Cat Games for Correcting Bad Behavior

Even though we love our cats more than anything in the world, it's hard not to get annoyed with occasional displays of bad behavior.  Some cats jump onto the kitchen table. Others bite when you pet them.  Or run and hide when you come into the room.

While most of us turn the other whisker to such kitty crimes, experts say that doing so can make matters worse. And did you know that simply playing with your cat is often the most effective way to teach new social skills.

"A lot of bad behavior can be corrected with play training," says Joel Norton, a professional animal trainer and zoologist in Hollywood, California. "Playing gives cats an outlet for the excess energy that often contributes to bad behavior."

So the next time your cat's conduct is less than fancy, try these recreational remedies that are both fun and effective.

Kitty Crime: Your cat jumps on the table during dinner.
Doing the (play)time: Before sitting down at the table for a meal, Norton recommends spending about five minutes playing with your cat. Play until your cat is worn out. Then, when you sit down to eat your dinner, it's time to do some behavior training.  "Hold a cat treat just above the cat's head, out of its reach, and say 'sit,'" Norton says. "The cat will look up at the treat. Hold the treat slightly toward the back of the cat's head so that its rear naturally goes down. Reward with the treat. If your cat tries to jump on the table, place it back on the floor and repeat this training exercise. Gradually increase the amount of time between when your cat sits, and when you give the reward -- first one minute, then five, then ten." The first couple of times you try this, you might feel as if you are spending your entire meal dispensing cat treats instead of eating. But don't get discouraged. Within a few days, your cat should get the message that if it sits and waits for you to finish your meal, it will receive a well-deserved treat.

Kitty Crime: Your cat hides from you.
Doing the (play)time:  For a cat that hides, building confidence is the goal. You want to change the cat's negative associations so it's no longer afraid of people, scary noises, sudden movements, or other pets. "Stand in a place your cat is forced to pass when it travels from its litter box to its hiding place," says Norton. With a bag of treats in hand, say your cat's name. If your cat comes out, reward with a treat while praising verbally. If the cat remains in hiding, wait until you hear it using the litter box.  When the cat exits the box and walks past you, hold the treat between your thumb and forefinger, and verbally praise. "Talk softly and sweetly, and say how good your cat is," says Norton. "Next time, bring a toy along with the treat, and encourage the cat to play." If you reward your cat's demonstrations of confidence and trust, in a few months it will develop a new interest in socializing. Soon, your cat will come out and play anytime!

Kitty Crime: Your cat bites.
Doing the (play)time: When it comes to biting, the trick is to engage your cat in games that burn off its excess energy through less offensive (and less painful) ways. Start with twice-daily, five-minute play routines that focus on your cat's paws, not its mouth. Crinkle balls are great for this because the sound is appealing and cats love batting at the ball. Get your cat excited about a crinkle ball by flicking so it stops a few inches from your cat. If your cat is unresponsive, toss the ball right at its paws. "Praise your cat verbally for playing," Norton says. "After you're done playing for five minutes, try to pet your cat, but be on the lookout for a possible bite. If you sense a bite coming, this is your cue to reduce the amount of time spent on the game. For example, stop at three minutes and reward with a treat for not biting. Then praise verbally." Repeat this routine and slowly increase the time with the crinkle ball. Soon, you will no longer have to reward your cat for not treating you like a human chew toy.

Clever Cat Scratching & Climbing Posts

Even though every feline has its own personality and quirks, scratching and climbing are second nature for all cats. Because this is an immutable kitty truth,  cat owners should provide a special place for their furry friend to claw, clamber and leap.  If not, you risk a lifetime of shredded sofas and knocked-over knick-knacks (as well as an unhappy companion). Fortunately, there are all kinds of new and entertaining climbers available these days -- enough to meet your cat's demands, as well as your aesthetic sensibility.

Scratching that Itch
Just as you need a good morning stretch to get your day started, your cat also needs a good morning scratch. Scratching is good for your cat's health because it removes dead skin cells from claw sheaths. It also allows your cat to mark territory with scent, and to stretch muscles and ligaments. The best post for your cat, then, is tall enough to allow it to extend to full height; the post should also be sturdy enough for your cat to lean its full body weight on.

