Post Published on April 6, 2018 | Last Updated on February 2, 2021 by Jenny
Thank you to Ingrid Johnson of Fundamentally Feline for taking the time to talk to Floppycats about being a certified cat behaviorist and more. More details about Ingrid’s work are below – enjoy!
Cat Behaviorist Ingrid Johnson of Fundamentally Feline Podcast
You can listen to the podcast of the interview with certified cat behaviorist with Ingrid Johnson (click here) or you can read the interview below.
Jenny: Today, I’m fortunate enough to have Ingrid Johnson, a certified Cat Behavior Consultant of Fundamentally Feline. Ingrid is certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owns and operates Fundamentally Feline, offering in-home behavior consultations in Atlanta and phone consults nationwide. She makes her own line of feline foraging toys, aka food puzzles, provides the services of cutting the openings for the most ideal litter box for her clients,( fundamentally feline litter box) and her husband makes their own line of a hundred percent sisal scratching products including scratching posts, pads, and ramps for senior cats. He also designs, hand makes, and installs custom built vertical spaces for shelters, private homes, and most recently Atlanta’s first cat café, Java Cats. You can purchase the vertical space pieces on her website and install them yourself if you’re not local.
Ingrid is employed at Paws Whiskers & Claws, a feline-only veterinary hospital in Marietta, Georgia, as a Veterinary Technician, Cat Groomer, Behavior Consultant, and Office Manager. Ingrid has been working exclusively with cats since 1999, and has had the opportunity to attend many continuing education courses all over the country, including the first ever all cat behavior conference hosted by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the AAFP. It all came full circle when she was invited to speak at the second ever all feline behavior conference the AAFP has ever hosted in the fall of 2016. She lectures at the veterinary conferences nationwide, including the AAFP, the ACVC, which is the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, the MVC, the Midwest Vet Conference, and in January 2019, the VMX, the largest veterinary conference in the world. Thank you, Ingrid, for taking the time to introduce yourself and share a little bit about what you do for kitties with us.
Ingrid: Yeah, sure. Thank you for having me. Boy, that was a mouthful. I’m sorry about that.
Jenny: Not at all. I’ve always had a problem reading out aloud. Anyway, now everybody knows that. So, can you please share a little bit about yourself?
Ingrid: Yeah, absolutely.
Jenny: I know that you’re a professional cat behaviorist, and run a consulting business, Fundamentally Feline, which also if you’re listening and want to visit there, there’s a corresponding Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram [I meant YouTube], but how did you get into it all, and why?
Ingrid: Actually, it is a little convoluted story. I was living in an apartment complex here in Atlanta, Georgia. And I saw a cat outside my house or my apartment and I was like, oh, I must rescue it. I must save it. And I brought it up to my vet to be spayed and vaccinated and vetted essentially, as they say. And as I was picking up, the Office Manager just said to me, “You want a job?”I was like, oh my God, I’ve always wanted work here. I was so ecstatic. And I was graduating from school, which was actually art school that month. So, much to my parent’s dismay, I ended up – I did a little working interview at the vet hospital. And I loved it, and I had to make a life decision right then and there. And so, I graduated and started working at the vet hospital literally a week later.
Ingrid: Yeah. And then the family grew really fast, so I decided I was going to save the world and adopt as many cats as I could, and I went a little hog wild there – realized I couldn’t save them all. So, this is another really great way for me to help a lot of cats without having to have them all in my house.
Jenny: Yes. Well, good for you. And good for us because of that’s why we’re on the phone today, that serendipitous encounter you had.
Ingrid: Yeah. I get to help so many more kitties when I can reach out to the masses. And things like social media and getting a web presence and all of that, which of course, back in the day I didn’t have, it’s really changed the scope of how many people I can reach and how many lives I can touch. It’s been really phenomenal actually to see the response.
Jenny: Awesome. So, what does it mean to be a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant?
Ingrid: If you mean as far as credentials or how you get certified, the IAAVC, the organization that I’m certified through, has multiple tiers of membership and certification. So, it kind of depends on how much experience you have and how far you want to go to get all the way to Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. You can just be a member of the group, for example, or be associate certified, so there are different tiers. And you have a pretty rigorous application, including three case studies that I had to present. I actually had a couple of months to complete my application, but was very pleased. I was told that it was a great application. I was very pleased with the outcome there. So, it really just depends on how far you want to go with your credentials.
Of course, you could always be a veterinarian and move on to becoming a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist as well, which is obviously the cream of the crop and fanciest version of people like me. But what I do is go into people’s homes and basically critique their home environment. My goal is to help them understand why their cats are doing what they’re doing, which is often environmental, and often a result of what the humans have been offering them, often not meeting their needs. So, I help them understand why cats do what they do and why their particular cats are doing whatever it is that they’re doing in their particular home environment. It’s often a result of their surroundings. I’m not sure if that quite answers your question or not, if you wanted to know how to become certified or what exactly it is that I do.
Jenny: More, what it is that you do so that people listening that might have issues know not only the importance of dealing with someone that’s certified rather than someone that claims to be a cat behavior consultant, but also I wanted to kind of get into what are some of the reasons that someone calls you. And then maybe get into the nitty gritty, like walk us through a behavior consultation, what do you do, how does it start.
