Tag Archives: cat behavior

Creature Thoughts: June 2020 – A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

A Kitty’s Gotta Scratch

Featuring Tristan and Kieran

“How do I get my cat to stop scratching?” is a question I have heard quite a few times over the years. My answer? “You don’t.”

Tristan and Kieran on their cat tree. Photo © Deridre Price, 2018

That’s not a fatalistic outlook speaking. You don’t get a cat to stop scratching, because scratching is absolutely essential for a cat’s mental and physical health.

Scratching exercises all major muscle groups in the cat’s body, as well as many fine muscles of the paws, legs, shoulders, neck and back. It clears old, dead sheath tissue off of the claws, helping them to remain healthy and clean. It releases energy, diffusing that which might be otherwise channeled to more disruptive activities. It is a great stress reducer, both because of the exercise, and the fact that cats use scratching to claim ownership of their home and belongings. There are scent glands in a cat’s paws which, like the glands in their cheeks and the base of the tail that mark with scent when a cat rubs, place the cat’s own scent on their favorite items. A cat who feels like he owns his space is a content, secure cat.

What a cat-parent must do to save their home and furniture is not prevent the cat from scratching, but help him to know what surfaces are acceptable.

Providing your cats with appropriate items to scratch will go a long way toward preserving your belongings. The wide variety of scratching products on the market today means that every cat’s preference can be satisfied. Some cats like to reach upwards to scratch (couch and wall culprits). Some prefer to stretch out on the floor (carpet diggers). All cats, whether horizontal scratchers or vertical, like to be able to really stretch out.

Part of the same post, some time later. It’s better to replace a post occasionally than to replace your couch!
Photo © Deirdre Price 2020.

Avoid scratching posts and boards that are too short for your cat to reach to their full length. Make sure, whatever type you choose, the post is solid and does not wobble too much. If a cat likes floor scratching, the “wobble factor” isn’t as much of a priority. Of all the scratching options we have provided Missie, the ones she likes best are those cheap cardboard scratching boards that just lie on the floor. Vertical scratchers, however, will often not use a post that wobbles. Some cats like to use broad surfaces, so might prefer a board to a post. There is much to choose from.

Observe your cat’s preferences. He will show you just how he likes to scratch. Shop around a bit, and find just the right type of scratching surface to suit his natural tendencies. Once you have the product in hand, it is not difficult at all to train a cat to use it. Play with his favorite toy near the scratcher. Try rubbing a little catnip into it. Don’t force his paws onto it–that is uncomfortable to a cat, and you don’t want to create a negative association. If it’s a vertical post, try laying it down at first till he has discovered it. Be sure not to hide it in an out of the way spot, but set it up in an area where your kitty already likes to hang out.

If the cat has already started using an inappropriate surface, set the new scratching post up near that area. When you see the cat start to scratch the wall or couch, move him gently to the new scratcher and encourage him: “Scratch! Good boy!” Give lots of praise and maybe even a treat when he complies. Be sure to make that his favorite interactive-play spot for a little while. You can encourage him to stretch out and scratch by drawing his favorite wand or fishing pole toy along the surface. If you enjoy clicker or lure-reward training with your cat, that can be a very quick way to get the “This is where you scratch” message across.

The Felix Cat Tree company makes very sturdy, long-lasting posts. This post gets as much use as the cat tree above, but has really held up well. Photo ©Deirdre Price, 2020.

You may have to, for a short time, cover the old item or spot with something that will deter the cat, if he has already developed a habit. Double-sided tape works, or some cats will be deterred by aluminum foil. A temporary furniture throw can help if it’s a couch or chair arm that is his target. Since you are also actively encouraging and praising the cat for using the correct surface, your funny-looking deterrents won’t be there for long, don’t worry.

Whatever you do, don’t punish the cat or use a squirt bottle to deter him from scratching. All this does is make the cat wary of your presence so he won’t scratch while you’re watching. That will simply make the training process take much longer, and damage your relationship with your cat. Instead, your goal is to make his new scratching board or post the most inviting place to exercise those claws and muscles.

