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Cat Pet Advice, Clare Hemington

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Cat advice provided by Clare Hemington, DipCABT, Cat Behaviourist


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  • WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH THINGS?

    Cat Behaviourist Clare Hemington sheds some light on why cats scratch the furniture and other objects in their homes, and how they can be encouraged not to!

    Scratching is a normal feline behaviour that usually starts from around 5 weeks of age. It is both inherited and learned.

    There are a number of reasons why cats scratch.

    Firstly, it’s important that they exercise the muscles and the claw-motion used in hunting and climbing.

    It also helps to remove the worn outer claw husks (or sheaths), revealing nice sharp claws underneath.

    It provides cats with a way of stretching out their bodies which can help relieve muscular tension and is a good workout for the muscles of the forelimbs.

    Scratching can also be used by the more manipulative and social members of the cat world as an attention seeking strategy or as a precursor to play.

    Finally, but very importantly, scratching is used by cats as a way of marking their territory. Some cats will use urine-spraying whilst others may just use scratching, which is the far more acceptable behaviour of the two as far as we owners are concerned!

    Cats have scent and sweat glands in between the pads on the underside of their paws and these mix to produce a unique smell. When they scrape their claws down, or along a surface the scent is deposited and the combination of the visual mark and the smell provides a strong message to other cats.

    Scratching is a behaviour which is innate in all cats and if you don’t provide a dedicated outlet for this activity such as scratching posts and/or mats, you may well end up with ruined furniture!

     

    What Do Cats Scratch?

    Cats choose a variety of surfaces for scratching both indoors and outdoors, vertical and horizontal, depending on their individual preferences. The most commonly used surfaces tend to be those that are stable enough to withstand the force applied by them as they scratch.

    Popular scratching surfaces include carpets, textured wallpaper, soft furnishings such as sofas, and doorframes, window frames or bannisters made of soft wood such as pine.

     

     

    Where Do Cats Scratch?

    Given the choice, cats like to show-off their scratching prowess in front of us and/or other cats. This is their way of showing territorial confidence “this is my turf and don’t you forget it!”

    However, if you notice your cat scratching in lots of different locations around the house, in particular around exit and entry points such as windows and doors, it could be that the cat is signalling a general sense of insecurity. This could be due to the presence of more assertive cats either inside or out.

     

    Cat Scratching Posts

    Cat scratching posts can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are large tall ones, small ones for kittens, ones with lots of platforms, as well as horizontal scratchers which may be favoured by elderly cats or those that can't climb. They also go by different names: cat tree, cat activity centre, cat climbing frame, cat tower - you get the picture!

    However, for our territorially inclined cats, it’s not enough to buy just any old scratching post and put it somewhere in our homes where it blends in with the rest of the furniture. We need to provide the right sort of scratching posts, in the right quantity, and put them in locations where our cats will use them. All this may take trial and error and is also very much dependent on your budget and the space available.

     

    What Type of Cat Scratching Post Should I Buy?

    Before buying a scratching post for your cat, you may want to consider the following:

    If you’re purchasing for a kitten, there are plenty of small sisal scratching posts available for them to get their claws into!

    As cats grow, so should the size of their scratcher. Whether they are individual vertical posts or tall multi-level cat trees, there should be at least one post that is long enough to allow your cat to use it at full stretch.

    The tall, modular cat activity centres allow cats to climb and scratch, and also provides a high place for them to rest and feel secure.  For the more anxious feline, you might like to choose one that has an enclosed or part-enclosed cave incorporated into it.

    The post must be stable enough to withstand the strong pull from your cat’s claws. If it moves around or even topples over, your cat may be put off using it for life! For standalone scratchers, those with wider barrels provide a bit more stability, and for the ultimate in steadiness, tall sisal scratching posts are available that can be fixed to the wall.

    If space is limited then commercially available scratching panels can be attached to walls at an appropriate height. You can even make these yourself using woodchip panels and covering them with either sisal twine or carpet.

    Some cats prefer to scratch horizontally and this may be especially true of the senior citizens of the feline world as well as for cats that have some form of deficit or disability. You can cater for their needs by providing scratching mats, scratching boxes made from corrugated cardboard or even coir mats from a hardware store.

    If you’re feeling creative, you can of course build your own scratcher! If you decide to cover the posts and platforms with carpet, don’t worry that you will be unwittingly training your cat to scratch your carpet. There is no evidence to suggest that your cat's scratching habits will generalise to other areas of carpet within the home once the post is used regularly. However, to reduce any chances of this happening, avoid using an off-cut of any other carpet currently in use in your home and instead choose a piece of hard-wearing material recommended for heavy traffic areas. This will probably last longer and remain the only destination for your cat’s claws!

    Ultimately you may need to experiment with a variety of types and textures before you’re able to fulfil your cat’s expectation of a useable scratcher!