Ingrid: Sure, sure. Well, I will tell you that hands down the top two things that I get calls about are aggression between cats in the household occasionally directed towards the human, but generally what we call inter-cat aggression, and litter box problems. Litter box problems used to be the top of the list. But aggression, by far is, has definitely taken the running. Usually what’s happening is families are adopting more and more cats and they’re not introducing them properly. So, there’s a lot of inter-cat conflict in the home. And then occasionally we do get the poorly socialized only child that is aggressive towards guests, visitors, or even other family members in the household that just are not their bonded person. So, I get a lot of aggression and litter box issues. For people that need my help or want my help, I actually have them start by completing a very extensive eight-page long behavior questionnaire.
And what that does is it gives me the insight into the dynamics of their home environment, their day to day routine, how many cats they have, how many litter boxes they have, how they feed them, what they feed them, where they feed them, all types of little particulars. It’s very extensive. It asks about their grooming behavior and their play behavior, their day to day social behavior. I ask for a diagram of the home if I’m not going to be doing a house call. And I also ask for video so that if I’m doing a phone consult around the country, I want to feel like I’m there because so much about this, like I mentioned earlier, is about the home environment and addressing the needs of the cat, and how they’re being met in the home. So, video by far is super helpful now. I didn’t have that as an option back in the day. I used to just take the home diagram and roll with it. But video is very helpful.
And then once they submit that, I call the families to set up a time for a consult. Home visits with me – I’m usually with most families for about two hours. That’s pretty average. An hour and a half is kind of quick, and three hours, I think I leave people like a deer in headlights by that time. They cannot absorb any more information. When I get to the home, we take a tour. I want to see where food, water, and litter is. I want to see points of conflict in the home if there are aggression problems. I want to see all the places up they’re eliminating and soiling in the house so that I can get an appreciation for what’s really going on.
Jenny: Okay. It makes sense to me only because I have watched multiple episodes of Psycho Kitty and My Cat from Hell, and watching those has made me understand the importance of being able to see all of that.
Ingrid: I’m kind of just Atlanta’s version of that.
Jenny: Yes. Good. I’m glad.
Ingrid: We need more versions of that though. There’s not enough of me or people like Pam or Jackson or any of us to go around. A lot more dog trainers.
Jenny: I wholeheartedly agree given the emails that I get, so yes. And hopefully this phone interview will inspire someone that’s thinking about it to start something too just to help more kitties.
Ingrid: Yeah, that would be cool. I get the occasional like fun, hey, I just adopted two kittens, I want to learn how to be the best cat parent I can be consult. Those consults are a lot of fun.
Jenny: Oh, gosh, yes.
Ingrid: Preventative care – oh, I just want to learn more about cats and basically have a little personalized cat class in my living room – that’s great. But sadly, that’s not the majority of the people that I’m helping.
Jenny: Right, right. So, you mentioned that the two biggest problems that you encounter are elimination issues – well, that’s the secondary one, but the primary one was inter-cat aggression. Are there standard solutions, or those solutions are subjective based on what you encounter in the home?
Ingrid: The answer to that is a little bit of a combination because there are standard ways of introducing cats to other cats, and that is one scent at a time, and slowly over a period of days, weeks, and sometimes even months. And that’s what humans, most of them, do not seem to understand is that it’s not normal for a cat to welcome a strange cat into their environment. It’s actually one of the most stressful things that they can experience – moving, and the introduction of a newcomer, a new cat. We humans tend to do introductions way too quickly if we do any at all. I mean, a lot of times these cats are just plunked down in the living room in their cat carrier and let loose – terrifying for the new cat, terrifying for the existing cats. So, there is a proper introduction plan, but we have to modify that plan based on those individuals and how they’re accepting the exercises.
For example, if we’re trying to use positive reinforcement and one of them loves to eat but the other one won’t take any special treats or snacks, well maybe that cat’s going to get played with. Maybe that cat is going to get brushed. We’ve got to be able to find something positive that each party enjoys that they can start to associate each other with something good, but it’s not going to be the same for every individual. To that point, again, the process is the same and very similar, but some cats, we might be able to introduce them in a week, and other cats, it might take five months. So, we have to modify those standards based on how it’s going with all those particular individuals.
Jenny: Got it. And you just assess that based on what you observe?
Ingrid: Most of it is based on the client’s feedback, what they send to me, what they tell me. They fill out their questionnaire. I come to the house with a plan. I walk them through the basic plan. And I’m like, okay, well if you hit this roadblock or this roadblock, move to this step. And eventually they send me an update via email or we have another phone conversation and they say, okay, this, this and this are going really well. This is not working. What do we do? And so, that’s where I modify it. I try not to necessarily overwhelm them with every little tiny nuance that they might not ever need to know because their cats might introduce beautifully and they might not need to know every single hiccup in the road that’s going to come along. But as they communicate back with me, I help tweak and modify their plan. And sometimes that plan involves behavior modification supplements or medications from their veterinarian. There are all different types of things that we have to employ. But we try very hard not to use drugs if we don’t need them. They are a last resort.
Jenny: Okay. What are some enrichment ideas that you provide to clients? After the introduction and process, I assume that to keep that inter-cat aggression at bay… you’ve got to provide enrichment ideas, especially for indoor cats.
Ingrid: Absolutely. The concept of the term environmental enrichment is actually starting to shift, and I’m trying to start to shift it as well, so I wanted to address it here. A lot of what we’re considering environmental enrichment for our cats are really environmental necessities. And a lot of the things that we provide that have previously been called enrichment, things like interactive play, scratching posts, food puzzle toys, are really just things that are required if you’re going to be a good cat parent and you’re going to take good care of your cats. These aren’t necessarily ancillary things. But for a lot of people, they are still new concepts. So, for example, I’m a big advocate of having cats work for their food. In fact, I think it’s probably the most overlooked form of enrichment for indoor cats is helping them have a way to hunt and problem solve.
