A recent survey, released by the British Veterinary Association, revealed that 98% of vets have been asked to euthanise a healthy pet citing the owner’s reason as their pet’s behaviour. Problem behaviours vets can see include persistent howling, destructive chewing, and inappropriate toileting. Aggressive behaviour, towards both people and other pets, is also a problem that led to the owner’s request of euthanasia.
It is a very sad situation that owners feel there are no other options but to ask their vet to euthanise their pet because it is showing problem behaviour.
Fortunately, many unwanted behaviours in cats are preventable. It is often owner misunderstanding, or lack of knowledge of feline behaviour, that leads owners to manage their cats in a manner that can cause problem behaviours. For example, lack of appropriate toileting facilities in the home can lead to multiple cats having to share litter trays, or cats having to use soiled litter trays, both factors which can cause cats distress and resultant toileting outside of the litter tray. Likewise, owning several cats that do not get along with one another can be a major source of stress to cats, causing them to show aggression, become withdrawn and hide and even over-groom or toilet in the home outside of the litter tray.
On the website of International Cat Care, the advice section has a wealth of information about all aspects of cat behaviour including guidance on how owners can meet their cat’s behavioural needs(www.icatcare.org/advice). Such information will help owners to look after their cats in feline-friendly ways to prevent behaviour problems.
However, if an owner’s cat already has a problem behaviour, the owners first call of action should always be to take their cat to the vet. Behavioural problems are complex, often multi-factorial and can often be associated with medical problems. Therefore, a veterinary check can identify whether the problem behaviour is related to any underlying medical condition. If no medical condition can be found or the vet feels a behaviour specialist could help alongside veterinary medicine, the vet may decide to refer the owner to a qualified behaviourist. A behaviourist will spend a great deal of time gathering a detailed history from you of your cat’s behaviour to help decipher why it first started and what factors may be causing it to continue. Working with the owner (and the vet), they will develop a detailed tailor-made behavioural modification plan which may include some environmental changes in the home, changes in how to interact with the cat and possible medical intervention or further medical investigation.
In the UK, the Animal Behaviour and Training Council is the regulatory body that represents animal trainers and behaviour therapists to both the public and legislative bodies. On their website, you can find a list of qualified individuals that see behaviour cases in cats.
In addition, The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (which is represented on the ABTC) has its own website with a list of all its full members (some of which work outside the UK).
Recognising the need for more education on cat behaviour for owners and professionals working with cats, International Cat Care has set up two new distance-education online courses in feline behaviour. Details of these courses can be found here.