Anita Kelsey knows cats. In fact, what this London based feline behaviour expert doesn’t know about cats, isn’t worth knowing. With a first class honour degree in Feline Behaviour & Psychology (how cool is that?), Anita has worked with hundreds of cats and owners to tackle even the feistiest feline characters. She is also a master cat groomer, specialising in working with timid or aggressive cats.
We spoke to STYLETAILS resident cat expert about life-changing career choices, taming the trickiest cat breeds and climbing holidays in the Lake District with her own Norwegian Forest Cats.
You used to be a singer, why did you decide to work with cats?
A personal tragedy made me rethink things and I’m very thankful that it did. I have always had a passion for cats and I think when you have a natural passion for something, the learning is enjoyable. My new direction in life grew organically and was successful because of this passion.
Cats have a reputation for being selfish and aloof – do you think they are misunderstood?
Yes. We have labelled them selfish and aloof because of our own expectations.
What are the most common problems cat owners come to you with?
The most common problems are aggression within multi-cat/animal households and destructive behaviours due to lack of stimulation and frustration. The latter comes from a lack of consideration for a cat’s natural needs and behaviour.
A cat is not just a pet that is there for us when we get home from work, to be kept in a small flat with nothing to do all day. Learning about the animal you have will help you to see things from their perspective.
What are some of the main mistakes you see owners making with their cats?
Forgetting they are animals. Not providing them with sufficient outlets for their natural instincts and behaviours.
How can owners tune into their cat’s behaviour and needs?
By understanding they have an animal with particular behaviours and needs. A cat is not just a pet that is there for us when we get home from work, to be kept in a small flat with nothing to do all day. Learning about the animal you have will help you to see things from their perspective.
Are there some cat breeds that you find more challenging than others?
There are some breeds that need more thought in the planning of their environment and stimulation. For example, breeds such as Bengals need plenty of exercise. They have a lot of energy to disperse. Keeping these cats exclusively indoors and sufficiently stimulated is a challenge! These cats do not do so well in a multi-cat household. So, it’s important to understand the breed and their natural temperaments.
On the grooming front, Chinchilla Persians are known for their aggressive tendencies as they do not like the confinement and holding connected to the grooming process. I don’t think I have ever groomed a calm Chinchilla Persian since I started this work.
Has there ever been a feline client you simply couldn’t work with?
I wouldn’t say there were any cats I couldn’t work with on the behaviour side of things. I would rephrase it and say that expectations from the cat owner were too high or unrealistic and the expected changes could not be implemented.
An example of this is bringing a new cat into a harmonious household with a perfectly happy resident cat. If the cats still remain hostile towards one another after attempts to de-stress the situation, then it is time to re-house the last cat in. I do not see this as a feline client I couldn’t work with, I see it as the best and most sensible solution whereby both cats can have a happy life.
On the grooming front, there are a couple of cats I’ve been unable to work with, as this work is more physically hands-on. Both cats had experienced trauma during a negative grooming experience in the past (sometimes on more than one occasion) which has fuelled a fearful response to grooming. These cases are extreme and require the best method to get the groom done with the least possible stress. They are both long haired cats so I keep their coats short and do this whilst they are asleep, under sedation.
What advice can you give owners to make grooming at home a pleasant experience?
The first thing to do is check you have the right grooming tools. I see so many clients with the wrong tools. Always associate grooming with treats and cuddles or playtime, whatever your cat leans towards. Groom in small steps rather than one big session. Cats do not like to be held and contained for too long. Also, never leave your cat until it’s matted and then call a groomer in. It’s miserable for the cat and reinforces negativity. Use a professional groomer on a regular basis. This means there’s less to do on the visits, which means shorter time being held and a happy cat!
When should an owner leave the grooming to an expert?
Good question. I would say it is a joint effort between a professional groomer and a cat owner to keep the coat of a cat mat-free, especially the breeds which have thick long coats. I wouldn’t advise owners to use clippers on their cat, so if a cat is matted then definitely call in someone who knows what they are doing. I would also advise a professional groomer to be called in should a cat have issues with grooming as these situations need long term careful planning.
The best advice I can give is to make sure your chosen groomer is holistic; meaning they take into account the mind, body and spirit when working with animals and do not advocate scruffing or muzzling during the grooming process.
What’s the best part of your job?
I consider myself lucky to be working with animals full time and, of course with my favourite type, cats! When I was young I wanted to either be a vet or a singer. I’ve done the singing bit, and I guess this is the closest I’m going to get to being a vet – I’m happy to settle for that.
Also, helping clients to keep their cats and seeing the relationship between cat, owner and other cats (in a multi-cat household) reach a natural happy balance; it’s the best feeling in the world.
Tell us about your own cats?
I have two Norwegian Forest cats called Kiki and Zaza, both sisters from the same litter. They are huge climbers so I have seven tall handmade climbers in my home alongside plenty of wall steps and cat friendly shelving. We are still in the process of adding more ceiling walkways.
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They were trained to walk on a lead and go on lots of holidays with us around the UK including climbing in the Lake District. They also have a little secure courtyard front and back so they have the best of both worlds. My friend recently commented that our cats have had more holidays than she has had in a lifetime!