrong expectations about cats from the start. You have an opportunity now, with this book, to create a close cat/human bond. Even if you already have a cat (maybe you've had him for years), you can create a closer relationship—and that's the key, it is a relationship.

Rumors, Innuendoes, and Lies

Some of the comments I've heard over the years are:

    Cats steal the breath from babies.

    You must get rid of your cat if you're pregnant.

    Litter boxes always stink.

    Cats ruin the furniture.

If those were true, why would anybody ever want a cat? Unfortunately, people continue to pass along this inaccurate and unfair information. The result? Many people who might have become cat owners get scared off. It's the cats who suffer as they continue to be charged with crimes of which they aren't guilty. Let's take a closer look at some of the common misconceptions so that you can learn fact from fiction and go ahead with plans to share your life with a cat.

    Cats are aloof. We've all heard that! In fact, if most people had to describe cats in one word, aloof would be it. And, if you mention aloof, you might as well throw in independent as well. I believe these descriptions come from inappropriately trying to compare cats to dogs. It's the old apples and oranges comparison. The dog is a pack animal. He hunts in a pack and his whole social structure is built on the pack mentality. A cat, on the other hand, is a sociable animal but not the pack animal that a dog is. His social structure is built upon his sense of territory. Don't misunderstand me: Cats can and do live happily together, but unlike dogs, their primary focus isn't to establish a pack.

    Part of the reason cats may appear aloof is that they are predators (and take in their entire environment). Sometimes the cat may sit on your lap, enjoying your affectionate stroking, but there are times when he'd prefer just sitting nearby, relaxed yet ready should any prey come on the scene. Cats are stimulated by even the slightest movement, which might indicate potential prey.

    Cats by nature are not generally contact animals the way dogs are. With their pack mentality, dogs encounter a great deal of close physical contact with each other. In the wild, an adult cat's physical contact with another cat may be generally limited to mating or fighting. This isn't to say that your cat won't enjoy being petted or held, just that some cats need a larger personal space than others and if you respect that, you'll be able to build trust and eventually increase his level of comfort. How they were socialized as kittens and whether they were gently handled by humans also plays a role in how large a personal space they require later. Much of how your individual cat's personality develops and whether he becomes friendly and sociable versus timid and unfriendly depends on you.

    This book will teach you how to understand his language and communicate with him so you two can develop a strong, loving bond. If you expect him to do all of the work then you'll end up with, yes, an aloof, independent cat.

    The bottom line: Stop comparing your cat to a dog, and suddenly you'll start noticing his uniquely wonderful traits.

    Cats can't be trained. False! Once again, you just have to stop thinking DOG and start thinking CAT. My approach to training is based on positive reinforcement. If I want my cat to stop doing something, I direct him to something better. My think like a cat method involves understanding why he's behaving the way he does so I can meet his needs in an acceptable way. This training method is easier and more effective than continually reprimanding your cat for doing things that are instinctually natural to him (such as scratching). So throw out all of those old ideas you've had about how cats can't be trained. It's easier than you think. Actually, I'll let you in on a little secret: I think it's easier to train a cat than a dog.

    Cats are dangerous if you're pregnant and cats steal the breath from babies. I really hate these. First of all, if you're pregnant, there are precautions you should take concerning the litter box. The box could be a serious health risk to your unborn baby, but it doesn't mean the cat should be tossed out. To get the accurate story, refer to the medical appendix in the back of this book. As for that stupid myth about cats stealing the breath from babies, it's not true, yet it continues to resurface year after year. My theory on this is that long ago, before SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) was identified, cats were blamed for the unexpected death of sleeping babies.

    Litter boxes always stink. Well, actually a litter box will stink IF YOU DON'T CLEAN IT!!! As long as you maintain an adequate cleaning schedule, no one will ever have to hold his nose to enter your home.

    Cats ruin the furniture. Oops, you got me again. There's some truth to this statement but only if you neglect to provide him with a scratching post. Now I know some of you reading this are thinking, Well, my neighbor has a scratching post and the cat still ruins the furniture. My answer to that? Wrong post. Chapter 9 will teach you how to get it right the first time.

