How to Stop and Prevent Cat Scratching

Cats were born to scratch, and they have the tools to do it with too. The best first step is to keep your cat’s claws trimmed. I do not support declawing cats, but I am a big proponent of good grooming, starting with regular nail trims every few weeks or as needed. Kitties sometimes get their claws stuck in things (including your favorite furniture), so trimming your pet’s nails is good for your pet as well.

Provide your cat with a good scratcher, be it a simple cardboard one, a small flat sisal board or a larger kitty tower. Some of the latter are really beautiful these days, coming in furniture-grade wood that will enhance your home’s decor while making your cat happy.

Sometimes, however, cats just get in a bad habit. If your cat is set on scratching a certain favorite item, here are some of the latest types of no-scratch products that are available:

  • Cat-scratch prevention tape with medical-grade adhesive: Prevention tape has been around for a long time, but manufacturers are coming up with improved adhesives that really adhere to furniture and annoy cats. They usually won’t harm fabrics and more delicate materials.
  • Cardboard scratchers combined with mazes: The simple cardboard scratcher, found even in many large grocery stores, has received a makeover. Some manufacturers have added a maze game to the bottom of it, making it doubly satisfying for your cat.
  • Scratchers in cat-friendly shapes: Some new scratchers are shaped like waves, bridges and even beds, providing your pet with something to climb on, explore and scratch.
  • Automated cat-deterrents: My favorite new gizmos are automated cat-deterrents, which have motion detectors. Once they detect that your cat is nearby, they automatically spray a harmless, nontoxic spray that most cats abhor. You just set up the device and forget about it until the spray runs out. Refills are then available. These can be used to prevent cats from urinating on carpeting and from doing other unwanted things.

Lastly, buy furniture with your cat in mind. Microfiber and some other materials are not as easy for cats to dig their claws into. And if you often hold your cat, it will no doubt prefer to knead on you. Sometimes needy cats are more kneady on furniture, so give your cat the attention it craves, and better behavior often results.

Stop Cat Bullying

Cats sometimes seem to mirror human behavior -- for better and for worse. Both male and female cats can act as bullies, picking on other cats. At its root, aggression is a survival tool, used for things like hunting, mating, and protecting territory. Female cats can also display maternal aggression, which helps them safeguard their kittens.

If you’re noticing bully-like behavior, your female could be acting out simply because she can. Perhaps the male is timid and she has a reward to gain, such as food or coveted space, by pushing him back. The more likely reason is that she feels threatened by the male and is ultra-defensive with him.

Pam Johnson-Bennett’s book Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat -- Not a Sour Puss has some great tips on how to curb inter-cat aggression. They include the following:

  • Try to determine the underlying reason(s) for the aggression. Carefully observe the feeding and sleeping areas. Does each cat have enough space? How about the litter box area? Do you have a separate box for each cat?
  • Separate and then reintroduce the cats slowly, as though you had just brought home a new pet. This can help to reprogram the cat’s mind that the other cat is a familiar friend and not a foe.
  • Put a collar with a bell on the cat’s neck. This will at least let your male cat know she’s coming.
  • Try clicker training. Use a clicker, combined with a small food treat, to reward positive, nonaggressive behavior.
  • Make sure your cats are in good health. Sometimes an illness can make a cat cranky. The female should also be spayed and the male neutered.

What Your Cat’s Anxiety Means

Excessive meowing and anxious/hyper behavior can be symptoms of hyperthyroidism, a problem with your cat’s thyroid gland. With a senior cat, however, something else might be going on. Hyperthyroidism can develop in older cats, but the behavior you describe -- especially the confusion -- suggests your pet could be suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD).

According to the ASPCA, FCD affects more than 55 percent of cats aged 11-15 years, and more than 80 percent of cats aged 16-20 years. Research is still needed to better pinpoint the causes, but it is thought to be similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Just humans with Alzheimer’s, some cats can suffer from more mild forms of FCD that progress very slowly, while others get a more severe version of the condition.

The ASPCA provides a checklist of behaviors that may indicate your cat has FCD. They include:

  • Not recognizing familiar people and other animals
  • Eliminating outside of the litter box, or going to the bathroom in sleeping and eating areas
  • Fixating on objects for no reason or just staring into space
  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Becoming lost in previously familiar locations
  • Showing a lack of interest in petting, playing and other activities that your cat probably looked forward to before
  • Eating and grooming less
  • Appearing restless or agitated
  • Not sleeping soundly
  • Vocalizing more

It’s important to properly diagnose your cat, because these behaviors can also be tied to other health problems. If FCD is diagnosed, your veterinarian might prescribe a medicine like selegiline hydrochloride (brand name Anipryl), or an antianxiety drug appropriate for cats. There is no real cure for FCD, but these medications can sometimes make life more comfortable for your senior cat.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/fbosse

Train Your Aggressive, Biting Kitten

This ankle-nipping problem is probably familiar to many kitten owners, including me. Kittens begin life playing with their mother and siblings, and it is during that time that they learn how to play nice. If a kitten is separated from its mother too early, it doesn’t learn this valuable skill and can act out later, even into adulthood.

According to The Humane Society of the United States, you can discourage ankle-nipping and other overly aggressive kitten behavior by doing the following:

  • Drag a fishing pole–type toy on the floor when your kitten wants to pounce. You can also try throwing a toy that will require her to chase it. The point is to redirect her attention away from you and to the toy.
  • Encourage play with a toy your kitten can wrestle with, such as a tiny stuffed animal, which you can gently rub on her tummy. She can then grab the toy instead of you.
  • Don’t yell or otherwise punish your kitten when she pounces. She won’t understand your anger. Cats have a remarkable ability to understand rewards, but not punishment. Reward her good behavior instead.
  • If you do want to say something when a kitten nips at your ankles, try a sharp, “Uh-uh,” and then offer her an acceptable toy. Don’t present the toy when she is still focused on you, or else she will consider it to be a reward.
  • Set aside time each day to play with your kitten. She wants to play with you, and not just be left alone with toys, so your quality time with her will help to use up some of that explosive kitten energy.

How Can I Keep My Cat Properly Hydrated?

It sounds like you have two problems here: First, your cat must have a lot of playful energy if she can tip over her water bowl. That can actually be a good thing; you just need to channel her energies in a productive manner. Most of us have busy schedules, so it’s important to dedicate at least a few different play periods per day with your cat, such as in the morning, when you get home and in the evening.

You might also consider getting another cat to serve as a playmate. Of course, you could then have two cats knocking over their water bowls. It therefore helps to use heavy bowls, ideally with rubberized bottoms that cling to surfaces. Another option is to buy placemats out of such materials that will achieve the same effect. Trays can additionally facilitate cleanups.

Steve Garner, a board certified veterinarian in League City, Texas, recommends that cat owners provide at least two bowls of water -- filled to the brim -- in different locations. On hot days, try freezing the water in one. As the day goes on, the water will melt and retain its fresh chill. For the ultimate kitty thirst quencher, Marty Becker, veterinary contributor to “Good Morning America,” suggests that owners purchase water fountains. Some, he says, have “aeration like a mountain stream with a reservoir … and a flowing fountain that helps cool the water and improve the taste of it.”

Hopefully the above solutions will help to keep your kitty both happy and hydrated this summer.