Is There Such a Thing as “Personal Space” with a Cat in the House?

Jumping on counters and interrupting our “beauty sleep” are two more behaviors that our cats seem to relish at the expense of our sanity.  Who wants to walk into the kitchen to find “Patches” chowing down on your freshly prepared dinner or have to explain to your co-workers that the dark circles under your eyes are the result of sleepless nights caused by your new kitten and not an exciting social life?  What is an ailurophile to do?!?!?

It is normal for a kitten or cat to explore their environment on all levels, and perching on high surfaces helps to give them a perfect location to survey their domain.  It is unlikely that your cat will automatically understand the difference between counter tops and the more acceptable window perches, shelves or cat posts. As with the previously discussed scratching behavior, our goal here is again two-fold.  First, we must provide acceptable alternatives to counters and tables and encourage their use.  Second, we need to make the unacceptable surfaces undesirable.  Play with your kitten or cat on the desired areas and offer praise when your kitten seeks out these areas on his/her own.  Leaving treats or toys in these areas is a good way to encourage your cat to seek them out.  The application of catnip or Feliway Pheromone to the surfaces can also be helpful.  Food and play items should never be left on unacceptable surfaces (counter tops, table tops, etc).  As much as you may want to–punishing your cat for being on the counter top is unlikely to be successful.  This usually results in one of two undesirable outcomes:  aggressive issues or teaching your cat to jump on the counter/table only when you are not present.  Aversive devices are more likely to be successful.  There are many motion-detector types of devices available that will emit a sound, a burst of air or a spritz of citronella to startle your cat without causing any harm.  Eventually the cat’s brain makes the connection
of getting startled with being on top of the counter/table.  A quick search on YouTube revealed many video demonstrations of these products…one of the most popular seems to be the “Ssscat” spray can.  A home-made option is to cover the surface with double sided sticky tape to give your cat a funny feeling surprise when his/her paws land on the counter top.

How many of you have been rudely awakened from a wonderful trip to dream land by your cat tearing around your room at full speed….seemingly bouncing off of the walls and across your comforter?  While cats are instinctively nocturnal by nature, we can adjust their internal clocks to more closely match that of our own work schedules.  Most of the middle of the night or early morning bursts of
energy displayed by our cats and kittens are the result of not enough stimulation and play time during the day or early evening hours.  Often, these nuisances can be easily resolved by simply providing additional outlets and opportunities to “burn off energy”.  Kitty perches, posts and play stations, cardboard boxes and a variety of toys can help to make your cat’s environment more exciting and stimulating.  Scheduling “play time” with your cat or kitten every day is not only a good way to get more sleep time from him/her, but has also been shown to have numerous health benefits for us….it is truly a win/win situation!  Remember to rotate your cat’s play items every few days to keep things novel and interesting.  (Cats get bored just like us).  Be sure not to “unintentionally reinforce” your cat’s night-time activities by getting up to let him/her out, feed him/her a snack or play with him/her to burn off that extra energy.  If you do this you are setting your
cat up to look forward to these nightly interactions.  We should mention that geriatric cats (over 15 years of age) often begin to “vocalize” at night.  This has been suggested to be the result of brain aging–usually not related to a medical condition.  As with kittens, do not reinforce this behavior by getting up to give attention to your cat.  Providing extra environmental enrichment and keeping your older cat more active throughout the day and engaging in play activity before going to bed may be helpful.  It is a good idea to make sure that your older cat is healthy and not showing signs of pain (from Osteo-Arthritis) or making frequent trips to the litter box (from Diabetes, Kidney Disease or Thyroid Disease) to be on the safe side.  If it is determined that your cat’s behavior is simply “aging”–occasionally a mild sedative or medications to improve blood flow to the brain or balance hormone levels may be helpful.

We all know it is a jungle out there. But being able to come home to our sanctuaries” and enjoy life with our feline friends while still getting a good night’s sleep make facing the challenges of the next day all the more bearable.

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