Are you a cat whisperer? This is a question I get asked at least a dozen times a day. My answer is always No.
With the increase in popularity of the study of animal behavior and the immense popularity of the TV show The Dog Whisperer, more and more people are calling themselves cat whisperers, cat behavior experts, and cat psychology professionals. The problem is that in this unregulated field anyone can claim to be an expert or whisperer. Anyone can put up a website and make claims about their expertise, but how do you know their expertise is valid? The problem is you don't know unless you do your homework and find out more about them. If you're having a behavior problem with your pet and your family life is in crisis because of it, you may be enticed by claims of "guaranteed" results.
If you're in a position where you feel you need professional help with a cat behavior problem, how do you go about choosing the right expert? First, start with your veterinarian. Many behavior problems can be the result of an underlying medical problem so an examination by your veterinarian should be your first step. You'd be surprised how many times a litter box problem is due to lower urinary tract disease, renal failure or diabetes, just to name a few. I've seen lots of cases of aggression as well where the cause turned out to be medical such as periodontal disease, spinal pain, abscess, arthritis, and so on. So don't skip this step even if you're convinced the problem is behavioral.
When you visit your veterinarian, be specific and honest about the behavior the cat has been displaying. Sometimes when the veterinarian asks how often the litter box is cleaned the client may be embarrassed and not tell the truth. That doesn't help the cat so when the veterinarian asks questions give as honest and complete of an answer as you can.
Behavior modification is a powerful tool and if done correctly, is an effective way to change unwanted behavior. Behavior modification is science-based and there's no magic about it. A certified expert can explain to you how and why the process works and the science behind it. A certified expert will not "guarantee" results because much of the success of behavior modification depends on client compliance and the specifics of the case.
The best way to protect yourself from the multitude of so-called experts and self-proclaimed cat whisperers is to ask your veterinarian for a referral to a certified behavior expert. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists are certified through the Animal Behavior Society . Veterinary Behaviorists are certified through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists . Certified Animal Behavior Consultants are certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants . You can visit their websites for more information and for the location of a certified professional nearest you. If there isn't one in your area, many certified professionals will do telephone consultations.
Am I saying that all cat behavior experts who aren't certified are no good? Certainly not, but since anyone can put up a sign or a website, the best way to protect yourself is to choose someone who has proven that they have met the educational requirements as well as having documented experience in their field.
Remember, the first step is to visit your veterinarian. If you have any questions, visit the websites above to learn more about professional animal behavior consulting.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant and owner of Cat Behavior Associates, LLC.
For more information on feline behavior problems, refer to the book Starting from Scratch
Starting from Scratch