Sunday, September 18, 2011


Well, it's been almost 4 weeks since Desperado and Helpful Buckeye left home for our funeral trip to western Pennsylvania.  We finally got home a few days ago.  After picking up our held mail, running some important errands, and doing several loads of laundry, we have started to settle back into our normal routine here in the mountain town of Flagstaff.

Questions On Dogs and Cats should get back to being a little better illustrated, now that I again have access to my stash of photos.  Several of our readers commented on the fact that the photos didn't change for a few weeks and that there weren't any photos at all in last week's issue.  That will all be corrected in this issue.  In addition, I'll throw in several great quotes about cats from the master, Mark Twain.  Thanks for your collective patience!

The topic of unusual cat behavior has been with us for the last 3 issues and will finish up this week.  The last of the unusual behaviors to be discussed will be one that is actually being taught to cats by their owners.  If you haven't already guessed what that would be...what about cats being trained on how to use a toilet for their "potty"?  That's right...your toilet!

Potty-trained Cats

Barbara Ogburn was waiting for guests to arrive for a dinner party when her Siamese cat Toby went to use his litter box.

"The guest bathroom smelled horrible and there was litter everywhere," Ogburn said. "I looked at him and said, 'Dude, your litter box is gone.'"

Someone had given Ogburn a Litter Kwitter, a three-step training kit that teaches cats to use a toilet instead of a litter box. She decided to try it, and it worked. Now Ogburn, who's had cats since she was a child, says she will never again have a litter box. No more buying litter, lugging it home, or cleaning it up.

Litter Kwitter and other toilet-training kits on the market for cats work like this: The toilet seat is fitted with a series of plastic rings the cat can step on so it doesn't fall in. The hole in the rings gets larger over time, until the cat can simply balance on the toilet seat.

But training a cat to use the toilet is not as easy as getting a cat to use a litter box. Cats instinctively bury their waste to hide it from predators, and litter fosters that instinct in a way that using the toilet does not, according to Steve Duno of Seattle, a veteran pet behaviorist and trainer who has written 18 books.

That's why, when switching to the toilet, some cats will scrape the bowl, the tank or the wall next to the toilet. Outdoor cats are not good candidates for toilet-training.

In addition, some cats tolerate change in their routines, while for others, even a slight change in feeding schedules will make their worlds fall apart, said Dr. Meghan E. Herron, chief veterinarian at the Behavioral Medicine Clinic, part of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Services at Ohio State University.

"Cats are slaves to routine and very wary of danger to themselves," Duno added.

And there is nothing about the size or height of a toilet that is normal to a cat, Herron said. "One bad experience with a toilet can make them never use it again," she said.

Duno, who has toilet-trained several cats, says he's "known cats that have fallen into the toilet and that's it, you're done right there."

You also need patience. "Cats learn at a very metered pace," Duno said. "If you go too fast, your cat might find other places — furniture, plants, rugs or closets — to go," Herron said.

When you talk about toilet-trained cats, most people think of Mr. Jinx, Robert De Niro's beloved, toilet-flushing, mayhem-making cat in "Meet the Parents," "Meet the Fockers" and "Little Fockers."

Dawn M. Barkan trained all the Himalayan cats that portrayed Mr. Jinx in those movies, including two rescued cats, Peanut and Charlie, who still live with her.

Misha, who has since died, did the original scene, but "we didn't really train him to use the toilet," said Barkan, who freelances for Los Angeles-based Birds & Animal Unlimited. "It's movie magic." The cat sat on a prop designed to look like a toilet and pressed a button so that the toilet appeared to be flushed. Sound effects were added later. The idea for Litter Kwitter came from "Meet the Parents," said Jo Lapidge, who with her husband Terry invented the kit.

After research and tests, the Sydney, Australia, couple launched their company in 2005. Since then, they've sold 750,000 kits.

Lapidge says the kit has an 80 percent success rate that "would be higher if humans stopped to follow all the instructions and showed a bit more patience."

In addition to toilet-training products with plastic rings — ranging in price from lightweight plastic for about $10 to Litter Kwitter at $50 — there are also online how-to sites and books that explain how to toilet-train your cat.

