Most cats, especially young kittens, have a strong natural desire to play and explore. But this desire can lead to major problems when your cat claws your sofa or destroys your houseplants. The best way to prevent destructive chewing and scratching is by providing an environment that meets all of your cat’s needs.
The first consideration is that environment be stimulating but safe. Cat-proof your home and build or purchase a play center where your cat can climb, perch, and scratch. Provide toys your cat can bat around, such as spring-mounted, dangling, or bouncy toys. Some cats enjoy climbing into empty cardboard boxes or cat carriers, especially if food treats have been left inside. Ping-Pong balls and unshelled walnuts make inexpensive toys that many cats love.
One of the best ways to provide additional stimulation is to make feeding more like the natural feeding behavior of cats by providing numerous small meals each day and by encouraging play that includes batting, chasing, and pouncing. This can be accomplished by placing some or all of the cat’s food inside toys that require rolling, batting, or pawing to release the food. There are also feeders that can be timed to open every few hours.
Another great way to stimulate your cat and provide an outlet for hunting is to engage in a number of interactive play sessions during the day. These might include throwing or rolling toys (which can be filled with catnip or food) or the use of toys that attached to wands or sticks that are the right size and texture to entice your cat to chase and bite the toys and not the human hand. Avoid tempting your kitten into play by teasing him with your fingers—you may end up with a play-biting cat.
Indoor cats with little access to grass or other vegetable matter may chew houseplants. Offer lettuce, catnip, or a kitty herb garden in exchange. Then keep your plants out of the cat’s reach unless you are around to supervise.
Some cats enjoy sucking or chewing on material such as rugs, clothing, cables, and electrical cords. Others may chew or even swallow items such as string, wool, rubber bands, or baby bottle nipples, which can be dangerous. You can correct many of these problems by following the previous exploration and play suggestions and by keeping these objects away from your cat. In addition, try providing alternative opportunities for chewing, such as changing to foods with higher bulk or a dental diet, or offering dental treats or even a dog chew toy to provide greater oral stimulation. Some breeds, such as Siamese and Burmese, seem to have a genetic tendency to suck and chew excessively, especially on wool. If problems persist, see your veterinarian.
To keep your cat away from problem areas, first try child locks, barricades, or closed doors. For persistent problems or areas that cannot be barricaded, you might consider remote punishment, taste and odor aversion, or booby traps as deterrents. Never use physical punishment or yelling—it may cause your cat to fear you and to avoid the problem area only when you are around.
If you remain out of sight and remotely punish your cat with a device such as a water gun or loud noise, he may cease without fearing you. Destructive chewing can also be discouraged by using commercial anti-chew sprays, mentholated products, vinegar, or a little cayenne pepper mixed with water. Other options are aversive odors (deodorant soap, citrus oil), hiding exposed wires or cables inside metal or plastic piping, booby traps such as motion-activated alarms or spray devices, and a stack of plastic cups set to topple when the cat enters the area or begins to chew or scratch.
Scratching is a normal behavior that allows your cat to condition his claws and mark his territory. It also provides a nice stretch. Of course, when your cat’s scratching is on furniture or your favorite stereo speakers, it quickly becomes intolerable. The goal of treatment is to direct scratching away from targets that are unacceptable and toward a designated scratching area that is acceptable to you and your cat.
Encourage your cat to use a scratching post by placing one near his favorite sleeping area and perhaps a second post in the area where he is most likely to scratch. It is important to select surface textures that are both practical and appealing to cats—carpet, sisal, a nubby fabric, or even bare wood. Attract your cat to the scratching post by attaching a few toys, rubbing a little catnip into the surface, or providing a more elaborate structure with climbing and perching areas. Give your cat food rewards for approaching and scratching the post. If you prefer to build your own scratching post, ensure that the post is tall enough for your cat to scratch with his legs fully extended and is sturdy enough to support his weight without toppling. You can leave the wood bare or cover it with a suitable surface. You can also construct an inexpensive scratching post by securely attaching a fireplace log to a plywood base.
If your cat continues to scratch in an inappropriate area, put a post there. Food rewards for scratching post should keep your cat more interested in the post than in your furniture. If destructive scratching persists, cover the scratched area with plastic, a loosely draped piece of material, short strips of double-sided tape, or one of the booby traps previously discussed. Keeping the nails trimmed may minimize damage. Another option is to use plastic coverings available from your veterinarian that fit over your cat’s claws.
Since scratching can be a form of marking, a feline cheek-gland pheromone might be helpful for stopping this behavior when used in your home. You may want to discuss this option with your veterinarian.
One important thing to keep in mind is that before you try to prevent or stop undesirable scratching behavior, first make sure that you have provided enough outlets for play, places to climb, and appropriate items to scratch.
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