Sunday, September 11, 2011


Helpful Buckeye apologizes for the omission of last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  I had prepared a new issue for publication but, due to confusion on my part, had scheduled it for this weekend.  So, you'll still be able to read a fresh issue this weekend.  Hopefully, all of our readers were busy enough with other stuff over Labor Day weekend that they didn't miss my goof-up.

In this week's issue, we'll discuss a few specific behavior problems that most cat owners have had to deal with at some point in their time together.  The first is the most problematic and involves what cats can do with their claws.

Cat Scratching—7 sofa-saving training tips

Understanding Why They Scratch and Claw
Kittens and adult cats claw for many reasons. Clawing feels good and provides a great shoulder and leg workout. Clawing keeps feline nails healthy by cleaning off old layers. Clawing marks kitty territory with visual cues (including your shredded upholstery) and paw pad scent.

Your cat's clawing behavior may raise
your blood pressure, but it relieves feline stress, sort of like the kitty equivalent to human nail biting. In fact, upset cats often target items that smell like their beloved human (your bed, your favorite chair), not because they're angry or vindictive, but because they love you so much and scent-sharing makes them feel better. Once you understand their motivations, you'll be able to better train them toward less-destructive clawing.

Using Kitten Aptitude Training

These seven tips and strategies can help you redirect your cat's clawing behaviors:

1. Offer Cat Scratching Options That Suit Your Pet:
Irresistible choices match the cat's desires for texture and style. Does your cat scratch horizontally or vertically -- or maybe overhead while scooting on her back? Does he target upholstery, carpet, soft fabric or hardwood? Choose cat scratchers accordingly. Scratch objects should be taller or longer than the cat's full-length stretch as an adult (because kittens do grow!) and sturdy enough it won't tip over under a full-out scratch assault.

2. Learn the Best Locations for the Scratchers:
Clawing is territorial marking ruled by location. Cats want the whole world to see their scratch-graffiti, so don't hide the post away in a back room. Take a cue from the location of the shredded sofa or carpet on the stairs. Important pathways, lookouts (near windows), feeding stations and potty locations all fit the feline real estate criteria.

3. Use the 1+1 Rule for Cat Furniture:
Provide a scratch object for every cat in the house, plus one. That means two cats should have at least three legal places to scratch. Some cats won't want to share and having posts in multiple locations means even a singleton cat has no excuse to use the bedroom mattress instead.

4. Actively Entice Your Cat:
Use a feather toy or other irresistible lure to draw the kitten's attention to the right target. Tempt the kitten to climb and claw, and praise with soft, happy encouragement. Older kittens and adults that react to catnip may be attracted to a catnip-spiked claw object. A tattered, scratched-up post looks good to a cat, so don't replace it. And catch kitty in the act of doing it right, and praise, praise, praise!

5. Focus Training Efforts:
Make the "legal" scratch object irresistible while making furniture unattractive -- at least until the kitty accepts the proper post.

- Place the legal scratch object right in front of the scratched sofa. You know the cat already likes the location, so keep the scratcher there until the cat changes scratch-allegiance to the legal target.

- Make your sofa less appealing for your cat's claws. Consider using double-sided tape on prime scratching spots, as it feels nasty to paws. Another option, depending on the color of your furniture, is to dust baby powder or cinnamon on the furniture for a scented and poof-in-the-face reminder if claws hit.

- Interrupt wrong behaviors with a hand-clap or short hissing sound, and then redirect to the right object and praise.

6. Time Training Carefully:
Cats love routine and often scratch at the same times and places each day: after naps, after meals, as a greeting display (when you come home), after play. Schedule claw-training during these times.

7. Keep Claws Trimmed:
Needle-sharp kitten claws are easy to clip with human nail clippers. Try clipping one claw each night when Junior sleeps on your lap. Gently press the pad to express the claw, and clip just the sharp end, avoiding the pink. Dull claws do less damage even if Junior forgets and scratches in the wrong place. Kittens that accept claw trims grow into adults that accept paw handling, too. Vinyl nail covers (in fashion colors) also are an option. These glue onto the cat's claws to prevent clawing damage but grow out and must be replaced regularly.

