Cats scratch on things for two reasons: to shed their claws and to mark their territory. To save your furniture from damage, you need to provide your cat with a scratching post or two and teach him how to use it.
Once your cat is using the scratching post you have provided, you can teach him that other things are off limits. If you catch your cat scratching the sofa or chair, make those areas undesirable by covering them with aluminum foil or double sided sticky tape or lightly spray the area with a lemon scent. Do not spray or scold your cat as this can make him fearful of you and your cat may learn to scratch the sofa or couch in your absence. It’s important to entice your cat to the scratching post and praise him for using it.
Horizontal or vertical. The first thing to consider when buying your cat a scratching post or furniture is whether or not he prefers vertical or horizontal surfaces. Some cats like to rear up and pull down, while others like to stretch way out along the floor and pull. Most large cat trees provide both surfaces, while the basic post is more for vertical than horizontal. Cardboard types tend to lie directly on the floor. Some types of vertical scratching posts can be hung from a doorknob or off the back of a door. The best thing you can do is observe your cat. If he tends to rear up to claw, then a vertical post is your best bet. If your cat favors your carpet or rugs, then a floor-based horizontal scratching post is better.
Sisal rope. Sisal rope scratching posts and cat furniture provide long-lasting scratching surfaces for cats. Sisal is very tough and resists shredding very well. Sisal scratching posts are excellent choices for cats that prefer to claw and scratch rough surfaces. The main downside to sisal is that it is not very easy to incorporate catnip into in order to make it more attractive to your cat.
Carpet. Carpeted scratching posts and cat furniture make up the bulk of most manufactured products. It is easily made, easy to work with, and can be attached to many different surfaces and shapes. Carpet is not nearly as durable as sisal, so over time it shreds and loses bits of the nap, making it messy. Carpet also retains dirt and debris, so it will need occasional vacuuming.
Cardboard. Cardboard scratching surfaces are fairly new and by far the cheapest alternative. Most cardboard scratching surfaces are refillable. Cardboard, which has a lot of holes, can easily accommodate catnip to make it more attractive; however, it shreds easily, leading to bits of cardboard around the house. Some cats also like to chew on cardboard, which is not good due to the chemicals present within it.
Wood. Wood is another type of scratching surface. These types are not very common but are probably the closest thing to what a cat in the wild would use to stretch, mark, and shed on. A wood post will be very durable, more so than sisal. It does not lend itself to hosting catnip, but it also will not retain dirt or leave bits of itself lying around.
Contrary to popular belief, play aggression can occur in a cat of any age. The term “play aggression” can be deceiving, as this type of aggression can sometimes be extremely intense, especially if the cat has started to target people in the household. Play aggression in cats involves biting and clawing as well as stalking and attacking people and generally treating people as a cat would treat prey or another cat. This behavior peaks in most cases in the morning and evenings—just like in the hunting would. Play-aggressive cats are usually young and very active; however, even older cats can be playfully aggressive. These cats tend to be very high-energy cats that become easily bored and have a short attention span. They will usually find just about anything to play with and are very rough and intense in their play. Lack of scheduled appropriate playtime is a major factor contributing to play aggression. Play aggression is often exhibited in cats that are ignored or left alone for long periods of time without a human or animal playmate.
When dealing with this form of aggression it is important to understand that play behavior is natural in all cats, and especially in kittens. Play is a natural and incredibly important part of the development. It keeps them healthy and helps them learn about social interactions with other cats or kittens. It’s also an energy releaser—and as everybody knows, kittens have endless energy! Kittens begin playing with their littermates, which helps them to develop their motor and hunting skills. In adult cats, not only can playtime ease stress and help adjust to a new home, it helps improve health, and strengthen the bond between cat and human.
Play aggression in felines is a behavior issue that can be understood, improved, and lived with as long as adopters understand the behavior and are willing to utilize suggested techniques consistently to ensure a happy home for both person and kitty.
Remember that playtime is like a hunting game for your cat. Interactive toys are the best way to play with your cat, and they usually feature a fishing pole design, with a toy dangling on the end of a string or wire. With interactive toys you can imitate various types of prey: birds, mice, snakes, bugs. Remember to move the toys like prey, as if they were trying to get away from the hunter, so don’t dangle the prey right in your cat’s face. On the other hand, don’t make it too hard for your cat to catch the toy. You want her to have many successes so that the play is fun and rewarding.
