Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Cats Want Owners to Know

I had to learn how to anticipate the cat's needs. After living with cats for many years, I concluded that it isn't the cats that need to be trained, but their owners. Cat behavior reflects decisions that cat owners have made. Living with cats can be such a pleasure and very rewarding until they shred the drapes, pee on the couch and sleep on the dining table. I like to have a more rewarding relationship with my cats.

When I got two cats, I lived in a small apartment with two bedrooms. That meant that a small number of cats was a good choice. One cat will get lonely; more than two cats will create problems as shown in studies of rats that are put in overcrowded environments. Cats are expert loungers who don't like stress. Too many cats for the square footage of one's living space guarantees stress for the cat, which creates unruly cats. I did not plan to let my cats roam the neighborhood to impose on other people, or get injured, and get diseases to increase the vet bills, so I needed to limit the number of felines in the house. Indoor cats are healthier and live longer.

I chose kittens rather than pre-owned cats that would have brought along habits, good and bad. I got litter mates so they had been together since birth and they were able to get along together. I got a male and female, but I now think I should have had only two females. Males that have been neutered are more prone to cystitis which is chronic and makes them irritable and prone to spray curtains, beds, couches, etc. Since males to have to be neutered, unless you plan to raise limitless numbers of kittens, females make easier domestic pets. Naturally, females have to be spayed for the same reason. A male cat that doesn't use the litter box may have cystitis which requires a visit to the vet.

I found that periodically simply clipping the cat's front and back claws carefully to dull the tips, avoiding cutting too close to the nail quick, prevented their ability to greatly damage fabrics they scratched. There was no need to de-claw them which would be very cruel. Providing scratching posts of carpet or scratching toys purchased in pet stores also draws their attention away from couches, or drapes. When catnip is sprinkled on scratching posts or their toys, they are more interested in scratching those.

Cat training that works quickly and easily requires water sprayers. If my cats ever attempted to scratch anything they shouldn't, I sprayed them with water kept nearby in a spray bottle. Eventually, they will avoid doing undesirable behaviors if you just pick up the sprayer. They stop even trying to scratch the couch. I kept spray bottles everywhere for discipline. If they tried to get on kitchen counters or tables, I would spray water on them. They don't like to be sprayed with water and it doesn't hurt to add a loud "NO". After some conditioning, the cats will react to just the loud command "NO".

Cats are more inclined to use a litter box if it is kept scrupulously clean and smelling nice. People don't like dirty toilets and neither do cats. Also, they don't like to be annoyed or made nervous when they go to the litter box. It should be in an out-of-the-way, quiet place as far from house traffic as possible. That is another reason to avoid getting more cats than your living space should have. Consider through the cat's perspective--they like peace and quiet. Cats aren't like dogs who like lots of activity. If cats are nervous and stressed, they are less likely to use the litter box.

I learned that I shouldn't confuse cats by having things like bean bag chairs lying around the house. They can mistake a bean bag chair for a litter box. My cats were more cooperative when I kept their litter box in the same place and very clean. No amount of training will prevent the occasional hairball or upset stomach, so those things just have to be tolerated and cleaned up quickly. Cat owners learn quickly that tile or wood floors clean easier than carpet. People get sick, so do animals, and they can't be punished for that.

They trained me when I saw that they preferred sleeping in cardboard boxes that were about fifteen inches square with sides about eight inches high. They would curl up in those to sleep and stay off the couch or bed. They also taught me that they liked to play on their terms. If I played too roughly, they would bite, I treated them in a gentle, loving way and they never became aggressive or irritable with me without provocation. They like attention when they want it, not necessarily when the owner wants it. Follow their lead.

When I learned to anticipate their needs rather than trying to "train" them, or modify their behavior, it became obvious that some of my choices as a cat owner needed careful consideration.