Friday, 10 September 2010

Group session with Katie

A unique opportunity to discuss the behavioural problems of your cats with Katie. Information Evening 21st September at the Oxford Cat Clinic

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Factsheet: What do our cats really need?

So many behavioural problems stem from relatively simple sources. Katie B Wade provides a summary of what our cats should be doing each day in order to stay fit, healthy and happy.

Evolving over millions of years, our cats have developed specific strategies, behaving in certain ways each day, to maintain optimal health.

The more restrictions our cats face, the more stressed they can become, so to avoid stress-related difficulties such as urination or defecation in the home, over-grooming, aggression and so on, have a quick read and see what you can do for your cat.

  • Evolutionary biologists have traced the cat family to a squirrel-like creature surviving amongst the trees alongside dinosaurs. Even today we can see the domestic cat’s preference for higher vantage points.
  • The feline family originally evolved in hot, dessert climates such as Egypt. In our Northern Hemisphere many of domestic cats suffer as a result of the lower temperatures, not maintaining high quality REM sleep patterns as they remain curled up.
  • As cats are territorial they are highly sensitive to changes in their environment. The domestic cat therefore is often motivated to communicate the boundaries on the periphery of their territory, through spray marking, scratching and defecation.
  • Cats are successful small hunters. Their bodies are made to eat a variety of chewy meats little and often.
  • Cats do not just scratch to maintain their claws, they also scratch to deposit scent from the glands on their paws to communicate. Experts have discovered that the cat has a strong need to scratch both horizontally and vertically each day. Cats use glands situated around their bodies to communicate through chemical messengers.
  • Although cats hunt alone, they are a highly social species and live in large colonies where there are plenty of resources. In the wild it is even common to see queens nursing each others young!
  • The cats’ skin cells are very sensitive to touch. They need soft, cosy bedding for essential, quality sleep. Cats need to sleep for at least 18 hours per day, and need to be able to lie flat out.

For any extra reading, advice or just for a chat, feel free to contact me anytime.

Take care




Katie B Wade is a fully qualified and experienced animal behaviourist, working alongside veterinary clinics, rescue centres, societies, breeders as well as individual owners to assist with various aspects of animal behaviour and training. With professional experience handling, training, breeding and rehabilitating the competition horse, Katie went on to study a degree in Psychology and then on to specialise in Equine Behaviour with The Natural Animal Centre. Katie provides scientifically sound advice to the general public, building a bridge between academic research and practical horse ownership.

Katie B Wade



Bradshaw, J. (1993) The True Nature of the Domestic Cat, CAB International, Bristol

Turner, D. and Bateson, P. (1995) The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Horse Behaviour - Questions Answered

Here I will keep feeding different questions and their answers to help all learn about their horses. If there are any particular questions that you have, just call or email me, I am always happy to help.

Please remember that practically all cases must be handled on a one-to-one basis, initially eliminating any medical causes. These snippets are here to give you an idea about the behavioural process.

"My 6 year old TB mare has been chewing and eating the fencing for the past few months. She only this behaviour since our first snowfall. Is this something to worry about? Do you have any idea why she might be doing this?"

As with all behaviours I would initially advise getting your mare fully checked out by your vet and equine dentist to eliminate any medical causes. With organic causes eliminated, we could then explore the behavioural element to this abnormal behaviour.

Commonly our domestic horses develop such patterns, termed as a stereotypie commonly known as a ‘stable vice’. I often see this kind of behaviour through my consulting work, whether the horse is stabled or not. It is most often caused by restrictions in the horses’ environment (1) Over sixty-five million years the horse has developed certain strategies to survive. Being domesticated for a relatively mere few thousand years, means that these well evolved instinctual drives are still present in the minds of our own horses. Our domestic horses still have these drives to roam with a large herd for 24 hours a day, to graze browse and forage for around 18 hours a day, they need to explore different sights, sounds, tastes and have the freedom to flee from dangerous situations (2) Often this is hard to replicate for us owners and our horses can become stressed as a result, adopting abnormal behaviours to cope with the restrictions that they face (3)

As you said, your mare adopted this coping strategy after your first snowfall. The snow must have been difficult in terms of your management routine and your mare would have noticed these changes, developing this behavioural pattern.