    So now that we've cleared that up and you're standing on the threshold of cat ownership, let's go get the cat, right? Uh, not quite yet. You have many decisions to make. Do you want a kitten or a cat? Male or female? Will the cat be an indoor or outdoor cat? Where should you get the cat? Pet store? Breeder? The next-door neighbor?

A Kitten or a Cat?

Kittens are cute. I mean really, really cute. Whenever I bring a kitten on television with me, just about every crew member has to come by for a closer look. Kittens are definitely smile magnets, but before you fall in love with that adorable little bundle of fur, take the time to understand what'll be required of you as the owner of a kitten.

    You need to kitten-proof your home if you decide on a youngster. You have to patrol for dangling electrical cords, dangerous cleansers, poisons, etc. (Even if you decide on an adult cat you'll have to safeguard him from these things as well, but kittens seem bound and determined to get into trouble.) Basically, you have to know where your kitten is at all times to prevent him from hurting himself. Kitten-proofing a home isn't that difficult, but for some people it's not possible. For instance, an artist friend of mine lives in a one-bedroom apartment. She wanted the companionship of a feline but knew that getting a kitten would surely result in spilled paint. Not only would that be messy, but it would cause a serious health risk to a curious little kitty. The artist chose to adopt an adult cat who had a quiet personality. Aside from one incident when the cat accidentally walked across Sonia's palette and left a trail of fuschia paw prints on the carpet, they have a very compatible relationship.

    A family with young children should reconsider the idea of a young kitten and opt for an older one (at least six months old). Kittens are very fragile and can easily be injured by exuberant young children. An older cat can still be injured, but he is better able to escape from a child's grasp.

    If you or anyone in your family is unsure of his footing, a kitten zooming underfoot through the house could create a danger.

    Consider how much time you have to devote to a kitten. They require more supervision and can't be left alone as long as an adult cat.

    If you adopt a kitten, it affords you the opportunity to have a greater effect on shaping his personality than you would have on an adult cat. By exposing him to a variety of situations, you stand a good chance of raising a cat who is comfortable around strangers, not afraid of unfamiliar surroundings, adapted to travel, etc.

    So why would you want to miss all the fun and get a grown-up? One of the best reasons to choose an adult cat is that you know just what you're getting. Physically, it's all there for you: body type and color/ length of coat. You can also get a good sense of his temperament—whether he's active, nervous, docile, sociable, very vocal, quiet, etc. Because all kittens tend to be fuzzy little race cars, you don't know which ones will actually stay that way and which ones will calm down. If you want to be sure of a specific temperament or personality, go for an adult cat.

    One thing to keep in mind though is that a shelter cat may initially appear very timid or defensive in that stressful environment. Once he becomes acclimated to your home and family, he may begin to blossom. On the other hand, a cat at the shelter may have been relinquished by the previous owner because he had behavior problems. It doesn't mean the problem isn't workable, but you have to be prepared to address whatever situation does arise. I'll discuss shelter adoptions later in this chapter.

    An adult cat doesn't need the seemingly constant supervision that a kitten does. This is great for people who don't have the time to be following a kitten all around the house day and night.

    If you truly have the love and a desire to share your life with a cat, adopting an adult could literally save his life. Whether kittens are brought to shelters, found in alleys, or given away outside of grocery stores, they stand a better chance of being adopted than the adult cats. By taking that four-year-old tabby, you'll be saving him from a life behind bars or worse, death.

    Financially, an adult cat is often less expensive than a kitten. Kittens require a series of vaccinations and at six months of age, there's the cost of neutering or spaying. Adopting an adult cat from another family or from a shelter often means the cat is up-to-date on vaccinations and, in some cases, already altered.

The He or She Dilemma

This is another area where myths and rumors seem to run wild. If you know someone who has only had male cats, they'll be able to rattle off all of the great qualities of a male and numerous shortcomings of females. They'll tell you how much smarter and outgoing males are. Longtime owners of females will quickly dispute that and add how territorial males are.