     

    Where should I put a Cat Scratching Post

    The position of a scratching post is just as important as the type of post you provide. It may suit you if the post is in a discreet corner where it blends into the background, but it’s likely that your cat will have little inclination to use it there.

    Instead, you might like to try the following:

    Place the post in a room your cat particularly likes being in, and near a window or radiator. This will provide him with a wonderful perch from which to view the outside action. It will also mean he stays warm in the winter!

    Cats often stretch and scratch when they wake up. It’s a good idea therefore, to position a cat scratcher next to their favourite sleeping place.

     

    How Many Indoor Scratching Posts Should I Get?

    It is recommended that you provide one cat scratching post/mat for each cat in your home, and these should be placed in separate locations. One further post, over and above this is ideal as it gives your cats additional choice.

     

     

     

    Scratching outdoors

    It’s just as important for cats with outside access to be able to scratch in their outdoor territory. Tree trunks and sturdy wooden fence and gate posts all provide good opportunities for cat scratching activity, especially in areas of high density cat population.

     

     

     

     

    Introducing a New Scratching Post to your Cat

    Having gone to the trouble of purchasing a brand-new post for your cat, you’d no doubt like him to be as enthusiastic possible and start using it the moment it’s taken out of the box!  So, you could be forgiven for going to get him and for rubbing his front paws against the post.

    If you do this, it’s more likely that he’ll head for the nearest sofa and scratch that instead! To make the post as attractive as possible it’s best to let him discover and explore it for himself. You can aid this process by sprinkling loose catnip around the base of the post (some scratching posts even come already impregnated with catnip) or by spraying it with Pet Remedy Pet Calming Spray .

    Once your cat has approached the new post you might like to use a toy such as a piece of string attached to a feather or a fishing rod toy, and swish it around the post so that his claws catch in the material covering it; this often triggers a scratching motion. You can further enhance the attractiveness of the new post by spraying it with a calming product such as Pet Remedy Pet Calming Spray. If it’s a tall post with multiple levels, you can encourage your cat to climb it by putting dry food on the top level.

     

    How Else Can I Stop My Cat Scratching the Furniture?

    If your cat has been scratching soft furnishings, if possible they should be removed, or he should be denied access to them once the new post is in place. Or you can try temporarily removing any fabric cover on the item that he’s so enjoyed scratching, or protect it with a material that he’s not so keen on for example double-sided sticky tape or plastic.

    Unpainted doors made from soft wood (for example pine) that have been used for scratching can be replaced with hardwood doors and painted with gloss paint to deter scratching. The scratched areas on the old doors can then be cut out and attached to the wall next to the new door at an appropriate height to make them the target of scratching, not the new door.

    Ensuring your cat’s nails are trimmed regularly will help prevent them from splintering, but how frequently you need to do this depends on your cat’s lifestyle.  If your cat is allowed outside, his nails will be worn down naturally and will therefore require less frequent trimming.  However, kittens, elderly cats and indoor cats will require more regular manicures!

    If your cat’s scratching is related to anxiety, stress or attention seeking, providing a complete programme of environmental enrichment may be necessary.

     

    ©CatBehaviour.Net

     

  • Head Pressing Cats – Understanding Cat Head Pressing, Bumping and Rubbing

    Have you ever watched your cat rubbing his head on the furniture around your home and wondered what this means? Or perhaps you're one of those lucky owners whose cat rubs around your legs, arms and even face with obvious pleasure!

    Whilst this may be one of the lovely positive forms of interaction our cats demonstrate, there is another, more serious behaviour, commonly called ‘head pressing’ with which it may be confused.

    In my latest article I look at both head rubbing and head pressing in cats to help you identify the important differences between them, and understand when you need to take action.

  • How To Stop Your Cat Peeing On Bed Covers and Pillows

    If you've ever experienced cat urine on your bed, sofa or other soft furnishings, you'll know how upsetting and frustrating it can be.

    Here's an article I recently  wrote on how you can reduce the chances of this happening.

  • A Day in the Life of a Cat Behaviourist

    Whenever I tell people what I do for a living there is usually only one reaction...

    You’re a what?”  

    ​Relatively little is still known about cat behaviour and even less about the existence of cat behaviourists, so I thought I’d share with you what happens on one of my consulting days.


    The alarm wakes me up at 7.00am and I’m in the car by 7.45am ready for the 50-minute drive to see my latest cat client, Ronaldo and his owners Stacey and James. Ronaldo is a three-year-old male moggie and unlike his famous footballing namesake, is a small and rather nervous character.

    The problem facing Stacey and James was that for the past twelve months Ronaldo had been regularly urinating on their bed.