Online customer reviews for the products are mixed. Even those who say they've been successful often say it took several months to complete the training, with the cat having accidents along the way. One commenter for a toilet-training kit for a product called CitiKitty gave it five stars but cautioned that the process was "messy."

There is one disadvantage for cat-owners who successfully train their animals. Owners may be alerted to health problems by how often a cat uses its litter box or the odor, color or texture of waste. With a toilet, "you can't monitor the cat's health through elimination evidence," Duno said.

In addition, as a toilet-trained cat ages, it may have a hard time leaping onto the seat.

Herron cautioned that a cat is likely to find another place to go rather than wait in line at a bathroom door, so a spare or guest bathroom the animal can use works best.

One benefit in addition to doing away with litter: Toilets diminish the risk of humans contracting parasites or infectious diseases like toxoplasmosis.
 Finally, no matter how happy you might be to have toilet-trained your cat, Duno said this is one animal behavior that shouldn't be rewarded with a treat.

"You are choreographing it, but you are not actively encouraging it," Duno said. "You can't be there to praise the cat. It's too distracting."

Adapted from:

As for training a cat, here's Mark Twain's take on that: "A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime."  Notebook, 1895

Is it possible that cats can adore, yet manipulate someone?  Yes, says a researcher from Austria.

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women


• Relationships between cats and their owners mirror human bonds, especially when the owner is a woman.
• Cats hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households.
• While the age, sex and personality of owners affect these relationships, the sex of the cat doesn't seem to matter.

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.

The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes.

"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"

For the study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, the researchers videotaped and later analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners over lengthy four-part periods. Each and every behavior of both the cat and owner was noted. Owner and cat personalities were also assessed in a separate test. For the cat assessment, the authors placed a stuffed owl toy with large glass eyes on a floor so the feline would encounter it by surprise.

The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.

While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats -- be they male or female felines -- more than men do.

"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline's wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may also "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

Although there are isolated instances of non-human animals, such as gorillas, bonding with other species, it seems to be mostly unique for humans to engage in social relationships with other animals. In this case with cats, it's for very good reason. Cats could very well be man's -- and woman's -- best friend.

"A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. "A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences."

Dennis Turner, a University of Zurich-Irchel animal behaviorist, told Discovery News that he's "very impressed with this study on human-cat interactions, in that it has taken our earlier findings a step higher, using more modern analytical techniques to get at the interplay between cat and human personalities."

Turner, who is also senior editor of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour (Cambridge University Press), added that he and his colleagues "now have a new dimension to help us understand how these relationships function."

Adapted from:

Again, from Mark Twain: "That's the way with a cat, you know -- any cat; they don't care for discipline. And they can't help it, they're made so. But it ain't really insubordination, when you come to look at it right and fair -- it's a word that don't apply to a cat. A cat ain't ever anybody's slave or serf or servant, and can't be -- it ain't in him to be. And so, he don't have to obey anybody. He is the only creature in heaven or earth or anywhere that don't have to obey somebody or other, including the angels. It sets him above the whole ruck, it puts him in a class by himself. He is independent. You understand the size of it? He is the only independent person there is. In heaven or anywhere else. He's your friend, if you like, but that's the limit -- equal terms, too, be you king or be you cobbler; you can't play any I'm-better-than-you on a cat -- no, sir! Yes, he's your friend, if you like, but you got to treat him like a gentleman, there ain't any other terms. The minute you don't, he pulls freight."  The Refuge of the Derelicts

As a fitting conclusion for this series on unusual cat behavior, Helpful Buckeye offers this presentation on how to interact with your cat. Once you have a better understanding of why your cat does the things it does, your interactions with your cat should improve immensely.
 Social play refers to games with others. That can be wrestling with littermates, playing tag with other pets, or ambushing the ankles of a favorite human. Social play reaches its peak in kittens aged 9 weeks to 16 weeks, and decreases thereafter. Adopt two kittens together to avoid becoming a target of kitten play aggression.

How to interact with your cat

Watching cats play makes us smile, laugh out loud, and maybe even join in the fun. While adult pets play less than rambunctious babies, all cats play to some extent through their entire life. It's not only fun for you both, but healthy as well.