They need to be challenged, and food puzzles give them a little something to be like, huh, how am I going to get this out of there? And they bat it around and then, boom, they get rewarded with kibble. So, it provides what we call positive frustration. They’re rewarded every time they figure out the frustrating puzzle. And it becomes very self-fulfilling to forage because they get food, so it’s a fun activity. And you have a lot less time to engage in negative behaviors like digging in the kitchen cabinets and swinging from the drapes and beating up your housemate if you have to figure out how you’re going to eat. So, I think it’s a great time occupier and it’s a great way to entertain bored cats that are alone most of the day, as well. So, I’m a big advocate for foraging toys and food puzzles. I really can’t emphasize that enough. I think it’s also really, really important that we are playing with our cats.
And so many people, I cannot tell you how many people complete the behavior questionnaire and under the section under play they’ll say, well, I pet them, or they have toys laying around the house. But they don’t actually pick up those toys and engage them. And those interactive toys are a huge key towards your cat’s happiness. Interactive play relieves stress, and it also builds confidence, particularly in shy cats that maybe are a little meek in a certain room of the house. Well, play with them in that room. Build their confidence. Make them a killer, a hunter in that room, and they’ll feel more powerful when they’re in there. So, it can change their perception of spaces to giving them a more bold outlook on the environment.
So, interactive play I think is a really, really big aspect of cat care that is just not happening enough, particularly because as they get older, they don’t entertain us like kittens do. That’s not a reason to not play with your cats. That adult cat, their ears are forward, their pupils are dilated. They’re watching, they’re watching, they’re watching, they’re strategizing. They’re planning their attack. But they’re not leaping through the air like a little kitten. So, we adult humans tend to go, uh, this is boring. But not for the cat – the cat needs that.
Ingrid: I was just going to say that I’m also a really big advocate of vertical space and lots of scratching surfaces so the cats are setup for success. We tend to put scratching posts in guest bedrooms where people spend no time, and that’s not where cats want to scratch. Cats want to scratch in high-traffic pathways where you and they pass through each day. So, when people are frustrated that their cats are scratching on the side of their arm chair, that’s because that is a very socially significant place for that cat to leave their messages behind. Think of it like they’re texting – they’re leaving little kitty text messages behind. And they need to be able to say it in places where it’s important for them, so we need to place our scratching posts in prominent places in the home. And when we have multiple cats, we need to have lots of resources throughout the house so that they don’t have to compete. And that means oftentimes in small spaces, like in the Metro Atlanta area here, vertical space so that the cats can get up and away from the other cats, and not have all that conflict on one level.
Jenny: And do you have a preferred material for scratching, like sisal, cardboard?
Ingrid: It’s really what the cats prefer. When you have a multiple cat home, it’s really recommended to have multiple substrates. Now, many, many, many cats love sisal, and sisal is the medium that we work with with the scratching posts that we make. But that doesn’t mean that that’s the only substrate you should offer your cats. I know that seems like a terrible selling point, but I’m not out to sell scratching posts. I’m out to keep cats claws on, keep their toes on. So, I just want them to have what they want, and if that’s natural wood, if that’s wood with tree bark still on it, if that’s sisal rope, sisal carpet, corrugated cardboard, whatever works. I had somebody who’s cat loved to scratch denim and would always scratch her jeans on the floor. She took an old pair of jeans, wrapped them around a four by four, her cat tore up that scratching post – so whatever the cats want.
Ingrid: It’s all about giving cats choice. We have to remember that they’re individual personalities, and they’re all individuals. So, what works for one may not work for all of them. It’s just like us.
Jenny: Yes. Agreed. You mentioned when we were setting up this interview, you wanted to talk about the best way to provide for a multi-cat home, and obviously you’ve included some of that. But you also had written about clicker training, cat strollers and catios, so I wanted to ask for some insight on that.
Ingrid: And I would love to answer that, but I was just thinking that I didn’t completely address the multi-cat home to the fullest extent. So, I guess I will also say that one super stressful thing that we humans tend to do to our cats is we make them all eat together, and cats are not family style eaters. They hunt and eat alone. And no matter how well your cats get along and no matter even if they’re all litter mates and the best of friends, lining them all up in a row in the kitchen to eat is incredibly stressful to your cats because that is not how cats eat. So, spread it out. Make sure that you have feeding stations throughout the house rather than creating one big meal time in one room. That’s super stressful. And then that rule of thumb goes for all of their resources, including water and litter.
And we want to spread out our litter boxes. If you’ve got five cats and you’ve got 10 litter boxes for them, but they’re all in one room, to your cat, that’s just one big litter box. I think from the human perspective, we have a really hard time wrapping our head around that and the fact that we’ve got to spread out these litter boxes so the cats can mark and communicate in the places where they feel safe going to the bathroom. So, that’s the end of my multi-cat environment.
Jenny: Well, we didn’t actually get into the elimination behavior issues. And it sounds like obviously one of the solutions that you suggest is to have multiple litter box stations.
Ingrid: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s huge. I see many, many homes where they have four or five little boxes in one area, and that’s just one box. So, it’s really important that we spread them out and that they’re big. One a half times the length of your cat is how big your litter box should be. And they should not have covers on them because 90 percent of cats do not want to go in a cave-like environment to go to the bathroom. So, you might have a shy eliminator and you can offer a hooded box as an option, but it should never be the only choice in the house. Cats are very vulnerable when they eliminate, so they have to feel safe and secure and be able to see what’s going on around them. That’s why I provide the service for my local Atlanta clients of cutting the opening to the large clear storage tote boxes. But for everyone listening that is not in Atlanta who I cannot physically help, I have a DIY video on my YouTube channel. And you can totally watch and make your own awesome litter box by watching that video.
