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Toy mouse ‘prey’ in hunt... left to his own devices, cat carries quite a pile to his dish
Dear Dr. Spiegel, My wife and I are the owners of a 5 and 1/2 year old neutered male cat that we adopted from the SPCA. He (Bosco) is a wonderful animal. He's very affectionate, uses the scratching post only for his claws, even though he's strictly an inside cat. We left him "clawed" in case he should ever get out and have to defend himself. There are times when he is in his "cat mode," as we call it, where he just wants to be by himself, but for the most part, he's a very loving feline who purrs at the drop of a hat. He even gets up on the bathroom sink and nudges the spigot arm to get the water to trickle to get a drink, even though he has fresh water in the kitchen! (If we could only teach him to turn it off!) There's one thing in his behavior that puzzles us both. During the course of the evening after he's taken a snooze on his rocker, He'll get up and go to his scratching post where all his toys are and try to decide which furry toy mouse he wants to take out in the kitchen with him and drop in his dish of dry food. He'll actually sit there and choose one as you choose what tie to go with what suit. He'll have one in his mouth, hesitate, drop it, pick up another and do this several times. It's really funny to watch him go through this process. In the morning when we come into the kitchen, there have been as many as five or six mice in the dish! I know this isn't anything major, like a medical problem, but I'm wondering if you could shed some light on this habit. Thank you. Sincerely, J.P., Wilmington
Dear J.P., Like sweet thick chocolate syrup, your cat "Bosco" has apparently grown content to dispense with the chase and just claim the prize. And whether it's akin to choosing a tie or standing in front of the open refrigerator deciding what morsel to consume, we can chalk this amusing behavior up to personal idiosyncrasy, which is a fancy way of saying, "With some things, you just can't say for sure what's going on in that cat's mind." It would be neat to know how you play with him. I suspect that if you took a more active role in initiating play by stimulating him to chase objects you might find this behavior (which is probably an extremely passive form of play -- the return with the spoils of the hunt to the area where the food is kept) might diminish. At any rate, thank you for a most entertaining tale.
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a Guinea Pig named Elvis who's five months old. I bought him when he was 10 weeks. He was shy at first, but I held him on my lap and he would sit real still. About a week after I bought him, I gently checked to see what sex he was. Ever since that day he won't let me pick him up and he bites me (not real hard). I'm confused because he has a round nest that he sleeps in and every day I pick him up in the nest and take him to a closed off area where we play. He runs and leaps and climbs on my lap and always eats from my hand. But when I try slowly to touch him he runs and if I pick him up he bites. What do you think is going on with him and how can we get past this? I have no intentions of getting rid of him regardless. A.D., Newark
Dear A.D., Prey animals can easily become defensive when feeling threatened. Their choices are basically fight or run, and when unable to run, they'll often bite if feeling threatened. It's easy to visualize if you imagine Elvis as the toy mouse in the previous letter. Maybe Bosco was imagining his toy mice to be struggling, biting him on the nose and then deciding to chose a more timid victim. Every time he bites you and you stop what you're doing, his acts of defensive aggression reinforce themselves. In situations like these, you need to gain his trust very slowly and gradually. Avoid picking him up by luring him back into his nest with treats and then picking up the whole nest to put him away. When he's eating from your hand, move your other hand at a distance from him making pantomime petting motions. Watch to make sure he's focussed on eating and not moving to avoid your hand. Very slowly over time bring your hand closer and closer to him, watching to make sure he is remaining relaxed, and soon you will be able to touch him very briefly, and then for longer periods as you go. Also, see how he responds to walking onto your hand, lying motionless on the ground, to get to a delectable treat further up your arm. There are lots of little tricks you can try to encourage him to become more daring, but slow and steady wins the race. You can't force trust onto an animal.