How to train your cat

A lot of people ask, ‘how do I train my cat?’ The answer is simple. You can’t. However, you can modify their behaviour and ‘appear’ to train them. Always remember, our cats train us not the other way around and it’s up to us to break out of these unseen bonds and take back our independence!

Every time your cat does something naughty or unwanted, take a few moments and think. Is there something I could have done to prevent this? Have I unwittingly shown my cat that it is ok to behave like this?

Sometimes it’s hard to think like a cat, but that is what we must do if we are to understand why they are acting the way they do.

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Skylar sitting in the rubbish box

My cat eliminates outside the litter tray

Cat’s have an excellent sense of smell – far better than ours. Is the tray cleaned often enough? Is it rinsed out well so there are no overpowering chemical smells left over from any cleaning products used? Have I changed the type of  litter recently? Is the tray big enough? Is it too high for an older cat?

My cat climbs up on the kitchen counter all the time

Are there food scraps left on the counter? Has the cat got any other high places to climb onto – tops of wardrobes, cupboards etc. to satisfy their need to climb? Have I given the cat attention, perhaps when it was smaller, when it climbed on the counter?

My cat tears the furniture

Has the cat got a suitable scratching post or pad available? Is the scratching post attractive to my cat – do I need to make it attractive to my cat? Is another cat ‘blocking’ my cat from using the post by marking it as their territory?

My cat follows me to the kitchen begging for food every time

Is my cat hungry? Have I ‘trained’ my cat to ask for food by offering treats whenever it miaows? Do I normally feed the cat in the kitchen?

Questions, Questions, Questions

By looking for and finding the answers to these questions – and many more – we can begin to understand why our cats act the way they do. After this, we can start to put a plan in place to modify the unwanted behaviour and change it to behaviour that we can happily live with.

Heathcliffe and Jinx no longer climb onto the kitchen counters all the time. I stopped giving them a reason to climb up there. I cleared other window ledges in the house as they liked looking out the kitchen window. I removed the fruit bowl – they thought the apples were balls for playing with. I stopped giving them any attention when they were on the counters – I gave them treats only when they were on the floor, if they went onto the counters I put the treats away. I cleared off the desk so they could sit on there instead.

There are usually answers if we are prepared to look for them.

Skylar still loves sitting on the kitchen counters – I really must stop kissing him when he’s up there!

 

 

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Jinx’s Story

I’ve had Jinx since she was about seven weeks old. My son-in-law and daughter found her abandoned at the side of a road, sitting in a puddle.

They scooped her up. She weighed next-to-nothing and was obviously very ill. A trip to the vet confirmed that she was very ill with pneumonia. I told them to put her in a cage in my house so that my dog couldn’t hurt her before I finished work.

I opened the door and there she was. Clinging to the side of the cage miaowing pitifully. I had outdoor cats but no indoor cats at the time so I straightened her blanket, scooped out the tiny litter tray and picked her up.

Her purring was deafening even over the raspy sound of her struggling to breathe. My family had fed her and made her as comfortable as they could before they left but my heart bled for this poor little mite.

Another trip to the vet the following day brought the sad news that she was so young it was unlikely that she would get over her illness.

I was determined. I had already fallen in love with her and she was going to be given the best care I could give her. If she died, at least I would know that I had tried my best for her.

A week later I took her back to the vet for more treatment. The vet scooped her up and popped her onto the scales. She had gained a few ounces! Her eyes were clearer and her breathing was less laboured but I still held my breath as the vet listened to her lungs.

Her lungs were a lot better! She was still very ill and had developed an asthma-like wheeze. More antibiotics.

Two weeks later she had here final check-up. The vet told me that she probably wouldn’t grow much as she had had such a poor start in life but apart from an intermittent cough, that lasted six months, she was now in good health and would soon be ready to be neutered.

I was ecstatic. I hadn’t dared to hope that she would survive long term. After three weeks of living with me and my dog, she was a much loved member of the family. She still slept in her cage at night but during the day, she had the run of the house with the dog.

Poor Max! He tolerated her (he was a golden Labrador retriever) and despite her following him everywhere, sitting on him, biting and chewing his ears and chasing his tail, he never once even growled at her.

max and portley
Max playing with his pal Portley

The years passed and my beautiful kitten turned into a gorgeous cat. The vet was right about her growth being stunted but she’s not tiny, just petite.

Max died and Jinx missed him terribly. Eventually I gave in and allowed my daughter to convince me that her friend’s kitten would be perfect.

Skylar arrived and the fun began! Jinx is a playful cat and she was well able to keep up with a crazy kitten. She prefers alone time and sleeps hidden away under furniture or in boxes but when the mood takes her, she chases Skylar all over the house. He’s twice as big as her now but she doesn’t take any notice of that and is not above hitting him on the nose if he annoys her. She won’t play fight with him as she knows he’s too big but she brings toys to him when she wants a game and Skylar always obliges.