The other type of play for cats is solo play—toys they can play with by themselves. This depends on the cat’s level of activity and ability to self-entertain, but the most common types are ping pong balls, catnip toys, food dispensing toys, and fuzzy mice. They should be light enough for kitty to bat around since she will have to “bring them to life” by herself. Toys should be mentally stimulating and rotated regularly to prevent boredom.
Never play roughly with a cat, wrestle with it, or move your hands so that the cat chases them. It is very important whenever you are playing with any cat to use a toy. Even if the rough play, biting, and scratching do not bother the owner, the cat will learn that your body parts are toys to bite and scratch.
Get your cat started on the right paw by training her how to play appropriately with humans. By always using toys for play, you are off to a good start. However, some kittens may still try to bite and scratch people because they may still see everything that moves as a toy. Also, they may accidentally miss the toy and grab your hand or arm. If this happens it is “GAME OVER,” stop the play immediately. The kitten will learn that play stops when she gets too rough. Ignore the cat for a while and do not give the cat any attention, you can then resume play with the cat once she has calmed. If done consistently (by everyone who interacts with the cat) it will decrease the chances of it happening again in the future, and over time you should see an improvement.
You should always try to steer the kitten’s playful behavior towards toys. The first step is to give the cat as much interactive playtime as possible. However, if the cat is still attacking humans, you can try to intercept the behavior. If you can anticipate the attack (you may see dilated pupils, a swishing tail, or other “pre-pounce” behaviors, like hiding or crouching) you can throw a toy just before the cat is about to attack. This redirects the attack towards the toy, and away from humans. However, if the cat has already attacked, owners should not offer her a toy immediately as this would be rewarding the aggressive behavior and may even increase the chance that she will attack in the future.
Your response to an attack from your cat can determine if the attack escalates or ends, and if the behavior will improve or worsen. Consistency is important.
Play-aggressive cats generally need a lot of room to romp and play. A large apartment or house is best. However, you can increase territory and create more vertical space in your home with perches and cat trees.
Keep in mind that play can impact the cat-human relationship in a positive manner. It can lead the cat to associate a regular positive experience with the person. This can increase trust and is especially helpful in relationships where a cat is unsure about a particular person.
Overstimulation refers to a cat’s normal response to being petted or handled in areas or ways the cat finds uncomfortable or have gone on for too long. A majority of cats exhibit overstimulation or petting-induced aggression to some degree. However, cats vary enormously as to the extent to which they like petting or handling and for how long they tolerate these without finding it aversive. They also vary greatly in the number and intensity of warning signals before it might result in aggressive reactions when those warning signals are neglected or ignored.
Here are some ways to help you develop a healthy way of petting your cat and to be safe.
The prognosis for this type of behavior in a home situation is good in most cases, given it is mostly a management problem. However, cats with rough play manners or who do not like to be petted or handled should not be allowed to play with young children or older people. The risk for injuries and infections are significant. For a good prognosis it is important to:
Has your kitten been waking you up at 5 AM for food and a good play session or even keeping you up all night playing vigorously with toys he ignores during the day? Pouncing on your feet the moment you finally fall asleep? Or has your senior cat who sleeps all day become vocal all night and not able to fall asleep?
This handout will hopefully provide you and your cat with a better night’s sleep.
These tips can be used to prevent and modify behaviors with kittens, adult, as well as senior cats.
NEVER punish your cat. Physical punishment, throwing things, using electronic collars, squirt bottles, or even yelling can destroy the human-animal bond. Cats that are motivated to play and are being punished for trying to play may become conflicted and aggressive.
Letting your cat go outdoors might seem like a good idea; however, it might put your cat at high risk of disease, injury and even death if the outdoor environment is not safe. See the handout Indoor vs. Outdoor for more information.
If your cat is urinating or defecating outside the litter box, we certainly understand your frustration. Luckily, this is a treatable condition in most cases. A medical exam, as well as a few simple changes can help to re-establish proper litter box use.
