Until a few years ago, many of us didn’t even know that cat behaviorists existed. But with the popularity of big name behaviorists like Jackson Galaxy and Mieshelle Nagelschneider, it’s becoming more and more obvious that even the trickiest behavior problems can be solved with patience and a sixth sense about why cats do the things they do.
Behavior problems are the biggest reason family cats end up in shelters, so having the resources to solve them can literally help save lives. But how do you know when you’ve done all you can do and need to hire an expert to truly solve the problem?
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Visit your veterinarian first
If you can’t find an obvious cause for a behavior problem, you should always make an appointment with your veterinarian. That’s because it’s not uncommon for behavioral problems to stem from medical problems. For instance, a cat who is suffering from a urinary tract infection or has become diabetic may begin urinating outside of the litter box. This step shouldn’t be skipped, even if you feel sure that the problem is behavioral. Remember, cats are masters at disguising their pain and discomfort!
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Look at the world from your cat’s perspective
Have you taken the time to look at your home through the eyes of your cat? Cats aren’t vindictive and will never do something just to spite you– despite how it may feel when your cat pees on your new sweater. When cats act out they are simply trying to communicate to you that there is a problem with their environment. The complicated part is that there are endless reasons why your cat may be unhappy. Maybe there is a neighborhood cat lurking outside the living room window or maybe your home doesn’t have enough vertical space. Sometimes the trigger is so small that it can be nearly undetectable– something as simple as an empty grocery bag left on the kitchen floor can send a sensitive cat into a tailspin. Before considering a behaviorist, try your best to pinpoint the problem and do what you can to make adjustments.
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You’ve exhausted your own knowledge and resources
At some point you may come to the realization that you are simply out of ideas or skills. If you’ve ruled out a medical issue, religiously scooped the litter box every day, reverted back to the type of litter your cat always loved (even though you thought it was rather dusty), added a nightlight to the litter box room, and put measures in place to extinguish any territorial issues… and your cat is still urinating outside of the box, it may be time to call in an expert.
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You have the time to do some research
Choosing to hire a behaviorist when you can’t get to the bottom of your cat’s undesirable behavior is great! It means that you care deeply about your cat’s well being (plus, you know, that new sweater) and that you’re willing to go the extra mile to make sure she feels safe and happy at home.
Finding a behaviorist isn’t as easy as simple as doing a quick internet search though… at least not finding a good one. The study of animal behavior isn’t regulated and just about anyone can slap up a website and claim to be a behaviorist. It may take a bit of research to find one who is a good match for you and your cat. While you’re searching, consider education, experience, and their individual approach. You should also be able to read testimonials from past clients. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants is a great resource for finding professional and experienced behaviorists. You can search for ones who live in your area, but proximity isn’t necessarily a factor since many of them will also do phone calls or video calls.