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Cat Behavior

Litter Box Solutions

Litter box problems can be frustrating, to say the least. But, you can take an active role in resolving them so that you and your cat can be happy and confident and open to focusing on the good things in life.

First and foremost, rule out medical problems. If your cat is suddenly having litter box problems, it could be indicative of a bladder or urinary tract infection, so a trip to the vet is the first thing to do.

If a medical issue is ruled out and the litter box problems still exist, here are some strategies:

Location, location, location!
• The litter box should be in a private area so that your cat is comfortable with using it. If you have a dog, make sure that the litter box is not accessible by the dog. You can use a dog gate or even elevate the litter box so that your cat can be absolutely certain that he or she can use it in private.
• Do not put the food and water bowls next to the litter box.
• Put the litter box in an easy to access area. If your cat has to travel across the house and down the cellar steps to find the litter box in some corner of the basement, then that is not ready access.
• Consider placing several litter boxes throughout the house so when your cat has to go, the box is an appealing stop. Several litter boxes are essential in a multi-cat setting and the rule of thumb is one box per cat. It is much better to have a bunch of litter boxes to have to clean, than the alternative…
• If your cat keeps going in a certain area, then try placing a litter box in that spot. First thoroughly clean the area with an enzyme cleaner. If you are not able to place a box in that specific spot, then completely block access to that spot and place a litter box in a close vicinity as a compromise.

Shape matters!
• Think about the kind of litter box you use, from your cat’s perspective. If you have a covered litter box with a swinging trap door that the cat has to use to enter, then try removing the cover and trap door. The idea is to make the box appealing so that the cat will choose it. Once your cat is regularly using the box, you can try putting the cover on, but it is recommended to completely eliminate the trap door. It is not a comfortable feeling to be trapped inside the litter box without a way to see out.
• If you have an electric litter box, the noise and motion could be frightening to your cat. Try a good old fashioned, large pan litter box.
• If your cat is elderly, you may want to consider a litter box with lower sides to make it easier to get in and out. Yes, there may be more litter scattered outside with a lower-sided box, but if your cat has arthritis, he or she will be more inclined to continue the litter box routine if it is easier to get in and out. Declawed cats, in particular, tend to develop arthritis as they age and can start to exhibit litter box problems because it is too painful to climb in and out of the box.

It’s all about the litter!
• Consider the type of litter you are using, and how often you clean it. Cats tend to prefer finer grained, unscented litter, such as scoopable litter. You may prefer another type, but try to accommodate your cat’s preferences for consistent usage. You can experiment with a few types of litter and go with the one that your cat chooses.
• Cats do not tend to prefer plastic litter box liners (the slippery surface is not appealing when trying to scratch and bury in the litter), so try nixing them,.
• Scoop the box twice a day and completely replace litter on a frequent basis. Since cats are neat freaks, they are much more inclined to use a clean and scooped litter box.

Back to basics!
• If you have tried modifications and your cat is still missing the box, you may need to use the retraining strategy. Move your cat to a small room with lots of litter boxes. Remove clothing and cat beds from the floor. The idea is to create an setting in which the litter box is the only option.
• Once your cat is back on track, then gradually increase access to the rest of the house. You will want to continue the use of multiple litter boxes, and also pick up clothing and cat beds from the floor, throughout your house. Start by allowing your cat out of the room while you are able to supervise, and then put him or her back in the room when you can’t keep track. When your cat demonstrates a clear pattern of litter box usage, then he or she is ready to be completely integrated back into the household. Continue to keep clothing and cat beds off of the floor for now.
• The premise of retraining is to take an active role in setting your cat up for success. You can assist with establishing a consistent pattern of litter box usage so that it becomes a permanent behavior for your cat.
• One final note: if your cat has developed litter box anxiety because of a prior stressful event (such as being attacked by another cat when using the litter box), that anxiety may still be present once your cat rejoins the household. If there is a persistent conflict with another cat in the household, it is recommended that you consult with a cat behaviorist so that you can address the source of the litter box anxiety. A cat behaviorist can also discuss whether medication (such as Prozac, a research-based medication for litter box problems) might be helpful in the event that your cat still experiences an anxious association with the litter box.

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Scratching Training 101

Scratching often gets a bad rap, but it is actually a beneficial behavior for cats and should be encouraged…of course, in appropriate places!

Why do cats scratch?
•Scratching stretches the muscles and tendons
•The act of stretching the body and moving the arms releases serotonin the cat’s brain, enhancing feelings of well being!
•Scratching sheds the outer sheath of the nail
•Scratching creates a visual mark of territory and also deposits the cat’s scent from scent glands located on the paws

Here are some tips to facilitate appropriate scratching behavior:

1. Invest in a sturdy scratching post, wrapped in sisal rope, and at least 28 inches tall. Cats need to be able to stretch up high for it to be an appealing scratching area for them. You can supplement the basic tall sisal rope scratching post with some other scratching areas such as cardboard scratchers, but it is good idea to make sure that you have a basic tall post available for stretching up high (the post can be a part of an overall cat tree). Here is a good post:

2. The location of the scratching post is important. Aim for placement in a popular location for the cat- usually, the family room or wherever all of the family activity (including primary cat interaction) occurs. Cats want to hang out with their family, have their scent present to signify that they are part of the family. So, if you want to discourage scratching on the couch, place the tall sisal rope post in front of it (or close to wherever the cat is scratching). Placing the post in some rarely used area will not bring about the same level of success.