The easiest way to reduce such behaviours is through a simple enrichment programme, adding more choice, variety and freedom to behave as necessary. Think of the social stability that your horse has, does she have access to a herd for 24 hours a day? If you do stable her, would you be able to stable her companion next door? Are you able to increase stimulation, providing toys and objects to play and explore, a great example is to drop an apple in a water bucket for ‘apple bobbing’ or a swede on the floor for her to push around and eat as she chooses.

Looking inside the horses’ brain, there are certain chemicals working to cause feelings of satisfaction, depression, aggression and so on. To increase relaxation, encourage natural foraging behaviours by scattering hay on the floor, dropping carrots and other veggies amongst the hay for exploration and positive reward.

This is really brief so I would strongly recommend consulting with your local qualified equine behaviourist, someone who will work alongside your vet and only uses purely positive techniques to relieve underlying stress. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask at anytime.

Katie B Wade

1. Kiley-Worthington, M. (1987) The Behaviour of Horses: In Relation to Management and Training, J. A. Allen, United Kingdom
2. McDonnell, S. (2003) A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behaviour: The Equid Ethogram, The Blood Horse Inc., United States
3. Barnard, C. and Hurst, J. (1996) Welfare by Design: The Natural Selection of Welfare Criteria, Animal Welfare, Vol. 5, pp. 415-433


Katie B Wade is a fully qualified and experienced animal behaviourist, working alongside veterinary clinics, rescue centres, societies, breeders as well as individual owners to assist with various aspects of animal behaviour and training. With professional experience handling, training, breeding and rehabilitating the competition horse, Katie went on to study a degree in Psychology and then on to specialise in Equine Behaviour with The Natural Animal Centre. Katie provides scientifically sound advice to the general public, building a bridge between academic research and practical horse ownership.

Katie B Wade

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Current trends in the market - What do you think?

I have just come back from an interesting CPD weekend. After a brilliant lecture by Steve from Rowden Dog's Trust, we discuss current trends in the marketplace and its impact on animal welfare.

As it was the Dug’s Trust we were specifically discussing the current training aids used within the canine market place. Thinking of a typical pet store, owners can purchase electric shock collar and fencing systems (thankfully not in Wales now as well as choke chains, muzzles, horns and sprays. There are so many choices, but with them comes little or no information on the potential effects of using each different tool, indeed there is not even very much information on how to use them effectively at all! NOTE: There is even the risk of frustration via improper use of clickers and food dispensers.

This topic heavily reflects the equine market too, with the changes in trends affecting the welfare and training of our horses, from boot types, spurs, bits, nosebands, to certain pressure-release tools, even clickers and food dispensers. Do the companies selling us these products provide owners with enough information to (a) use each tool effectively and (b) to fully understand the effects of each tool on their horses welfare?

I thought it would make an interesting topic and would love to hear your views!

Any questions just ask.

Take care


07841 517543

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Nature v Nurture: The Case of the Nervous Cat

Are some cats just born nervous? Can we teach them to relax around other cats of the household? Can we help anxious cats become confident? How do we ensure our cats grow-up to be well-adjusted, stress free and healthy? Well the ongoing nature/nurture debate can help provide the answers.

We are all born with the ability to feel anxious, it is indeed a survival mechanism to steer us from danger[1]. But why do our cats respond so differently to particular stressors?

We have all noticed that some cats are more timid than others when put in certain situations, some cats will struggle to get out of the hands of the vet, others will close their eyes and submit. Some behave aggressively when taken to a show, others hide away. We have witnessed some timid cats learning and developing over the years to become more confident, whereas others of the same lineage remain fearful.

Timid cats are at risk of a number of stress-related behavioural difficulties, affecting both health and welfare of that individual. Experts have correlated stress with urination around the home, over-grooming, eating disorders, aggression, depression, re-occurring infection and inflammation and maternal rejection[2]. So how can we avoid these potential difficulties? First we need to understand where the core issue lies.

