This is a short post which reminds us that some but not all feline behavioural problems presented to veterinarians at their clinics are due to what can be described as “compromised welfare”. Compromised welfare means that the cat’s owner is not providing optimum welfare towards his/her cat.
Here are some examples. The best-known example is probably scratching furniture. This is a normal part of a domestic cat’s behavioural repertoire. Unfortunately, quite a lot of cat owners find it unacceptable. Many declaw their cat as a consequence and on many occasions the result of that operation are genuine behavioural problems which ultimately has to be assigned to “compromised cat welfare”.
When a cat changes his behaviour with respect to elimination (toilet habits) or starts to mark his territory indoors through spraying or defecating, this is a normal behavioural response to some sort of change in the cat’s environment and sometimes the change causes the cat to be stressed.
Another good example is when a cat self-mutilates, usually in the form of over-grooming. This “behavioural problem” almost certainly reflects underlying stress. This means the cat is suffering a certain degree of discomfort. Another behavioural problem caused by stress is idiopathic cystitis.
Cat behaviours such as crouching, running away, hiding or strange vocalisations are often classified as “symptoms of anxiety” when the cat is a house cat. When these behaviours are seen in caged cats they are considered to be associated with stress. There is no reason to believe that the same association cannot be made with respect to house cats. There have been quite a few high profile stories of very anxious cats becoming aggressive towards their caretakers. The focus of attention for a remedy is often incorrectly on the cat.
Clinical studies indicate that certain patterns of problem behaviour in cats are more closely associated with behavioural signs of stress than others. For example, cats changing their elimination behaviour appeared to show more signs of stress than cats engaged in territorial marking behaviour.
I believe that quite a lot of the day-to-day behavioural problems, including as mentioned above some medical problems, are associated with how effectively the cat’s caretaker discharges his/her responsibility with regard to the welfare of their cat or cats. Often the first stage in dealing with behavioural problems is for the cat caretaker to ask themselves questions about what they are doing with respect to creating an optimum environment for their cat, rather than reporting behavioural problems to an expert and/or their veterinarian. Sometimes a visit to a vet can lead to unnecessary drug treatments.