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Miscellaneous Cat Problems

In this section:

Does your cat wake you earlier than you want to in the morning? Does he accidentally snag his claws in your clothes? Is he timid? This section covers these and other common complaints that cat owners have.

The Early Morning Cat

A cat that runs across your bed, scratches at your blankets, and purrs in your face before you want to get up in the morning is annoying. The problem gets worse when the owner waits before giving in to the cat. The cat learns to be obnoxious longer the next morning until the owner gives in again. Pretty soon, the owner is getting up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. The trick is to not give him what he wants when he asks you for something while you’re sleeping.

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Provide an indoor litter box so he won’t pester you to let him outside when he wakes up too early.
  • If he’s allowed outside, let him out at a regular time every day. Don’t let him out at any other time of the day. Don’t let a cat outside right after you get out of bed. He will learn that bugging you while you’re still in bed will not get him what he wants.
  • Serve him his meals at regular times each day. Do not feed him as soon as you get out of bed. Take your shower and get your tea ready before giving him his morning meal. He’ll get used to it.
  • If the cat likes to cuddle up to your head or neck but you’d rather have him by your feet, gently move him down the bed and pet him. If he moves back up, keep moving him down until he gets tired. Some cats don’t like perfume or cologne; spray some on your neck before going to bed.
  • Scare him when he hassles you while you’re in bed. When he runs across you, lift your knee in front of him and yell “No.” Gently shove him off the bed. If a cat is really bugging you, sometimes hold and hug him to make it difficult for him to leave. Cats don’t like to be held down. This violates our general rule about never holding the cat against his will but in this instance, may curb the behavior faster.
  • Protect the carpet outside of your bedroom door by covering it with something sturdy, such as a carpet runner. Cut the carpet runner to match the width of the doorway. As soon as your cat turns obnoxious, shut him out of the room. The cat won’t be happy about being locked out. He will do his best to wear you down. He’ll scratch at the carpet runner near the door to be let in. Don’t give in! If you let him in, he’ll be more persistent the next day. If you really have to open your door to make him stop, do not talk to him. Just pick him up and lock him in a room that has a litter box and water, and go back to bed.
  • Put a scratching post right outside your bedroom door so he’ll have a way to vent frustration at not being let in.
  • Put toys in other rooms so he can play while you sleep.
  • Put a cat bed by a window, and a bird feeder just outside for him to watch. This helps keep him occupied in the twilight hours, when he’s most likely to be active.
  • Playing with your cat for several minutes, once or twice a day, helps tire him for the night.

Velvet Paw Training

Some cats are sloppy about keeping their claws retracted and will accidentally snag your clothes and furniture and scratch your skin. Teaching a cat to have “velvet paws” means to train the cat to not extend the claws. It also means teaching the owner how to handle the cat so he’s never forced to use his claws. You can start velvet paw training as early as three weeks old. As little as eight weeks old a kitten can learn to be claw conscious even though he’s not old enough to scratch the post yet. Adult cats learn more quickly than kittens that you don’t like being scratched.

Before beginning, your cat should be used to having his claws trimmed. (See Cat Hair and Nail Maintenance)

Here is the essence of velvet paw training: Never let him hurt you. When he does scratch you or snag something, say “Ouch!” and trim one or two of his claws. The key to success is to react immediately. Sharply say “Ouch!” the instant it happens, even if he snags the clothes you’re wearing. Then look at his nails and say, “You need your nails trimmed.” Trim one or two claws while talking to him in a gentle tone. Then pull out a lure toy to make him forget about his nail trim, or pet him and tell him he’s a good boy. If trying to trim a nail causes fear or panic in your cat, then wait until he is asleep.

Tips for Preventing Scratches

  • If your cat is frightened while you are holding him, he may extend his claws and try to jump down. Even after he is velvet pawed trained, he may dig his claws into you when he’s suddenly frightened. It’s important when holding a cat to always hold him in a such a way and release him in such a way that you avoid his claws touching you. Be ready, willing, and able to let him go at any time. Don’t hold him in a way that would cause him to hurt you should he scramble to get away. And never hold him close to your face, because you are unprotected should he bolt.
  • While he’s learning, avoid handling him while wearing you’re wearing delicate clothing. If he tends to scratch you accidentally, wear long sleeves and handle him very carefully until he’s used to keeping his claws in. If your cat’s claws are trimmed properly, accidental scratching usually will not break the skin.
  • Keep your cat’s claws trimmed short all the time. This, in itself, will prevent most accidental snagging. Even the best cat can’t prevent a sharp point from catching material and hurting your skin.

