What to Do if Your Cat Has a Urinary Tract Infection

Some of the most common cat health problems are diseases that affect the urinary tract. They can include cat urinary tract infections, feline idiopathic cystitis, bladder stones, inappropriate urinations, urinary obstructions, acute kidney failure, and chronic kidney failure. We will review these common diseases and help you understand what you can do if you believe your cat has a urinary tract infection.

Cat urinary tract problems are one of the Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About.

Common Feline Urinary Tract Problems

Cats can acquire several different diseases of the urinary tract that can all have similar symptoms. Some problems are life-threatening and others are not which makes it critical to obtain the proper diagnosis. Common problems of the cat urinary system include:

  1. Urinary Tract Infection – Urinary tract infections, also known as cystitis, can occur in cats. Symptoms often include frequent trips to the litter box and/or excessive grooming of the genital area. Based on research, most causes of cystitis in cats is not from infection and more often due to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), which means it has no known cause. When a cat urinary tract infection is due to bacteria, it is most common in senior cats.
  2. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) – This is one of the most common cat health problems estimated to affect more than 1% of all cats.  FIC, also known as “feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)”, “feline urologic syndrome (FUS)”, and “painful bladder syndrome (PBS), results in inflammation of the lower urinary tract. The cause is unknown but factors that may play a role include stress, diet (dry food diets with high mineral content), strict confinement, and genetic factors (long-haired cats seem to be more affected), and viruses. Accumulated inflammatory debris and crystals can aggregate and form a plug causing an obstruction in the urethra. This is most common in male cats and is a life-threatening medical emergency.
  3. Feline Urinary Obstruction – A feline urinary obstruction, commonly referred to as a “blocked cat”, is a life-threatening emergency most prevalent in male cats. Untreated, most cats will die in 72 hours. The blockage can be caused by stones, but usually, the cause is a plug of inflammatory debris and crystals, which is part of the common syndrome called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC).
  4. Bladder stones, also known as urolithiasis, refers to the formation of stones in the urinary tract. Stones, also known as calculi, can be found anywhere in the urinary tract, in the kidneys, the ureter or the bladder, but are most common in the bladder. They develop due to oversaturation of the urine with certain minerals, alterations in the pH, and highly concentrated urine.
  5. Tumors of the bladder such as transitional cell carcinoma are malignant cancer usually arising from the inside surface of the urinary bladder or urethra. The cause is unknown. This can cause recurrent urinary tract infections, blood in the urine, straining to urinate, and frequent urination.
  6. Inappropriate urination is by far the most common behavioral cat health problem and can be extremely frustrating to pet parents. In addition to behavioral causes, inappropriate urination in cats can be caused by feline idiopathic cystitis (see above), bladder stones, or infections.
  7. Chronic Kidney Disease is the gradual loss of kidney function and one of the most common diseases in senior cats.
  8. Acute kidney disease is the sudden loss of kidney function and can be caused by toxins such as anti-freeze ingestion.

What is a Cat Urinary Tract Infection

A urinary tract infection is an infection somewhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.  Most commonly, the urinary tract infection is in the bladder but can also be in the kidneys (called pyelonephritis).

Symptoms of a Cat Urinary Tract Infection

Symptoms of a cat urinary tract infection can be similar to those of other urinary tract problems. They can include:

  • Crying out and vocalization during urination
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Frequent urination
  • Bloody urine
  • Urinating in inappropriate locations
  • Blockage of urine flow (as well as a blockage in the urethra)
  • Licking the genital area
  • Strong urine odor
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hiding

It is critical to see your veterinarian if your cat is showing the above symptoms. It can be difficult to determine the difference between a cat with an empty bladder that is painful where the cat feels like he or she has to go and there is nothing there compared to a full bladder with a blockage.

What to do if You Suspect your Cat has a Urinary Tract Infection

If your cat is showing symptoms of frequent, difficult or inappropriate urination, the best thing to do is to see your veterinarian. When you go to your vet you can likely expect the following:

  • Your veterinarian will obtain a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination including palpation of the abdomen to evaluate the bladder size.
  • The following tests can help determine the cause of the symptoms:

Urinalysis is an evaluation of the urine that can determine the absence or presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, crystals, and/or bacteria. This can diagnose a cat urinary tract infection.

What to Do with a Cat Ear Infection

Cat ear infections are common and can involve the outer ear or the inner ear. They can be caused by ear mites, bacteria, and/or yeast organisms. We will review common causes of cat ear problems and help you understand what you can do if you believe your cat has an ear infection.

Most Common Cat Ear Problems

Cats can get different ear problems and the symptoms can be similar, making it hard for the cat owner to know for sure the underlying problem. By far the most common problem of the cat ear is an infection in the exterior canal due to an ear mite infection. However, cats can have other types of infections and diseases.

Below we will review different types of cat ear problems.

Outer ear infection, also known as otitis externa, is an infection in the outer ear canal. The most common cause is ear mites that are very contagious and common in outdoor cats, strays and feral cats and may affect up to 90 percent of all cats at some point in their life. Ear mites are small parasites that live in the ear canal of cats. As they move around and feed on tissue in the ear canal they become extremely itchy and irritating to cats.  Cats can also get bacterial and yeast infections in the ear.

