It's a fact of life that cats scratch, and it's good for them to do so. But you don't have to live with shredded furniture or ratty-looking walls and flooring. It's easy to teach a cat to use a scratching post as long as you understand what he's looking for in the way of communication, claw conditioning and fulfillment of his need to stretch and exercise.
Scratching is first and foremost a means of communication. Your cat is saying, "I, Purrcy, was here. Look how big I am, and how high up I can scratch." That's why cats like to scratch in places that will be seen by other cats; think of it as feline "graffiti." Scratching leaves traces of scent, undetectable by people but perceptible to other cats, deposited from glands on the paws.
We don't know exactly what message they're sending, but it's obviously important. So scratching on a post stuck off in a dark corner makes no sense to a cat. He's going to look for an object to scratch that has a much more prominent place in his living area, and that may well be the arm of your sofa.
Scratching also keeps claws and paws in shape. It sheds the dead keratin that sheathes the claws, making way for a new covering, and it exercises the muscles in the legs and paws that are so important to a cat's agility. Stretching is a big part of scratching, and we all know how good that feels. So instead of trying to stop your cat from scratching, encourage him to scratch on objects that are convenient for you and attractive to him.
The best scratching post is tall enough for your cat to extend his body full-length when he scratches. A little one-footer might be OK for a kitten, but a full-grown cat needs a post that is at least three feet high to allow him to perform the stretches that are part of his enjoyment of scratching. The post can be upright or angled as long as it's an appropriate length.
You also need to think about what's covering the post. Forget carpet! For one thing, cats don't see why the carpet on the post is okay to scratch but not the carpet on the floor. For another, materials like rope, sisal, hemp and burlap offer a lot more texture and shreddability, making them more pleasurable for the cat to scratch. You want him to think that the post, the cat tree and other acceptable scratching items -- hemp mats, for instance -- are so great that he doesn't even want to scratch anywhere else.
Choose a sturdy post. The fastest way to turn your cat off of using a scratching post is to buy one that falls over on him while he's climbing or scratching on it.
Provide more than one post -- and don't hide them away. Remember that cats like to show off their scratching prowess. If your cat is making his mark on a certain piece of furniture or pair of drapes, place the scratching post nearby so he'll have a better option for giving his claws a workout. Put one in front of a window so your cat can check out the birds and squirrels while he's scratching.
Encourage your cat to use the post by running your fingers up and down it or brushing a feather along the side of it. The motion will attract your cat and entice him to scratch. A little catnip, judiciously placed on top of the post and rubbed into the rope or sisal, may also gain his attention. Spraying the pheromone product Feliway on the object you want scratched really encourages its use, as well.
Be sure to praise your cat or give him a treat every time you see him using the post.
If you do your part and give your cat what he wants, he'll do his and leave your things alone.
like to cuddle
Q: My cat doesn't like to sit in my lap, and I don't know how to change this. Do you have a suggestion? -- via e-mail
A: Not every cat will be a lap cat, and that's not something you can change through socialization or training -- in part, it seems to be genetically programmed.
Even if he won't cuddle with you, you can encourage your cat to be more affectionate by communicating with him through touch and body language. It's tempting to stare into his beautiful eyes, but to a cat that's rude beyond belief. A stare is a threat, so direct your gaze elsewhere when you're talking to him. Speak in a soft, gentle voice. Spend time grooming your cat.
The act of grooming him can be therapeutic for both of you and is a wonderful way to build a bond of trust. Talk to him softly and give him a treat when you're done.
While having your cat sit near you -- not on you -- may be as good as you'll ever get, as your bond strengthens your cat may want to hang out with you a lot more than he does now. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
LA puts teeth
in no-bark law
-- In a move that could well be followed by other cities and towns, the Los Angeles City Council voted to fine the owners of dogs who bark constantly. Owners would face fines starting at $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third if a hearing conducted by the Department of Animal Services determines that a dog barks too much. Barking is defined as excessive if it continues for 10 minutes or more, or intermittently for 30 minutes or more within a three-hour period.
-- Your dog may look guilty, but he's not feeling that way. A study had dog owners tell their pets to leave a tasty treat alone before leaving the room. Researchers found that whether or not the dog showed the "guilty" look did not depend on whether the dog had eaten the treat or not, but rather on whether the owner had scolded the dog. Dogs who didn't eat the treat but were scolded by their owners displayed the "guilty" look more than dogs who had actually eaten the treat, but their owners did not believe they had, and thus didn't get scolded. The research suggests that "guilt" seen in dogs is not really an effect of the unwanted behavior that the dog performed, but is instead a reaction to the owner's behavior.
-- Nico Dauphine, a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, resigned her position after being found guilty of attempted animal cruelty after being caught on camera putting poison into food left out for feral cats. Dauphine's work, which was brought to public attention during the trial, argued that free-roaming cats are causing irreversible harm to bird populations. Feline advocates, including feral cat defenders Alley Cat Allies, are now demanding the work be disregarded because of the verdict, saying that it reflects her anti-cat bias. Her lawyer had argued that she was removing the food to keep cats from congregating, and she repeatedly denied the charges. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetsteet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.