    Here's the truth. Once a cat is altered, it doesn't matter if you choose a male or a female. Hormones are what drive undesirable behavior such as a spraying male or a yowling female in heat. Simply by having the cat spayed or neutered, you can control that. Left intact (unaltered), I don't care whether you choose a male or female, you'll be one unhappy (and that's putting it mildly) cat owner. Intact males are territorial and they will spray. If allowed outdoors, they'll roam and get into countless fights that could lead to death. Intact females, when in heat (which happens several times a year), call relentlessly in search of a male and will try to sneak outdoors every chance they get. Altered cats make much better companions. They won't spend their lives in frustration, and you won't spend your life pulling your hair out.

Purebred (aka Pedigreed) Cats

Although most cat owners choose nonpedigreed cats (or else those cats choose them), you may have your heart set on a purebred.

    Lovers of purebred cats will argue that there are hundreds of reasons to go that route versus mixed-breed, but I'm going to assume you're a novice in the cat world, and focus on what I feel would be of the most importance to a new cat owner.

    When considering a purebred, make certain you're aware of any potential genetic health concerns prone to that particular breed. Two familiar ones are the respiratory problems associated with the short-nosed Persians and the potential skeletal problems associated with the Manx. Do your homework before deciding on a purebred. Read breed-specific books and check cat registry Web sites. Talk to your vet, breeders, and owners of the breed you're considering. Visit cat shows in your area to get a closer look. Talk with the breeders who are there to show their cats. To find out what cat shows are in your area, check out the listings in the various cat magazines or visit the cat registry Web sites.

    In the dog world you find big dogs, bigger dogs, small dogs, even smaller dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs, sporting dogs, guard dogs, longhaired, shorthaired, no-haired, vocal dogs, and quiet dogs. Such variety! In the cat world, the greatest variety exists mainly within the purebreds. Let's take size, for example: If you want a very large cat, you'd probably be interested in the Maine Coon Cat. If an athletic cat is more to your liking, there are several breeds to choose from, for example, the Abyssinian. So, if you like specific physical traits or a certain personality type, purebreds can be more predictable. This could be an important factor in your decision-making process. Within the world of purebreds, you will find cats with folded ears, bobbed tails, no tails, kinked fur, no fur, or colors that could only exist in nature; cats who are talkers or couch potatoes.

    Some breeds require special attention that you may not have the time, desire, or ability to provide. For example, several of the longhaired breeds—such as Persians and Himalayans—require daily brushing or their hair will mat. Do you have the time required to care properly for this kind of cat?

    Finally there's money. A purebred will cost you. Some are much more expensive than others, but be prepared to pay.

The Long and Short of It: Hair Length

No question about it, a beautifully groomed longhaired cat is a head-turner. Cats such as Persians have the feline world's equivalent of Hollywood glamour. We watch them on TV as they recline on their pillows in their diamond collars, eating out of stemmed crystal glasses. Truly glamorous, dahling! That's probably why Persians are one of the most popular breeds. We see them and fall in love, unaware of the "behind the scenes" work that goes into maintaining that glorious coat.

    The coats of many longhaired cats will mat if not brushed daily. That silky coat can get into a knot faster than you can say "creme rinse." Aside from the unsightly look of matted fur, mats can create health risks if left unattended because they can prevent air from reaching the skin. Fleas can also seek refuge under mats. As mats tighten they pull on the skin and make walking painful. The nails of the cat can get stuck in the mats as he attempts to scratch. I've seen neglected Persians who have ripped holes in their skins in an attempt to scratch beneath the mat. If you love the look of a silky longhaired cat, give serious thought to the maintenance.

    Not all longhaired cats are prone to matting. Even if you choose a not-matting cat, be aware that all longhaired breeds will still require more frequent brushing. The Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat, for example, have thick, long hair that doesn't mat. Maintenance is still required, though, to keep this coat looking lustrous.

    Longhaired cats, whether they mat or not, occasionally need special assistance concerning their personal hygiene. Their long fur can now and then catch and trap pieces of feces. If a longhaired cat develops diarrhea, the cleanup is much more involved than with a shorthaired cat.

    Hair balls. You've heard of them. You've maybe even seen them. Although any cat regardless of coat length can have them (depending on how frequently they self-groom), long haired cats experience more than their share. A good grooming schedule by you and a regular dose of hair ball prevention paste (available from your vet) will help, but if you aren't able to maintain the cat's coat, you'll be subjecting him to certain hair balls. For more on grooming, refer to chapter 12.