Inner ear infections, also known as otitis interna or otitis media, are infections deeper in the ear canal. Signs of inner ear infections in cats are more serious and can include neurological signs such as a head tilt, abnormal pupil sizes, and balance abnormalities.

Nasopharyngeal polyps are abnormal growths of tissue that can occur anywhere in the ear, near the eardrum, nose, or the back of the throat of cats. The cause of polyp growth is unknown. Signs of problems will depend on the location of the polyp but when it involves the ear it can include recurrent infections, head tilt, balance problems, head shaking and sometimes abnormal pupil sizes.

Skin infections can occur around the ear. This is especially common in cats that scratch at their ears and damage the skin around the ear.

Trauma can occur around the ear causing an infection in the skin around the outer ear. Bite wounds are a common cause of trauma that can abscess causing pain and swelling around and even in the ear depending on the location of the bite.

Symptoms of a Cat Ear Infection

Symptoms of a cat ear infection may include:

  • Head shaking
  • Scratching at the ears
  • Discharge in the ears
  • Balance problems
  • Abnormal pupil sizes
  • Odor coming from the ear
  • Skin lesions and hair loss around or on the ears from scratching

Learn more about Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About.

What to Do if You Suspect your Cat Has an Ear Infection

If your cat is showing symptoms of an ear infection, the best thing to do is to see your veterinarian.

When you go to your vet you can likely expect the following:

  • Your veterinarian will obtain a complete medical history and perform a physical examination including examination of the ears and inner ears using an instrument called an otoscope. They will also examine your cat for other signs of parasites such as fleas. Learn more about Treatments for Cat Fleas.
  • The following tests can help determine the cause of a cat’s ear-related symptoms:

Cytology is a test where the contents of the ear are examined on a glass slide using a microscope. Oil may be used to smear the discharge around to look for ear mites. The ear discharge may also be rolled onto a glass slide that is dried and stained to evaluate for other types of infections such as bacteria and/or yeast organisms.

Examination under sedation. Some ear infections are incredibly painful. Sedation may be required for evaluation and cleaning and also for a thorough evaluation of the ear, nose, mouth, soft palate to evaluate for a nasopharyngeal polyp.

Bacterial culture and sensitivity of the ear discharge may be performed to identify the offending organism to help direct therapy.

Radiographs or advanced diagnostics such as computerized tomography (CT or “cat” scan) may be required to identify polyps.

Treatment of a Cat Ear Infection

A cat ear infection is commonly treated with an ear cleaning followed by medications to treat the underlying problem. Medications that kill ear mites will be used for ear mite infections while anti-bacterial and anti-yeast medications will be used to treat bacterial or yeast infections.

How to Control Excessive Shedding in Cats

It seems as though there is cat hair everywhere and all the time when you have cats.  All cats shed and if they are indoors, they can shed all year long. Shedding is a normal part of a healthy hair lifecycle.  While shedding in cats is normal…excessive shedding is not. Learn more about other Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About.

First, let’s review normal skin and hair patterns and reasons for excessive shedding.

Normal Cat Skin and Hair

The hair, skin, claws, and pads are made up of what is referred to as the integumentary system. Hair is located on the external part of the skin and is the barrier to the body. Disorders of the hair are part of problems with the skin.

The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis. Just under the epidermis is the dermis which is comprised of hair follicles, nerve endings, connective tissue, blood vessels, as well as sweat and oil glands. The dermis supports the hair follicles that generate the root of each hair.

Each hair in a cat is made up of the root, which is seated within the skin itself, and the shaft, which is the visible portion of the hair.

Function and Types of Cat Hair

The hair coat functions as the layer between the external environment and the skin. It protects a cat from the cold and the heat and sun.

Most cats have three types of hair.

  • Guard hairs – coarse, long, straight hairs found in the outer coat
  • Awn hairs – medium length hairs that make up the intermediate coat
  • Undercoat hairs – soft, short fluffy fur that can be wavy

Typical Cat Shedding

The shedding cycle in cats is made up of three phases. They include:

  • Anagen – Active growth phase
  • Catagen – The transition phase
  • Telogen – Rest phase

The cycle of shedding in cats is influenced by daylight, referred to as the photoperiod. The amount of sunlight a cat gets influences the shedding cycle. Shedding is common in all cats but most obvious in outdoor cats during changes in daylight such as spring when exposed to natural light.  Cats have the heaviest haircoats in the winter so they can keep warm and the lightest in the summer so they can be cool. Indoor only cats have less variance in their shedding cycles since they have less direct exposure to sunlight and significant exposure to artificial light.

How to Recognize Excessive Shedding in Cats

Excessive shedding is defined as shedding more than normal. Because we don’t welcome cat hair in our homes or on our clothes, it sometimes makes it difficult to determine normal shedding from excessive shedding since they seem to shed all the time.

When do you worry about excessive shedding? When you see any of the following on your cat there should be considerations about excessive shedding:

  • When you see generalized hair loss
  • Dull thin hair coats
  • Frequent clumps of hair around the house
  • Focal areas of hair loss
  • When the generalized shedding is associated with other problems such as scratching, weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Hair loss around the ears with head shaking or scratching at the ear area. Cat Ear Infection: What to Do.
  • When you see fleas or evidence of fleas. Learn more Treatments for Cat Fleas.