Jenny: Okay, and I will link to that when I post the interview. This interview is going to be transcribed. So, I’ll embed the video in the transcription post on the site as well so people don’t have to go searching for it. It should be right there for them.
Ingrid: Cool. Yeah. It’s very handy, and you probably don’t even need to watch the whole thing. You can get the gist. I cut three boxes on the video. I’ve cut thousands of them over the years and I’m just trying to put a lot of free help out there for people. There’s a lot of information on my site. If you just read and apply or watch and apply, a lot of times you can help yourself without ever having to contact me.
Jenny: That’s very generous of you, and I will include a link to your website of course as well.
Ingrid: Thanks. On the fun note of catios – would you like me to expand on that?
Jenny: Yes. But before we go into that, more on the litter box situation. I know that you just said if you have five cats and you’ve got 10 litter boxes, is that your standard two boxes per cat? The size of the home – I would imagine a 1,600 square foot home compared to 4,800 square foot home matters how many boxes you have too, or no?
Ingrid: Well, it’s really based on the number of cats, not so much the square footage of the space. The general rule of thumb, and this is published through a lot of different organizations, but the AAFP has guidelines, litter box protocol guidelines, and the recommended guidelines say that the boxes should be one and a half times the length of the cat’s body, and there should be one more litter box than there are physical cats in the home. And I always change and rephrase that to say that there should be one more litter box location than there are physical cats in the home. So, if you have five cats, ideally you should have six completely separate litter boxes in six completely different areas. And the reason for that is then the cats cannot do what’s called resource guarding.
One bully cat cannot possibly be in six places at one time. So, whoever that victim might be in the house, they’re generally going to always be able to get to a litter box. One of the things I talk about in my lectures is that we really need to stop thinking about them as these gross, horrible places. We need to keep them pristine. We need to keep them as clean with our human toilets. We need to scoop them every day, if not twice a day. If you have lots of big boxes, they stay cleaner longer, and you also have less odor and mess concentrated in one area. Litter box rooms are horrific, dusty, nasty places to be. The cats don’t want to be in there. You don’t want to be in there. So, it’s much better to have things throughout the home environment for the cats, all of their resources really, rather than concentrate them in one space.
I’m trying to encourage people to be the change that we need to see for cats, and keep these boxes pristine, and have litter boxes you can be proud of. I have a 1,250-square foot home in downtown Atlanta. At my maximum, I had 13 little boxes in my house. That’s when I was in magazines and filmed for TV. It was not gross. I would host Thanksgiving dinner, and had a baby shower in my house with all of those cats and all of those little boxes. So you can do it, and it can be very clean. But you have to actually wash them and clean them, and that’s what a lot of people just don’t do. The automatic boxes and the Litter-Robots and the Litter Maid and all of that stuff, the Tidycat Breeze system, all that stuff keeps me at a job. It’s contraction-y and the cats don’t want to use it. And it scares them, they’re too small, they don’t get washed out enough.
The Litter-Robot where the bottom is the top and the top is the bottom, that’s gross. The cats don’t want to get in there and rub their body up against the body walls of the litter box that had pee and poop on it earlier before it spun around. It’s yucky. They’re very clean animals. So, we do a lot of things to hide the litter boxes and put them behind cat doors and in closets. Just have a nice clean big litter box in a prominent place and keep it scooped.
Jenny: I felt the same way about automatic litter boxes for a long time. And I reviewed the Litter-Robot, and we have one now. And I’ve changed my tune about it only because of my personal experience with it. But I do know that it can get gross if you don’t keep it clean. But I’ve learned it’s so important for folks that – like a firefighter for example who is gone for 48 hours and can’t scoop the litter box, or someone that’s disabled that can’t get the litter box scooped. So, I think that they do have a place, but you have to be cognizant, again, looking at your cat and seeing them as an individual, seeing them as what works in your life, your lifestyle. I had a blind person contact me because they needed a solution because they couldn’t keep their cat’s litter box clean except for the person that came by once a week. So, I understand the argument there.
Ingrid: And I think that if you’re going to have something like that, you should always have a traditional box as well. Because the other thing about the automatic boxes is – now of course for the blind person, it might not factor in so much, but we take away very vital information that we need to know. And we need to know how big are those urine clumps. Are they small? Are they huge? Are they normal? How many urine clumps are there, and what’s the consistency of the stool? What goes in our cats and what comes out the other end are really big indicators of our cat’s health. And when we take that information away, we lose a lot of early signs that something might be wrong.
Ingrid: So if we’re going to have an automatic box, I just always recommend having a regular one as well. Give them choice.
Jenny: Right. All right, so moving on to catios. What is a catio? I know what a catio is, but maybe share with the listeners what a catio is.
Ingrid: A catio is different than an outdoor enclosure because a catio is meant and designed to be a space that you can enjoy with your cats, and ideally be also a place that is not like a screened porch. It’s going to be actually exposed to the elements. There’s generally no roof. The roof is generally screened or chicken wired in so that the cats can experience snow and rain and leaves and sunshine and whatever the case may be. It basically brings you and them closer to nature, not like taking them out into the yard, locking them in this pen in the back yard, and then they’re stuck there. Catios generally adjoin to the house in some way, and the cats can kind of come and go as they please, but also again, have a sitting space for the humans to enjoy as well.
