When Good Cats Go “Bad”

We’ve all been there…..shaking our heads in dismay at the freshly shredded curtains or sofa leg while “Kitty” lays curled up in a sunbeam looking angelic, innocent and content.  Or how about tending to our “war wounds” after what was supposed to have been a fun little play session with “Callie”.  Unharnessed play and scratching behavior in our cats can certainly be a source of frustration (and pain)!

As we discussed in our previous post, play and stalking/hunting behaviors are a normal part of cat life.  The problems arise when WE become the targets of their biting/scratching/stalking/chasing).  And often times we have innocently encouraged this behavior during kitten-hood because at the time it seemed “cute”.  But eventually kittens grow into cats and the play can become stronger and more aggressive.  Our goal for our kittens and cats needs to be redirecting their play toward alternate and more appropriate targets (i.e. toys).  Furry mice, ping pong balls, laser lights or toys attached to the end of a fishing pole are all excellent options to let your feline friend feel like he/she is stalking on the wild Savannah.  Do not rely on your cat to instigate its own play either….make a point of regular play sessions with your cat every day.  Strictly avoid play with any body part (hands and feet are a no-no).  If your cat decides to start playing with your hand, redirect his/her attention toward an appropriate toy.  If you are unsuccessful in this endeavor, then immediately withdraw from play and leave the area.  After a few minutes for both of you to calm down, you can return and try to start over with appropriate play activity.  Any physical or loud verbal punishment can back-fire….inducing fear, defensive aggression or even more aggressive play activity.  Occasionally a remote device such as a squirt bottle or a can full of coins may be helpful in distracting the cat, but care must be taken to make sure the cat does not associate the diversion with you!

So what about scratching?  Again, this is a normal part of cat life and actually serves several functions.  The process of scratching helps to loosen old layers of the nail and also helps to sharpen the claws.  Scratching serves as a visual and a scent “marking” for other cats in the vicinity.  Scratching can also be part of the cat’s normal play-time.  Here our goal becomes two-fold.  First is to make the
acceptable scratching surfaces desirable to the cat.  Second is to make the unacceptable scratching surfaces undesirable to the cat.  Sounds easy enough….right?!?!?  The trick comes in that individual cats can have specific preferences for scratching substrates.  One size does not fit all, so you may have to offer a variety of surfaces to discover which is preferred by your cat.  Some common examples are: carpeted posts, rope, corrugated cardboard and real pieces of wood with the bark left on.  Catnip or Feliway Pheromone may be applied onto the acceptable surfaces in an attempt to make them more desirable to your cat.  Next, place these surfaces in a common play area and encourage your cat to use them….gently take your cat’s paws in your hands and demonstrate that it is okay to scratch on these surfaces.  Now for the unacceptable surfaces that your cat has chosen to utilize for a “scratching post”.  Try making these surfaces aversive to your cat….double sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, plastic, etc. can often times do the trick.  If you observe your cat scratching your newest prized possession….calmly pick him/her up and immediately go over to the designated play area and encourgae “appropriate” scratching behavior.  As stated above, any physical or loud verbal punishment can back-fire….inducing fear or defensive aggression. Occasionally a remote device such as a squirt bottle or a can full of coins thrown near (not at) your cat may be helpful in distracting the cat, but care must be taken to make sure the cat does not associate the diversion with you!  Regularly trimming your cats toe nails should also prove helpful in minimizing the amount of damage caused to you and your belongings.  Finally, surgeries such as Tendonectomies or Declawing may be needed in certain cases.  If you have exhausted all of your other options, consult with your veterinarian to discuss
the pros and cons of surgically altering your cat’s feet.

Hopefully these little tips can spare some arms, legs and furniture as we try to peacefully co-exist with our lovable feline companions…and turn some of those “horns” back into “halos”.

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