Causes of Excessive Cat Shedding

There are different reasons for excessive cat shedding or hair loss. Some of the causes include:

  • Focal hair shedding can be caused by local wounds, allergies, fleas, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, yeast infections, and ringworm. Some cats will even lick excessively at an area of pain such as a joint or over the area of their bladders. Learn more about What to Do if Your Cat Has a Urinary Tract Infection.
  • Generalized excessive cat shedding and be caused by poor nutrition, illness, and stress in cats. One of the first signs owners notice of illness in their cat is excessive shedding, dandruff or flaking skin and/or matting. Matting can be caused by a lack of grooming which is common when a cat does not feel well.

How to Limit Excessive Shedding in Cats

Different cats can have different types and lengths of hair. For example, purebred cats can range from nearly hairless to longhaired. The domestic run-of-the-mill cats are commonly categorized as domestic shorthaired (DSH), domestic medium-haired (DMH) and domestic long-haired (DLH). It can seem like longhaired cats may shed more than shorthaired cats but they basically shed the same.

What to Do with a Cat Flea Infection

Cat fleas are a very common and extremely annoying problem for not only cats but also their owners. Before we go any further, please make sure you understand this. It is critical to never use dog flea control products on your cat without the approval of your veterinarian. Using the wrong treatment on a cat can be fatal.

What are Cat Fleas?

Fleas are small, wingless and brown insects that love to jump on cats as part of their life cycle. When they do, their particular mouthparts pierce the skin and siphon blood. During the flea bite, the flea injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some cats may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of cats become sensitized to this saliva causing an allergic reaction referred to as “flea allergy dermatitis”. In highly allergic cats, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and skin infections. Cat fleas are one of the most Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About.

The Life Cycle of the Cat Flea

Fleas love warm weather and humidity and generally begin their optimal breeding cycle with temperatures around 70°F to 85°F and humidity near 70%. Fleas can become dormant in the winter but the heat will bring very fertile conditions ripe for infestations.  Fleas can still reproduce in the winter depending on the temperature and environment. They can thrive all year in homes.

The flea’s life cycle has four stages that include egg, larva, pupae, and adult. The adult flea jumps on your cat to obtain a blood meal and breed leading to the first phase…eggs.

  • Eggs – The adult flea lays eggs either directly on the cat where they may drop off or the flea goes back on the ground and lays their eggs there.
  • Larvae – The eggs eventually hatch into larvae that live on the ground such as in carpeting, cracks in hardwood floors, corners, on patios or in the grass. The larvae survive by ingesting dried blood, animal dander, and other organic matter.
  • Pupae – To complete the flea life cycle, larvae develop into pupae. In cold weather, the pupae can lie dormant for months then quickly transition to adults during the appropriate heat and humidity conditions.
  • Adult –  From the pupae comes the adults which then jumps back on the cat to get a blood meal and breed. An adult flea can lay 15 to 20 eggs per day and over 500 in her lifetime. Her eggs can be adults in as little as two to three weeks. The flea spends the majority of its life cycle of the pet. In fact, for every flea you see ON your cat, there are about 200 life forms in the flooring, yard or carpet of your home. This is why you don’t always see fleas on your cat.

You can quickly see how one or two fleas can quickly become an infestation. During the peak months, however, one flea can become as many as 100,000 in just 30 days!

Symptoms of Cat Fleas

Symptoms of cat fleas include:

  • Scratching or biting of the skin
  • Hair loss over the legs or back
  • Raw open wounds or small scabs over the neck and back from scratching and secondary bacterial infections
  • Identification of fleas. You can see fleas sometimes when you part the hair and look at the skin. The most common areas fleas love to be on cats are over the lower back just at the base of the tail, abdominal area, and around the neck.
  • Evidence of “flea dirt”. Another way to determine if fleas are present is to look for flea dirt. This is actually the bowel movement of the flea that consists of digested blood. It looks like fresh ground pepper over the back or neck of your cat.  You can use a flea comb to help find fleas and flea dirt
  • Excessive shedding. Learn about How to Control Excessive Shedding in Cats.

Diagnosis of Cat Fleas

The diagnosis of cat fleas involves the identification of fleas, evidence of “flea dirt”, or lesions consistent with fleas.  Because the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment it can be difficult to see a flea on your cat. It is also common for the meticulous cat to sense a flea on himself or herself and bite, chew and eat the flea thus destroying the evidence.

You can check your cat carefully for fleas or for signs of flea dirt. Be sure to focus on the area over the back just in front of the tail. A flea comb can be helpful. A flea comb has narrow tines that are closer together than the typical adult flea. Running a flea comb across your cat can yield fleas that can otherwise be evasive.

Common Cat Health Problems You Should Know About

There are many different types of cat health problems that can occur. Cat owners are often amazed that their cat can suffer from many of the same problems that we humans get such as diabetes, kidney infections, bladder stones, and various types of cancer. Below we will review some of the most common cat health problems.

