Tag Archives: cats

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, October 2018: The Ghost Cat

The Ghost Cat

Ghost CatOctober. It’s the month associated, at least in this northern hemisphere, with cooling days, chilly nights, and changing leaves. It’s a time when the days grow shorter, and the veil grows thinner. It’s the month when many of us put summer in our rear view and look ahead to…Halloween.

What would October be without a ghost story or two?

My mom passed away the day after Halloween (on All Saints Day) in 2006. A week later, we went out to dinner for my daughter’s birthday. We came home that evening and let the dogs out. Dancer and Pascha, the old-timers, went out separately from the then-youngster, Kai. When we went back to the door to get them, in walked Pascha. In walked Dancer. And in walked a little gray kitten.

My parents’ old kitty had passed away some time before. We already had three cats at this point, and three dogs, so I called my father to see if he could temporarily house this little one till we found her a home. He said yes, and promptly fell in love with her. He decided he needed a cat in the house again, and named her Monkey. It turned out that she was actually older than she looked (about six months). We got her vaccinated and spayed, and she kept him company for about a year and a half.

The only problem (possibly because she had started her life outdoors) was that Monkey was always on the watch for the front door to open. She’d dart out and Pop, in his 80s, would have to chase her around to get her back in. After a while, he stopped chasing, and found that she would explore the yard for a little while and then come back in on her own.

She did, that is, until the day she didn’t. We searched, put up posters, signed up with FindToto, did online notices, and took out Lost Cat ads. Three separate psychics saw her running afoul of coyotes. This fell into sync with a neighbor’s report of hearing a coyote kill behind their property the night after Monkey had decided to go on her adventure. She was never found.

Fast forward to 2010. My dad, who by this time had adopted another cat (our Missie), passed away. We moved into his house. From pretty much the first week here, I began seeing a cat.

I’m not talking about our resident kitty. I’m talking about those startling, corner-of-the-eye sightings of a cat-shaped spirit. She appears to be all gray, like Monkey was. I kept it to myself for a while, though the sightings were quite frequent and very clear. I would usually see the cat in the dining room or kitchen, but she’d appear in other areas occasionally, too. When I finally told my husband, he thought I was imagining things. However, when I told my son, he replied, “I’ve seen the cat, too.”

It seems that we had both been seeing this shadow-cat since we’d moved in. Then, some time later, hubby Joe confessed, “I finally saw it, too.”

“Saw what?” I asked.

“The gray cat.”

She’s still around, our ghost cat. Do I know for a certainty that it’s Monkey? No, I don’t. I don’t even know for sure that it’s gray, or a she. The impression we all get is gray, and the only solid gray cat who’s ever lived in this house was Monkey. There was an outdoor tabby cat who was fed by my parents for several years (whom they referred to, not so imaginatively, as Gray Cat). Of course, it’s possible that it’s not gray at all, since we only get those corner-of-the-eye glimpses of it. But it’s definitely there, and it’s definitely a cat. Its energy is friendly, watchful, and that is the impression I’m given when I try to communicate with it: “Just watching over the family.”

Has Pop put his little friend on patrol to keep an eye on us?

When asked how many cats live here, I usually answer, “One.” Maybe I should, instead, reply, “That depends on your definition of ‘live.’”

Do you have any ghost-animal stories to share? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to comment on this post on the website, or reply on Facebook or Twitter!

News and Updates:

Speaking of scary stories…the holidays are approaching! Watch the November issue of Creature Thoughts for information about my annual 3-pack Holiday Special.

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: July 2018

The Noise Season

YodaPuppyMusicBoxWhen Yoda, my first Saluki, was a puppy, I lived and worked at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. One day not long after Yoda arrived, I stood outside on the sidewalk with him on a leash, talking with the general manager. There was kennel construction going on beside us, and the work crew were installing the air conditioning and ventilation system. One of the workers let slip a huge sheet of metal, which fell from the roof and hit the ground with a thunderous bang.

Yoda jumped just a bit, turned toward the source to check it out, and went back to his sniffing.