Every cat needs to scratch. By providing a variety of appropriate places for him to do so, you’ve created a happy cat, a happy owner, and a delightfully un-shredded home.

With thanks to my buddies Tristan and Kieran, Manx cats who live in the beautiful state of Kentucky with their mom, Dede.

News and Information

Remember that you can always follow my availability, and any changes to my schedule via the Gazehound.com website, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have young animal lovers in your life (or are a young-at-heart animal lover yourself) who are looking for something to do this (rather odd and limited) summer, take a look at my Junior Handler Mysteries. Perhaps they would enjoy some fun reading.

Creature Thoughts: Sept 2017, The Vanishing Cat

The Mystery Of The Vanishing Cat

Hurricane Irma is approaching the southeast coast of the United States. It has already hit the island countries of the Atlantic hard. I have heard from a number of friends as they make evacuation plans. One concern that has repeated several times centers around cats that don’t cooperate with the attempt to put them into their carriers.

We’ve all been there, we cat owners. Even in non-emergency situations, such as a simple vet check-up, we have everything set to go, get the carrier out, and suddenly have no cat.

Sometimes we know where kitty is holed up, and just can’t get to them. At other times, the cat has vanished through that mysterious portal between dimensions that only cats can find. Regardless of where the cat is hiding, however, there go all our best-laid plans. Time off work is wasted. The vet appointment has to be rescheduled. And, a few hours after it’s far too late to do anything about it, the cat will reappear, looking as smug as only a cat who has outsmarted her owner can look.

In the situation in the path of this awful hurricane, far more than wasted time and frustration is at stake. Unfortunately, the sure-fire fix for this problem is not an instant one, and needs time itself to be implemented. It may be a bit late for those preparing for this storm, but it certainly can help for future situations.

The problem is, of course, caused by the fact that the cat associates the carrier with unpleasant things. Car rides, vet visits, and simply being confined against her will are all in that category. Cats are also very aware of the emotional states and thoughts of their owners. So, if you get the carrier out at the last minute, and are in that “last-minute state of mind,” kitty is going to pick up on that and add it to what is already a negative association.

The fix is an easy one. Leave the carrier out all the time. You can even leave it open, or remove the door. Put a cozy pad on top of it, and one inside, so the cat learns to see it as one of her own special places. She can sleep in it and on it, eat treats in it every day, include it in your play-time routine (you do have a daily play-time routine, don’t you?) Certainly, even with a larger cat carrier, the item is not going to take up that much room. It will become one of her own special possessions, and she will cease to associate it with bad happenings.

Missie’s carrier sits, at all times, at the end of the hallway in her favorite area of the house. She sees it every day. Though I don’t always keep the door open, whenever I do open it, she will always go right in there and play. It smells like her, and is a familiar part of her every day world. When the time comes for her to have to be closed into it, all I have to do is let her go inside, and close the door.

Make the cat carriers a part of your every day arrangement, and you will have forever solved the vanishing cat mystery.


News and Updates:

Have you hugged your bobcat today?

Okay, probably not the smartest idea. However, you can give a number of bobcats a virtual hug by supporting wildlife rescue centers. These folks work on their own dime, often day and night, without any official compensation and with very little thanks. If you’d like to help your local wildlife and the people who fight for them, seek out your nearest wildlife rescue center, and leave them a donation. The nearest and dearest to my own heart, of course, is New York Wildlife Rescue Center. The link will take you to their website, where you can click the PayPal button and lend a hand.

As always, please continue to visit my website for updates, changes of schedule, etc. I will always try to keep the Unavailable Times page current, and you can also follow my Twitter announcements in the sidebar.

Blessings and Light,

Creature Thoughts, August 2015

August 2015

The New Kitty In Town

There are certain problems I encounter quite often in my effort to help people enrich their relationships with their animal friends. The introduction of a new cat into an established household is a frequent one. Whether kitty is coming in to a home with other cats, or dogs, the issues are similar. Cats are very territorial beings, often distressed by change. They need, on a very deep level, to “own” their space. Many of the problems people have when adopting a new cat stem from the insecurity a kitty feels when nothing in his new environment is his.