Top 26 Cat Health Problems

The most common cat health problems seen at veterinary clinics and veterinary emergency rooms are as follows:

  1. Vomiting – Vomiting, also known as gastritis, is a very common cat health problem. It is the act of ejecting matter from the stomach through the mouth. Vomiting in cats can be caused by many different things such as a viral bug, indiscriminate eating of things such as plants, urinary obstructions, or kidney failure.
  2. Diarrhea – Diarrhea, also known as enteritis, can be caused by viral infections, indiscriminate eating such as plants, a food change, inflammatory bowel disease, and/or cancer just to name a few.
  3. Urinary Tract Infection – Urinary tract infections, also known as cystitis, can occur in cats. What to Do if Your Cat Has a Urinary Tract Infection. What is more common than a urinary tract infection is a disease called feline lower urinary tract disease that is a different problem but can have similar symptoms.
  4. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) – This is one of the most common cat health problems affecting more than 1% of all cats. FLUTD, also known as Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS), Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), or Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS), develops due to accumulated inflammatory debris and crystals that can form a plug that obstructs the urethra of male cats. This is a life-threatening medical emergency.
  5. Upper Respiratory Infection – Various types of viruses and/or bacteria can infect the nose, throat and sinus area of cats. It is very contagious and extremely common in strays and outdoor cats. Common symptoms include sneezing and runny eyes.
  6. Conjunctivitis –Inflammation of the conjunctiva is common in cats and generally causes a red, painful and runny eye.
  7. Weight Loss – The loss of weight is a common cat health problem that can develop from any disease on this list including diabetes, cancer, thyroid disease, or kidney failure.
  8. Lethargy– Decreased energy or interest in the surroundings are common signs of a lethargic cat. Many things including organ failure, infections, and cancer can cause lethargy.
  9. Diabetes Mellitus – Diabetes is a disease caused by a deficiency of the hormone insulin or a poor response to insulin. Insulin carries glucose to cells within the body and without insulin, high blood glucose results. Diabetes can cause symptoms such as increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, inappropriate urination, infections, and weakness.
  10. Lymphoma – Lymphoma is malignant cancer that involves the lymphoid system. Lymphoid tissue normally is found in many different parts of the body including lymph nodes, liver, spleen, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.
  11. Anorexia/Decreased Appetite – This vague sign is one of the most common reasons cat owners take their cat to the vet. Decreased interest in food is one of the first signs of illness that can be caused by a variety of problems including infections, cancer, or diabetes.
  12. Asthma – Asthma is a lung condition caused by sudden narrowing of the bronchial tubes. Typical symptoms include difficulty breathing, coughing, and/or wheezing.
  13. Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of gastrointestinal disorders that involve infiltration of the gastrointestinal tract by inflammatory cells (white blood cells). IBD can affect both the upper (stomach and small intestine) and lower (colon) gastrointestinal tracts and commonly causes weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
  14. Inappropriate Urination – This is the most common behavioral cat health problem and one extremely frustrating to pet parents. In addition to behavioral causes, inappropriate urination in cats can be caused by FLUTD (see above), bladder stones or infections.
  15. Constipation – Constipation is infrequent, incomplete, or difficult defecation with the passage of hard or dry feces. It may cause a lot of discomfort in cats.
  16. Chronic Kidney Disease – Chronic kidney disease is the gradual loss of kidney function and is one of the most common diseases in cats that affects senior cats. It can affect all ages and breeds and is most common in cats over the age of 9 years.
  17. Hyperthyroidism – Feline hyperthyroidism is one of the most common endocrine disorders in senior cats. Common symptoms include losing weight despite a good appetite. This can be diagnosed with a blood test.
  18. Fever – A fever is defined as abnormally high body temperature resulting from internal body controls. Fevers are believed to be a method to help fight infection since many viral and bacterial organisms do not thrive in hot environments. By increasing the body temperature, the body destroys those organisms.  Most cats with fevers will be lethargic and have a decreased appetite.
  19. Gastroenteritis (Vomiting and Diarrhea) – Vomiting and diarrhea are common symptoms in cats. An occasional bout of vomiting and diarrhea is quite common in cats however, severe continued vomiting and diarrhea are not normal, and can be associated with life-threatening illnesses.
  20. Cancer- Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells on or within the body. It may be localized, or it may invade adjacent tissue and spread throughout the body. Cancer is common in cats and the rate increases with age. Cancer can occur in almost any location or body system – for example, areas such as the skin, stomach, bowels, mouth tissues, kidney or bladder, blood, brain, breasts, or bones.
  21. Ringworm – Ringworm, also known as Dermatophytosis, is a contagious fungal infection of the skin, caused by Microsporum canis. It is not caused by a worm. It is spread from person to person, from animal to person, or indirectly from contaminated objects or the soil. The associated spores can live for years in some conditions.
  22. Worms – When pet owners talk about worms, they are really talking about all gastrointestinal parasites. And there are several gastrointestinal parasites that commonly affect our dogs and cats. The most common are roundworms.
  23. Flea Infestation– The flea is a common problem for cats as well as their owners. Some pets are “flea allergic” and develop severe itching and skin infections even with one bite. This occurs because some cats are hypersensitive to the antigens in flea saliva. Learn more about Treatments for Cat Fleas.
  24. Bite Wounds- Bite wounds result when two animals engage in aggressive play or a fight. They can occur from other cats, dogs or other wild animals. Depending on the location and size of the animal, bites can result in significant trauma to the skin, muscles, nerves, and organs under the skin as well as tearing, puncturing and lacerations of the skin. Some bite wounds create punctures that can abscess leading to bite wound abscesses.
  25. Trauma – Trauma can occur from a fall, attack, being struck by an automobile or any other type of harm. The injuries can vary based on the force, the size of the pet, and the location injured and can vary from minor to life-ending. Common results of trauma can range from abrasions, bruising, lacerations, fractures, organ rupture, and/or death.
  26. Ear infection – Otitis externa, commonly known as an ear infection, is characterized by inflammation of the soft tissue components of the external ear canal. It can affect cats but is more common in dogs.  Learn more about Cat Ear Infection: What to Do.