Remember, every kitten is different. Some rarely scratch at all, while others become scratch-aholics, especially during emotional upset. Kitten Aptitude Training offers basic help to positively manage your kitten's claws-and-effect.

The ASPCA has some pretty strong things to say about the concept of declawing a cat:

How to Solve Kitty’s Destructive Scratching

As all cat lovers know, our feline friends love to use their claws in all sorts of interesting ways. As part of their daily rituals, cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance. Cats who live outdoors favor logs and tree trunks for this purpose. Unfortunately, in a domestic setting, this instinct often translates to scaling the drapes or reupholstering a nubby sofa.

So what do you do if Fluffy is determined to redecorate your house in the latest version of feline-scratch chic? First, what not to do: Please do not declaw your pet. The term “declaw” is a misnomer, as it implies the removal of a cat’s claws only. In reality, declawing involves amputating the end of a cat’s toes, and is comparable to removing your own fingernails as well as the bones to which they are attached. Ouch!! Declawing surgery also includes many risks, and is accompanied by severe pain.

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing—and other elective surgeries such as debarking dogs—for the convenience of pet parents. One effective way to treat your cat’s penchant for destructive scratching is to provide her with appropriate surfaces and objects to scratch, such as scratching posts made of cardboard, carpeting, wood, sisal or upholstery. Check out these other helpful tips from our behaviorists:

·         Encourage your cat to investigate posts by scenting them with catnip.

·         Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering attractive objects.

·         Clip your cat’s nails regularly.

·         If you catch your cat in the act of scratching an inappropriate object, try startling him by clapping your hands or squirting him with water. (Use this procedure only as a last resort, because your cat may associate you with the startling event and learn to fear you.)

For an interesting view on whether cats exhibit a preference for one paw over another (in other words, right-pawed vs. left-pawed), watch this short video:

The second unusual cat behavior to get used to is a cat's desire to be higher than many of its' surroundings:
From: Amy D. Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant and the award-winning author of 23 pet care books, including Complete Kitten Care and Complete Care for Your Aging Cat.

Countertop Cruising Cats

Cats become pests with their determination to stay above it all. They cruise kitchen countertops, lounge atop doors and leap to refrigerator tops to ambush treats.

The urge to be the top cat seems a universal cat vice. By understanding why cats scale the heights, cat owners can provide legal outlets that keep both their cats happy and out of the butter dish.

Why Cats Love Heights

Cats come pre-programmed to seek elevated lounging spots. Think about it: cats in the wild want to see enemies (and potentially munchable critters) while remaining invisible. A cat quite literally believes it "owns" the space it can see.

Cats also control each other's interactions--or even the dog's movements--with pointed stares. This packs even more punch from an elevated perch, giving the cat ownership and control over even more territory. The cat that commands the highest perch is the high-cat-on-the-totem-pole in that particular room.

What's the Attraction?

Individual cats may have specific preferences for lounge spots. But in general, there are five reasons cats seek a particular place.

Height....The taller the perch, the more important the cat.

View....Perches near important pathways like windows or stairways offer high value.

Warmth....Cats are furry heat-seeking missiles, so the tops of warm TVs, computer monitors, or lamps can prove irresistible. My cat loves to sleep in the paper well of my printer.

Comfort....Lounging requires a soft, comfy surface like the seats of chairs.

Food....Kitchen counters and stovetops smell yummy or even have snacks within paw reach that keep the cat burglar returning to the scene of the cat crime.

You won't keep your cat on the ground. Cats tend to avoid low spots with no view, or that are cold and uncomfortable. So give your cat what it wants with irresistible "legal" perch options while also making forbidden spots unattractive.

Grounding High-Rise Cats

Evaluate your cat's favorite perches, and make your choice better. My cat, Seren, loves to lounge on top of the piano (height) beneath a lamp (warmth) next to the window (view). To purr-suade her otherwise, we placed a three-tiered cat tree that's taller than the piano and has a softer surface (comfort), still under the lamp beside the piano, and still in front of the window.

