cat with ownerBy Arricca Elin SanSone
Dead mice on the doorstep. Cat pee on the drapes. You love your kitty but sometimes don't love his behavior. There's a good reason he's not playing by the house rules, though. "Cats are closest to wild animals than any other pet," says Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, who practices at Chico Hospital for Cats in California and Cat Hospital of Portland in Oregon. Here are the most common cringe-worthy cat behaviors and what you can do to live happily ever after with your uncouth creature. Photo by Catherine Ledner/Getty
Behavior: Watching you and your partner in the bedroom
Wild cats are part of one big social group-they eat, play, sleep and hang out together. If your cat shares a bed with you, he assumes he's welcome at all times. Plus, "your activities are interesting to him," says Dr. Colleran.
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Solution: Remove your cat to a 'safe room' where he'll feel comfortable. Provide a high perch, favorite toys, a special snack, water and a window to look out onto something interesting, such as a bird feeder, suggests Dr. Colleran.
Behavior: Bringing you "presents"
Contrary to popular belief, cats are social creatures. "They may bring prey to encourage interaction with you," says Hazel Carney, DVM, a feline behaviorist at West Vet Emergency and Specialty Center in Garden City, ID. In addition, cats have a lot of pent-up energy, and hunting lets them use it.
Solution: Minimize your feline's giving spirit through frequent play with a fishing pole-type toy or ball, says Dr. Carney. Or let him outdoors in an enclosed (read: predator-free) space or teach him to walk on a halter and leash. If you get a present, dispose of the evidence when your cat isn't watching. That way, you don't reinforce the behavior that dead critters garner attention.
Behavior: Spraying urine on furniture, drapes or walls
This is how cats announce their presence, mark territories or advertise sexual availability to other cats. "They may also spray if they're stressed, sick or if there's been a change in the household," says Dr. Colleran.
Solution: Take stock of what's been going on at home, advises Dr. Colleran. Is there a stray cat hanging around outside? If so, close the blinds to block the view outdoors. And play with your cat more often to alleviate stress. Did you add a cat to the family? Keep them separated for the first few weeks; then, introduce them gradually. "Let everyone have his own litter box and place to eat, rest and hide so there's no fighting," suggests Dr. Colleran. Up your cat's comfort by spritzing Feliway, a synthetic calming hormone, where they've sprayed, after cleaning the area with an enzymatic cleaner, not vinegar or ammonia. If you aren't aware of any household stresses, see the vet to rule out health issues.
Behavior: Not using the litter box
A treatable health problem, like arthritis, bladder tumors, urinary stones, diabetes or kidney disease, is often to blame for an untidy kitty, says Dr. Carney. Household changes or changes to the litter box, itself, can also cause a cat to eschew his box.
Solution: First, have your vet exclude health problems. All clear? Clean the box daily, and replace it every six months, since plastic can get stinky, says Dr. Colleran. Be patient, since some felines are just finicky: They may avoid a litter box that's too small, too deep, enclosed, in a space with loud noises (the laundry room) or strong odors (a freshly painted room) or has litter they don't like. If you have more than one cat, set out one box for every kitty, plus one extra so everyone has his own space.
"Most people know to socialize puppies, but kittens also need exposure to many different people and situations when they're two - seven weeks old," says Mikkel Becker, animal trainer for VetStreet.com. Whatever they're not introduced to then, they'll shy away from later.
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Solution: Provide lots of climbing places where you entertain guests so your pet has a place to perch. And train your cat to associate the doorbell with good things happening, says Becker. Ring it and then play with him without guests. Repeat when visitors are around. Ask guests to ignore your cat-direct eye contact is threatening. If he comes out to investigate, have visitors gently toss treats his way or dangle a feather toy he loves. In time, your cat may interact, especially if the same person visits frequently. "But there really are scaredy-cats who never should be forced out," says Dr. Carney. "Let him stay in his safe room until guests depart."
Behavior: Seeking attention from guests who don't want to give it
You're not imagining that a cat always approaches people who aren't interested in him. Since stares are threats in the feline world, "not looking at your cat is an invitation to solicit interaction," says Becker.
Solution: Nosy cats are good because they're comfortable with people. But if yours is cozying up to an allergic or animal-averse guest, redirect your kitty's attention with toys or treats, says Becker. Or make sure it's dinnertime when guests show up. If he's still being a pest, take your cat to his safe room.
"Most cats that over-vocalize learned that making noise earns food or attention," says Dr. Carney. Some breeds, though, such as Siamese, are more vocal than others. And in some cases, vocalizing indicates a health problem.
Solution: Stop responding to meowing; only give attention to your cat when he's quiet. Or use clicker training. When your pet's meowing for food, click when he stays quiet for five seconds and say "good" or "quiet," and then give a tiny lick of wet food. Keep stretching out the period he has to stay quiet before you reward him with a click and a treat. "Your cat learns to associate the click, and the quiet, with something he wants," says Becker. But if your usually silent cat suddenly starts vocalizing, have your vet check him out for conditions such as a thyroid disorder, a nutrient deficiency and high blood pressure.
Behavior: Scratching or biting people who try to play with your cat
Cats learn to play gently if they meet people as kittens or are raised with littermates. Those that aren't, though, don't know aggressive play isn't socially acceptable, says Dr. Colleran.
Solution: Be gentle with your cat and tell your visitors to do the same. "If you rough-play, your cat will, too," says Becker. Never physically punish a cat, which can lead to more aggressive behavior. Avoid playing with your hands; you and houseguests should always use a toy. And watch for "I'm-not-in-the-mood" posture: a swishing tail, ears flat against the head and dilated pupils.
Behavior: Walking on counters and tables
Even though the last thing you want at a dinner party is for Fifi to land in the lasagna, elevated surfaces are appealing because "wild cats like to be up high to see their environment and predators," says Dr. Colleran.
Solution: When you discover your cat somewhere you don't want him, remain calm. Pick him up off the counter without showing affection, and say "good cat" as you place him somewhere acceptable. Then, reward him with a treat. "Make sure you catch him every time, or your cat will play the lottery," says Becker. Keep him off counters when you're not around by using double-sided sticky tape, foil or mats that make squealing noises, such as Scat Mat.
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Behavior: Humping other cats, pillows or toys
"It commonly starts as a dominance behavior," says Dr. Carney. "But owners can inadvertently reinforce it by paying attention to it." It may also be a way of self-soothing if he's stressed or bored. Occasionally, it may signal a health issue.
Solution: While embarrassing, it's not hurting anyone, so ignore it if you can. If the other cat's getting ticked off, redirect your pet's attention with a toy or treat. Talk to your vet about potential health concerns, and make sure your cat is getting enough playtime, which can solve many unwanted cat behaviors, says Dr. Carney.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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