We hope this list gives you some information about cat health problems. Click on the links in the above list for detailed information on that problem. If you have a cat health issue that is not on the list, use the search bar at the top of the page to find your problem.

Additional Articles that May be of Interest For Cat Health Problems:

How Do Cats Communicate With Humans?

Overview of Cat Communication

Cats have unique ways to communicate with humans and with each other. Cats are mysterious creatures that are fascinating to watch as they interact with each other and with humans. Everything they do is a form of cat communication in one way or another. The way they move their bodies, look around the room, look at you, open or close their eyes, position of their tail, overall body position and gestures and so much more is telling you something.

By carefully observing your cat’s behavior and movements, you can understand many of their moods including happy, relaxed, loving, angry, agitated, angry or fearful.

Training You to Better Understand Your Cat’s Mood

Below are ways cats use their bodies, gestures, and movements to show some common feelings.  Below are ways to read a cat to help you better understand how cats communicate with humans and with each other.

Happy Cat

Cats that are happy often have a contented demeanor, alert ears, relaxed tails, with their body facing you. Their ears will generally face forward with their tails either straight up or in a relaxed position behind them. The tail is still.  They will generally hold their head toward you and sometimes extend their necks to encourage a touch or pet. Happy and relaxed cats will commonly rub up against objects or you and they may purr.

Loving Cat

Cats that want to show their love to humans will often walk in front of you back and forth entwining themselves around your legs. They are communicating a need for love, attention and potentially a snack. Head rubbing, also known as bunting, is a loving signal that involves marking with special biological scents, called pheromones.

Relaxed Cat

Relaxed cats are fun to look at. They are content and readily show their vulnerabilities. They will sleep curled up in a ball with their paws tucked in and under.  Sometimes they will have their head to the side with a paw over the eyes. Some relaxed cats will lay on their sides stretched out with their belly partially exposed or even sleep on their back with all four feet in the air which is a sign of relaxation and trust. Relaxed cats will also have a good stretch in front of you which is a sign of vulnerable and trust.  Their eyes may be half-closed and they may purr. There is no tension in their bodies.

Cat Ready for Aggressive Attack

Cats that take on an aggressive posture are ready for attack. Aggressive cats will lower their bodies to the ground with their ears rotated back and flat against their heads with very focused eyes on their target.  The tail will be low or raised with the hair raised, which is sometimes called a bottlebrush tail sign. Some cats will thump their tails or quickly move them back and forth as their agitation increases. Some cats may not vocalize at all while others will vocalize with growls, hiss or a screech. We sometimes call this “offensive aggression”.

Agitated Cat

A cat that is getting agitated will stiffen his body, straighten his legs, with a tail that is stiff but can be straight or curled. They overall go from a relaxed posture to one of tension. Some cats will be silent while others will hiss or growl. As they get more agitated, they can quickly go into either an aggressive or angry posture.

Cat Ready on Attack Defense

Cats that take on this defensive posture are responding to a potential attack. We sometimes call this “defensive aggression”.  A cat will recoil or cower back, ears back and nearly flat against the head, and head withdrawn. The legs are pulled tight against the body. The facial muscles are tense, often displaying teeth. If the cat is also going offensive, it will appear as described above.

Scared or Fearful Cat

The frightened cat shares some similarities to the aggressive cat, depending on the level of fear or anger. Scared cats will arch their backs and the hair on their tail and the back will stand straight up trying to make themselves appear as large as possible. Other cats will get into a crouching position with their back feet firmly planted ready to run if they need to. Some cats will stick their tails straight up in the air. The cat’s pupils will often dilate to allow them to better see and respond to a threat.

Annoyed Cat

A cat that is annoyed will flatten his ears and stiffen his body posture. The tip of their tail may begin to switch and they may vocalize into a low growl. They will often withdraw their attention from whatever is annoying them and often move away. If you continue petting your cat when he is annoyed, the next step is a swat or a bite. Another signal of annoyance in some cats can be urine marking and furniture scratching.

Predator Cat

The sequence of the predator cat is to stalk, pounce, kill, remove and then eat their prey. When a cat is in stocking mode, they will move slowly, often with pauses while they “wait”. They will sometimes shift weight in the rear legs as they get ready for a quick sprint and pounce action. Then the cat pounces, he lifts off with his back feet and pounces on their prey. Once he catches the prey, he quickly kills it with a fatal bite then takes off to a safe location where they do not feel vulnerable and exposed to have their snack.