In our particular home, and you actually can view the building of our catio. I have an album on my Facebook page that’s all about how we built our catio, and actually there are some pretty crazy funny pictures in there. We were very, very hot and tired in July in Atlanta, so it was pretty terrible, but it was a very fun project. You can have a grass floor, you can have a stone floor, you could do flagstones or gravel, whatever the case may be, whatever you want to offer your cats as far as a substrate. But it’s nice for them to be able to experience some textures and some smells that they wouldn’t if they are indoor only. And I also love to encourage people who have screened porches or catios to grow cat grass or any kind of safe edible plants.
We do catnip and thyme and wheat grass and barley and oat and rye. We grow all kinds of different grasses, and have seedling trays. And we can just easily rotate out the seedling trays. As one starts to get squashed and sat on and chewed up, then the other one comes out and we can easily rotate. So, it gives the cat some chance to have those types of plant materials like they would have if they were living indoor/outdoor as well.
Jenny: Right. That makes sense. My cats love to chew grass.
Ingrid: Yeah. It’s a fun way to do it. And if they spill it, you don’t have to worry about soil all over your living room or kitchen. So, it’s a nice, neat place to put it out there. And our catio, we have a hose and everything so we can really keep everything clean and actually grow the plants and manage them out there too, which has worked out nicely.
Jenny: Yes. Do your cats have access to that all the time or is it a couple hours a day? How does it work for you?
Ingrid: Whenever we’re home. Whenever we are in bed at night or not home, the cats are inside. We do live in downtown Atlanta. I don’t live out in the burbs. There are just a lot of different people coming and going, construction people, all kinds of stuff. And who knows what could happen – cars backfiring and big trucks and scary stuff can happen out there too. So, I always make sure that the cats are inside. I don’t ever let them out unattended. I mean they can be out there when I’m home. I’m not sitting out there with them, but not when I’m not around the house. Safety first.
Jenny: One of the things that I’ve always been interested in about catios, when it comes to exposure to other neighborhood cats, I know that cat diseases or certain diseases can be sprayed with a hiss with saliva. So, do you have a recommendation of how high the screen on the outside is?
Ingrid: I think you’re referring to feline leukemia?
Ingrid: That disease lives for about three minutes outside the body, and it’s killed with regular soap and water. And they really need to come into contact, share food, litter, that kind of thing, food bowls. So, generally it’s not going to be that casually contracted. But yes, if you want to have it up off the floor, maybe a couple of feet, like two or three feet up high so that a cat would not be able to come up. I think the bigger issue really is fleas, heartworm disease, and then also aggression among a neighborhood cat and your cat inside their screened porch or catio. Now, I’m fortunate enough to have a fence around my yard, which is well within the parameters. And the catio is tucked well within.
So, generally it keeps out a lot of wildlife as well as neighborhood cats. But yeah, I’d be much more concerned about fleas and exposure to, you know, if you use any chemicals or pesticides in your yard, be mindful of that kind of stuff wafting into the screen. And then also fighting – that would be my biggest concern is neighborhood cats ticking off your indoor cat. That can happen at a window. That can happen at a sliding glass door. They don’t have to be at a screen. So, that’s definitely a concern, and you have to know your area and your cats before you might offer them an enclosure like this.
Jenny: Okay. If I’m a cat owner and I want to create a catio, is there a place that I can go other than your Facebook page that shows yours that gives me kind of an all-encompassing idea of how to plan or what I need to think about before I start planning?
Ingrid: Well, I don’t know of a website that’s just dedicated specifically to it. But I bet if you Google, I bet there are a lot of different things to check out. I actually have a post that will be coming out soon on my website, maybe even this week, all about catios and what to consider as far as substrates for the flooring and how to build one. But I think that there’s probably a lot of other more detailed, actual construction focused detailed information that might be out there on the internet. You just probably need to Google around a bit. There is a cool product called the Purr-fect Fence. Now, it’s not a catio per se, but it is a fencing system that you can fence in your entire yard. You can do a small enclosure, you could do the whole property, whatever works for you. And the cats cannot scale the fence. Their website is PurrfectFence.com. That’s something that might help some people get started, particularly if they’re in a more rural area where they feel comfortable having their cats out, even if they weren’t there to attend.
Jenny: I’ll include a link to PurrfectFence too. All right, so before we get into the Paw Project stuff, how would I go about finding a cat behavior consultant in my neck of the woods or if I’m outside of the United States?
Ingrid: Yeah, it’s pretty tough. I know that the IAABC.org website has a consultant locator. Not even every state has somebody that does cats, and I’m sure not everybody’s listed on there. But everybody that’s registered and certified through the organization is listed on there. And then, you could also look for board certified veterinary behaviorists in your area, but they’re, again, fewer and farther between when it comes to behavior consultants for cats. So, I think I’m actually the only person in the state of Georgia that does exactly what it is that I do, doing house calls and that kind of thing. There are some veterinarians that you bring your cat to them. But I think I’m the only one that does house calls in the whole state. The consult locator, you put in your zip code and do a search. A lot of people find me that way out of state, so I think that’s probably your best bet.
Jenny: Okay. Thank you. And I assume that you could potentially work with someone in the UK with Skype and stuff or no?
Ingrid: Yeah. I suppose I could. I think the West Indies and Canada are my farthest consults so far. But yeah, I suppose we could find a way. We’re just going to need to find a way to make the call not super expensive.
Jenny: Right, exactly.
Ingrid: Probably a Skype call would be our best bet.
Jenny: All right. Did you have anything else that you wanted to talk about as far as the Certified Cat Behavior Consultant?
