Cat Behavior

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Furniture Scratching: 
Scratching is easier to deal with if you understand why cats scratch in the first place. In the wild, cats scratch around their immediate environment to signal their presence to other cats and to claim the area in question. The marking takes two forms: visual and olfactory. The visual mark is in the form of clawing marks and is so obvious that even we humans can recognize it (not that we appreciate its significance). The olfactory mark is subtler, involving the release of pheromones. These are substances secreted from the body to be picked up by members of the same species, causing them to alter their behavior. Cats secrete pheromones from superficial glands in the skin of the cat’s paws through the process of kneading. The message is invisible to all creatures and is undetectable unless you have the right equipment (a super sensitive nose) and are close enough. A competitor coming up to the site will see the scratch marks and then smell the message: another cat has already claimed this place. One thing’s for sure; the signal is not a friendly one. Scratching has additional functions, too. You might think your cat scratches to sharpen his claws, but it more likely it provides your cat with a form of physical therapy for the muscles and tendons of his paws. It also assists in shucking off old nail husks. Healthy and natural to your cat, scratching can become a real problem for the owner. Even your fairly secure housecat will occasionally feel the need to leave his mark by scratching, and the most usual target is your furniture. Faced with this problem, many people consider declawing surgery. Many veterinarians believe declawing is a painful and unnecessary surgery and refuse to do it for humane reasons. Instead, they advocate training your cat to use a scratching post. However, some veterinarians still believe declawing is a safe procedure.
 
Aggression:
Considering their size, domestic cats can make formidable adversaries. Unlike dogs, cats have not one but five attack weapons, including a widely opening mouth, well-appointed with penetrating teeth, and four dexterous paws bearing needle-sharp claws. The combination of these weapons, explosive speed, and the exquisite suppleness of a contortionist can make restraining disinclined cats more difficult than herding these independent creatures. Every veterinarian knows that it is far better to avoid a cat’s ire than it is to contend with it once the cat’s enraged. Thus, the soft-shoe approach of gentle handling and minimal physical restraint is the best one to adopt when handling cats. Once a cat’s anger has boiled over it is best to give the cat time out to calm down before proceeding with any necessary intervention. Or, if it’s absolutely necessary to proceed immediately, it’s best to resort to sedatives or full physical restraint.
 
Alpha Cat Syndrome:
Cats are supposed to be warm and friendly creatures, seeking owner approval, petting and cuddles and purring their way through peaceful evenings at home. But not all cats are this amiable or this compliant. Some have an agenda of their own and seemingly refuse to take no for an answer. These are “alpha cats.” They are natural leaders; they refuse to be led and attempt to take charge of practically every situation. These cats like their food when they want it and the way that they like it … or else. They may only let you touch them for short periods of time and then again, only on their terms. They rebel when admonished and demand attention, access, and assets - when the mood so takes them. You don’t own an alpha cat – he owns you, or at least, he thinks he does. When alphas don’t get their own way, they bully and pressure you into immediate action. They may bite your nose or toes to get you out of bed in the morning. They may shriek their demands for food until you are forced to give in. They may growl if approached while eating and some are protective of their toys and naptime. And watch out if you try to pick up your alpha cat or pet him when he’s not in the mood. He may bite or claw his negative message to you in no uncertain terms. Perhaps the most classical component of the alpha cat syndrome is petting-induced aggression. Alphas will jump up on your lap and allow themselves to be petted – but only for a short while. And when they’ve had enough, they narrow their eyes, glance sideways at the petting hand, and their tail begins to switch from side to side. This is the writing on the wall that heralds an imminent meltdown: Suddenly he’ll swat, bite, and maybe roll onto his side so he can attack you with all five sharp points simultaneously. What to do? In essence, they must be shown who calls the shots, who is really charge, and who is the supplier of all good things. Then and only then will their bossiness be honed into acceptance and respect. The name of the behavior modification program is "Nothing in Life is Free." It is a non-confrontational "tough love" leadership program in which the cat is required to earn all valued assets from the owner. A prerequisite is a modicum of training so that the cat can be called upon to carry out some task before being issued certain resources.
 
