Figuring out when doing it alone isn't optimal.
There's a lot of advice about cat behavior on the internet. Heck, you're reading a blog post on cat behavior right now! With all that free advice out there, you might wonder why you'd ever hire someone to help with your cat. This is a personal decision and it depends on a lot of factors. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to work with a professional or not.
Have you talked to your veterinarian?
In many cases, I suggest people start with their veterinarian rather than with me. Why? Some behavior problems may have a medical cause or be worsened by an underlying medical issue. As I'm not a veterinarian, I can't make that determination or prescribe medications for your cat. Making sure you're missing the underlying cause is incredibly important as behavior plans can only help so much if your cat has a medical issue.
Can you start with a behavior professional first? Absolutely, that's totally your choice. Just know that they might recommend you call your vet pretty quickly!
What have you tried already?
In some cases, you may be able to find helpful information online or may try some things that seem intuitive. This may help and solve the problem! In this case, you probably don't need a professional.
If you've tried a few things and they aren't working or have made things worse, then it starts to be time to consider calling in someone to help. Cat behavior can be counter intuitive and it can be easy to misinterpret why cats are doing what they're doing. Some advice online may also suggest methods to modify behavior that may make things worse. If things aren't moving in the direction you want, you don't have to figure things out on your own!
Are you considering rehoming or euthanasia?
This is not a pleasant topic to talk about, but unfortunately some cats end up getting rehomed or euthanized for behavior problems that could be successfully addressed with a little help. While rehoming isn't always a bad outcome, it isn't ideal as it creates a lot of stress for the cat and humans. A professional can give you a realistic assessment of your situation and what it may require to come to a resolution. They can help you determine how to most effectively address the behavior and if either of these outcomes can be avoided. In many cases, with a bit of work and proper guidance, they absolutely can be!
How long has the problem been happening?
There are two ways to look at this: If the behavior has been occurring for a while, then chances are whatever you've tried isn't working. This is definitely a time to get some extra help! Regardless of how long it has been occurring, a behavior consultant can give you an idea of what needs to be done to get a resolution.
On the flip side, sometimes it makes sense to call in someone pretty quick. Some problems, in particular litter box problems or cats waking you up in the middle of the night, can become self perpetuating and may worsen over time if they are not addressed early. Nipping something pretty quickly after it starts might help prevent you from needing more extensive intervention down the line. It's completely personal preference if you want to stop the problem pretty quickly or if you'd rather wait to see if goes away with some time.
Are there other animals or multiple cats involved?
Cat social structure is complicated. Some cats are fine with other cats, some cats are not. Most cats are fine with certain other cats but not with every cat. Cats and dogs can be just as complicated as it can be challenging to tell if your cat and dog are safe around each other. While you sometimes can manage multicat or multispecies situations without help, if there are behavior problems involved it becomes trickier. This is especially true if there is danger involved to any animals. You probably want to call in a professional for these situations!
How are you doing?
I'd go far as to argue this is the most important consideration: Regardless of how severe a problem is or what you've already tried, is the problem impacting your wellbeing? Are you finding yourself completely overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to address your cat's behavior? Are you losing sleep, noticing changes in your mood, or not feeling safe in your home? Are you spending a large portion of your day cleaning up cat urine? Are there other things going on in your life that make it hard to focus on the cat currently such a new baby or stress at your job?
While you will still have to do work to get results, hiring a behavior professional take a lot of the guessing out of what to do. You avoid the extra cost, stress, and time involved with following advice that may not be great. If you're at the point where your cat is impacting your mental health in a not so good way, it's time to call in a professional. Even if you haven't tried anything to address it yet, hiring someone to help get you to a resolution sooner will reduce the amount of stress you experience. Your wellbeing is just as important!
While this guide is by no means exhaustive of when you'd want to hire a behavior consultant, it should give you some ideas of when might be the right time to call one in to help. Class Act Cats offers behavior consultation services for a variety of cat behavior concerns and even offers virtual consultations to help you wherever you're located. If you think you may need some assistance or want to learn more, we're here to help!
About the author: Joey Lusvardi CCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.