Cat behaviour questions

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Cats are independent and sometimes difficult to figure out. Their behaviours can be confounding but more often amusing or entertaining. All the same, we are left to try to decipher what our feline friends want, and why they do the things they do. Here are some simple answers to common problems. If your problem is not listed here, search the websites listed on the main cat page to help you solve your cat conundrums.

Scratching
Digging into house plants
Bad Litter Smells
Biting behaviours
Ear scratching

Scratching behaviours:

All cats scratch. They need to scratch as part of grooming their claws. They will scratch what feels good to scratch. That is often the heirloom wool carpets, or your new sofa set. Scratching behaviour is one of the main reasons we see cats return to shelters. You can train your cat with a spray bottle, but there are some additional things you can do to protect your furniture when you are away.

Two-sided tape and poly-wrap:

When cats scratch, they leave behind a scent marker humans will not detect. This scent marker lets the cat know it is one of their scratching areas. This is one of the reasons why cats return to scratching areas time after time. You can help to eliminate this in two ways: spray the area with a product like fabreeze, and cover it with either two-sided tape, or poly wrap (like saran wrap). Cats do not like the sticky feeling of two-sided tape, nor do they like the feeling of saran wrap and will avoid scratching areas that are covered with it. Some people have had equal success with simple clear packing tape covering the area being scratched until a new scratching area can be introduced.

Where can your cat scratch?

Cats like to stretch out or up when they scratch, so make sure they have something big enough to scratch. Some people prefer scratch posts, others scratch pads mounted on walls or on the floor. Despite the fact most of us do not want cats to scratch carpets or furniture, most scratch posts are made of carpet or sofa-like fabric. Whatever you use, rubbing in, or sprinkling a little catnip on it will attract your cat to leave their scent on it so they know it is their scratching place. There are some excellent products for cats, and among the best is the Super Scratcher by Smartykat. It is an inexpensive cardboard scratchpad that is as close to a magical solution as most people find to cat scratching problems. It is a very highly rated product.

Digging and Plant fouling

People often complain of their cats fouling or digging in household plants. Generally, cats who do this are looking for a cleaner place than their litter box to use. If you are encountering this problem, place small pebbles on top of the soil in your plant pots. This will help keep the cats from digging. Make sure the litter box is cleaned daily, and change the litter in your box at least every two weeks. It will help keep down the smell, and will prevent infections in your cat. Finally, consider planting a small box of regular green grass. Planted in a tray just big enough for your cat to sit in will provide it with a favourite place to sit, and periodically, a safe green snack. Better than your house plants!

Litter smells

No one likes the smells of a litter box. The best way to avoid them is to keep the litter box clean. You can liberally sprinkle baking soda in when you replace the litter every week or two (more often if you have more than one cat). There are products on the market that will cost anywhere from a few dollars to several hundreds of dollars for deluxe hepa-filtered litter boxes. A mid-range option is a small ionizer placed on top of the litter box. The ionizer works by creating "static-y air" around the litter box, and the static grabs on to odour particles making them heavy, causing them to drop to the ground. That is an oversimplification of how it works, but you might get the idea. An ionizer will help keep the smell of a clean litter box to a minimum, but won't do much for a litter box that is full of clumps of scat and urine. Finally, not all kitty litters are equal. Clumping litter is dried rather than baked clay, and the dried clay holds the smell of urine far better than non-clumping baked litter. Clumping litter is also easier to clean, and will last a little longer in the litter box. But nothing works like keeping the litter box clean. Think about it: if your cat goes into a dirty litter box and then climbs up onto your lap, what are they tracking with them? Keep your cat's litter box clean, for them and for you.

Crazy Cat Behaviour

It seems most cats are prone to crazy behaviour. A perfectly content, sleepy looking cat suddenly pricks up its ears, then tears off running from the room only to pounce on a chair, then run back again as if its tail was on fire. This seems like a typical cat behaviour and is generally not of any concern. It almost never means you have ghosts in the house.

Biting while petting

Cats can be easily over stimulated. When this happens, the usual response is to grab on to the hand that is stroking them, then biting, sometimes harder than you think necessary. When this happens, put the cat down immediately, and they will almost always walk away, glad to be rid of the over stimulation. It is important to be aware this is a natural reaction in all cats, so please do not try to punish them for "bad behaviour." Try instead to give them a few seconds to calm down, then try a couple of gentle strokes followed up with a reward to help increase their tolerance to sensitivity.

Cats usually give off a few signs to let you know of an impending sensitivity attack. You may notice the end of the tail begin to twitch, ears begin to lay flat along the top of the head, the head and neck retracting back toward the spine, and the beginning of squirming. When these signs occur, try to stop over stimulating the cat and allow them to calm down before resuming petting.

Cats have especially sensitive bellies, and will almost always grab on to the hand that goes in for a belly rub, leading to biting behaviour. This is a feline defense mechanism. Again, stop stroking the cat and put them on the ground. This almost always solves the problem.

Constant Ear Scratching

This behaviour is usually caused by irritation to the outer ear. Look for signs of redness, dry skin, or dirt. Clean the ears carefully with a clean cotton pad and a little mineral oil, or even a little olive oil. If the problem persists, see your vet. Never stick a cotton swab like a Q-tip into a cat's ear.

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