When I think back to that tiny shivering kitten, I know I made the right decision when I decided that I was going to do everything I could to keep her alive. She will always be my baby cat – even though she’s going to be nine this year!

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Why is my cat so vicious?

This is a question I am often asked. There are a lot of reasons why cats turn on their owners and the most common reason is the owner!

Kittens learn how to behave from their mother and littermates. If kittens are taken away too soon, they miss out on some vital training. Through play they learn the consequences of over-rough play. Overly enthusiastic biting and scratching is rewarded with either the same being done to the rougher kitten or the game being suspended or finished. The kitten soon learns that he must moderate his behaviour if he wants to continue having fun.

When kittens are old enough to be taken from their mothers they should be properly socialised at this stage. Now it’s up to you, the owner, to continue the training.

Illness and Stress

If your cat is normally quiet and gentle the first thing you need to consider is if the cat is ill or stressed. Cats hide illness and stress very well and a trip to the vet is a good idea to rule out any hidden problems.

Pain can cause aggression. Once again a trip to the vet is necessary especially if you have no idea what might be causing the pain.

Cats are more sensitive then we may think. Simple things could cause them stress – a new pet, a new baby, house renovations, new furniture – the list goes on.

If the cat is frightened or stressed the natural reaction is to either run or defend itself. If the cat feels cornered – for example when you realise that something is wrong and go to comfort your cat – the cat may lash out. You get a fright and this stresses the cat even more.

The best thing to do if your cat gets stressed is to leave it alone and wait for it to come to you. Keep your voice soft and, if you can make eye contact with the cat, give it lots of slow blinks to show the cat that you are not a threat.

Playtime

A new kitten is a great source of fun. Kittens are so playful that it is very easy to over-stimulate them. Playing is an important part of a cat’s life but there must be boundaries.

Tiny kittens are very sweet and rough play with spitting, growling, biting and scratching can be very amusing. How can something so tiny be so ferocious? Unfortunately, adult cats are not so amusing when they are playing rough and can even be dangerous.

To keep your cats as cuddly and gentle as possible, it is up to you, the owner, to set boundaries.

If your cat is already aggressive, there are still some things you can do to modify its behaviour. Using fishing rod-like toys that keep your hands and feet well away from the cat while playing, can teach the cat that it can have fun without savaging you. Some cats love chasing a laser dot. This again removes you from the danger zone while allowing the cat to have its fun.

Stroking and Petting

Cats have different tolerance levels for the amount of stroking and petting they are willing to put up with. We love our cats and our natural reaction is to reach out and touch them. Some cats are happy to accept all our fussing over them while others may only be able to cope with small doses at a time.

Some cats have parts of their bodies that are more sensitive than others – paws, tummies etc. Time and patience is needed to help the cat overcome these sensitivities but it must be remembered, that all cats are individuals and some may never get used to it.

Reducing Aggression

To reduce aggression you need to get to know your cat and to learn to understand its wants and needs. By doing this, you will open up the means to help your cat live a fuller, healthier and happier life. It will increase the bond between you and your pet and improve harmony in your home.

 

 

 

 

Feral Issues

My friend asked me for advice on her cat’s behaviour. I already knew that her cat had been a feral kitten and had taken a long time to accept any humans into her life. Many people do not understand the difference between stray and feral.

Stray cats have been socialised to humans at the critical stage of their lives. This is between the age of two and seven weeks. They also may have once been a family pet but through unforeseen circumstances have been separated from their home.

Feral cats on the other hand were not socialised to humans at the critical stage and have usually had little or no contact with humans before being rescued.

Feral cats can learn to live among people and may even learn to love their owners but they may never be the cuddly lap cats that a lot of people want.

My friend’s cat has adapted quite well but she still has some issues – she runs and hides as soon as she hears my car and only comes out when she knows I’ve gone as I was the one who had to capture and crate her when my friend moved house and she has never forgiven me.

molly

The other thing my friend has noticed is that when her family stay, Molly carries her food into the middle of the sitting room – usually on the rug – and eats it in full view of everyone. She doesn’t do this when my friend is alone or when her partner visits but when the kids are there too, she feels the need to do this.

She seems to feel more confident if she can see everyone while she eats. She doesn’t growl or hiss, she simply keeps a watchful eye on everyone.

My friend and I have discussed the issue and we have decided that Molly just needs more time to gain confidence. She used to eat on the rug the whole time, watching my friend,  but gradually she began to use her bowl when she felt secure. She extended this to include my friend’s partner so in time, I am confident that she will extend this to all the members of the family – she may still have problems with strangers but perhaps in time she will learn to cope with them too.

It can be difficult to take on a feral kitten. There can be many unforeseen problems but it is worth persevering if you can spare the time and if you have loads of patience.

Just because a kitten is feral, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need the same love and care as any other kitten.

 

Feline Friends

Yikes! We had a breakthrough in the household. Multi-cat homes can pose problems especially if the cats are not related and arrive at different times.