Then, there is the complication of established kitties (or, to a lesser degree, dogs) seeing the new individual as a threat to their own territory.

If a new cat is simply thrown into the mix, nine times out of ten, chaos is going to break loose.

Many behaviorists, both professional and those of us who have simply made animal behavior a lifelong avocation, recommend setting up a safe room before bringing a new cat in. This territory allows NewKitty to get used to the smells (first and foremost) and sounds of the established pets before having to encounter them (next) visually, and (lastly) face to face. Note the order: Smells and sounds, visual, and only once the cats are relaxed when they can see one another, the actual physical meeting can occur.

You also want to associate the smells and sounds of “The Other” with good things. Feeding all of the pets where they can hear and smell each other is an important part of the introduction process. This is first done on either side of the safe room door. Keep the dishes back far enough that the animals are all relaxed enough to eat, and then very gradually move them closer to the door. Once they able to eat very close to the door and still remain relaxed, you begin the visual process. This can be done by opening the door a bit, very carefully, with supervision on both sides. Another option is to install a screen door or a high baby gate, also in a supervised fashion. Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy recommends inserting an additional step, by putting a towel or other barrier over the gate or pinned to the screen, which can be gradually raised.

Supervision is key, at all times. One false move, one accidental encounter, one fear-inducing moment, and you will have to back the process up and move forward again from an earlier point of progress.

Once the cats have heard and smelled one another with a safety barrier between them, it is also important to do site swapping. This means choosing a time each day where NewKitty is out and about in OldKitty’s territory, and OldKitty is in the NewKitty’s safe-room exploring scents on a more intimate level.

Only when it’s obvious that the pets are relaxed in one another’s presence, should the actual physical introductions be made.

The entire process can take a week, or take a month, depending on the cats. Most dogs adapt to a new kitty faster than cats will, though if Fido is inclined to chase, you will very likely have to add some clicker training and careful maintenance into the mix. The key in every situation is patience. Rushing the process frequently backfires, even though it’s understandable that people will want to see their new friend welcomed as part of the family. Taking the introductions step by step, and only progressing to the next step after all pets are relaxed with the current one, is the best path to a successful integration.

Jackson Galaxy’s Advice:

Sidebar: Anitra Frazier, in her book The Natural Cat, has another fairly good method for situations where there really is no place to set up a sanctuary for the new cat (such as small city apartments). She recommends that a friend bring in the new cat, pretend it is their own, and then “forget” to take the cat with them (the new cat still in the carrier at that time). The owner then shows no interest at all in the new cat for some time (though they “feel sorry for him” and let him out of the carrier once the existing cat is showing no sign of aggression). They communicate to the resident kitty that they are just waiting for Friend to remember their cat and come get him. Then, when it is clear that the existing cat has begun to relax around the new one, the message becomes, “Well, if you like him, I guess we’ll let him stay.” I, personally, recommend this method only if there really is no way to set up a separate space for the newcomer, due to the potential of things going astray. However, if done right, it at least provides an option in a limited environment. Anitra’s book also has other great cat-care and diet advice, and I recommend that every cat owner keep a copy on their shelf.


Helping The Animals

If would like to support a not-for-profit organization that does a great deal to help animals, please consider making a donation to New York Wildlife Rescue/Northeast Llama Rescue. Wes Laraway and his family and volunteers help hundreds of animals every year, with no funding except your donations and what comes out of their own pockets. You can support their efforts by visiting their website and clicking the “Donate” button. You can also look at their “Other Ways To Help” page (found under several of the top level drop-down menus) for more ideas. They can’t do it without the support of friends like you!

More Resources on Introducing a New Cat to the Household

Here is some very helpful information (there’s a lot of it out there, as you can see) on introducing cats the best possible way.

Jackson Galaxy, has a good article on his blog about introducing dogs and cats, but much of it applies equally to cat-on-cat introductions:

And one on introducing cats to each other:

And setting up a base camp:

Pam Johnson-Bennett has some excellent chapters on introducing cats and maintaining peace between them in her books Think Like a Cat and Starting from Scratch. (Note that Ms Bennett and I disagree on nutritional information, but her behavioral knowledge is outstanding.)