I see cases that can be solved and cases that can be managed as a cat behaviorist. Because every cat matters – I decided to work this case because I wanted to see her happy. Dixie is one of the cases that you can improve and manage quite well. Dixie is a 3 year old Ragdoll cat that I rescued from the local animal shelter through the cat rescue I am the director of.. She was absolutely beautiful but quite explosive in the beginning. Dixie was turned in for displaying what the owner was describing as extreme aggression that was only getting worse by the day.
Dixie would also become quickly agitated from simply being pet, picked up or held, groomed and spoken to. The owner reported that Dixie has been this way since she was just a kitten. I do not know much about her past since the owner did not give much information away. This can often throw a wrench into a behavior plan since you have to kind of guess what that past might have been like based on some clues that the owner communicated to you.
The shelter asked that I pull Dixie because the shelter worker could not clean her cage without getting bit which was a legitimate concern. I felt like Dixie would do much better when given more space. Dixie was exactly as described when I pulled her from the shelter and took her home. I started her immediately on calming chews and Royal Canin calming diet plus I attached a calming cat collar and revamped her room with a plethora of vertical space and cat toys. Below is a video of her on week two at my house.
It was 3 weeks before I could actually pet her so it was fortunate for me that she ate her calming cat chews without any issue at all. Several bites were received during my work with her because I was trying to figure out how to make her the most comfortable which can be trial and error. Food, treats and toys were very useful during this time. I could have pilled her but I always prefer less rather than more with cats. Dixie would jump at people who came within 6 feet of her and would attack people at the door when trying to walk in or out of her living space.
I should probably mention that Dixie is declawed too on the front feet and I took her to a Paw Project clinic where it was determined that she had some tendinitis going on. Depending on many factors – she may receive treatment in the form of drugs or surgery going forward but I am not 100% sure on that yet.
A Call To Action Was Made
I considered using prescription medication but she did not take pills or liquid well and putting it on her food made her foam at the mouth regardless of what I tried to mix it with. Compounding it did not hide the sour taste which also made her foam. She did not like the chews for more than a few days. I did give her the medication for a week but I decided the medication was not worth it for her because of the struggle to give it to her and the cost long term.
I could have worked with Dixie so she would take it easier but decided against it since the medication would have just made it easier for people to interact with her. For cats that people need to medicate I can train a cat to willingly take medicine when there is a risk to the owner, children or other cats. Or when the medicine is really needed like for cats that are taking buspirone for feline idiopathic cystitis or prozac for cat to cat or cat to human aggression. It was not for her convenience since she was happy when left alone and I was completely fine with that since I was keeping her.
Dixie Is An Individual And People Often Forget That
Dixie is a happy and confident cat but just does not care to interact with people that much. You can tell she is confident because she always maintains a confident pose. Dixie was one of the cats that I have met in my life that just has a strong desire to do her own thing which is completely fine with me. Giving Dixie her own space and her own belongings is all that she needed. I ended up expanding her territory along with giving her the calming food which ended up making a tremendous difference in her behavior towards people.
Dixie will still try to bite me if I attempt to pet her too fast or pick her up at a bad time but not nearly as hard now. I like to sit sideways to her and offer her a treat which is then followed by some petting. I put my hand below her head rather than above which is less threatening to cats and also blink my eyes slowly. After 3 months I finally got to stroke her from head to tail a few times and she purred. I attribute the success to environmental enrichment, regularly scheduled play time and easy to implement calming supplements.
I think it is infinitely important that people do not expect their cat to be a certain way because it leads to heightened expectations that may never be met. Improvement is always possible but sometimes you cannot change the cat entirely because of their past socialization history or individual personality. Or in the case of Dixie being declawed, that also could factor into her biting behavior.
Each cat is an individual and should be treated as such and loved for it. It is not fair to fit every cat into a small box as far as personality or how we think they should act. Some cats are meant to be lap cats, some cats are meant to be highly athletic and other cats are completely independent. I can now pet Dixie several times a day from head to tail but only a few times before she is done with it entirely. She will even ask me to pet her if I call her name and raise out my hand by coming over and doing a head bonk.
I sometimes think it is a good thing that she is independent and happy. She does not need my constant reassurance that everything is okay. But it does mean the world to me when I call her name and she comes over to say hello back. She allows the most amount of petting when she is sleep and on top of her favorite cat tower which is 4 levels high. She must feel secure up on top of the tower since cats feel more confident when they are allowed to be off the ground.
Happily Ever After For This Special Girl
I know that Dixie will never be a cuddle bug and will also not be the cat that thrives on being petted or held but I tell everyone that Dixie is perfect just the way she is. I enjoy the moments that she does allow me to pet her and pick her up. Our bonding time is mostly when I harness walk her outside in addition to when I play with her in the morning and evening with a wand cat toy followed by canned food. Dixie will jump 5 feet in the air to catch a feather toy any day of the week which is good for her physique and is instrumental for mentally wearing her out.
Above is some of the tools of the trade including my composure cat treats, feliway diffuser, clicker, thunder shirt, harness, several behavior drugs, calming cat food and baby food. All of this and much more was used to help transition Dixie to my house. Gabapentin plus Zylkene is a good drug combination to use before new and potentially scary events like having her blood drawn to make sure she was medically healthy and her first grooming session. She had perfect blood work so no issues there.
I can tell Dixie is a very happy cat when left to her own devices and given enough space to feel like she owns a lot which may explain the reason that she did poorly in a small house. I do not feel she would be very easily adoptable because of the fact that she often attempts to bite new people so I ended up adopting her because I knew that very few people would appreciate her as much as I do. I am sure I could get her up to adoptable level but at this point – she is mine.
Words of Wisdom
At the end of the day I just want her to feel loved and happy. I think I have reached that level with her and that is all I care about. She could never let me pet her again as long as she continues playing, walking around with confidence and running around hunting the puzzle feeders I leave out for her. If it is patience – as it often is to trust me more, she now has it. These cases can take a long time.
The two most important things when you work with cats like Dixie is to remain composed and patient. You cannot rush perfection and you cannot make a cat do anything they do not want to do. Do not get angry that it will take a while. Combining challenge and reward to bring out the best in any cat is key to success. Decreasing stress by improving environmental enrichment and including play time in the daily routine can lead to a huge improvement in almost any behavior.
If my house did permit add on work to be done then I would make a whole room for Dixie and that would be her safe zone which could open up more doors for confidence. A microchip door only she can enter with tons of vertical space. There is always more you can do for cats to increase their level of confidence but I have decided to sit where I am at for now since it is going well. We specialize in working with special needs cats and cats with medical illness or behavior problems. We never give up on a cat because we see the good in every cat we meet and learn something from every cat we work with.