- For your home, have at least one cat tree (or acceptable high-value lounge spot) for each cat. Otherwise, they may argue over who gets first dibs.

- Make the legal lounge taller than the forbidden object, but nearby so the location remains attractive. An empty bookshelf can work, or even an inexpensive ladder. Put a cat bed stocked with cat treats on the paint rack.

- Make off-limits spots unattractive. Booby-trap counters so they're no longer comfy. Double-sided tape products like Sticky Paws applied to placemats can be scattered on forbidden surfaces, for example.

- Cats hate weird textures too. Aluminum foil that covers stovetops can keep some cats at bay.

- For hard-case cats, invest in clear plastic carpet runner to line the countertop, dining table or other illegal location. Just place it nub-side up, and your cat will seek a more comfy spot on which to lounge.

Choose which battles to fight, because it's hard to win them all, and you want your cat to like you. My cat isn't allowed on the mantel where she plays gravity experiments with fine breakables. But she won the battle of the dining room table where she lounges in a plush cat bed beneath a stained-glass lamp. I've also trained her to exit the printer when I need it. In families, sometimes you must compromise.
The third possibly disturbing example of "unusual" cat behavior would be cats that run around the house through the night, as told by the folks at Pawnation:
Cat Running around at night

We know you love your cat. But sometimes understanding his or her behavior can be a big challenge.

That's we we've asked cat expert Cyndee Gause, a sphynx breeder and passionate cat person, to answer your questions about taking care of your cat. Gause has been a cat lover all her life, and began actively showing cats in 2004. She has several national and regional winning cats, and runs a
small sphynx cattery in Atlanta, Ga. Cyndee is an active member of several CFA Clubs, as well as a member of the CFA Sphynx Breed Council

How do I keep my cat from howling and racing around in the middle of the night? She wakes me up every time!

Meowing and restlessness from cats can be caused by many different factors. If this is a new behavior, my advice is to have the cat checked by a vet to rule out any possibility of a medical problem. If the cat is given a clear bill of health, then it's more likely a behavioral problem.

Cats are very demanding creatures; they often meow to get our attention, whether it's for food, play or tummy rubs. Of course, getting them to do this on your terms is not always easy.

Setting up specific play times during the day and/or right before bedtime and keeping to a schedule can help your cat learn when acceptable play times are. When it's bedtime, you may need to confine your cat to a separate area of the house. When you stop responding to the meowing, they eventually stop. Supplying the cat with toys to play with during the night may also help keep the cat occupied while you are trying to sleep.

You can also try modifying her behavior by letting her know when she's acting unacceptably. Never yell at or hit your cat. Instead, try shaking a jar of pennies at her with a firm "no." This lets her know that you do not approve of the behavior.

There are several products designed to calm cats that are available at most pet stores.  Feliway 
is a line of products that come in both a spray and plug-in diffuser, and are designed to use pheromones to keep a cat calm.  Calm Down is an oral supplement that uses natural herbs to help relieve stress and calm cats.

Cats are active by nature, and if you have a single cat, sometimes giving it a playmate may help. This doesn't always work, as some cats prefer to be "king of the castle," but others prefer company and another cat may just do the trick!

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers this interesting and informative podcast about cats that are active at night:

In next week's issue, Helpful Buckeye will finish the topic of unusual cat behavior.


The main part of the NFL season kicks off today, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens were ready for this game and the Steelers were not.  I don't know if this was a hangover from the Super Bowl or just a good old-fashioned butt-whupping...either way we're in a hole already.

The LA Dodgers have actually worked their way back to a .500 record and might even challenge the Giants for 2nd place.  This is remarkable considering all the distractions of the financial woes of their owners.


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye are in Iowa City, Iowa, this weekend, on our way back to the high country of northern Arizona.  Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico will take us the rest of the way.  We've got a lot of things to attend to after this roller coaster of a summer, but the path ahead should be leveling out considerably.  We are also looking forward to the beautiful fall weather of Flagstaff.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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