Feline Behavior

Cat scratching solutions, and a giveaway to help

You just got a new sofa, and your cat has decided that it makes a wonderful scratching post.  The new carpet in your family room is already showing claw marks.   You’re frustrated, you’ve shooed your cat away, you’ve yelled at her, and she just looks at you as if you’ve gone crazy.  “What’s your problem, human?  I’m just doing what nature intended for me to do!”

Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, and none of them have anything to do with intentionally ruining your furniture and carpeting. Scratching is natural behavior.  Cats scratch to groom their claws, the scratching motion helps remove dead sheaths from their front claws (they usually chew them off their back claws).    They scratch to mark their territory.  Their front paws contain scent glands, and scratching leaves behind their unique signature on the object being scratched.  They scratch for exercise; scratching stretches the muscles in the front legs and all along the back.  And they scratch simply because it feels good.

So what can you do to let your cat be a cat, and still protect your furniture?

Provide your cat with appropriate scratching posts.   Both the type of material the scratching surface is made out of as well as the horizontal or vertical orientation of it matter.  Some cats prefer corrugated cardboard, others prefer carpeted surfaces or sisal.   Generally, sisal seems to be the most popular with cats, and it allows them to really go to town on shredding the material to pieces.  Don’t throw out a scratching post when it’s all tattered and shredded, because to your cat, that probably means it’s finally perfectly broken in.  Until you know your cat’s preference, it’s best to have a mixture of horizontal and vertical scratchers with different surfaces.    Most cats seem to prefer vertical scratchers, and they should be tall enough to allow the cat to fully stretch her body.   Regardless of your cat’s preference, you should have multiple scratchers throughout the house.

Make the scratching post appealing to your cat.  Place it in an area where your cat likes to spend time.  Sprinkle some catnip on it to attract the cat to it.  Place treats on or near the post.  Praise your cat when she uses the post (and use treats to reinforce the praise).

Discourage your cat from scratching furniture.  Never punish your cat – punishment simply leads to increased anxiety and more unwanted behavior.  Apply tape to the parts of furniture that are attractive to your cat.  Double-sided Sticky Paws® tape works well (and it’s clear, so it won’t ruin your decor), as does tinfoil.  Apply Feliway® spray to the areas you don’t want your cat to scratch – studies have shown that it can reduce scratching behavior.  Gently, without yelling at your cat, redirect her to a nearby scratching post.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed.  While this won’t eliminate scratching, trimmed nails can’t do as much damage.  For more on how to trim your cat’s nails, click here.

Soft Paws© Nail Caps.  These soft vinyl tips are glued onto the cat’s claws so they can’t do any damage when the cat scratches.  You can do this yourself, or have it done at your veterinary clinic.  However, I’m not a fan of these nail caps.  The cat’s paws will still have to be handled to apply the caps, and nails have to be trimmed prior to application, so if you’re able to do that, then why not just trim the cat’s nails, period.  Additionally, once the caps are on, cats won’t be able to retract their claws, and I can’t imagine that feels very good to them.

Declawing should never be an option.  When a cat is declawed, it is essentially maimed.  Declawing is a surgical procedure that involves amputating the top join of the cat’s toes.  The Paw Project provides extensive information on this topic.

*** This giveaway is closed ***

Thanks to the folks at StickyPaws, I’m able to offer you a fantastic giveway to help with your cat scratching challenges!  Win a BusyPaws™ Scratch-n-Relax Pad, StickyPaws® Furniture and Carpet Strips, and a Scratch This™ corrugated coardboard scratcher.  To enter, leave a comment sharing either a scratching challenge or a solution that has worked for you.  Share this post and giveaway on Facebook and Twitter and post the link in a separate comment for an additional chance to win.  This giveaway will end on January 21.

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Keeping your single cat happy

kitten-play-ball

Allegra was never supposed to be an only cat.  When I adopted the then 7-month-old kitten last April, the plan was for Amber, who was 12 at the time, to show her the ropes, and for the two of them to become playmates and best friends.

Less than five weeks after Allegra’s arrival, Amber passed away after a sudden, brief illness. I was devastated, and in addition to coping with my grief, which took up almost all the energy I had, I now had a sweet, but rambunctious, slightly juvenile delinquent kitten on my hands.

I knew if I wanted Allegra to be happy, and address some of her behavioral challenges at the same time (she chewed on everything from picture frames to books to the edges of my bedroom dresser, and she was slightly play aggressive), I needed to keep her entertained.  Ideally, I should have gotten her a companion of similar temperament, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet (and I’m still not quite ready).  So it was up to me to keep her active, stimulated and challenged.

All my cats always have been, and always will be, indoor cats.  I thought my home was kitty paradise already.  There are lots of windows with views of trees, birds and squirrels.  There are window perches in two bedrooms for the cats’ viewing pleasure and for naps in the sun.  There are cat toys everywhere.

But it was kitty paradise for older cats, not for a young, energetic kitten.  So I worked on what behaviorists call environmental enrichment.  I created hiding spaces for Allegra.  Cardboard boxes work just fine, as do grocery bags with the handles cut off.  Cat igloos and crinkly tunnels are fun, too.  I bought extra scratching posts.  I added vertical space.  There are numerous ways to do this:  cat trees, cat condos, shelves or window perches.  I got puzzle toys for her; they’re a great way to keep a young cat entertained.  I set up treasure hunts to keep her busy, hiding treats throughout the house and letting her find them.

All of this environmental enrichment was designed to keep Allegra entertained when I couldn’t play with her, but it was never meant to be a substitute for regular playtime.  I use a lot of interactive, fishing pole type toys to play with her.  These toys are designed to imitate prey behavior and they help wake the hunting instinct in cats.  Tossing balls or other small toys for her sends her racing through the house.  I haven’t managed to teach her to retrieve, although cats can learn how to do this.  I have a laser pointer toy, but rarely use it.  Even though Allegra goes nuts chasing after the red dot, it’s a very unsatisfactory way to play for her.  Cats’ play mimics hunting behavior, and it’s no fun for them if they can never catch their prey.

With young cats like Allegra, burning off excess energy is important.  We established regular play sessions of 10-15 minute each, at least twice a day, sometimes more frequently.  Playing before meals, or just before bedtime, works best.  Once we had these regular play sessions in place, a lot of Allegra’s behavior issues disappeared because she was no longer bored.

Eventually we’ll add another cat to our family.  For now, Allegra is very happy to be the only cat in her environmentally enriched home.