The manager looked at the puppy and said, “Wow, perfect, sign him up!”

Guide dogs entering training are tested, with the use of a pistol firing blanks, for noise sensitivity. Yoda’s nonchalant response is exactly what trainers hope to see.

Not all dogs are so fortunate. And, although noise phobia is most often associated with our canine friends, many other animals can exhibit varying levels of sensitivity to loud sounds. I have met quite a few cats, and horses, for instance, who are anxious over thunderstorms. And, of course, holidays that involve fireworks are a nightmare for the owners of sound-sensitive animals. Summer time, in addition to the threats brought on by heat, can be very loud and unpleasant for a sensitive pet.

Fear of loud noise has long been considered a temperament issue. Everyone has heard tell of the hunting dog rejected and either adopted out, or put down, because he is discovered to be gun shy. It is true that many animals can be desensitized or trained to be somewhat less reactive, so temperament certainly plays a part.

However, there is a certain sector of noise-shy animals who are not experiencing fear for fear’s sake, but because they are in pain.

Have you ever had a bad ear ache—the kind where the pressure inside your ear makes it feel like your eardrum is liable to burst? It’s the kind of sharp, continual pain that can bring the toughest guy to tears. I have had more than one dog show me this kind of pain in response to (and sometimes well ahead of) storms. For some dogs, it’s a terrible pain, for others only minor. Not all dogs have shown me pain, of course, and only once or twice a cat with a similar problem. If you have a phobic pet, however, consider the possibility that what they are experiencing might be more than fear. For a small sector of the pet population, this pain can affect them long before a storm arrives, and for quite a while after it has passed. Fireworks, for these animals, are like a stab in the ear with each explosion.

Vets will now commonly prescribe calming medications for animals who have severe noise reactions. I would also encourage, in extreme cases, that you discuss with your veterinarian the question of whether your pet might also be experiencing pain in his ears, and whether pain medication might be helpful.

Another aspect of storm fear, according to some studies, is static electricity. Though this isn’t a factor in reactions to fireworks or gunfire, it can be part of why some pets are very sensitive to thunderstorms. The electric charge in the air, sometimes starting long before the storm actually arrives, can be uncomfortable for some animals. In fact, quite a few cats who exhibit anxiety during storms have shown me that this increased static is very unsettling.

There are quite a few tools and remedies on the market today which have varying levels of success in treating noise-fear in pets. Thundershirts are a wonderful product, and some owners swear by them. They don’t seem to help every animal (in fact, the ones who fail the Thundershirt test might be candidates for an interview with the vet about the possibility of pain), but they are definitely worth trying. There are companies that produce lines of herbal essences, such as Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences, which can help noise sensitivity. As mentioned before, vets will often be willing to try medication for fearful pets, and there are also over-the-counter calming supplements available.

Many trainers report having some success with desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques. Thunderstorms, however, can be difficult to desensitize against, because there are so many factors involved besides the noise: static, light flashes, wind, rain, the smell of ozone, etc. With patience, positivity, and persistence, however, owners might help their pets find some relief with these training methods. Just don’t expect overnight miracles.

As with so many pet problems, helping an animal to overcome (or at least reduce) noise fears is a matter of investigative work, and then attempting to work gently with the clues your investigation reveals. There are often more factors than just the noise itself involved, and the best results will be seen if you are able to identify which of those factors are affecting your own pet.

Summer can be a wonderful season. Vacations, togetherness, lots of time to play. Long days and evenings of light, hikes in the cool woods, swims in the lake. The downside of summer—the unpleasant noises and storms—can mar the season for many of our pets.

I hope your summer has lots and lots of the good stuff, and very little of the not-so-good!


News and Updates:

Once again, the time has gotten away from me, life has simply gotten in the way, and I’m way behind on newsletter issues. In fact, I’m way behind on all of my writing, and beginning to go into some serious withdrawal! I thank you all for your patience, and hope July finds you and your beloved animal friends well.

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,