The study of the genetics in reference to complex behaviours such as anxiety, has evolved dramatically from the old nature vs. nurture of the past century. Researchers highlight the importance of specific gene-environment interactions during critical periods in development and their role for the onset of stress-related behaviours in the later stages of life[3]. So although no single gene has been identified to account for these exaggerated arousal levels, it is acknowledged that nature plays a part in the onset of anxiety-related disorders, a predisposition rather than full cause[4].

The nurture element comes in to play during the development of the cat within our domestic environment. We regularly witness this as we see two littermates develop to adopt differing behavioural strategies to certain situations. These environmental elements to cats' developing anxiety-related behavioural issues, includes the age that they have been weaned, previous learning about humans and their world, being ‘overloaded’ with new learning, e.g. moving house, to name a few.

Environment is always an issue that I come across with my work and indeed is the simplest for us to alter to avoid behavioural problems with our cats. The feline has evolved to develop certain essential behaviours for survival. Our domestic cats maintain these behavioural needs, they have internal drives to eat a variety of meats little and often, to sleep for around 18 hours a day, to climb up to higher vantage points, hide or flee from danger, maintain social company, and so on, these behaviours are ‘hardwired’ deep inside the brain.

If these behaviours are restricted, just as we do, our cats suffer an element of stress. So to eliminate this factor we simply allow more natural eating patterns, i.e. eating little and often throughout the day, having meat to tear at, increased nesting sites for all cats of the household, scratching posts and horizontal scratching surfaces, hideaways, look out posts, access to the outdoors (even if only a pen to allow secure access) to get you started.

Due to the complexities of this topic this is all rather brief, but provides a good starting point. Please feel free to contact me for further reading suggestions, I am always happy to help.

Take care


07841 517543


[1] Cannon, W. (1929) Bodily changes in pain, hunger, fear and rage. New York, Appleton

[2] Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W. And Ackerman (1997) Handbook of Behaviour Problems of the Dog and Cat, Elsevier Limited, United Kingdom

[3] Leonardo E. D. and and Hen, R (2006) Genetics of Affective and Anxiety Disorders, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol.57:, pp.117-137

[4] Donner, J. et al (2008) An Association Analysis of Murine Anxiety Genes in Humans Implicates Novel Candidate Genes for Anxiety Disorders, Biological Psychiatry, Vol.64, No.8, pp. 672-680

Monday, 25 January 2010

Making friends - how do our cats communicate?

The domestic cat has had a longstanding reputation for being solitary and as a result has been required to live alone within many of our homes. An increasing body of research work has made it clear that our cats are actually HIGHLY SOCIABLE CREATURES. Whenever there are sufficient resources, the domestic cat will form close friendships for life, they are even known to nurse each others young!

Without fully understanding what will promote either friendly or aggressive behaviour, multi-cat households can bring with them a variety of behavioural problems, including aggression and conflict over resources, such as food, resting sites and litter boxes, or even in-house urination. An understanding of the natural social organisation, relationships and communication between cats is therefore essential.

The Social Feline and Communication

In the wild, colonies are based on blood relationships, set-up in resource-filled environments. These cats have been born and raised in natural conditions, learning the essential social skills for maintaining group harmony from their peers, to ensure optimal survival (1) .

Cats recognize members of their colonies vs strange cats, and as with all territorial species, unfamiliar cats are not allowed to suddenly approach anothers’ territory, instead they may be slowly integrated ithrough a gradual process, using scent communication to ‘introduce’ one another appropriately (2) .

1. Scratching
From the tree-dwelling Cimolestes living amongst the Dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the domestic cat has evolved and adapted to use its protractile claws as an adaptable tool for climbing, hunting, killing, eating, defence as well as communication (3) .

As fragments of claw and claw sheath are often found embedded within the vertical surfaces scratched upon, it has been assumed that the purpose of scratching is to maintain healthy claws. However if this was true, we would be regularly witnessing the cat scratch with its hind feet!

Scientific evidence suggests that these highly social animals use their claws to communicate to others both through sight and scent, the passing cat will not only see the scratches imbedded within the tree-trunk or gate-post, but he would also be able to smell the chemical messengers deposited from the sebaceous glands of the feet (4) . From this he will understand the age, gender and health of that cat, but he will also know how long ago that cat passed this area, thus avoiding confrontation.