The first step includes taking your cat to your veterinarian. Whenever a cat suddenly eliminates outside of the litter box, it’s strongly advised to get a physical exam including urine analysis and in some cases blood work in order to rule out any illness or injury that may be causing the behavior. Once a medical reason for the lapse in litter box use has been ruled out, you want to consider behavioral reasons.
There are two main behavioral reasons for failure to eliminate in an established litter box. One is marking, which is a form of communication. The second one is inappropriate elimination, which is a toileting behavior. Both behaviors may occur for a variety of reasons. See handout for these litter box problems.
No matter the reason there are a few litter box tips that are universally important to all cats.
Cats normally take a while to adjust to a new environment. If you have recently acquired your cat, you should be aware that acclimation can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Cats are highly variable in temperament, and also in their levels of socialization. Here are some suggestions on how to help a cat that is hiding:
Once your cat begins to feel more comfortable, you will notice her coming out of hiding more, engaging with you, vocalizing and perhaps coming to you when you enter the room. It is wise to keep her in the smaller room for a little while longer, until she shows interest in exploring past the door. If possible, allow her to gradually expand her territory, by closing off other rooms at first. At any point in this process, if you feel she is overwhelmed, you can backtrack and put her back in her “safe” room again. It takes time, patience, and sensitivity to help a shy cat adjust to a new home, but it will be worth the effort when you see a happy cat that knows where she belongs and loves her environment and her human.
Is your cat is driving you mad meowing nonstop at 3 a.m.? Read on!
Compared to dogs, cats are not as obviously vocal. However, certain cats are more vocal than others, and cats can learn to use vocalization to communicate with humans. Some breeds, such as the Siamese, are known for their vocal demeanor. Many different feline vocalizations exist, and experts have tried to describe the repertoire, a daunting task when trying to classify the different acoustic variations. Most cat owners know when to give their cat attention or when it is time to feed (at least in the cat’s opinion). Most people can tell when a cat is happy, and most of us have heard a very angry cat—those emotions are differentiated by the different tones and noises the cat makes.
Cats can learn to communicate with us, just as we learn to communicate with them. Cats vocalize to express discomfort or pain, agitation, and in some cases, territoriality. Unneutered (intact) male cats may yowl in conjunction with sexual behavior, and female cats in heat may meow excessively.
Your cat may have learned that if she meows, people will talk to her, play with her, feed her, or even yell at her. Remember for some cats negative attention is better than none at all. Some owners love to “talk” with their cats, back and forth, so if you have adopted your cat when she was an adult, it is possible that this behavior was encouraged by a prior owner. This is often how behavior patterns start. So if your cat is very chatty, this is how you can stop this habit: Do Not Reward. Ignore her when she meows, do not talk to her or provide her with food or play—especially not in the middle of the night.
This should be the backbone of your behavior modification plan. Pay attention to your cat when she is being quiet; wait for a moment of silence before you feed her. If you are having trouble sleeping at night, try earplugs and close the door to your bedroom. You will have to be strict for a few nights, because if that behavior has worked in the past, you cat will try harder for a few nights before she will give it up. It also helps to provide her with an alternative option for food and play such as automatic feeders or food-dispensing and other interactive toys in a different room of the home.
Make sure your cat’s needs are met. Cats need attention and interaction, so make sure that somewhere in your daily schedule you allot times for scheduled play sessions. Cats like routine and will meow excessively if their routine is changed. It helps to give your cat a good play session before you go to bed. Provide your cat with plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Cats are most active during morning and evening hours—similarly to their natural hunting hours. Indoor cats need to be entertained and encouraged to play and exercise. But even a cat with access to the outdoors needs owner interaction and stimulation. New toys, bought or made, food cubes that make cats work to get the food, and the occasional catnip toy help keep her from getting bored. Interactive playtime is the best kind of playtime for cats. Make sure her diet is adequate and she has a clean litter box and fresh water at all times. If your cat seems excessively hungry you should have her checked out by a veterinarian.
If your cat is grieving. If your cat has recently lost a companion, feline, human, or canine, she may walk around the house and meow, perhaps in search of them or just reacting to the change. While you don’t want to reward the meowing, it is important to give your cat extra reassurance in these cases, spending quality time, preferably on a schedule, until she adjusts to this loss.