Scratching posts are generally covered with rough, shreddable material. Sisal rope and faux fur make the least mess, although many cats prefer scratching on carpeting due to its multiple loops. (Warning: These loops could eventually be shredded and end up in tiny bits on your floor!) When the post is worn out, both sisal rope and carpet posts can be resurfaced with simple carpet tacks or nails.

Kathy Kruger of Plymouth, Michigan found that scratching posts kept her cats from destroying her wooden furniture. "When I first brought Max and Sarah home, they were doing a real number on my kitchen chairs," she recalls. "My vet recommended a sisal post, and they were immediately attracted to that." To encourage a less enthusiastic pet to scratch a new post, reward it for scratching with a treat or some extra affection; you can also rub your cat's paws on the post to deposit its scent, or spray the post with catnip.

The Thrill of the Climb
Cat castles and cat trees are full-service climbing-scratching-lounging destinations. Some are free-standing with heavy bases to prevent tipping, while others extend floor to ceiling, usually relying on a spring-tension rod to keep them upright. They offer cats open areas for sleeping, posts for scratching and multiple levels for leaping. Free-standing models are best for one-cat homes, and for small to medium-size felines. Because they offer more stability, floor-to-ceiling models are more appropriate for multiple-cat dwellings, or large, heavy cats. If your kitty is larger than average, make sure the castle doors are wide enough for it to fit through comfortably.

"When my boyfriend moved in with all of his stuff, there was suddenly less room on my tall bookcases and on top of the refrigerator, and I was worried that my cat Cleo wouldn't get the exercise he needed," says Linda Bain of Garden City, New York. "So we found a nice wooden cat tree on the Internet. It sits unobtrusively in the corner, and Cleo loves it."

House of Style
Satisfying your cat's needs doesn't mean sacrificing your sense of style. The key to combining feline and human furniture is all about blending. "Look first and foremost for color. Make sure it doesn't stand out in contrast to everything else in the room," advises Karen Powell, a Connecticut-based interior designer and co-founder of Decor and You. "Then place the post or gym strategically in relationship to the other furniture, away from the focal point of the room, and outside of the traffic flow." Before you invest, visit a variety of pet supply stores and Web sites to get a broad picture of what's available. Your cat will thank you kindly.

Christmas Tree Needles and Your Cat Don't Mix

Tis the season. The lights are up, the tinsel is sparkling, the fridge is stocked and the mistletoe is hung. And the tree is also up, which means you've got a serious health risk ready to ruin your otherwise perfect Holiday for you and your cat. Cat are by nature curious, playful creatures, and some of them will become very mischievous if given the chance, and the little pine needles that fall off your Christmas tree over the course a few week provide a temptation they might not be able to resist. Natural Christmas trees you buys at you local church or vacant lot were most likely grown a few hundred miles away on a farm or in the woods, and are usually treated with herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals to preserve them through the Holidays. The chemicals concentrate in the boughs and the needles can become toxic. If ingested, this chemical cocktail can make your cat very sick. Symptoms range from vomiting and diarrhea to coughing and loss of appetite, which can make for an unpleasant Holiday break. Hopefully your cat will vomit up the needles and not repeat the mistake. But, in the event that the needles make it into your cat's digestive tract, the then the real problems begin. The needles can damage or even puncture the lining of you cat's stomach or intestine, and could result in a very large veterinary bill or even worse.

So, what are the best ways to minimize the risks of this kind of disaster? Here are three easy steps toward keeping your car safe:

  1. Know your cat. Understanding that your cat is prone to accidents and mischief is key.
  2. Sweep Up. If your cat is prone to get into trouble, frequent sweeping up of the needles is an easy way to lower risk.
  3. Deny Access. Keep furniture away from the tree so your cat can't get at the boughs and needles still on the tree, and you should spray the lower boughs of the tree with a pet repellent for further discouragement.

This might seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but consider the alternatives and you'll agree that it is the best gift you can give yourself and you cat this Holiday season. For information on keeping your pet dog from the Christmas tree needles, please visit here.

Having litter box issues? Here’s how to fix them.

As a cat owner, you’ve probably been there before. No matter how seasoned your cat may be at using her litter box, sometimes the inevitable just occurs -- accidents. “There are two main reasons that cats come down with litter box issues: physical or behavioral,” says Dr. Rebecca Jackson, staff veterinarian with Petplan pet insurance.

