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My Pet World: Sometimes, cats are 'top dog' in the house

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We recently got a cat from our local Humane Society. He is a three-year-old male. His cage card said he wasn't good with other cats. It wasn't until we got home that we saw the paperwork also said he doesn't like dogs either. We don't have cats, but we do have a five-year-old Shar Pei. He bloodied the dog's nose during the first encounter.

It's been more than six months now. The cat is otherwise very sociable with people and loves to be brushed and cuddled in our bed. But he is like a ninja with the dog. These aren't big battles anymore; the dog knows to give the cat space. But the cat seems to taunt the dog. He waits behind corners to attack the poor dog and sits in the dog's favorite spots. I think he does this on purpose. What can we do to discourage this behavior? -- Chuck, St. Paul, MN

Dear Chuck,

Your cat is the dominant "dog" in the house and has set the tone for his interactions with your Shar-Pei. Even though your dog gives the cat a wide berth, you can discourage the cat's intimidating behavior by gently moving him along when he looks like he is about to chase or pounce. Then rub a little dab of hairball gel onto his top paw. He will begin licking it off and should lose interest in intimidating the dog, both instantly and hopefully over time.

Also, get your cat a tall cat tree -- at least six-foot tall. Cats like to climb and observe their world from above, so this may reduce face-to-face encounters with the dog. Rub a little catnip or leave a catnip toy or treats on the highest platform to encourage your feline to climb up the cat tree.

If moving your cat along doesn't discourage him, shake a can of coins when he looks like he is about to pounce, or use something called a Pet Corrector (available online), which emits a compressed air sound that will distract your cat and hopefully discourage him from jumping the dog.

Dear Cathy,

I have four indoor only cats. They range in age from two- to six-years-old. Our problem child is a five-year-old female cat named Trinity. Before we adopted her at four months old, Trinity lost a leg before from a dog bite. When we brought her home, she didn't use the litter box. She used the couch instead. After three days, we took her to the vet who said she had ringworm. Trinity was put into isolation and given sulfur baths for the ringworm for almost two months. We visited her regularly to keep her familiar with us. When we brought her home, we noticed that loud noises sent her running. She began to use the litter box regularly, and we had no more issues. We had a rescue cat that lived with us for six months, and a second cat that was injured. We moved almost two years ago, and everything was fine.

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Recently, we had workers in the house, and shortly after, we caught Trinity urinating on the rugs in the kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. Some of these rugs were right next to the litterboxes she had been using for over a year. She was put on antibiotics for a possible UTI, and Prozac for stress. We love to be able to put the rugs back down without having to wash them daily. Any suggestions? -- Jeannetta, Abingdon, Virginia

Dear Jeannetta,

I am glad you ruled out health issues first. Trinity's early traumatic life, however, may have shaped her poor litter box habits. When cats are sick or stressed, they often avoid the litter box. Stress, like the temporary cats coming in and out of the home or the strangers working in your home, can all be triggers for her urinating outside the box.

If you need to foster other cats, just know this is a likely trigger for her. Leave the rugs off the floor for now and sprinkle a litter box attractant (available online or at a pet store) to entice her back to the box. When the litter box habit is fully restored, put the carpets out again one at a time to see how she reacts, keeping the carpets away from the litterbox area for now.

Also, put several boxes throughout the home and in places where she can't be startled. With cats, it often takes a combination of strategies to bring them back to the box.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)



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