    I check that I’ve got all my documentation:

    • The all-important questionnaire which I ask clients to complete and return to me prior to my visit. It contains a rather lengthy list of questions relating to the cat’s background; environment; relationships with other cats; relationships with the members of the household; the resources that are available to him and not least, the behaviour for which the client is seeking my help.  Once the owners have completed it and returned it to me I’m then able to undertaken my preparatory work. I also find it useful for providing an overall structure to the consultation, even though in reality, we rarely stick to the order!
    • The signed veterinary referral form. I only undertake home consultations where a vet has referred the owner to me. The reason for this is to ensure that the behaviour doesn’t have a physical cause. I don’t want to be treating a cat for a behaviour related to chewing strange objects when what’s really happening is that the poor thing is suffering from dental pain!
    • The cat’s medical history. This is in addition to the vet referral form and provides me with a complete picture of the cat’s medical background, some of which could be relevant to the behaviour causing concern.

    I’m 10 minutes early arriving so park up around the corner from the house – I’ve learnt that not all clients like me arriving before they’re ready! It also gives me a chance for a sugary cereal bar to give me some va va voom and stop those embarrassing mid-consultation tummy rumbles!

    At exactly the time agreed I knock on Stacey and James’s front door and am ushered into the living room. I start the consultation without Ronaldo being present, which doesn’t worry me, I find it much more helpful to assess a cat’s true temperament if they’re not dragged kicking and screaming into the room to meet me! Eventually the lure of my magic cat bag, filled with exciting toys stuffed with catnip and valerian brings him into the room. He slinks slowly over to the bag and after a few tentative sniffs, disappears into its depths. In a few seconds he re-emerges with a couple of toys and starts rolling around the floor with them, whilst Stacey and James look on with complete adoration, and some disbelief! Throughout the consultation I assess Ronaldo’s behaviour, the way he responds to Stacey and James and how they interact with him. At the same time I’m making suggestions for change based on the responses Stacey and James give to my questions. When formulating a behaviour therapy programme it’s so important to take into account the owners’ feelings and preferences and make the strategies that are as practical for them as possible.

    After we’ve gone through the questionnaire Stacey then shows me around the house. This gives me the opportunity to see at first hand Ronaldo’s indoor environment, where his important resources are located and where they can be moved to, if necessary, or whether new resources may be required. It also allows me to see the small but perfectly formed garden that he has access to.

    At the end of the tour we reconvene on the sofa and confirm the strategies we’ve agreed on to address the behaviour. In this case, although Ronaldo had a litter tray it was an open tray located directly in front of the patio doors. To Ronaldo, this would have been like toileting out in the open and in full sight of the neighbour’s cats who were regular garden visitors. I suggested they keep the original tray in situ and purchase another, larger tray, to be placed in a discreet corner of the utility room. They were to fill it with a nice fine, unscented clumping litter, remove soiled areas twice daily and clean the whole tray out weekly with boiling water and washing up liquid.

    In order for Ronaldo to stop thinking of Stacey and James’s bed as a toilet, it was important to deny him access to the bedroom at all times for an indefinite period. This was a slightly contentious strategy as Stacey loved having Ronaldo cuddle up to her at night, much to James’s obvious annoyance. In order to restore harmony to the bedroom, I suggested treating Ronaldo to a lovely low-voltage heat pad and placing it in a favoured spot downstairs where he would have access to all his other essential resources, including his food, water, toys, scratching post, litter tray and a Pet Remedy plugin diffuser to help keep him nice and relaxed. They were to create a new and consistent night time routine for him that involved a late meal in his night time area, and switching on the heated pad to signal bed time. In this way, Stacey could relax in the knowledge that Ronaldo would be enjoying his new cosy set-up, and James would be happy having Stacey cuddling him instead of Ronaldo!

    Other recommendations were agreed relating to how Stacey and James interacted with Ronaldo and what other resources might enhance his environment and remove potential triggers for urinating outside his tray. Unfortunately, twelve months of cat wee soaking through to the mattress on the master bed meant it had to go!

    Three hours is the typical length of a consultation for me and this one was no different. I arrive back home at lunchtime and spend the next few hours writing up the consultation report that I send to each client. This includes all the strategies that have been agreed, along with links to any products that I recommend. After I complete this and send it off to Stacey and James, I then write a report for the referring vet so they can update their records with my findings.

    Two weeks later Stacey got in touch to let me know that Ronaldo had been using the new tray in preference to his old one and was loving his new heated pad so much that the minute it was switched on at night, he would go and settle on it without so much as a goodnight glance to Stacey! However, the acid test came three months later when, by accident, Stacey and James had forgotten to shut the bedroom door before leaving for work. Having bought a new mattress this could have spelled disaster! However, by this time Ronaldo was more than happy with his recently introduced toilet facilities and the bed remained unsoiled. After that it was decided that Ronaldo would be allowed into the bedroom during the day but kept out at night. This routine worked for all parties and the bed-peeing was consigned to history.

