Decoding Your Cat: Not Exactly in Your Cat’s Horoscope or Reading Tea Leaves


Dr. Meghan Herron

In the book Decoding Your Cat -now out – I wrote in the book’s Introduction, “Veterinary behaviorists are last responders. When no one else can assist, they swoop in and save the day.”

Following a talk by a veterinary behaviorist, maybe 10 years ago now, at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, I was astonished at even how veterinary professionals were supporting then TV-star, dog trainer Cesar Millan. On TV Millan supported antiquated notions about dominance training. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg noted I am on TV, radio and write columns like this one – but wondered what the behavior college might to do set the record straight.

The answer instantly came to me. I said, “Write a book!”

Sure enough, in 2014, the specialty college released Decoding Your Dog, authored and edited by 22 veterinary behaviorists. I was honored to co-edit and author the Introduction.

Due to sky-high sales (which I’m not sure even the publisher expected) and very favorable reviews, the same publisher had no issue with allowing the college to create a sequel, suitably called Decoding Your Cat, edited by a threesome of vet behaviorists Dr. Meghan Herron, Dr. Debra Horwitz (one of the Decoding Your Dog co-editors) , and Dr. Carlo Siracusa, Again, I am honored to author the Introduction.

Arguably, there more misconceptions regarding cats compared to dogs – even from experienced cat owners. As one example, cat parents often truly believe their cat is being spiteful. “No, cat has even been motivated out of spite,” says Herron.

In fact, veterinary behaviorist and Decoding Your Cat Contributor Dr. Amy Pike adds, “Cats do wave a red flag something is wrong. Well that is the cat’s perspective. Many times pet parents don’t notice the change in behavior because cats can be subtle. If and the owners do seek help, where are they going?”

And that’s a problem – and an odd one. The Internet is filled with “cat experts,” some qualified and offering excellent advice. And some not so expert offering misleading information. And in the cat world there are even “experts” who offer behavior advice using a cat’s horoscope or reading tea leaves – really, reading tea leaves.

“Of course, the advice we offer is a bit more scientific than tea leaves, but it’s also practical advice,” Herron says.

What’s a behavior problem for you is in reality a cat usually just doing what’s natural and normal, at least for a cat. That may include cats’ strong hunting instinct, a desire to scratch and climb all over things and to anything they perceive – from the cats’ perspective – to feel safe. Herron adds, “When it comes to cats, our (clients) expectations are too often not what cats truly are.”

“We don’t write about damaging cat training, as we did damaging dog training,” says and laughs contributing author veterinary behaviorist Dr. Julia Albright, associate professor veterinary behavior at University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville. “While cats are way more self-sufficient than dogs, we’re often not fair to cats, not giving them what they need.”

Albright is referring to enrichment. There’s an entire chapter on enrichment, but there’s mention of it in every chapter. Enrichment refers to providing many opportunities for cats who express natural species-specific behaviors.

Another important objective consistent throughout the book is help clients be more aware than a change in behavior may be a result of a medical issue. “Every day when I was in general practice, people said ‘give me the Prozac,” Herron says. She adds that pet parents want a magic pill which doesn’t exist. And because the Internet says the problem is behavioral, it must be. So they add litter boxes for the cat with kidney disease, that’s fine except that the cat still has kidney disease.”

“I’m so glad that cats are finally receiving attention they deserve – and hope Decoding Your Cat clears up the long list of misconceptions and misunderstandings people have about cats,” Albright concludes.