Angry Cat

The angry cat shares many of the same visual cues with the scared cat. They will fluff up and arch their backs to make themselves appear as big as possible. They will often flick their tail tip quickly. The angry cat may be silent or hiss and/or growl. Their legs are stiff and tense; ears go from relaxed to flat against their heads. Their eyes are focused and pupils may be narrow.

Grooming Cat

The grooming cat is generally relaxed and can manipulate themselves into a variety of positions to lick their fur. Cats have barbs on their tongue that helps loosen tangled hair, remove parasites, and clean their fur. Grooming is a natural behavior that can provide comfort and help them stay cool in hot weather. Grooming can take up almost half of their waking hours.

How to Communicate With Your Cat

One way you can communicate with your cat is through eye contact. Direct eye contact with a blink can suggest love and affection. When a cat looks at you and blinks, they are communicating affection and comfort to you.

How Do Cats Communicate with Each Other?

Cats are mysterious creatures and fascinating for us humans to watch as they interact. Everything they do is a form of communication in one way or another. Cats communicate both with nonverbal (visual) signals and vocal tones.  When cats communicate with each other, they tend to communicate with visual signs and assorted olfactory signs. They can additionally communicate vocally with a hiss or growl but more often communicate to humans with vocalizations.

Cat Communication

Cats communicate with the way they move their body gestures, eye position and movement, tail motion and position, and even various mannerisms. How they move in and look in a room says so much to other cats.

Signs and Signals of Cats Communicating

Visual Communications – Cats can communicate aggression with an intense stare. Hunting or predatory behavior is associated with an intense tracking gaze. On the other hand, cats can look at you with a relaxed blink to communicate affection and trust. Wide-open eyes communicate awareness and sometimes fear. Half closed eyes suggest relaxation.

Vocal Communications – Cats can make a variety of sounds from a growl, hiss, spit, shriek, chatter, squeak, mew, moan and meow. Each of these sounds communicates different things. The growl, hiss, spit, and shriek are sounds of aggression.  The shriek is generally an escalation of aggression. Some cats have a squeak that is associated with excitement, such as when exposed to their favorite toy or in anticipation of a meal. The chatter is associated with predatory behavior, common when a cat is looking out the window at a bird or squirrel.  The meow is a common sound cats use when talking to people to gain attention or say hello. A meow is a sound kittens often make as they interact with their mothers and caregivers. Finally, the purr can be a sound of comfort, whether it is for self-comfort when afraid or showing affectionate comfort.

Physical Touch Communication – Cats will groom themselves, other cats and humans. This can be a self-care action or allogrooming behavior with another cat that can relieve stress and be a bonding behavior of affection.  Allogrooming occurs between members of the same species and establishes relationships and hierarchies.

Body Language and Movements – A cat’s body language can change quickly and is a common way to communicate with other cats. Cats that move directly toward you or another cat are ready to create an interaction. If that intentional movement is relaxed, it can communicate a hello. If the intentional movements are tense and anxious, it can indicate aggression. A cat that is getting agitated will stiffen his body, straighten his legs, the hair will stand on end, with a tail that is stiff but can be straight or curled. They can go from a relaxed posture to one of tension in a moment. Some cats will be silent while others will hiss or growl. As cats become more agitated, they can quickly go into either an aggressive or angry posture. Dilated pupils with an intense stare with ears back flat against the head are common signs of aggression.

Olfactory Communications – Cats can mark territory with urine or by rubbing scent glands on objects. Urine marking is most common in unneutered male cats and believed to communicate territory boundaries in the hopes of decreasing interactions with other fighting males.  Most urine marketing occurs on vertical surfaces often at the nose level of other cats. Scent glands on their chins and cheeks allow a cat to rub against objects to spread their scent. That’s a way of communicating “This is mine” or “I was here”. There are also scent glands in the paws that allow scratching to be both a visual and olfactory cat to cat communication. These olfactory communication methods are demonstrated by males and females.

How to Understand Cat Communication

A lot of information can be learned by observing the interactions and behavior of cats alone or together. With careful observation, it is possible to understand a cat’s mood.

Cats also have amazing ways to communicate but you have to be able to read their language of communication. Here is a fascinating article: How Do Cats Communicate With Humans?

How Smart Cats Are

Cats are smart, probably smarter than you think. In fact, cats have twice as many neurons as dogs. Learn more about feline intelligence in this article How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know.

Cats get a bad rap sometimes because they are so independent and choose not to come running when called. Learn more about Why Don’t Cats Listen When They’re Called?

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Most Intelligent Cat Breeds

How Smart Are Cats?

Cats are smart, probably smarter than you think. They are intelligent. In fact, they have twice as many neurons as dogs. Learn more about feline intelligence in this article How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know.

Most Intelligent Breeds of Cats

Cat intelligence is difficult to measure. After all, they can’t read a book and take a test. We look at cat intelligence based on their ability to be trained, how they adapt and problem solve, and how the interact with other animals and their surroundings.