  • The Festive Feline Factor

    How to Reduce Stress in Cats and Keep Them Safe at Christmas

    christmas-kittens

    Christmas can be a difficult time for cats. It comes with lots of hustle and bustle, unfamiliar visitors, new and potentially hazardous objects, new scents and sometimes a highly charged atmosphere!

    All of these can contribute to increased levels of stress for our family feline members, but there are things we can do to help keep them safe and give them as relaxing a time as we hope to have ourselves!

    Routine Cats are creatures of habit and it’s important to try and maintain their daily routine. This includes sticking to normal feeding times and scheduled play-times as well as ensuring that their usual sleeping areas and hiding places are available to them.

    Plugin Diffusers It would be a good idea to have a Pet Remedy or Feliway® Diffuser placed in the room most used by your cat to help reduce any anxiety he may experience.

    Hiding Places & High Places Make sure he has plenty of hiding places where he can go for a bit of peace and quiet if it all gets a bit too much for him. On these occasions it’s best to leave him undisturbed; hiding is a positive coping strategy. Giving him access to high paces such as on shelving, tops of wardrobes or on a tall, modular cat activity frame will also help increase his sense of security.

    Food Treats We might give ourselves carte blanche to overindulge at Christmas but we should try to avoid the temptation to allow our cats to do the same! Any treats should ideally be cat treats as opposed to human food, and Christmas chocolate is a definite no-no! It contains Theobromine which, if eaten in sufficient quantities can cause diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle spasms and seizures in cats.

    Play Not only is play a great way of keeping your cat exercised during winter, it’s also an excellent stress-buster, so if your cat has a playful streak, interactive toys such as fishing-rod toys, pieces of string and ping pong balls that allow him to run and chase are all a good idea.  Instead of throwing away the cardboard boxes that we accumulate at this time of year, keep one or two back for your cat’s personal use! Throwing some fresh catnip or catnip toys inside and rotating the toys daily will help to keep him interested. As well as serving as a play item, boxes also make very good hiding places.

    Heat! We all know that our cats are heat-seeking missiles, always heading for the warmest place they can lay their paws on, especially during the winter months, so why not treat your cat to a heated bed this Christmas? They are available as low voltage electric heat pads or even electric pet beds complete with internal thermostats. Not only do they promote relaxation but they can also help to ease aches and pains, muscular tension and are great for elderly cats that don’t have as much fat on their bones to keep them warm.

    Introducing Your Cat to New Resources If you do buy something new for your cat this Christmas such as a scratching post or bed, put it in an appropriate place and then walk away! He won’t be impressed by any ‘hard sell’ tactics!

    Decorations If ingested by a curious cat the following are amongst a plethora of festive decorations that can cause serious health problems: Poinsettias, tinsel, baubles, electrical decorations, fake snow, sellotape, wired wrapping ribbon.  Candles should also be kept out of paws reach to avoid burnt noses and tails.

    Going Away? If you’re planning to go away for Christmas it’s a good idea to make your cat care arrangements as early as possible as catteries and cat-sitters tend to get booked up well ahead of time.  As territorial creatures, many cats prefer to stay at home and you might therefore arrange for a family member, friend, or neighbour to pop in daily to provide food, play, a change of litter and to generally check that all is well. If the visitor is unknown to the cat, ask them to come over before you go away so you have the opportunity to see how your cat responds to them. If your cat is particularly sensitive and cautious with strangers then it might be placing him in a cattery where he can associate any feelings of stress with the cattery, rather than with his home.

    Take a Deep Breath... Try and keep yourselves cool and collected. Your calm vibes will definitely help your cat!

    Clare Hemington DipCAPBT is an accredited Cat Behaviourist offering veterinary referred behaviour consultations in owners' homes as well as consultations by telephone and Skype. You can find out more information on your cat's behaviour at her web site: www.catbehaviour.net

  • Tips for Helping Your Cat through the Fireworks Season

    There will be some cats for whom the first whistle and crack of a firework will send them scuttling under the nearest bed. Here are a few tips to help ensure your cat has a stress-free time during the firework season
  • A Day in the Life of a Cat Behaviourist

    Relatively little is still known about cat behaviour and even less about the existence of cat behaviourists, so I thought I’d share with you what happens on one of my consulting days.
  • Are You Losing Sleep Over Your Cat?

    Do you ever find yourself woken up during the night by a furry paw-tap on your head, or worse, a shrill miaow either right in your face our outside your bedroom door?
  • New Year’s Resolutions for Healthy and Happy Cats

    It’s not uncommon for us to start the New Year by making resolutions, but let’s face it, how many of us stick to them for more than a few weeks?! However, the New Year is a great opportunity to re-evaluate our old habits and create some new ones.
  • What is Catnip?

    This is an excellent article which tells you all you need to know about catnip!

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