Before you can figure out which reason is causing your own cat to misbehave, consider taking him to the vet for a check-up. “Something may be irritating your kitty’s bladder, such as a urinary tract infection, or something could be causing her to drink more, such as diabetes or kidney disease,” said Dr. Jackson. “If diarrhea is present, it could indicate anything from inflammatory bowel disease to certain types of cancer. Early detection is key to successful treatment, so take your cat in for a checkup at the first sign of unusual bathroom habits.”

If the results of your vet visit come back all clear, you likely have a behavioral or situational problem on your hands. Common examples, according to Dr. Jackson, include:

  • Your cat simply may not like her litter box, or might have developed a negative association with it. Maybe she was startled there once, or maybe she had a condition that made urination painful. If this turns out to be the case, you might need to move the box, or change it altogether (start with trying a different litter, first) to remedy the situation.
  • The box may not be big enough for him (urine or feces ‘leaking’ outside of the box might be an indicator that he needs a bigger commode). The general rule is to have as many litter boxes as you do cats, plus one extra. Each of these boxes should be one and one-half times as large as your largest cat.
  • If the box is the right size, consider whether it’s clean enough. Twice-daily cleanings should be enough for even the cleanest of kitties.
  • Finally, conflicts with other cats, sudden changes in household routines or the addition of a new housemate (two- or four-legged!) might be throwing him off. Be sure to discuss any situational changes that have occurred with your vet to see if they might be the underlying cause of your cat’s litter box issues.

Behavioral litter box issues can be very frustrating and difficult for both you and your furry friend. Be sure to stay in communication with your vet about what’s working and what isn’t. Sometimes a solution can be as simple as changing litter or adding another litter box. Other times medications and/or significant behavioral modification are required. Your vet is your best source for recommendations.

The Best Games for Cats

Your cat is playful, curious and a hunter, and he wants to interact with you to show off his natural skills. Playing games with your cat is a great way to entertain him, as well as give him some extra exercise.

Cats love to chase and hunt, so it’s natural from him to want to exhibit these behaviors for you. Many cats, if given the chance to go outdoors, will actively hunt for birds and other small animals. If they manage to succeed in their hunt, cats will want to show off their conquest by dropping a “gift” at your doorstep. Your cat’s hunting skills will also likely be exhibited if there is a bug or rodent in your home. He will swat, jump around and attempt to kill the intruder.

These hunting and chasing skills can be replicated in games that you play with your cat. Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM, Medical Director for Century Veterinary Group and Chief Veterinarian for ProSense Pet Products, says cats are attracted to movement, and most games for cats capitalize on these instincts, incorporating movement and a chase into the mechanics of the game.

Many cat toys that you’ll find in the store focus on the game of the hunt, and allow you to play along with your cat. If your cat lives indoors, he won’t be able to chase real animals, so it’s a good idea to provide a substitution to entice him to play. “Typical cat toys involve tantalizing the cat with a feather, or a little mouse or rabbit hanging on a string or dangling from a pole, or a ball that circles around a container, sometimes slightly hidden, that attracts the cat's attention and inspires the hunt,” Dr. Werber explains.  

Another great option for a game to play with your cat involves a laser. Your cat will be transfixed by the red laser light and try to catch it. “The cat sees the laser as an object to be chased and hunted down,” said Dr. Werber. “It can be quite comical to watch them trying to grab the laser as it flies by them on the ground, or against a wall.” This game can keep your cat occupied for a while and also provides exercise.

Dr. Werber recommends one other game that has proven popular with cats in the past. “Cats like to lie on their backs and grab and claw at your hand as it comes near their stomach,” he said. “This is fun for them, but not so much for you unless you wear a heavy glove to protect your hands and arm. An alternative version is to stick your hand under the blanket and slowly move toward them, or away, and watch them pounce.”

If your cat loves treats, you can purchase toys that you can hide treats in, too.

It is very important to keep your cat engaged in games that are both enjoyable and a good source of exercise. Your cat will make it known if he is bored, and walk away from you or the toy. Dr. Werber says that your cat may be bored with one activity but another one might continue to entertain him. Mixing up the games and toys will help keep your cat happy.