4 Nov 2022

Understanding your cat's behaviour

From Nights, 9:07 pm on 4 November 2022

With kitten season well underway, animal behaviourist Dr Elsa Flint shares some tips and tricks on how to train any new additions, as well as dealing with problematic behaviour from older cats. 

A kitten with its paws against a tree trunk looking up.

Photo: Unsplash / Koen Eijkelenboom

Thinking about getting a kitten? 

Flint says there’s a few things you need to think about before you get a kitten or cat. 

These include how you’ll introduce the kitten to other animals in your home, whether you’ve got time to look after it properly and whether there’s not anyone in the household who's allergic. 

How long should you keep a cat inside when they’re settling into a new home? 

“That’s a hard one. Average time would be two weeks, that’s what we normally recommend, but it depends on the cat.” 

When they’re ready to venture outside for the first time, start carefully, and let them outside with you.  

If they’re wanting to get out or escape, Flint recommends first dealing with that behaviour by introducing play sessions in the evening and early mornings to try and keep them occupied. 

If you’re not very far from your previous home, they may just venture back so it’s something to be aware of. “Particularly if they have a better hunting ground at that property.” 

Do cats need baths? 

No, they don’t, Flint says. They’ll clean themselves by licking. 

“They might if they get something on them that’s a bit toxic, if they’ve walked in something they shouldn’t have etc, but they don’t thank you for bathing them, they’re not very comfortable with that usually.” 

Cats do like to be brushed though, so grooming your cat is something you can do, she says. 

Why do they enjoy getting pats above their tail on their lower back? 

“They’re quite sensitive there so they tend to enjoy being rubbed there. They’ll put their bottom up in the air and sort of quite enjoy that scratching.” 

Sometimes they get overstimulated by it though, so watch out. 

Should you put your cat on a lead? 

Some cats are fine on a lead, Flint says. “But generally, if you’ve started them from kittenhood then they’ll get used to it and they will actually walk with their owners.” 

Does a cat bring you prey to show how clever they are? 

“Some people think that. I think they’re just bringing it back to their den.” 

How important is desexing when it comes to the health of my cat? When do I need to do it? 

It’s very important, Flint says. 

“If you don’t desex a male cat, it’s likely to be out and about looking for ladies and getting in trouble because they have quite a wide range if they’re tom cats, they can go over roads and get hit by cats, they can have fights with other male cats and get horrible abscess.” 

There are also so many unwanted kittens that Flint says it’s a socially responsible thing to do. 

It’s not particularly good for female cats to keep having kittens either, she says. 

Kittens are usually spayed or neutered at six months old. 

Corinna Bennett's cat, Bubbles

Photo: Supplied / Jo Moore Photography

Do bells stop cats from catching birds? 

“Not so much, no. It’s proven not to be very effective; they seem to move in ways that stop the bells being detected by prey.” 

Can you teach a cat tricks? 

You can teach a cat tricks just like you can a dog, Flint says. 

You can teach them to sit, high five but cats may be less inclined to want to do them than a dog. 

“They have to be the sort of cat that enjoys interaction, there are some cats that just might not bother.” 

Cat body language 

“I think you need to know when the cat’s had enough of you.” 

A cat will walk away from you when it’s had enough, Flint says.  

“Cats tend to seek attention when they want it and when they’ve had enough interaction they’ll just move off. If you’re overdoing it, then you’ll see the tail start to lash...they might twitch their back in front of the tail, and they’ll just get a bit tense in their body posture.” 

A cat in the bush

A cat in the bush Photo: 123RF

How do you stop a cat going to the toilet somewhere you don’t want them to? 

Putting a piece of string crisscrossed across the area, like a vegetable garden, seems to work because cats don’t like to walk over it, Flint says.  

“On sticks, just a little bit above [the ground].” 

How often should you deworm your cat? 

If your cat is a big hunter, you should deworm them every three months, Flint says. 

Cats can get tapeworms from fleas, so you need to keep on top of flea treatment as well, she says. 

Tapeworm segments, that look like little grains of rice, can be seen around the anal area, she says.