Ingrid: I don’t think so. I think we covered most of that. It’s probably more than everyone should be interested in, I don’t know.
Jenny: Well, I hope not. I’ve learned a little bit.
Jenny: And as you know, I’ve interviewed others. So, yes, I think it’s been great.
Ingrid: That’s awesome.
Jenny: When we were emailing back and forth scheduling this interview, you mentioned that you wanted to talk about the Paw Project in Georgia and how you’re an anti-declaw advocate. So, let’s get into that.
Ingrid: Yeah. I don’t know if everyone’s familiar with the Paw Project, but that is a nationwide group. It was started by Dr. Jennifer Conrad in California years ago – too many years ago, I should say – to try to end and ban the declawing of cats in the United States. She was successful banning it in eight cities in California. But then the American Veterinary Medical Association lobbied to put a ban on bans. So that stopped there. But we are still as a group actively working to try to push legislation through in all the different states and cities and communities that will hear us. Dr. Conrad has put together a team of directors. I don’t think every state has one yet, but we’re very close and most states have at least a director and then maybe an assistant director. And that’s what I am for the state of Georgia. Dr. Stephanie Gloverman of Paws Whiskers & Claws is the Director.
She’s the veterinarian that I work for, and we are proudly a no declaw facility, of course. We do offer paw repair surgery for cats that have had regrowth or have been declawed incorrectly, which is extremely common. But we do not declaw there. And sadly, we are one of I believe seven, maybe eight practices now in the state of Georgia that do not do that surgery. So, it’s really still much more common than you think. It’s still offered like you want fries with that, you want a declaw with your spay or neuter? Pain meds are still often optional for a lot of spays and neuters and declaws. I don’t think they should ever be made an option. But, yeah, declawing is one of the most painful procedures in veterinary medicine, and it’s illegal in 32 other countries. And now eight cities in California and also Colorado, Denver, was able to pass legislation.
It’s really amazing to me how many people are still worried about their carpets and their sofas over their cat’s health and comfort. These cats live with chronic pain, phantom pain, and their gait is forever affected. They have muscle atrophy in their shoulders – the muscles around their shoulders, they can never quite condition and get a good scratch and a tear because they can’t think their nails into a scratching post to stretch those muscles. It’s really just abhorrent cruelty as far as I’m concerned, yet it’s so commonplace as if it were no big deal, like having their teeth cleaned.
Jenny: Right. I unfortunately experienced, I don’t know how to say this, the ignorance behind it, with a friend recently who adopted a kitten. And I said when are you getting him neutered. And she was like, well, I haven’t called yet, but he’ll get a neuter and a declaw. I took a deep breath and I said – it’s very hard not to allow the hurt and fear, which provokes anger in someone around that, when you want to be educational to that person. So, what I tried to say was what you mentioned, the atrophy and the importance. I grew up with a cat who was declawed because it was our family’s first cat and that’s what the vet recommended. So, my mom did it. It was the 1980s.
So when he passed in 2009 and I got my cats in 2009, watching them use their claws has educated me on the importance of not declawing. Because one of mine is belly up right now scratching. And it’s because he’s excited because he knows it’s mealtime almost. I know it’s an emotional release for them to scratch, but can you talk more about how to talk someone out of it, I guess. Just saying it’s hurtful and cruel I think brings on the defense.
Ingrid: First, I always explain to them why cats scratch, because if they understand why they do it and where they do it, sometimes we can get them to be a little bit more open minded to purchasing an appropriately sized and well-placed scratching post. Cats scratch to leave scent behind. They have scent glands in their paw pads. And so again, they want to scratch in socially significant high-traffic areas. They scratch to get the ants out of their pants because it feels good. It’s like us driving down the road with the radio blaring on a sunny day with the windows down singing our favorite song. So, why would we want to take that away from them? Scratching is a feel-good behavior. They also scratch to remove the sheaths of their nails, so they’re never scratching to be malicious or vindictive. They’re scratching to groom and to scent mark.
So it’s a normal behavior. Their nails grow in layers like an onion, and they have to peel those sheaths or else the nails will grow embedded into their paw pads and of course give them secondary infections potentially to that. So, they have to be able to really rip and tear down something when they’re scratching. And that’s why the market is sadly saturated with products that do not meet a cat’s needs. Trees and deck railings don’t move. So, those silly scratching posts that hang on door knobs, throw them away. Don’t buy them. There’s no point. Cats don’t want a scratching post that sways back and forth as they go to use it. And then often they’re too short. They want a full body stretch when they scratch. So, they need to be able to really reach all the way up from the tip of their front toes to the tip of their back toes, so at least 30 to 32 inches tall for a scratching post, and then again really abrasive.
So these fuzzy tufted carpeted things are useless. They don’t meet the cat’s needs, and it teaches them to scratch on carpet, which we don’t want to do. So, when I have a client that is looking to declaw, and I’ve had this conversation with them and I’ve explained why cats scratch and how important it is to them, then I also explain to them, I show them on my hand that we’re not removing the nail. It is an amputation of the first bone of each digit. And dogs and cats bear 60 percent of their body weight on their front feet. So, we’re now asking this animal to walk on a bone that was never meant to bear body weight, and then we ask them to walk on gravel on their cat litter. In fact, after they’re declawed, we ask them to walk on those yesterday’s news, rock-hard pellets, which is absolutely excruciating, and not nice. My God.