    Some breeds are more fragile than others. The Sphinx, for example—which is a practically hairless cat—requires warmer temperatures and therefore wouldn't be a good choice for someone who prefers keeping the thermostat set low.

Magnificent Mixed Breeds

Some of the most loved, spoiled, cared for, doted on, cherished cats are the ones who don't come with a pedigree. They're the ones we find lost by the roadside, at our back door, in the neighbor's garage, in the barn, the local shelter, brought home by our children or shivering in the parking lot. So many are in need of our rescue. Really, I believe many more actually rescue us.

    Unless you're already set on a specific breed, are planning to enter your cat in shows (and actually, there are several mixed-breed shows), or embarking on a breeding career (something I strongly advise against), you should consider a mixed breed.

    What is a mixed breed? It refers to the product of the random matings of different or mixed breeds of cats. Sometimes you may see a trace of an identifiable breed (for instance, the cat may have a sleek oriental body and be very vocal) but usually, the years of random matings create cats whose histories are mysteries.

    Mixed breed cats come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. From a personality standpoint, you may not get the predictability that you often have with purebreds, but in general, what you will get is a hearty, adaptable cat.

Where to Find Your New Cat

Now that you're sure you want to share your life with a cat, let's examine the many sources out there for acquiring your new companion—whether a kitten, adult, purebred, mixed, longhaired, shorthaired, male, or female.

    As I'm sure you're well aware, cats aren't in short supply. You could probably open up your back door and literally find one hanging out in the yard. I live on three acres, and almost every morning I spot a different cat crossing through the field.

    While a great many people come across the cat of their dreams through rescue efforts, that method isn't for everyone. The injured or starving cat you pick up from the roadside or the one you rescue from the shelter's death row may or may not turn out to be the friendly, trusting, well-socialized animal you'd hoped for. I'm certainly all for anyone who gives a cat a second chance at life, but you should make sure you know what you're getting into. I want you and your cat to spend many, many happy years together.

    A note of caution: When you begin your search, I recommend that you not bring your children along. Your first visits to shelters, breeders, etc., need to be strictly to evaluate the facilities. I've seen too many owners coming home their first day out with a kitten they weren't prepared for because the children fell in love. Oh, and by the way, children aren't the only ones who suffer from the inability to walk out of a pet store or shelter empty-handed—we adults wrote the book on that one!


Walking into a shelter is a very emotional experience for an animal lover. Walking out empty-handed is very difficult for an animal lover. Be prepared—you can't save all the animals. It's very tough to go from one cage to the next, staring into the eyes of the cats in need of homes. As much as you may want to take the neediest of the cats into your arms forever, be sure you know what it'll require. Making an impulsive decision you aren't ready for could end up being wrong for you and for the cat.

    There are many shelters around the country, ranging from public animal control facilities to nonprofit private organizations. In your search, you'll find well-run facilities and you'll come across horrible jail-houses.

    Chances are very slim that you'll be able to come across a purebred cat at a shelter but it does happen (most likely the more popular Persian or Siamese). If you're looking for a kitten, they go fast—everyone wants kittens, especially around Christmas. But if you're open to the idea of an adult cat, you'll find many ages, colors, and personalities.

    Although most shelters are staffed by caring people who try their hardest to house the cats in as comforting of an environment as possible, considering how stressful shelter life is, don't expect the cats to be on their best behavior. Very often these cats are in emotional shock. Many have been abandoned by their owners, lost, homeless, or injured. Suddenly they're put in a cage, away from anything even remotely familiar from life as they knew it and they're terrified. Even though your heart's in the right place and you plan on giving a cat the best home in the world, initially he may not act very appreciative. Some cats who've been relinquished to the shelter by a family due to a behavior problem will pose an extra challenge to you. Very often, though, a cat adopted from the shelter eventually puts his past behind him and ends up being the love of your life. Some of the smartest, prettiest, most sociable, tolerant cats I've seen came from shelters.

    Nowadays shelter staffs work with cats when they're first brought in to help them become adoptable. Years ago, when pets were brought to most shelters they'd be tossed into a cage or dog-run and remain there until they were either adopted or put to death. Luckily, more and more shelters have volunteers who come in daily to interact with the pets, offering comfort, affection, and playtime.