3. Cats love to have their own “forts” for climbing, playing, and scratching. Cat trees are exciting play areas that be far more fun for a cat to hang out on than a couch. If you place a tall cat tree in front of a window, the cat can climb it, watch the birds outside, and imagine that he or she is having adventures out in the wild. If your cat is scratching out of boredom, a tall cat tree would go a long way toward bring some excitement into his or her world. Here is a link to a site that has every kind of cat tree imaginable! Catsplay.com

4. If your cat has already scratched on the couch or other unauthorized surface, you can remove the scent with an enzyme cleaner or cover the location with a throw blanket. The idea is to encourage scratching on a new, approved location. You can rub catnip on the new sisal rope scratching post (or cat tree) and reward the kitty for appropriate scratching with praise, cuddles, and/or treats.

5. You may need to bring out the “big guns” (or big spray bottle) and keep a spray bottle of water handy to give the kitty a spritz to extinguish scratching on unauthorized areas. This is typically a short term technique that quickly conveys the message. It is important to provide an appropriate scratching outlet and to positively reinforce scratching on that.

6. Some other deterrents include tin foil or double sided tape placed on the couch or other unauthorized area. Cats hate to step on either one. Here is an example of a tape product for cats: Sticky Paws
There are also sprays that discourage scratching, such as Pet Organics Natural Training Products No Scratch 16 oz.

7. Trimming the nails every two weeks works wonders to reduce the damage to unauthorized objects!

8. Soft Paws or Soft Claws nail caps can be applied to manage inappropriate scratching if needed. It is good idea to have appropriate scratching areas set up (and positively reinforce the use of them), as the nail caps can fall off.

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How to Stop Biting Behavior

Of course you love your cat like crazy, but you may not be all that thrilled with getting your fingers nipped! Here are some tips to recognize the source of the biting behavior, and strategies to curb it.

Types of Biting:
• Kitten biting: normal part of development, cats learn how to hunt and play via biting, scratching, and wrestling; this is an ideal time to work on establishing rules and boundaries
• Overstimulation: some cats can reach their petting limits and they typically give signals to stop before actually biting
• Redirected aggression: cats can react when spotting an unknown or feared cat outside the window by biting you instead

Kitten Biting
• For kitten biting, it’s important to take an active role in modifying the behavior. Do not use hands and fingers for playing, so that the kitten understands that your hand is not a toy that invites attacks. Use a wand toy instead, and redirect all hand nipping by quickly distracting the kitten with a toy.
• Quickly remove your hand and shout “Ouch!” so that the kitten understands that the nip is painful and undesired. If the behavior persists, pull out the water bottle and add a squirt to the loud “Ouch!” to really make your point.
• Ignore your kitten until the biting stops and only play (with toys and not hands) when there is no biting behavior. This conveys a powerful message to an attention-seeking kitten.
• Pair your kitten with another young and playful kitty. This works wonders, as both kitties can learn to not bite and scratch by actually experiencing how it feels when it is done to them!

Overstimulation
• Cats who exhibit petting overstimulation tend to give signals to alert you that the he or she has reached the petting threshold.
• Be on the lookout for the tail lashing back and forth, the ears moving backward, the eyes becoming narrowed, the back starting to ripple, and/or the body becoming stiff and no longer relaxed.
• When you first spot the indicators, immediately stop petting, and that should head off the biting response.

Redirected Aggression
• If your cat is feeling threatened by an outdoor cat, you can diffuse the situation by closing the blinds, moving your cat to another location in the house. Keep things calm, give your cat a chance to de-stress before interacting.
• If the outdoor cat is your neighbor’s cat and persists in visiting, you may need to use a cat deterrant if your cat continues to show aggression. Recommendations include: Innotek SSSCAT Cat Training Aidand Contech CRO101 Scarecrow Motion Activated Sprinkler

Positive reinforcement goes a long way toward establishing permanent, bite-free interaction with your cat! Make sure that your cat knows when he or she is demonstrating the desired behavior with praise, treats, play time with toys. What a fantastic achievement for your cat, thanks to your support!

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Two Kittens Are Better than One!

Of course, the obvious reason for adopting a pair of kittens is that you get to double your fun! There are many other benefits to having a pair of kittens, for both your sake and that of the kittens!
1. Two kittens keep one another company when the humans are away. They are less likely to become bored or anxious with a buddy, and that means less meowing, scratching, getting into unauthorized areas, and doing naughty things because they are all alone. Instead, the two kittens can wrestle, chase toys, and have capers with one another instead of with your personal stuff.

2. Having a kitty buddy helps kittens to learn to not bite and scratch. When they can feel the effects of biting and scratching by doing it to one another, they learn that it is an undesirable behavior. Much less work for you when the training is all done by them!

3. You can feel more comfortable with leaving a pair alone for the day while you are at work. And, since the pair have had one another for company, they are not as apt to completely smother you for attention once you get home, so that you can take care of all of the household tasks.

4. You can get much needed sleep at night with 2 kittens keeping one another company, as opposed to having one kitten pouncing on your head all night long!

5. A pair of kittens can take the pressure off of an older cat to have to entertain a youngster and keep up with his or her play style. So, the older cat can choose when to join in and can watch by the sidelines the rest of the time while the paired kittens burn off energy together