Jackson Galaxy: Decoding Cat Behavior
June 5, 2014 9 Comments
If you’re like many of us, Saturday nights are spent with Jackson Galaxy as he works his magic with problematic cats. In his annals of cat behavior, our own tiny tigers look like cream puffs.
Several episodes into the fifth season of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” we caught up with him. He’d been shuttling between California and San Antonio and took part in the HSUS Animal Care Expo in Florida. He was the keynote speaker there, describing the experience as a privilege … “standing up in front of rescue and shelter professionals to tell them we’ve in a better place.” He said that fewer cats are dying. “It never gets old… seeing a difference, seeing that pay-off is an incredible gift.”
He confirmed it’s the best thing to come out of four-plus seasons of doing the show.
The challenge this season is seen in cat behavior cases that have crossed from the emotional to the physical.
An older cat experiencing injury-inducing night terrors is diagnosed with an REM sleep disorder and had suffered a stroke. Along with veterinary intervention and melatonin, an over-the-counter supplement, Jackson worked with the guardians to create a safer environment. With veterinary care, the episodes decreased significantly.
Aggression issues were stressing out another feline duo, which resulted in litter box avoidance for one of the cats. Turns out there was blood in her urine and veterinary diagnostics revealed a cluster of kidney stones, which required surgery.
Another cat was pooping everywhere but inside the litter box. That cat was diagnosed with IBD and responded to diet and medication.
As if those aren’t enough, Jackson said he’ll also be dealing with a severe case of pica.
“You have to think outside the box,” he says. “There are no clear-cut answers.”
He adds, “Nothing feels better than to educate guardians and watch as they in turn become teachers.”
He says that this season’s 38 cases are “all over the spectrum.” The human element is the most challenging, he says, in understanding how humans perceive cats.
The backstory behind a case can be fascinating.
In an episode this season, a firefighter adopted a little black kitten for his girlfriend, but after a couple of years, the cat became extremely aggressive. “I always draw on experience,” Jackson says. “The threshold for a cat with a chemical imbalance is at the 12- to 18-months-old mark. Something goes wrong. it’s unpredictable. You can’t trace it to trauma. The cat snaps and can’t be trusted.
“It’s like you’re married to someone for five years and you come home and they punch you in the face,” he explains. “You need to get the relationship back in balance. The blindfold trust thing was amazing.” As a way of gaining trust, the woman, while blindfolded, offered food to the cat, which he accepted.
So with all he’s seen, what are the three most important things people can do to make their cats happy?
• “See the world through their eyes,” says Jackson. “That’s cat mojo! He adds that if you see with their eyes, you’ll see the anxiety, not that they’re PO’d … and be more empathetic. (Cat Mojo is also the title of Jackson’s series of videos on YouTube.)
• Environmental enrichment – Catification is the term he uses (and the name of his and Kate Benjamin’s new book) – is essential. It’s a matter of territorial security versus territorial anxiety.
• Play is not an option. “You must play with your cat,” Jackson says. “It’s a must for its physical health.”
Jackson shared his thoughts on Tara, the kitty that rescued her boy guardian from an attacking dog. “Blurring the line in anthropomorphism is common, but what you see is unmistakable,” he says. “ Every motive is clear between the cat and dog.” He says that blurring the lines of anthropomorphism is common, but what you see is unmistakable.
In an interview with Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of HSUS during its Expo, he described it as a “Lassie moment.” He said, “We don’t give [cats] the emotional credit.”
He says that “My Cat My Hell” has brought a bigger audience to the concept of cat behavior but he hopes that it opens the door so people see all animals in a compassionate way. “See your cat with compassion,” he says.
Jackson is also a big advocate of TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs for community cats and the increased awareness of the need to work with cats in shelters. “We still kill cats for not using the litter box,” he says. Trying to integrate community cats into a shelter is like putting “a round cat in a square hole.” Well-maintained colonies of community cats allow shelters to work on spay and neutering and keeping cats in their homes.
Although the two big cat behavior problems boil down to litter box issues and aggression, the causes and solutions are many and require retraining the human as much as the cat. “That’s why I have a job!”
We know that reality-based television shows have their formulas and signatures moves. In “My Cat From Hell,” Jackson sits down with the clients, removes his sunglasses and puts on his regular green-framed glasses. So what’s behind that?
“The TV gods decided,” he says. “It has no bearing on real life!”
And the pink Lincoln? Only for the show … “It’s murder on the back and knees!”
Update: When we talked with Jackson, the wraps were still on the much-anticipated Lux episode, but a preview of the episode (scheduled for June 16) and Jackson’s comments have just been released. Read about Lux here.