Alarm Clock Cats:
The most important things to remember about “early morning syndrome” is that it is a natural tendency for cats to rise and become active at dawn, and that owners can inadvertently feed into this tendency by responding with attention or food. If you are not careful, a cat that you feed at 6 a.m. will start jumping up on your bed at 5:45 a.m., trying to get a jump start on her day. If you respond to your cat’s 5:45 a.m. demands, next you will find yourself being woken up at 5:30 a.m., then 5:15 a.m., and so on, until eventually you’re being woken up in the wee hours. Because most cats are keen to bend the rules, especially where food is concerned, and are naturally quick studies, it is important to make acceptable house rules and stick to them. If you cave in under pressure, you will get more of whatever behavior you have just rewarded. That is to say, you can inadvertently train a cat to wake you up. The old proverb about “making your own bed and lying in it” really applies here, except that you won’t be doing much lying. If you do have a problem of this nature, you should avoid making any early morning activity rewarding to your cat. It may take weeks to accomplish what you set out to do, but it will finally dawn on the cat that sunrise doesn’t signal anything worth waking you for - and then you’ll be off the hook.
 
On Tables and Countertops:
There are many good reasons why your cat should stay off the counter. Cats spend a fair amount of time each day in their litter box, scratching around and covering up their waste. Although they frequently "wash" their paws with their tongues, it is likely that some traces of urine and feces will remain on their paws to be deposited on your countertops in molecular concentrations. Not a great thought if you are about to prepare food.

Also, while they are up on counters, cats may pause to lick the butter or steal nibbles or whole chunks of food that you have left lying around. It can be pretty annoying to find that your cooling bacon strips have been dragged to the floor as cat fodder. In addition, not everything the cat steals will be good for him – and some things, like chicken bones, can be downright harmful.

Counterpoint

Some may argue that healthy cat urine and feces has never poisoned anyone. Urine, as you may know, is normally sterile. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi used to drink a pint of his own urine each morning to start the day. When a cat has urinary tract disease or intestinal parasites (especially Toxoplasma gondii), however, this safety factor is lost. UTDs are easy to spot and the presence of intestinal parasites can be determined by laboratory tests. Both are usually easy to treat. Just ask your vet.

As far as disappearing food is concerned, cats don’t eat much and, with the correct dental care, their mouths should be fairly healthy places anyway.

How To Get 'Em Off

Here are several things you can do to keep kitty where he belongs:
·   Make sure that your cat has other places to climb so that the countertop is not his only vertical challenge. Climbing frames positioned by a window, providing a perch with a view, may divert some attention from the counters.
·   Make sure that your counters never have food items lying around on them. Always clean up properly by putting unused food away. A cat that finds morsels of food once in a while will keep looking for more for many moons.
·   Make counters unattractive. Cats, generally, do not like the smell of citrus or disinfectants. Try using a countertop cleaner with a citrus odor or wash the countertops down with Pinesol® after use.
·   Train your cat - preferably using "click and treat" methodology. Train your cat to jump down to the cue word "off." First train the cat to touch a wand (touch-click-food reward) that later serves as a target. When the wand is positioned over the counter, the cat will have to jump up on the counter to touch the wand and get the click and treat. (You can't teach a cat to jump off unless she is up in the fist place!). The wand is then lowered to floor level. The cat jumps down to touch it (click-treat). Finally the word "off" is interjected as the wand is lowered to the floor. Of course, you do not always need to use the wand once the behavior (jumping down) has been put "on cue." But rewards are necessary from time to time if the cat is to stay trained.
·   Booby traps/mild punishers. Various booby traps have been invented to deter cats from counter surfing. Some of these deterrents include: putting cling film over the countertop, making a shallow tray out of aluminum foil and filling it with water, various springing devices (upside-down mousetraps or proprietary plastic jumping frogs), or attaching a black thread "trip wire" across the access to the counter and attaching it to a nearby pile of shake cans.

·   More severe punishers. Sounding an air horn (boat horn/fog horn) at exactly the moment the cat's feet touch the countertop. You should hide when doing this. The idea is that the cat thinks that the counter made the noise, not you. Some people have resorted to electric shock pads that give the cat a mild shock when he jumps on the counter tough these can cause considerable distress to some cats.

The only alternative is to teach yourself not to worry so much about your cat being up on the counters. This is the cognitive approach to therapy – for you.

My cats free range across my countertops while I'm watching them because they know I don't care. I could yell at them and chase them off, as many people do, but why bother? All you teach your cat by this approach is that you are unpredictable, mentally unstable, and should be watched carefully for signs of sudden behavioral meltdowns. Then, when you're not around, your cat will cruise and patrol the counters as if nothing had changed. The only thing punishment teaches an animal is how to avoid the punisher … you. With the remote punishers, the situation's a little more acceptable in the sense that it’s the counter that they avoid.