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Curbing Destructive Behavior

In Your Cat


Some of us cats just lead boring lives. Dr. H did not write the article for us, but you might find some ideas on how to keep us occupied and out of trouble here.

If I am neglecting to use my litter box go here.


Ron Hines DVM PhD

Lots of my articles are plagiarized and altered on the web to market products and services. There are never ads running or anything for sale with my real articles. Try to stay with the ones that begin with http://www.2ndchance.info/ in the URL box or find all my articles at ACC.htm.

Many of my clients become frustrated because their prize kitty, like this one, loves to sharpen its claws on their sofa, chew on the rug or munch their potted plants. When I hear their lament I know I have a healthy and happy cat for a patient !

We consider it destructive behavior but to the cat it is sheer pleasure. Your cat is not out to get even with you or make you suffer. Here are some ways to minimize the problem.

How To Stop Scratching And Clawing ON Things In The House:

It is natural for all cats to want to "sharpen" their claws on furniture around the house. In the wild, cats use natural stumps and posts to do this. They are particularly fond of objects that give their claws resistance. Scratching hones the claws sharp and cleans them. It also lets them deposits a scent released from special glands on the paws that let other cats identify them.

Cats enjoy scratching so much that it is a pity to declaw or curb this activity. Instead, provide them with carpet-covered posts or wooden posts with shredable bark. Posts are easily constructed from discarded carpet, a four by four wood post and carpet tacks. Some cats prefer posts and boards covered with burlap or potato sacs; others prefer cork Some times, a section of fireplace wood with the bark left on works well. Try to design the post or board so that it is at the same height and incline as the furniture the cat prefers and place it as close to the preferred furniture as possible.

If such a location is inconvenient, once the cat is used to using the new post, move it gradually - over a week or two - to a better location. You can never have too many scratching posts.
You can show off your new posts to you cat by carrying him and setting him down in front of it. Reward him with a treat and a stroke when he uses the post. You can guide his paws through the motion. Once a cat is using the new post, do not replace it even if it becomes raged. Cats are perfidious and may not like the replacement.

Try to make your furniture less attractive to your cat. Cats pick out scratching objects by feel and odor. If you can, close the door to rooms that hold the prized furniture. If not, cover them with a vinyl cover. You can also temporarily “mine” the area around the furniture with shallow pans of water, double-sided tape, styrofoam cups piled into a pyramid, wind chimes, electric fans and mouse traps set upside down or with a magazine on top of them. A little ammonia or deodorizing spray on the fabric is also helpful.

I have never used plastic claw caps that are glued on but I am told that they work well to prevent furniture damage. They need to be replaced every few months. But the same thing can be accomplished with a pair of toenail clippers and an emery board.

Declawing cats is a controversial issue. I have declawed an enormous number of cats during my career. I do not consider the surgery to be cruel. Some of my personal pets have been declawed and some haven’t. I suggest that declawed cats never be allowed outdoors unsupervised. Unsupervised outdoor activity is dangerous for any cat – not just those that lack claws. My declawed cats seemed to enjoy going through the motions of clawing furniture just as much as their housemates who had claws. This is because the behavior is deeply instinctive, much like yawning. In considering this surgery remember that cats normally walk with their claws on top of their toes. The tips and pads of the feet are unaffected when this surgery is performed correctly. Like any surgery, it has to be done right.

As you go about dealing with scratching and other undesired behavior in your pet remember that punishment never work in cats. Punishment is self-defeating. It only serves to make the cat skittish and apprehensive of their owners. Worst of all it can lead to feline aggression. Cats are wired differently than we are and they do not seem capable of relating punishment to their activity. Screaming, clapping your hands, using a squirt gun or loud noises will only teach him to scratch when you are not present. For any deterrents to work they must work when you are not in the room.

Chewing and sucking on objects:

I see this activity quite frequently in cats. Consider yourself blessed since sucking cats are usually very loving cats. Some speculate that these cats were weaned too early but I do not know if this is really the case. The sucking behavior seems particularly common in siamese cats. Cats that like this activity will do it for hours on end. It is not an unhealthy activity and I tell owners to ignore it if they can. I do not think it is an obsessive/compulsive disorder because cats that exhibit the behavior are otherwise quite mellow and even-tempered. If you have a prized scarf or sweater keep it out of reach of your cat.

Eating Strange Things:

Cats that chew and ingest fabric and other items are a different story. In this case they often have bouts of indigestion and diarrhea as this material (hopefully) passes through their bodies. Mats, blankets, Christmas tinsel, wicker and grass baskets and other shredable objects are all eaten by some cats. I have even treated cats that ate loose change. Eventually, cats that eat odd objects get into trouble when the objects plug the stomach or intestines. Some of these objects can be coaxed on through with petrolatum laxatives but some must be surgically removed.

Stopping this activity in pets is very difficult. Cats never associate the indigestion with the object that was eaten. The best thing to do is place small items of interest to the cat out of reach and give your cat plenty of large, indestructible toys or household items to play with. Items made of short lengths (no longer than two inches) of cord or wool will not cause serious problems if they are eaten. Dog toys can be dipped in tuna gravy. Boredom is the root cause of much of this activity. You might consider obtaining a second cat playmate for a solitary lonely cat. Purchasing a parakeet or lovebird and hanging its cage in the cat’s room also relieves the tedium of long days while you are away at work.

Purchasing or making a “kitty condominium” with tubes, basking platforms, and hanging bells, tassels and ribbons will help occupy your cats free time. One can also occupy the cat’s time by purchasing self-feeders for cats that require the cat to paw a lever to receive a treat. Some veterinarians prescribe mood-altering medications for this behavior. I try to deal with the problem without those powerful medications.

Many common houseplants contain poisonous chemicals. Luckily almost all of these plants are bitter and avoided by cats. The exception is dieffenbachia or dumb cane, which is covered by small spicules which cause the cat to drool and foam. If you cat craves greens, keep a flat of sprouted alfalfa or lawn grass sprigs for him to graze on. Placing your plants on wrinkled aluminum foil will usually keep cats away. Any of the strategies used to protect furniture will also work to protect plants. Instead of ammonia or odor neutralizer, you can sprinkle the plant with cayenne pepper sauce. The second most common cause of sudden drooling and foaming is when you pet catches a garden toad.

If chewing is due to anxiety and stress, a pheromone product called Feliway may be helpful and is certainly worth a try (However, a 2017 study did not find Feliway-type products very helpful in combating stress in cat shelter situations [ref]).