If you have just moved to a new home, or have just brought a cat into your home. It is normal, especially for an adult cat, to be disoriented and unsure in a new environment. Introducing your cat to the house gradually may help prevent some agitation (see the handout on introducing a cat to a new home). Again, don’t reward the meowing, but be a little understanding in these instances. This behavior usually takes a few weeks to resolve.
If a normally quiet cat has become very vocal. Make sure there is nothing medically wrong with her; schedule a check-up with your vet. If your cat is getting older she could be going deaf or displaying cognitive dysfunction.
Pay attention to environmental changes to see if something could be bothering her, such as a new stray cat coming by your back door. If you cannot find a cause, you may want to contact a veterinary behavior specialist.
There might be times when you find yourself at wit’s end with some of your cat’s unwanted behaviors. One might even want to punish a cat for less desirable behaviors; however, some of those behaviors might actually be just normal feline behaviors. With that in mind, it is important to recognize that these normal behaviors may need accommodations and management, changes in the environment, or simple behavior modification techniques to resolve most “problem” behaviors.
Some cats engage in problematic behaviors out of boredom such as lack of mental and physical stimulation. Similarly to a child where “negative” attention (such as being yelled at) is better than no attention at all, humans actually inadvertently reward unwanted behaviors. In this situation, the cat who is looking for some sort of response from the human might knock things off your dresser or scratch your furniture in hopes of gaining some attention from you.
Unfortunately, there is still plenty of outdated or just plain inaccurate information about how to punish cats for undesirable behaviors. Direct punishment should be avoided at all costs as direct physical punishment is detrimental to your relationship with your cat and can lead to fear and aggression. This includes spanking, pushing, scruffing and pinning down, swatting with a newspaper or other objects, nose tapping, or squirt bottles. Fearful as well as more confident cats might start hiding or become aggressive when direct punishment is used.
There are a variety of misconceptions about a cat’s unwanted behaviors. Many people believe that their cat “knows” when they are being bad or are behaving in an unwanted manner out of spite. Another misconception is that cats and people share the same idea of unwanted behavior. Scratching furniture and playing rough are natural for cats but undesirable for people. Using direct punishment in these instances most likely will not punish the motivation of the behavior, causing the cat to associate the presence of her owner with being yelled at or otherwise punished. The cat will not associate the scratching of the couch with the punishment. Since scratching is a normal feline behavior, she will quickly learn that when you are not home she can happily continue with this pleasure.
However, this does not mean that we cannot set boundaries for our cats. Since we as humans have opposable thumbs and should have the ability to problem solve, we need to ensure that we provide cats with an environment that offers ample mental and physical enrichment to perform those natural feline behaviors in their appropriate areas. If they try something and have a good experience, they will do it again.
To expedite the adoption process, please complete the cat or dog adoption form and bring a printed copy with you to the SF SPCA Adoption Center (Hours & Location). This helps us better understand what sort of pet you’re looking for so we can guide you every step of the way! Please bring a valid photo ID and verification that you are allowed to have a pet where you currently live.
First, we’ll meet with you to find out more about you and your pet preferences and answer your questions. Our goal is to help you find the pet that best fits your lifestyle and living situation so we want to make sure you have a realistic understanding of the time and resources necessary to provide training, medical treatment, and proper care for your new pet. This can take time so please allow at least one hour for the adoption process.
Once we have a good understanding of your living situation and the type of pet you’re interested in, we’ll make introductions and let you spend some quality time getting to know each other to see if there’s a love connection. It’s important that all household members take part in this important decision so please make sure everyone is present (including any resident dogs if you’re considering adding a new pooch to your pack).
Once love happens, we’ll complete the paperwork, review all the SF SPCA adoption benefits, provide information on any known medical or behavioral issues, and share tips to make the transition a success for both you and your new pet.
We consider you and your new furry friend a part of the SF SPCA family so please reach out with questions ― and be sure to share your adoption stories and pet photos at sfspca.org/stories
Don’t forget to schedule your first free health exam at the SF SPCA Veterinary Hospital within three days of adopting.