CAT BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS? SCRATCH THAT!

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Airvet

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Most would agree that the two most objectionable feline behaviors are scratching and litter box problems. We do know that instinctively, cats like to scratch. Our goal is to train them to scratch appropriate surfaces like a scratch post, and to avoid inappropriate surfaces like our couches or drapes. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy task.

Firstly, some scratch post basics — they need to be made of a surface or fabric that cats will like AND that are effective scratching surfaces, and they need to be strategically placed. Scratch posts can wear down over time, thus losing their charm and attractiveness for the cat. If a post is no longer effective in helping the cat sharpen or shed its nails, he won’t be interested in using it anymore. Also, by nature, cats like to hang out where you hang out. They don’t want to have to go to some remote, rarely used, room in the house. They want to be with you in the den, the kitchen, or the living room. That’s where the scratching post needs to be.

Also, since cats like to be high up so they can have a good vantage point, we recommend getting a tall post with some room for them to perch and take their cat naps. Make sure the surface is rough enough to be effective. Take your cat up to the post and rub his front paws on the post to let him/her experience the surface and mark the new post. To really stimulate his interest, try applying some catnip to the post to make it even more attractive to him. This usually works well. At first, you may also want to give him some treats, like a piece of turkey, every time he goes up to the post. This positive reinforcement should really help. Cats are very “food motivated!!”

To keep your kitties away from those inappropriate surfaces like the couch or lounge chair, you need to somewhat booby trap them as a means of providing a form of remote correction. Here are some easy suggestions. Try putting heavy duty double sided tape onto the couch and chair because cats hate this when they jump up and stick. Also, you can try laying some aluminum foil, a heavy plastic wrap, or plastic carpet runner onto the furniture as well, because these, too, act as effective deterrents. If they can’t stick their nails into it, they lose interest. Pheromone sprays, like Feliway, may also be effective in keeping them off the furniture. If you are sitting right there, you can try spraying him with a water sprayer or a squirt gun whenever he jumps onto the chair or couch, but my only problem with this is that he’ll make the association that you need to be around for him to get squirted, which is less than ideal. He will then not go near the furniture when you are around, but will when you’re not. We like the remote correction techniques better, but wanted to share the various options to consider.

Now, what about those litter box problems? Any problems you may be having at home can definitely be solved. Here’s the “scoop” (pardon the pun) about litter boxes and the feline family. Ideally, you should always have one more box than the number of cats in the household, and at least one on every floor where the cats hang out. In a house with 3 cats, for example, four boxes may be necessary, and if the cats split their time between upstairs and downstairs, then there should be two on each floor. As far as covered boxes and box placement, you need to remember that one of the most vulnerable times for a cat is while they are eliminating, so often cat parents make big a mistake by hiding the boxes in some corner in a remote room AND using covered boxes. On the contrary, many cats like to look around and have a clear view of their people and their fellow cats while they are using the box.

As far as litter type, it can be simple trial and error. Try the different types, like the clay, clumping, or even the environmentally friendly stuff like the corn, wood, or recycled newspaper, in the various boxes and see if they seem to prefer one over the other. They’ll let you know! Many cats seem to like the type made of corn kernels, which is also flushable–a feature we like. To get a new cat used to the box or a resident cat used to a new litter, take him to all the boxes so he can learn their locations, and gently rub its front feet into the litter—this will leave his scent on the litter and get him used to what it feels like.

A word of warning, however: many cats, whether they’ve mastered the litter box or not, and especially cats that were previously outdoors, may try to use your potted houseplants as a litter box. One suggestion would be to temporarily lay some small pebbles or pinecones or aluminum foil on top of the soil until he’s consistently using his litter box. You can also set up inexpensive motion detector alarms or electronic monitors. These seem to act as effective deterrents.

This all may seem new, but though the cat’s behavior is certainly nothing new, our understanding of their behavior is much better than it used to be. If your cat or cats have been leaving you a few presents around the house, they may be trying to tell you something about their litter box set up or their health. Don’t ignore these signs!

You see, your cat’s behavior problems aren’t that difficult after all. If your cat is using your fine furniture as a scratch post, or continues to have accidents around the house, don’t panic. And, best of all, access to a vet has never been as easy as it is today. If you want to talk to a veterinarian about your cat’s behavioral issues, make a call on airVet and talk to a vet to give you some more specific pointers on what you may want to try.

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