If you are having trouble understanding the reasons behind your cat's behavior, consider these insights from a cat whisperer. From introducing a new kitten into your home to eliminating fighting, these tips will help you and your cat lead a happier life together.
Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Cat Whisperer
LoveToKnow (LTK): Mieshelle, thanks for agreeing to an interview. Tell us a little about yourself growing up. Were you interested in cats from a young age?
Mieshelle Nagelschneider (MN): Cats were all that I was interested in! I grew up on a farm in central Oregon with nearly every kind of animal, but my father would not get me a cat because we had a lot of feral cats running about. They were elusive, and that was a big draw for me. Starting at the age of four, I spent many days trying to figure them out and get close to them. I probably logged more hours studying cat behavior by the time I was six years old than most behaviorists today, and I ended up with some very nice pet cats growing up.
Whispering to Cats
LTK: Can you tell us a little about your C.A.T. Plan system?
MN: The C.A.T. plan is a three-part plan meant to be applied simultaneously. I don't just address the behavior that we want the cat to do (i.e. use the litter box), but how to undo the habituated behavior that most cat owners have no idea how to resolve (i.e. not urinate on the owner's bed), as well as to create an environment that allows everything to fall into place for the cat and prevent the behavior from coming back as well as keep future unwanted behaviors from forming. Environment is key for cats.
C: Cease the unwanted behavior.
A: Attract the cat to a new, desirable behavior.
T: Transform the environment. (Enriching, stimulating, utopian and conducive to a cat's survival and territorial needs)
LTK: You offer telephone consultations. What are the benefits of helping cat owners over the telephone, and how effective is that type of advice?
MN: There are not enough cat behaviorists to go around. Not even enough in the U.S. Phone consultations enable me to help cat owners all over the world in Brazil, Greece, Canada, Germany, the UK as well as the U.S.
I started out doing in-home consultation professionally almost 12 years ago, and then I was being contacted by desperate cat owners thousands of miles away driving around in the humane society parking lot and ready to give up their cats if I did not help them. Over time, I realized that I could offer the same help over the phone with the same success rate. Many cat owners think they have a unique behavior issue on their hands, but the truth is, cat behavior is basic for the most part, and most behavior issues I am presented with are very similar. My clients complete a nine-page feline history questionnaire prior to their phone consultation, and that provides me with almost everything I need to know prior to the phone call --- usually I have a complete understanding of the cat's behavior issue before speaking with the cat owner on the phone. I also request photos and videos for some cases which can be very helpful.
Cat Behavior Issues
LTK: One of the biggest complaints we get from readers is about cats not getting along or suddenly fighting. Can you tell us a little about the Nagelschneider Method and how it might help these cat owners?
MN: The Nagelschneider Method is a social facilitation method that helps create and maintain a group scent between cats in a multi-cat household. A household full of cats lacking a group scent spells trouble and can be the only reason there is hostility between them or that they avoid one another. Cats communicate primarily through scent, and a group scent decreases or can even eliminate hostility between cats. My method consists of a fairly intricate swapping of scents between cats using behavior modification that essentially makes them re-accustomed to one another's scent, and this builds positive associations at the same time. The method makes them feel more affiliated and familiar with the other cats with the newly created group scent. This is what can help them get along better. The technique must be implemented with no stress to the cat and often times as part of a behavior plan, all of which you can read about in my upcoming cat behavior book, The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do -- and How to Get Them to Do What You Want.
LTK: What are some things owners can do when bringing a new kitten into the home to help with training and avoid future problems?
MN: If you are bringing your kitten into a home where there are resident cats, it's very important that you introduce them very gradually and as non-confrontationally as possible. The biggest mistake cat owners make is going too fast in the beginning and pushing a cat's panic button so that the new cat and resident cat enter a downward negative dynamic spiral. I do more consultations to reintroduce cats where incorrect or fast introductions ended in catastrophe than I have consultations to correctly introduce cats for the first time. This should be the other way around.
In the beginning, cat owners should create a safe room for the kitten away from any other resident cats in preparation for the introduction behavior plan. This room should have everything the kitten needs; food, water, two litter boxes (preferably not right next to one another), toys and perching and resting areas. The food and water should be located away from the litter boxes as much as possible. A big mistake cat owners make is letting kittens have the run of the household right away, which is too sudden for the resident cats. Many kittens can also forget where the litter box is in the beginning and begin soiling around the home.
Cutting Edge Research
LTK: You've been studying animal cognition at Harvard. Can you tell us a little about that?
MN: I've found the information at Harvard to offer the most cutting-edge research on how animals process information or "think" as humans might put it. It has been a great supplement to my experiential knowledge.
LoveToKnow would like to thank Meishelle Nagelschnieder for taking the time to answer our questions and share her knowledge with our readers in this Cat Whisperer interview. You can visit Mieshelle's website at thecatbehaviorclinic.com.