When we have a re-declaw that we have to do, we give those cats a puppy pad with shredded paper towels. We do not give them rock-hard pellets to stand on after they’ve had their bones amputated. It’s cruel. But we do it because the veterinary community does it because they don’t want anything to stick to their sutures and their bandaged paws or their now unbandaged paws. So, we do it for the benefit of the medicine and making sure that the cat doesn’t get litter stuck on their feet, and that’s not what we should be offering these cats. It shouldn’t be done at all. We wonder why these cats have litter box avoidance problems. Well if you had to stand on amputated bone and walk on the rock-hard pellets of a Tidycat Breeze system, do you think that you’re going to be super excited about doing that? It’s going to hurt.
Ingrid: And then we’re going to get arthritic and we’re going to get old, and then we’re still going to have to walk on this gravel cat litter, and we might have to walk down three flights of stairs to use our litter box. It’s cruel.
Ingrid: So, I tell people that if you’re going to declaw the cat, I would rather you re-home him. Because you’re not going to be willing to live with the behavioral repercussions of that surgery, which is going to often be using their mouth to express themselves and bite, and not want to use their litter pan for the rest of their life because they’re going to seek out soft substrates like carpet and couches and beds, something soft that doesn’t hurt. And then we’re going to have a declawed cat that now has a behavior problem that’s going to get dumped at the shelter. The Paw Project actually has not only their Facebook page called the Paw Project, but they actually have another page called, Declawed and Dumped, because that’s what happens to a lot of these cats. They get mutilated, and then they either bite or they don’t use their litter pan, and then they get dumped at the shelter, and they’re all a victim of the uneducated human that did that to them, and I should say the veterinarian that also performed that procedure willingly, that never should have.
Jenny: Right. This probably isn’t really in line with our interview, but as you mentioned, there are 32 countries where it’s illegal.
Jenny: I didn’t know much about the whole declawing world until I really started my website. One our, I think, it was Australian followers said what’s declaw mean, and they were horrified. So, it’s been illegal in Australia long enough that the terminology isn’t even known. Why do you think it’s been legal here for so long?
Jenny: Why haven’t we jumped onboard like other countries?
Ingrid: Money and convenience. I think a lot of veterinarians think that it will be difficult for them to be able to have a successful practice without offering that surgery. And I’ve only worked in practices that don’t declaw, both of which were very, very successful. And so, if you practice good medicine, you will still make the money that you need to keep your practice going. We don’t need to do the surgery to make money. And then also convenience – people want basically a stuffed cat sometimes. They want this beautiful, perfect little thing. They want the litter box in the closet through a cat door that no one ever sees. They don’t want to see canned food because they don’t want it to smell. They want the food far removed from where they spend time.
They don’t want to have a scratching post in their house because they think it’s ugly. And they don’t want their cat to ruin anything so they declaw them. We’re not having a cat for the right reasons. We’re ruining what is innately a cat when we remove their nails. It’s part of what makes them so amazing is the dexterity and their ability to move. They’re so graceful, and then we go and mutilate them by amputating their toes. It’s horrible. Pick a different animal. Don’t have a cat. If you have to alter the cat that much, why have you chosen to share your home with this species? You have to learn to be able to accommodate the needs of the species you’re welcoming into your house.
And so, we don’t manipulate the species to make it work for us. Most people gasp when I say dogs are declawed too, you know. That’s horrible. Why? Why is it any worse? Pound for pound, it’s all the same pain, but people gasp. Dogs are declawed. When they’re walking around on the upstairs apartment and they’re click, click, click, click, click on the hardwood floors, and the neighbors below are complaining, well dogs get declawed too. It’s much less common, but it happens. Dogs get debarked. They get their tails cropped docked and their ears cropped. We should be upset about all of these things as well.
Jenny: Right. I agree. All right, well I think where I wanted to come from is an educational standpoint, certainly, seeing the benefits of why Mother Nature gave them their claws and why they need to hold on to them.
Ingrid: Right. And if everybody doesn’t know, the Paw Project has a film. It’s a 55-minute documentary all about Dr. Conrad’s plight to try to make this change in the United States. And it’s not a horrific film, but if you love cats it is emotional. It’s not like it’s gory and horrific, but it will educate you as to what the procedure is, what types of complications these animals experience, how to fix those complications. And then last part of the film is really about pushing legislation through and trying to educate. It’s a great 55 minutes. If you’ve got the 55 minutes, watch it. It was free on Netflix for the longest time, but I think you can view it now on the Paw Project site.
Jenny: Okay. I’ve shared it in the past several times, but I will happily share it again and include it in the interview so people can access it quickly. Is there anything more?
Ingrid: I was just going to say as far as veterinarians, if anybody’s listening and they’re like, oh my God, I can’t possibly stop declawing at my practice, at our practice we actually offer nail trims free of charge to all of our clients, and we’ll also teach them how to trim nails. We sell nail trimmers, they’re the ones we think is the best and easiest to use. We have the scratching posts that my husband and I make so that we can send people out the door with something successful rather than them going down to PetSmart and leaving with a rinky, dinky, terrible scratching post, so we help set them up for success. And then of course we have my services, so we can help those clients further if they’re still having scratching problems despite attempting to set them up for success with the things that we offer. So, I think if more practices started implementing education and help for these clients, it would bond those clients to the practice and make them just as successful as offering the declaw surgery.
Jenny: Okay, good. Good info. We talked about this when we spoke on the phone and then I wasn’t sure if you wanted it included, but there is a shop portion on your website. So, I can order one of these posts if I want to?
Ingrid: You absolutely can.
Jenny: You had said that you’ve got a little supply and demand issue, so that’s why I was hesitant to bring it up.