All cats have their own distinct personalities:

Jinx is my eight year old female tortoiseshell who has been with me since she was a few weeks old. She was found in a puddle in the middle of a road. My daughter and her husband saw her and slammed on the brakes. She was very ill with pneumonia and nearly died. After lots of loving care, Jinx proved to be a survivor although she is a bit small she is full of fun. She tends to be submissive and rather shy.

Heathcliffe was my daughter’s cat. He’s ten now and is a beautiful black and white tom. He opened a window while I was looking after him and escaped. We searched everywhere and asked all our neighbours – I live in the country -, we appealed on Facebook and I called and called for him every day. After two years we presumed we would never see him again, so imagine my surprise when I came home one evening and found him on the doorstep. He was in a pitiful state and had obviously lived rough for the two years. He had a massive growth in one ear which had burst and he was covered in blood. I took him to the vet and was told that the prognosis was not good. The gave him antibiotics to clean up the worst of the infection before they could even assess the damage. They found that he had a massive polyp but they weren’t sure how far into the ear canal the polyp was or how big it was or even if there were more behind it. I asked them to try to help him so they went ahead and operated on him. To my surprise the vet had good news and Heathcliffe is now strong and healthy and so far, a year after the operation, he has no signs of another polyp growing. He is quiet and likes to be left alone. He has a temper when he’s roused but for the most part he is gentle and sociable,

Skylar is the baby of the family and he arrived just before Heathcliffe. Jinx didn’t take to him at first but Skylar ignored this and followed her around until she finally started to tolerate him.

Then Heathcliffe arrived.

Things went downhill. Skylar decided that Heathcliffe was going to be his new best friend. He quickly wore Heathcliffe down and the two have been best friends ever since. That left Jinx on her own. She and Heathcliffe decided that they hated each other and for months they could not be in the same room.

I introduced a lot more beds – on furniture, under furniture, upstairs and downstairs. I got extra litter trays. I gave each cat a designated space in the kitchen for mealtimes – Heathcliffe and Skylar interchange theirs but Jinx won’t go near the boys’ ones. When the fur flew (literally) I distracted them by opening the cupboard doors and loudly calling Skylar.

Gradually, things improved. After about six months, Jinx began to come into the living-room at the same time as Heathcliffe. They still growled and spat at each other but I made a point of stroking all three of them and mixing the scents.

After a year, they began to sit on opposite ends of the sofa at the same time. The growling and spitting lessened but occasionally they would have a major battle. One night they all came and sat on me at the same time. It didn’t last long but it was nice while it lasted.

moggies

Finally, last night, Jinx walked up to Heathcliffe in the kitchen and gently touched her nose to his.

It’s not earth-shattering but to me it’s like getting to the end of a marathon. There’s still a long way to go before we win but we are on the way.

Cats are all different and they must be given plenty of space and privacy so that they can develop their own friendships, at their own pace and in their own way.

 

Skylar’s fall

Skylar is a massive cat although he’s only just over a year old. Since he came, he has disrupted the house and caused no end of problems. Which means he fits in very well!

Last night he was sleeping on the window-ledge behind the curtain. The window-ledge is almost two feet deep and about the same wide. I was half asleep watching the television when suddenly, there was a crash and a bang right beside my head.

Skylar had rolled off the ledge dragging the cat bed with him. He landed on the little table where I keep the remote and my phone. The remote shot towards the telly at high speed narrowly missing it, while my phone shot out the door.

Skylar meanwhile, flipped over and ended up on the floor. He looked at me as if I’d pushed him!

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If you own a cat (or two or three!) you’ll no doubt understand all too well – we love them no matter what they do, through the good and the bad, the laughter and tears.

As long as we remember that we don’t own cats – they simply tolerate us – we’ll get along just fine.

My cat won’t use the litter tray

It can be very distressing when your cat refuses to use the litter tray. Even the most loving owner will find it challenging. There are a lot of things you can do to help teach your cat to behave the way you want it to.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is this new behaviour? Has it recently started in a normally clean cat? If this is the case, you need to arrange a visit to your vet as soon as possible. Any behavioural changes should be checked out in case there is an unseen illness or injury.
  • Is the litter fresh? Have you tried changing the litter? Different cats have their own preferences and what suits one may not suit another. All cats need a well maintained litter tray. Their sense of smell is much better than ours so if we find it smelly, imagine what it must be like for them!
  • Have there been any changes in the house or household? New family members? New pets? Renovations? Cats love routine and anything new may cause them stress and lead to inappropriate elimination.
  • Is the cat able to use the tray comfortably? Arthritis can make it difficult for a cat to climb in and out of a high tray. Also, the tray needs to be big enough for the cat to turn around in and deep enough so it can cover its waste.
  • Does my cat need more privacy? Some cats prefer a hooded tray, others don’t lie being enclosed.

There are other things to be considered if your cat won’t use its litter tray and if your cat is still having problems, get in touch