How To Care For Your Cats The Right Way

By:Priyanka Tanwar*
Creature Companion in conversation with Mr. Jackson Galaxy – world-renowned cat behavior and wellness expert and TV host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell.” Mr. Galaxy has authored four books on cat behavior – “Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!),” “Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught me about Life, Love and Coming Clean,” and “Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home” and his latest, “Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life With Your Cat.” He has made appearances as a guest expert in international Television shows “Think Like a Cat” and “Cats 101” and featured in print articles in esteemed publications like “The Washington Post,” “New York Post,” “The New York Times” and “USA Today.” Excerpts…

Namaste from India! Thank you so much for taking out the time to talk to Creature Companion Bureau. The first thing we would like to know is if you were into cats from a young age? What prompted you to become a full-time feline behaviourist at a time when this term was unheard of?

Actually, I grew up with a dog. I never really had cats in my life, at least not in a very meaningful way. My girlfriend had a cat in college and I lived with a few cats on and off, but it wasn’t until I started working in an animal shelter that I began my relationship with cats. The cats would just gather around me and at the time the idea was if these cats are picking me and we are being tasked with saving their lives then who am I to say no? That’s really what led me to take this position on in life. I was the cat guy in the first shelter, then I became the cat guy in a number of shelters, and then I started going into people’s homes to stop them from surrendering their cats, and one thing led to another to get me where I am today.

How have the societal perceptions and attitudes towards cats changed since you first started working as a feline behaviour consultant in the 1990s?

Let’s not even focus on just cats, let’s take a look at companion animals in general! At the time I started working in the shelter system, we were killing between 10-12 million cats and dogs every year and we are now finally down to under a million for the first time ever. The reason is humans are now seeing animals in a different light. We see them as family members, not as property. We don’t just discard them when they don’t serve our needs anymore. That is the biggest change. People are willing to work for success as a family and not just give up, and that makes my job a whole lot easier.

Tell us about your pets. What role have they played in shaping your life?

I think anybody would have the same story, that when you are off on your own away from your family and you bring an animal into your home for the first time, you suddenly become an adult and you now have children. And that’s how my life was shaped, period. I don’t have human children. My family has had four legs for as long as I can remember… well sometimes three (laughs)! It has made me a responsible person and as I detailed in my memoir (Cat Daddy), having animals in my life, saved my life. If it weren’t for me working for animals and them counting on me, drugs and alcohol would have killed me 20 years ago.

What are the basic reasons for behavioural issues in cats?

When it comes to behavioural issues in cats, you need to rule out any underlying physical issues first. If you notice anything going on with your cat that you never noticed before, the first thing you should do is go to the vet because physical issues can manifest behaviourally. Beyond that, by and large if you really had to reduce it, which I hate to do, but if you did, territorial anxiety is really what manifests the most. Whether that’s aggression, aggression towards other humans or animals, or litter box issues, that will usually trace to some form of territorial anxiety. For cats, territory is everything. Confidence and territory are everything and if they feel that is threatened, then bad things usually happen.

Please share some pearls of wisdom on how cat guardians and cat lovers can better understand and acknowledge their feline companions.

I think my major pearl of wisdom is a pretty obvious one when I say it, but it goes a little deeper than you might think. Remember that a cat is not a dog. They are their own beings and we tend to put expectations on them that are very “dog like” and that’s not fair to them. They have not been domesticated over hundreds of thousands of years like dogs. They only had a very specific job with us, which was to control the rodent population and they’ve only been “pets” for a very short amount of time. You have to have expectations that you would put on a wild animal and not a domestic one. That will make the relationship stronger, more unique, more personal, and you’ll appreciate cats for who they are.

Your best-selling book “Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide To Life With Your Cat” talks about how to take care of your cat in the best possible manner by putting an end to feline behavioural problems. Please explain the term “Cat Mojo”?

Referring back to the previous question about what causes behavioural problems, what causes a cat to not have behavioural problems is “cat mojo.” The word mojo refers to a sort of “natural swagger.” Mojo is confidence in its purest form. And what gives cats confidence is knowledge that they own their territory and what they are doing in that territory, meaning the more connected they are to their ancestral selves, or what I call the Raw Cat, the more confident they will be at home. This is why I stress the importance of playing with your cat every day because it mimics the act of hunting and hunting will make them confident. Feeding your cat a raw diet mimics what they would eat in nature and that gives them mojo. Giving them places to explore in your home, both vertically and horizontally, where they can leave scent and “own” will give them mojo as well.