The most intelligent cat breeds are believed to be as follows:

  1.   Bengal –The Bengal is a large, sleek, beautifully spotted cat with a powerful, athletic frame. These intelligent cats have retained their exotic, feral look with an amazing temperament and personality.  The Bengal’s body is long and very muscular, resembling the leopard cat’s powerful appearance. While the first Bengal was created in California in 1963 by an unintentional mating between a female Asian leopard cat and a domestic shorthair male, the breed as we know it today began in 1980 when breeders began a planned breeding program. Bengals form strong emotional bonds with their human friends and become loving, loyal companions. Because of their deep attachment to their humans and their high activity level, they need more human interaction than some breeds.

Bengal cats are graceful, strong, and agile. They love to climb and will gravitate to the highest point in any room. They are very smart, learn quickly and can be taught a number of tricks. In fact, some learn tricks you’d rather they didn’t, such as opening cupboards, turning on and off light switches and flushing toilets.

  1.  Abyssinian – The Abyssinian, also known as the “Aby” is a very intelligent cat breed. They are thought to have descended from cats worshiped by the ancient Egyptians nearly 4,000 years ago. The Aby is a colorful feline known for her energy and striking ticked pattern. They are often described as looking lovely but courageous, high-spirited and extremely curious. They are natural athletes, and no closed room or cupboard is safe from their agile paws and inquiring minds.  Abyssinian cats are good problem solvers.
  2.  Siamese – The Siamese is the most universally recognized domestic cat breed and one of the oldest. The Siamese is described in manuscripts dating back to 1350 and came to America in the 1900s. These sleek, vocal cats have big baby-blue eyes and striking pointed patterns that originated hundreds of years ago in Siam (now Thailand), where they were held in high esteem. According to legend, for generations, the kings of Siam kept Siamese cats in the royal palace. Siamese cats were considered worthy companions for Siam’s royalty and religious leaders. The Siamese is the most vocal of the cat breeds and frequently communicate with various meows and yowls to humans.  They also love to fetch and are very social.
  3. Cornish Rex –Cornish rex cats are fascinating with willowy contours, long and lean bodies, curly coat, large ears, and big mournful eyes. They are referred to as “intelligent, people-oriented extroverts”. The Cornish rex was discovered in 1950 on a farm in Cornwall, England, when Serena, a tortoise shell and white domestic, gave birth to five kittens. Four were ordinary, but the fifth was unique. Kallibunker, as the kitten was named, was an orange and white male with short, curly fur. Unlike the other kittens that were stocky little domestics, Kallibunker had a long, lithe body, large ears, a slender tail, and a wedge-shaped head. Learn more about how they developed this unique kitten into a breed.

Cornish rex have great personalities and only two speeds – fast and curious and out cold. No shelf, drawer, countertop, or cupboard is safe from the curious Cornish. They are perfect for people who like energetic, inquisitive, agile felines. The Cornish cat can be easy to train and loves for you to toss toys which they will bring then back over and over. They love climbing, leaping and sprinting and have marvelously nimble paws.

5. Burmese – The Burmese are a solidly built feline with a short, glossy, satin-like coat. Originally from Burma (now Myanmar), all North American and European Burmese can be traced to a single cat that arrived in the United States in 1930.

Burmese are active and super-smart, and love to play, particularly when you are involved in the game. Burmese are extremely devoted, people-oriented cats that require a significant time commitment. They prefer you to be home with them.

Why Don’t Cats Listen When They’re Called?

You might be calling – “Here kitty, kitty” over and over to get no response. Nothing. Then you begin your search. You look on chairs, open doors, look in closets, under the sofa, pretty much everywhere and you can’t find the kitty. You start to worry. Maybe even panic. Then…you see your precious kitty walk in the room stretching after a nap.

Why don’t cats listen? The answer is … because they don’t need to listen. Cats are smart, in fact, many believe that cats are smarter than dogs.

Cat Intelligence

Intelligence is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. It includes the ability to learn from experience, recall that information, and problem solve. A cat’s brain is about 2 inches in size and accounts for about 1% of a cat’s body mass.  Learn more about feline intelligence in this article How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know.

Cats may, in fact, be smarter than dogs. This topic is an area of debate with research reports being heavily debated as to the number of neurons in the brains of cats versus dogs. Most studies reveal that cats have over 300 million neurons compared to dogs who are estimated to have almost half of that with 150 to 160 million neurons.  This compares to over 20 billion neurons in the average human brain.

Some behaviorists suggest that a cat’s intelligence is comparable to that of a 2-year-old human. Some breeds are considered to be more intelligent than others. Learn about the Most Intelligent Cat Breeds.

Cat owners share stories of feline intelligence. For example:

My cat Tito can open doors. He can jump on a door handle and grasp it to turn and open it and go out.” – William – Boston MA.

“Teenie Weenie learned from my cat Ivan how to fetch. Both of them will retrieve balls of paper, bread ties, and milk carton rings” – Maryann – Portland OR.

“My cat Sammy is obsessed over playing with a red piece of yarn. He will chase it while we play for hours.  I am afraid he will swallow it so I hide it in a drawer when playtime is over. Sammy will see where I hid it and will not leave that area. He will stare at the drawer and sometimes even paw at the drawer to try to get it open.” – John B. – Newark NJ.