Ingrid: We have a hard time keeping up, to be honest. Yes. It’s a good problem to have. My husband Jake is a one-man show, so we do ask that you be patient because everything is custom made to order. One of the nice things about the scratching posts that we offer – as somebody who went to art school and has a design background and really wants my home to be aesthetically pleasing as well – is that we offer a lot of colors. You can get charcoal gray, you can get chocolate brown, you can get a light beige, you could get gold. You can get whatever color works for your household and décor, and I think that is key to placing those posts in those prominent areas. Gray is my neutral, and I’ve got gray scratching posts all over my house, and they look fantastic. You’d never know.
But I do make foraging toys. Sadly, I can’t help anybody with the litter box cutting, but at least they’ve got the video. But the foraging toys, we can absolutely ship. I guess this would be a good time for me to also give a little plug too. I created a whole other website separate from mine with a colleague, Dr. Mikel Delgado. She and I created a website called FoodPuzzlesForCats.com. We created that because we wrote a paper, four of us wrote a paper that was published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery in the Fall 2016 all about feeding via food puzzles, feeding for physical and emotional well-being. We don’t sell anything on that website at all. That website is purely education. We also don’t review this food puzzles as bad or good. We review them based on skill level and just show people how the cats manipulate them and how they work with the different puzzles.
Almost every toy has a video so that you can see how the cats engage with them. And you can go, oh, I think my cat can do that. He’s really good with his paws, or oh, I think my cat could do that, he’s going to push that around with his nose. So, it helps you kind of decide which ones are a good one to start with. And we also rate them as far as easy to hard. So obviously, you don’t want to get the most difficult food puzzle if you’ve never done this with your cat before. I make the puzzles on my site and I have a few there. They’re really inexpensive, but there’s way more on FoodPuzzlesForCats.com, and every post that we create takes you to a handy-dandy link where you can purchase one pretty easily.
Jenny: Okay. One of the things that my avid readers or subscribers are going to be wondering is I’m pretty opposed to feeding dry food only because of the repercussions of kidney and diabetes and all that kind of stuff. Are there food puzzle options for those that feed wet and raw?
Ingrid: There are. There is a wet food puzzles page on the site. Yep. So, you can go there and check that out. They are, of course, a little bit more creative and harder to offer. I won’t get into the food debate, but I am a big proponent of feeding a lot of meats, canned food. They are obligate carnivores. But I do not believe that dry food kills cats. Some cats won’t even eat canned food. So, you’ve got to feed them something. Yeah, I just think that the kibbles should be hard to acquire and something that they work for, but something that they do have free access to getting when they want. Cats that are meal fed are often irritable and less cooperative than cats that have free access to food. I don’t like to just free feed in a big giant bowl though because that’s not engaging and enriching, and that leads to obesity and terrible problems. So, I like to free feed the cans and make them work for the dry.
Jenny: Got It. Okay. Well, the only other thing I kind of wanted to know is what’s your favorite thing about your job and what you do? And I guess job is a crappy question because you’re very passionate. It’s more your career or life calling I’d say.
Ingrid: Yeah, I think for me, I’ve spent a lifetime in animal welfare and in animal care. I don’t eat animals. I don’t wear animals. I don’t by products shoved down their throats. I try to live an ethical, animal friendly lifestyle in every way. And I think that it’s really rewarding after all of these years. I feel like I’ve been screaming at the top of my lungs my whole life to get people to try to do better for animals, whether they’re domestic pets or what have you. And I feel like people are finally starting to listen, and that’s really rewarding. I finally have gotten to a point where people are like, oh hey, she actually knows something. Maybe I should try that with my cat. So, it’s just really nice to be able to make changes in so many cat lives and also so many humans lives. I try to also make things easier for people, have their house be cleaner and cool and fun and easier. I think it’s just rewarding to know that I’m finally making an impact on so many, and I’ve wanted that for a long time.
Jenny: Good. Well, in this interview today, you’ll probably make an impact on very many people. So, that’s extending it even further.
Ingrid: I hope so. Yeah. I hope. I don’t know how broad your audience is, but I think it’s pretty awesome that you do these interviews and help bring more awareness to the fact, even just making people aware that there are cat consultants out there. Everybody knows they can hire a dog trainer to train their dog. But not many people know people like me exist. And until Jackson’s show got popular, I mean, his show being on the air has made me a very busy person because it’s just brought awareness to the profession.
Jenny: Yes, yes, to the profession as well as just the education, people looking and thinking about cats in a completely different way, and why they do what they do.
Ingrid: Absolutely. Yeah. Pet parents, particularly the cat parent these days is definitely expecting a higher caliber of care and a higher caliber of education. A lot of cat parents – they’re not just treating them like, oh, they’re just aloof bumps on the sofa. They’re starting to realize, hey, these guys need stuff to do and these guys have deep intellectual issues, or I need to understand my cat. So, that’s good.
Jenny: Yes. Well, is there anything more that you want to add before we sign off?
Ingrid: No, I don’t so. You’ve asked a lot of great questions and hopefully it’s been very informative for everyone. So, thank you for having me.
Jenny: You’re very welcome. Thank you for doing this, and I’m sorry it took so long for us to coordinate. I will get this on the site and then provide a link for you. It’s currently March 2018, and I’m hoping to get it up by April 2018, just for those that aren’t able to visually see this. That’s why I wanted to say that.
Ingrid: Okay. Cool, yeah. If you can send me a link when it’s done, I’ll share it on social media.
Jenny: Thank you. All right, thank you, Ingrid, very much.
Ingrid: You’re welcome. Have a nice night.
Jenny: You too. Bye bye.
Ingrid: Bye bye.