How did the idea of your long-running TV show “My Cat From Hell” come about?

“My Cat From Hell” was a very serendipitous thing. I came to Los Angeles to live by the water finally, and I was just doing my job. However, in Hollywood when your job is something unusual and you look unusual and you act unusual, that has TV written all over it (laughs). So, within a very short amount of time, TV came calling and I said YES!

What major changes can a new cat guardian expect after incorporating a cat into his/her life?

Well, once you bring a cat into your life, you are owned by a cat (laughs) so buckle in! Again, because they’re not dogs and their behaviour is not second nature to us, in terms of recognition and relatability, we are forced into a place where we have to compromise with an animal for the first time in our lives. Some of us may have not even compromised with humans! It’s a lesson in humility that goes a long way in your life, but the more you can educate yourself right of the bat, you can cut to the part of the relationship that is loving, and not frustrating, that is new and exciting, as opposed to new and causing you to pull your hair out.

What suggestions would you give to bipetual people who want to make sure their cats and dogs get along well in one household?

Again, referring back to my point about cats not being dogs, making sure that you are giving dogs what they need and cats what they need, and remembering that they are definitely not the same thing. Of course, both dogs and cats, as well as humans, thrive on a certain amount of order and routine, so keeping that routine intact is really important. The other thing is making sure that cats own things that are only for cats, and dogs own things that are only for dogs. Allowing cats to just walk up to a dog’s food dish while they’re eating is not a smart move. Allowing dogs to walk up to a litter box and snacking on what’s inside, again is not a smart move because it violates their place in the home. Just respect everyone, whether they have two legs or four, and you should have a good family system.

You also have a line of catplay games and toys called Jackson Galaxy Collection on Petmate. Please suggest some interesting toys for cats that cat parents in India can purchase to keep their cats engaged and occupied.

I recommend daily vigorous play with your cat and I can’t stress enough that it should be every single day. The Jackson Galaxy Air Prey Wand is a great toy that can be used to mimic both land and air hunting, which will give your cat confidence. However, as long as you’re engaging and playing with your cat, any toy will suffice.

What are your views on the practice of de-clawing of cats?

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know how I feel about declawing. It’s barbaric, it is outmoded and it is animal abuse, plain and simple. If you need to amputate the digits of your cat in order to save your furniture, please don’t have a cat. There’s no point. As I’ve detailed many times over the years, I have a solution for anything your cats’ claws can do, so remember they’re family, not furniture. They deserve the dignity of their digits, and paws need claws! We’re catching up finally in the states. New York just became the first state to ban declawing and there are a number of other states who are falling in line. Over 25 countries across the globe have banned declawing, so that should tell you everything you need to know. I hope anyone reading this will simply say no to declawing.

What prompted you to start the charity ‘Jackson Galaxy Project’? What are your current and upcoming initiatives and programs for animals?

What prompted me to start the project was all of my years in animal welfare. I began my career in animal shelters and I will live in animal shelters until those shelters are no longer needed. The project is here to help speed that process along with life-saving programs and partnerships, including Cat Pawsitive, which focuses on giving shelters and rescue workers the tools to train cats in their care in order to help them find their mojo and get adopted, Safe Haven, which retrofits domestic violence shelters so victims can bring their pets when leaving an abusive home, and Operation Homeward Bound, which is a transport program that flies cats and dogs to shelters around the country that have more room to find them new homes.

Finally, many Indians believe in superstitions attached to cats such as a black cat crossing your path brings misfortune; killing a cat is considered a heinous sin according to the Hindu religion and the person doing so has to donate a gold statue of a cat along with a special religious ceremony on the banks of the Holy Ganga to appease the gods; and the birth of kittens in one’s house is a good omen for the head of the family. What is your take on these superstitions?

Cats have been the victim of superstitions for most of the time that they have been with humans. Mainly the reason for that is because we don’t understand cats. Because their way of communicating and acting is so different from the human experience, we tend to project our worst fears on them. This is why they were burned at the stake with witches, this is why they were killed during the black plague when they actually could’ve saved thousands of lives had they been allowed to live. Cats have always had to endure an up and down relationship with humans and human mythology and I hope we are passed that now and I hope the age of superstition is soon behind us, at least in the negative light.