How Cats Play

By 4 weeks of age, kittens practice four basic techniques: play fighting, mouse pounce, bird swat, and fish scoop. The first play displayed by kittens is on the back, belly-up, with paws waving. Feints at the back of a sibling's neck mimic the prey-bite used to dispatch mice (toy or real). Kittens also practice the simpering sideways shuffle, back arched high, almost tiptoeing around other kittens or objects. Soon, the eye-paw coordination improves to execute the pounce, the boxer stance, chase and pursuit, horizontal leaps, and the face-off where kittens bat each other about the head. These skills falls into the following play categories:
  • Object play is interaction with toys--and for a kitten, everything is potentially a toy. Chasing, pawing, clawing and capturing are the names of the games. Movement and sound stimulates play behavior, so choose lightweight, easy-to-bat-around toys that make interesting noise. Try a ping-pong ball in an empty tub. That helps prevent " gravity experiments" when cats push breakables off high shelves to see what happens.
  • Self-directed play such as tail chasing or pouncing on imaginary objects is thought to be a replacement for social play when a play partner isn't available.
  • Locomotory play simply means the cat is in motion. That can involve solo play of running and pouncing on imaginary targets or involve others.
Why Cats Play

In years past, we assumed play simply allowed juvenile animals to practice skills they'd need later as adults. But adult cats continue to play, even though they have no need to "kill" what's in the food bowl. It was suggested that adult cats play as a substitute for frustrated hunting activities. But even feral cats and wild feline cousins continue to play as adults. Today we know play has many purposes and benefits.

  • Play helps kittens develop eye-paw coordination and strengthen muscles. Adult cat play keeps tubby tabbies trim.
  • During play, kittens learn the feline rules of the road. They learn to inhibit tooth and claw, and that chomping on their own tail hurts.
  • Play teaches kittens about their world. They learn cause-and-effect through play, i.e. that swatting a wad of paper sends it bouncing away.
  • Playing together reinforces social bonds. Because your cat considers you its best friend, playing with it strengthens the bond you share. Interactive toys like feather wands and fishing pole lures teach the cat that you are the source of fun.
  • Cat play relieves stress and tension. It allows hissed-off cats to release energy in a legal, productive way by stalking and "killing" that arrogant toy mouse instead of your toes under the covers. Directing claws at legal scratch objects lets cats vent while preserving your furniture.
  • Play boosts the confidence of shy cats when they capture the feather lure at the end of a fishing-pole toy. The cat can stay a safe distance but still have fun. Play distracts fearful cats in scary situations like a new house. And play changes cat-titude about strangers so there' s a benefit to interaction.
  • Play exercises the mind as well as the body. Playing with adult and senior cats lubricates the mind to reduce the chance for kitty Alzheimer's.
Play is serious business for cats. In a stress-filled world, we all benefit from a daily dose of giggles. Take a lesson from your kitty and find time to play every day.

Adapted from:

Mark Twain offers this advice for those who play a little too rough with a cat: "That cat will write her autograph all over your leg if you let her."  From memoirs of Twain's secretary Mary Howden which were published in New York Herald, December 13, 1925
Helpful Buckeye hopes that all of our cat-owning readers now have a much better understanding of why a cat behaves the way it does...and that the rest of you at least enjoyed reading about some of the quirky behaviors of the USA's most popular house pet.


The Pittsburgh Steelers actually played like they wanted to win the game today.  Even though it was against Seattle, they were able to get back to Steeler football and controlled the running game.  Combined with the Ravens' unexpected loss, we're right back in good shape again.  There is a lot of football to be played yet this season.


Helpful Buckeye says "Thank you" to my 2 very favorite Okies, Charlene and Ken, for diligently watching over my 7 herb plants while Desperado and I were away from home.  The herbs came home looking very healthy and we've already used some of the basil, lavender, and Italian "flat-leaved" parsley since getting them back.  My lavender isn't quite as far along as this one, but with any luck, I'll get it there over the winter.

I've saved the last of the Mark Twain quotes for the closing: "You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use."  A Tramp Abroad

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

1 comment:

  1. Cat grooming is a great activity that can build up a strong bond between you and your cat. To perform this correctly then you will need to ensure that you have the correct grooming supplies to do the job properly. A lot of people are unsure of whether or not you should groom your cat. Some people do it and some do not. It mainly comes down to personal preference.

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