2. Spraying
Spraying behaviour as part of the cats’ normal set of behaviours is another strategy used to maintain harmonious social structures amongst colonies. When patrolling the periphery of his territory, spraying in this way enables communication to any passing cats, mapping his territory and providing vital information about him self. As well as being extremely useful for avoiding confrontation, this behaviour helps with the mating process and regulates hunting behaviour within the area (5) .

3. Allorubbing
When two cats are familiar with one another, alongside other affiliative behaviours such as resting together, grooming, playing and so on, scent communication maintains its importance.

Colony members have been consistently seen allorubbing, whereby the cats rub up and down each other's sides. The head, sides and tail are all involved in this behaviour, which may go on for several minutes. As with most feline behaviours, there are many noted motivations to this behaviour, but alongside the tactile components to this behaviour, this intense facilitates exchange of scent, suggesting that familiar cats maintain a ‘colony smell’ (6) .

Managing Multi-Cat Households

Often in the domestic setting our cats come up against a range of issues and try to adapt accordingly.

1. One factor to look into when dealing with a multi-cat problem in your own home would refer to resources. Resource Holding Potential (7) is an important factor to take into account when many cats occupy smaller households, it is an evolutionary stable strategy, devised to maintain group harmony and therefore keep the colony alive and well.

Each cat learns that for every resource, every member of the colony has a certain position, giving them first, second, third, etc. refusal over each resource available within their environment. This way every member of can keep track of each other. They are also able to avoid competition and potential injury by understanding ‘her place’.

This differs to the commonly believed notion of ‘pecking order’ only observed in birds, as Resource Holding Potential status of each colony member differs for different resources. The cat does not work on domination, but on group harmony. Injuries however can occur when cats are under pressure in terms of resource.

Resources will include:
• Good quality, natural feeds
• Comfortable sleeping sites
• Space to move, explore and investigate
• Vigilance posts
• Scratching and Bunting posts

Things that have been found to de-stabilise Resource Holding Potential, include:
• Lack of resource quantity
• Lack of good quality resources
• Diminishing space
• Sickness or ill-health
• Changes in structure, where new relationships are encountered, Resource Holding Potential’s need to be re-established.

2. The second factor would concern individual cats’ behavioural issues, say an aggressive cat causing another cat to adopt nervous urinary patterns around the home.

This relates to the effects of previous learning within our domestic environment, i.e. has he or she associated any negative incidence around other cats, perhaps a neighbouring Tom with his own behavioural issues. If this is an element to a multi-cat household problem, a behaviourist working under veterinary referral should be called upon to provide a structured Behavioural Modification Programme.

Introducing New Cats

With use of all senses, and the understanding of the territorial nature of the cat, a detailed step-by-step approach should be taken when introducing any new member to the existing colony at all times. Not only will this knowledge ensure the happiness of each household member, but it will also reduce chances of aggressive encounters within the house, building solid foundations for good positive relationships.

To conclude, there are things that can be done both in the now when dealing with multi-cat behavioural issues such as aggression and/or in-house urination. However thinking of the future, there are also many things that breeders and owners can do to set our cats up appropriately in order to cope with the domestic environment, preventing such issues in the first incidence.

Due to the complexities of this topic this is relatively brief, but provides a good starting point for all. Please feel free to contact me for further advice or reading references, I am always happy to help.

Katie B Wade


1. Bradshaw, J. (1992) The Behaviour of the Domestic Cat, CAB International, Bristol
2. Macdonald, D. et al (1987) Social dynamics, nursing coalitions and infanticide among farm cats, Felis catus. Advances in Ethology, Vol. 28, pp.1–66
3, 6. Macdonald, D. (1992) The Velvet Claw: A Natural History of Carnivores, BBC Consumer Publishing, United Kingdom. pp. 10-75
4. Turner, D. and Bateson, P. (1995) The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom
5. Clutton-Brock, J. (1999) A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom
7. Bradshaw, J. (1993) The True Nature of the Domestic Cat, CAB International, Bristol, pp. 89-108