International Association of Animal Behavior Consultant cat behavior consultant and bestselling cat book author Pam Johnson Bennett has two new books out — Starting from Scratch: How to Correct Behavior Problems In Your Adult Cat (Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2008; $15) and Psycho Kitty: Tips for Solving Your Cat's Crazy Behavior (Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA, 2008; $12.95). Johnson-Bennett offers her input this week.
Q: I didn't declaw my kitten because my veterinarian said it's inhumane. My vet said my cat could be trained to use a scratching post. Well, a year later, he has destroyed the mattress, sofas, chairs and screens. Is there another procedure that can be used for declawing?
A: The whole point of Johnson-Bennett's book Starting from Scratch is to demonstrate that you can teach an older cat new tricks.
"I congratulate you for not declawing the cat," says Johnson-Bennett. "Absolutely, she can be retrained. First, find a sturdy scratching post — tall enough for the cat to stand on his hind legs and stretch — with rough material, like sisal. Place the post near where the cat is currently scratching." Wave an interactive toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers or Cat Dancer) near the scratcher. As your cat paws at it, he'll deposit his scent, marking the post as his own. Rubbing catnip on the scratcher also helps. If he scratches there, promptly offer him a treat.
Provide an appealing alternative place to scratch while simultaneously making the furniture your cat is scratching unappealing by using double-stick tape or a product called Sticky Paws (available at pet stores and online).
Buying lots of vertical scratchers may be costly, but get at least one to position next to the sofa and/or chairs the cat is scratching. At other places, such as in front of the screen door, buy angled horizontal scratchers. An inexpensive, but effective choice is the Alpine Scratcher, made of corrugated cardboard. It comes with catnip, which encourages many cats to begin scratching.
As for another procedure to declaw, Johnson-Bennett points out that no matter how the declaw is done surgically, it still amounts to an amputation. She agrees with your veterinarian's assessment: Declawing is inhumane.
After a divorce
Q: Oreo was very close to my wife, but since our divorce the cat has been with me for four years. She hisses at visitors (and sometimes at me) and has been aggressive, even biting at someone. The vet says she's in good health. Can I change this behavior?
A: "From your cat's point of view, the visitors are invaders," says Johnson-Bennett. "When people come to your home, have them completely ignore your cat, with no attempt whatsoever at interacting, not even eye contact. This will lessen the perceived threat a bit."
The visitors can even toss cookies to Oreo when he acts relaxed, like a cool cat.
"If Oreo's attitude worsened noticeably after your wife left, I wonder if you're managing to meet all of his needs," adds Johnson-Bennett. "Cats need our time, they need play time with us, too" (with an interactive toy).
Consider clicker training, rewarding calm and relaxed behavior. You can learn how to do that in Starting From Scratch.
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