Instead of making new year’s resolutions that are difficult to keep, give yourself and your cats ones you know you can handle. You can help your kitties remain perfect little angels throughout the year by making a few changes in your home along with implementing specific activities.
Here are five behavior resolutions that will help stop cat behavior problems before they begin:
1. A vet check
Your first resolution is a vet check. Don’t hesitate to have your cat examined by a veterinarian whenever you see changes in her behavior.
Sometimes the only way you know your cats are not in good health is by their behavior. The indicators can be subtle and hard to recognize — the only clues of medical problems may be changes in how cats act. Feigning good health is a survival tactic that helps ferals and strays survive among hungry predators who are looking for easy meals. Felines who show signs of being sick or injured are more vulnerable than healthy ones. Although this tactic can work for cats living wild, it can be detrimental for pets. Usually, by the time cat parents notice changes in behavior, medical issues have progressed and the kitties need to be examined by veterinarians as soon as possible.
Cats who are cranky may be reacting to painful arthritis, mouth and teeth problems, as well as a number of other unpleasant conditions. Litter box avoidance may be a symptom of serious ailments that include urinary tract infections, kidney disease, and diabetes. Kitties who hide from people they are bonded to may be instinctually responding to injury and illness by making themselves scarce. Be aware that the subtlest of changes may have their roots in disease. One of my cats started sleeping on hard surfaces — his sudden change in behavior was caused by lymphoma.
2. The right litter boxes and daily maintenance
Finding urine on beds, sofas, and carpets is not the high point of anyone’s day. Although frustrating, eliminating outside of litter boxes is a problem that most likely can be resolved. Depending on the circumstances and the environment it also can be headed off before it begins, through daily litter box maintenance, providing large, uncovered litter boxes, and placing them in accessible yet quiet areas where cats won’t feel trapped.
3. The right stuff to scratch
Scratching the household furniture is one of the main reasons people declaw their cats — an unnecessary and painful procedure. Although cats instinctually scratch objects, they do not have to focus their claws on sofas and rugs.
Scratching is a multifunctional activity. In addition to providing claw maintenance, scratching marks territories. Kitties also scratch when they feel conflicted and stressed, when playing, and after a satisfying nap. In short, cats have to scratch!
The third resolution is to satisfy your cat’s instinctual need to scratch while saving the couches and carpets. Place horizontal scratchers and scratching posts in areas where your cats hang out. You can then easily train your kitty to scratch only the objects that are hers.
4. Provide some high places to perch
Your fourth resolution is to add vertical territory — high places around your home that your cats can jump and climb up to. Vertical territory can improve inter-cat relationships, become safe havens, and help keep your cats physically fit.
Cats don’t always get along with each other. One thing that fuels these iffy relationships is kitties not being able to demonstrate their positions in flexible hierarchies. A way they show their status in a multicat household is by where they situate themselves in relationship to each other. Typically, cats who occupy a high position in the hierarchy sit at the highest level while the others hang out on the lower perches. It’s not a static hierarchy — it changes, depending on a number of factors including other animals, food, and their health. Vertical territory, in the form of tall cat trees and condos, high shelves, perches, and household furniture can contribute to improving relationships.
Like many cat-centric objects and activities, vertical territory has many purposes. Climbing and jumping are natural pastimes for cats. Navigating up to the high shelves and perches provides exercise and mental stimulation. Felines feel safe in high places — they can view potential threats from up high. Additionally, tall cat trees placed next to secure windows are perfect for napping and observing the neighborhood activity. One can never have too much vertical territory.
5. Provide some social enrichment
Your fifth resolution is enriching your cat’s environment. Gift her with toys she enjoys playing with, places to climb, objects to scratch, and things to do. Interact with her every day — spend quality time playing and cuddling.
Cats often become bored and inactive when they do not have enough stimulation. Bored cats live in a boring environment — devoid of interesting toys to play with, objects to climb, or bonded buddies to interact with. Cats who are bored often develop behavior problems. They may create their own entertainment by scaling the curtains, knocking items off of shelves, or shredding toilet paper. Some develop harmful repetitive behaviors such as overgrooming. Others become obese from being inactive. Although all of these behaviors may indicate boredom, they can also be caused by medical or other types of behavior problems.
Cats need mental and physical stimulation. Enriching their homes with ball-and-track toys, puzzle boxes and feeders, tall cat trees and high perches, tunnels to hide in, and cat scratchers helps keep cats active and interested in their environment. Games and play sessions also help keep kitties engaged. Some cats love to fetch; most enjoy lively play sessions every day. Other activities that are fun for cats and their people include treasure hunts and clicker training.
Although being proactive does not guarantee behavior issues won’t develop, the odds are in your favor that your cats will be perfect angels for 2015.
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Do you have a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. Always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site, Skype and phone consultations. She uses force free methods that include environmental changes, management, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.
She is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other force-free methods. Marilyn is big on education — she feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.
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