    Before you decide to go to the shelter adoption route, inspect the facility, ask questions, and be completely informed regarding their policies (for instance, many shelters have rules stating that the adopted cat must be kept indoors). Some even require an in-home visit first to make sure you are suitable.


If you'd like to provide a home for a kitty in need through a local rescue agency, keep in mind that as with shelter-adopted cats, you'll very likely be dealing with a traumatized animal. These cats need a stable, peaceful, secure home and an owner with an abundance of patience and love.

    Many of the cats rescued will not have had the advantage of having been socialized to humans during kittenhood. This is an important thing to consider if you absolutely want a cat who will sit in your lap and view life in a carefree way. A cat who has been rescued may need quite a bit of time before daring to trust. When it happens, though, it's amazing to watch as the cat begins to lower his guard and let you in. The times I've experienced it will stay in my heart forever.


If you truly have your heart set on a purebred, your best source will be a breeder. A good breeder isn't so easy to find, though. As with any other business, when money is involved, ethics can get lost on the way to the bank.

A Good Breeder

* is very knowledgeable about the breed

* welcomes any questions you may have

* competes in cat shows

* offers references

* welcomes inspections of her cattery

* lets you see the parents of the kittens

* has all registration papers

* requires the buyer to spay or neuter the cat

* has documentation of health exams and vaccinations

* doesn't sell any kitten less than twelve weeks old

* prohibits declawing

* specifies in the contract that the cat must be kept indoors

* doesn't pressure you to buy

* displays a genuine love for the breed

* screens you to make sure her kitten goes to a good hom

* offers a refund and not just a replacement kitten

* requires the kitten be returned if you can't keep him.

    Good breeders are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of their breed. They lovingly keep a very clean, healthy cattery and are extremely knowledgeable about cat health, nutrition, and behavior. They should know about any congenital problems that their breed is prone to and how to avoid them. Good breeders welcome questions and inspections of their catteries.

    To begin your search for a good breeder, start by attending the cat shows in your area. Even if the nearest one is a bit of a drive, it's worth it. Good breeders show their cats. It's a good opportunity for you to talk with several breeders. Unless they're getting their cat ready to be judged, they should be more than happy to answer any questions you have.

    Raised underfoot is a phrase you'll hear very often when talking to breeders. That means the kittens have been handled and socialized by humans as opposed to being locked away in cages. Beware, though, anyone can claim that their kittens were raised underfoot; it's up to you to decide if they're truthful. Visit the cattery; ask questions; carefully observe and handle the kittens. Remember, a registered kitten means he comes with an official-looking piece of paper. It doesn't guarantee that he's a well-adjusted kitten.


Don't be a sucker. Kittens in pet stores are way overpriced, undersocialized, and most likely the result of someone's breeding boo-boo. Don't support the unethical business of purchasing kittens from pet stores.

    A good breeder would never sell a kitten to a pet store. Just because you have the cash or can flash a credit card doesn't make you the right owner for the purebred. Anyone who would sell a cat based on who can fork over the cash fastest isn't someone you should even think about buying from in the first place.

    Some pet supply stores have changed their policies and refuse to sell kittens and puppies because of the vast number of unethical breeders. I applaud them and show my support by purchasing my pet supplies there.


Whether your dealing with a breeder or a private owner, don't agree to purchase a cat you haven't seen. Some breeders who live out of your area will agree to sell cats long-distance. They send you a photograph and the first time you actually get to meet your cat is when you pick him up at the airport. My word on this practice? DON'T.

    If the breeder of the specific breed you want lives far away (and this usually is the case if you're interested in a rare breed) and you absolutely have to have this kitten, then get on a plane and go see him, evaluate the facilities and then if all seems right, take the kitten back with you.


Be cautious. Just because a kitten is advertised for free and the description sounds perfect doesn't necessarily mean things are as advertised.

    Treat the owners as you would a breeder by asking questions. How was the kitten or cat raised? In the case of older cats, ask why they're needing to find another home. The reason may be stated in the ad, but ask for more specific details.

    Check out the home carefully. Don't let the owners meet you at the mailbox with the kitten in their arms. You want to see where he was raised and if possible, see the mother cat.

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