When I tell people I’m a cat behavior consultant, they react one of three ways:
- Wow, that’s so cool! I didn’t know those existed!
- That’s your real job? I didn’t know cats could be trained. (And then they laugh at me.)
- That’s so great, because my cat is doing xyz and I really need some help.
It’s a very niche career, and there aren’t too many of us out there. People have heard of Jackson Galaxy, but think he’s the only one. There are also a lot of stigmas surrounding cats (they’re jerks, they just do whatever they want, they’re aloof, etc), causing people to believe that behavior issues are just normal cat behavior that they have to deal with. I also think that with so much information literally at your fingertips, thanks to the internet, it’s tempting to think that you can resolve behavior problems on your own with a little research. But if I’ve learned anything since I’ve been doing this, it’s that there is a huge need for people like me. Cats need help, and their caregivers often can’t do it on their own.
So now that you know that cat behavior consultants exist, when should you involve one? It can sometimes be difficult even for experienced cat parents to know when professional help is necessary.
Vet First, Always
I strongly suggest visiting your veterinarian before deciding to involve a behavior professional. As prey animals, cats are masters at hiding pain and illness. If they show signs of weakness, they get eaten. Even if you think it’s a behavioral problem, you should always rule out medical issues first. Those litter box issues may be as simple as a urinary tract infection. That being said, your vet is a fantastic resource, but they are not always educated in resolving feline behavior problems. If nothing shows up on the exam or bloodwork, you may still need to involve a cat behaviorist or behavior consultant.
Nothing is Working
If you’ve tried everything to resolve the problem on your own, but nothing is working, regardless of how minor it is, you should involve a professional. You could be dealing with anything from your cat biting you to him chewing on your houseplants – a cat behavior consultant can help with both ends of the spectrum. As I mentioned earlier, the internet can be a great resource, but sometimes you just need personalized help. There is also an abundance of incorrect and even counterproductive advice out there! However, don’t wait until you are at the end of your rope or until the behavior issue has escalated out of control. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and hire a cat behaviorist while the issue is still manageable. It’ll be easier on everyone that way.
Quality of Life Concerns
If your cat’s quality of life is a concern, it’s time to hire a cat behavior consultant. And if your quality of life as his caregiver is a concern, it’s also time. Signs that your cat’s quality of life is seriously impacted include:
- Frequent aggression towards you or other pets
- Infrequent, but very severe aggression
- Hiding or isolating
- Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Heightened sensitivity to noises
- Hypervigilance (constantly surveying surroundings for a threat)
- Any major change in behavior (not acting like himself)
Any of these behavioral changes indicate working with a professional – Googling advice will probably not be enough. And of course, you are able to recognize when your own quality of life is suffering. If you are feeling anxious, hopeless, or upset about the situation, it’s time to get help. The safety of you and your other pets, of course, is also a huge factor. If your cat is causing damage or injuries, don’t wait.
Finding a Qualified Professional
Unfortunately, animal training is an unregulated industry. That means that any person can call themselves a behaviorist, behavior consultant, or trainer, even if they have zero credentials. This is true when it comes to cats, but also dogs, horses, and any other animal as well. You will have to do your research and make sure that you are choosing someone qualified to help with your situation. The following organizations offer consultant locators for professionals that have been certified and screened independently. Many behaviorists and behavior consultants work with clients virtually! If you can’t find one in your area, find one that you click with that can see you virtually.
Fear Free (also great for finding vets who practice low-stress handling):
A good trainer or behavior consultant will advertise science-based training and behavior modification methods, and use positive reinforcement only. They should not guarantee results (cats are not robots, after all). Look for evidence of continuing education and don’t be afraid to look up reviews and testimonials!
If you need any further help or advice when it comes to your cat’s behavior, feel free to reach out to me at Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training.