Cats can remember both good and bad experiences both inside and outside the home. They can associate a memory with a place, person, odor, or surroundings.  Cats also have amazing ways to communicate but you have to be able to read their language of communication. Here are two fascinating articles:

Explanation of Why Cats Don’t Come When Called

The question remains – why don’t cats come when called? Why don’t cats listen?

This answer most likely stems from the same reason that cats are so independent.  Cats are generally very independent compared to dogs. It appears that cats do not look at people as a protector and are not affected as much by separation. This can make the cat an ideal companion for those that work long hours.  While cats provide wonderful companionship and are full of personality, they are not dependent on you to come home and walk them.

Their independence probably stems from the fact that cats are solitary predators, unlike dogs who are pack animals and hunt within the pack. A cat doesn’t need other cats to hunt. Cats can live in groups but it is not a requirement.

It’s not so much a matter of cats not listening but more as cats not needing to hear what you have to say.

Training Tips for Cats

Cats indeed can be trained. There is one method called Clicker Training. A clicker is a small device that you press that makes a standard “click” sound. Behaviorist Dr. Nick Dodman shares the following tips to train your cat.

  • Choose a quiet location where you can be alone and undisturbed with your cat.
  • Have a supply of delicious food treats on hand, say in a bowl, but out of the cat’s reach. For cats: cut-up “Pounce” cat treats (of a favorite flavor) will often do.
  • Have your clicker in your hand.

Step 1 – Clicker Training Your Cat

  • Pair a click with a reward – for nothing at first.  Click-treat; click-treat; and so on. By the end of this stage you should:
  • Have your cat’s undivided attention
  • Notice that your cat reacts to hearing the click with some anticipatory behavior when it has learned to associate the sound with the reward.

Step 2 – Clicker Training Your Cat

  • Begin to click and treat only when the cat has engaged in some behavior that is asked.
  • Immediately acceptable as a finished behavior (e.g. sitting).
  • Approximate a reward with a behavior that you are trying to encourage.
  • Your cat may take a pace or two towards you if you are trying to train it to come to you.

The cat learns that if it performs a behavior that you approve of it can make you click …and that means food. Many cats will try all kinds of ways to make you click when in “clicker mode.”  All you have to do is decide what you want to reward (and therefore promote) and what you prefer to ignore.

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How Smart Are Cats? Everything You Need to Know

Cats are smart. In fact, cats have almost twice as many neurons in their brains than dogs. Some articles try to refute this claim but it’s true.

People perceive cats as not smart because of their mysterious nature and total independence. It is common for people to compare the intelligence of dogs to cats.

This is a difficult comparison because dogs are totally different. Dogs are pack animals and rely on a pack leader. They need each other to hunt. Therefore in the home, dogs will commonly involve themselves in household routines as a way to connect with the pack. Cats don’t need anyone which may be one of the reasons Why Don’t Cats Listen When They’re Called?

Another difference between cats and dogs is that although dogs and cats can have a variety of personalities and can be either introverts or extroverts, it is more common for cats to be introverted and dogs to be extroverted. The increased interactions with dogs can be mistaken for intelligence.  Cats are content to be alone for hours. Dogs commonly need direction from the pack to feel secure. Cats are also less patient, less tolerant, and more impulsive.

How Smart Are Cats: Understanding the Cat Brain

The cat brain takes up approximately 0.9% of its body mass compared to about 1.2% for the average dog, and 2% for humans. But this is a good instance to indicate that once again size doesn’t matter.

The brain isn’t just about size. What matters is the structure and density within the brain. If you look back at the first primitive humans, also known as Neanderthals, their brains were very large and they were unable to survive.  When considering the brain, you not only have the size of the brain but the fact that some brains have folds within the brain that increase the total surface area. The brains of cats have a very detailed matrix of folds that make their brain much more similar to the human brain as compared to dogs. The brain of cats is considered more complex and contains double the number of neurons as compared to dogs. Cats have better long-term memories than dogs.

Some cat breeds are more intelligent than others. Learn more about Most Intelligent Cat Breeds.

Cat Communication 

Cats have amazing abilities to communicate with each other and with us. They use a variety of gestures, movements, vocalizations, and olfactory signals to communicate fear, anger, happiness, love, aggression, contentment, relaxation and annoyance. Careful observation of cat behavior can allow you to quickly read the various moods of cats. Learn more about some communication methods in cats.

How Do Cats Communicate with Each Other?

How Do Cats Communicate With Humans?

Are Cats Trainable?

Cats are very trainable. Their individual trainability varies from cat to cat but in general, cats can be very trainable. Cats can learn to sit, stay, come and even fetch. Basic training for cats involves obedience training just as it does for dogs.

The issue with cats is to encourage them to want to be trained. It’s 5 am and they are up waiting for their meal. Some cats come running in response to various stimuli such as the rattle of certain food wrapper, the opening of a can, or the doorbell.

Cats are very smart and generally have an instinct for the litter box. Learn more about litter box training cats.

One method that can be used to train cats is to use clicker training. With this method, you can teach a cat to sit, jump up, or lie down.

If you have not been to a cat show, there can be amazing entertainment events of well-trained cats running through boxes, leaping from place to place, and performing very complex acts. Learn more about clicker training your cat.

Cats are smart, and they’re probably a lot smarter than you think.

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