Stop Cats from Curtain and Screen Climbing

Kittens will sometimes climb curtains. Adult cats usually are too heavy for curtains but can rip window screens. It’s best to stop this behavior as soon as it starts and then begin teaching your cat good window habits.

Protect your curtains by pinning them up out of the way whenever a kitten is loose. If he tries to jump on the curtains, say “no” immediately and carry him to the scratching post.

If your cat scratches a window screen, spend a few minutes a day with him when the window is open and the screen is exposed. Whenever a claw goes into the screen, deliver a firm “No!” and clip a nail. If he does it again, clip another nail. If he does it a third time, shut the window. Until he stops damaging the screen, keep your windows closed when you aren’t around, or cover the open window with nylon netting.

Cat Spraying Indoors Problem

When a cat sprays, he’s marking territory with a horizontal stream of urine. He stands high up on all fours and aims at the wall (or a bush when he’s outside.) This problem is different from urinating outside the box. Spraying is considered a behavior problem, whereas a urine problem is often a sign of illness. We consider spraying a sign of aggression, low self-esteem, or stress, all of which can be helped by diet and exercise. If the problem is not solved, his spray could destroy your house.

Causes and Cures

If you catch him spraying, firmly tell him “No.” Carry him to a room that has a litter box and lock him in. Clean and neutralize the soiled area before letting your cat out. If you can, wash the area again while your cat watches. This shows him that the walls are yours, not his.

Tape underpads on the walls where he has sprayed. Also protect the floor next to the wall with underpads and plastic carpet runner. (See Litter Box Problems for more about underpads.)

If you haven’t already done so, spay or neuter your cat. This alleviates most spraying problems. The behavior is less likely in neutered cats, but some fixed cats do spray.

Living in overcrowded situations can cause stress, frustration, and anger, which in turn can lead to spraying. The cat may spray to protect the little territory that he feels he owns. You can alleviate overcrowding by taking some cats outside regularly. (See Outside/Inside Training for ways to take cats outside safely.)

Make sure that you play with him and that he uses the scratching post every day. A bare wooden post or tree limb for him to scratch may help to relieve your cat’s stress. The bare wood simulates a natural place for his paws to leave his scent. Provide healthful diet and exercise. (See Cat Diet and Scratching Posts, Exercise, and Play.) Give him vitamins and catnip to help ease stress.

If your cat lives indoors only, confine him to one room for a week or two. Then gradually let him have use of the rest of the house again. (See “Housebreaking and Confinement” in Bringing Home a New Cat.) If he usually goes outside, let him outdoors only at the regular time. Wait at least an hour if he was due to go out soon after a spraying incident. If he has no regular outdoor time, don’t let him outside until the next day. If the problem persists, confine him in a room for a week or two. This helps limit the territory he feels he must protect. When he is out of confinement and into the rest of the house again, see if his spraying has stopped. If it has, you may try outside walks again, but only if you can stick with a consistent, daily schedule.

Sometimes a cat sprays after seeing or even hearing a strange cat outside the house. Keeping a scratching post near the windows or doors can help your cat relieve frustration or anger. If your cat gets upset by a strange cat, distract him with a lure toy or a food treat before he sprays. Using his name, say things like “You are so brave!” He’ll probably cool down and forget about being angry.

Keep a cat bed by the window so that he can watch and protect the house even while he naps. He may feel less threatened if he can see outside. We don’t believe that covering the windows is a good idea. You can’t hide something from an animal whose hearing and smelling capabilities are even better than his eyesight. And besides, covered windows are no way for people to live.

Provide a low, horizontal scratching board. Scratching horizontally is another way that a cat will mark territory.

If you’ve tried everything and he still sprays, ask your veterinarian to check for impacted anal glands and about medication that may alleviate the problem.

Some cats truly aren’t meant to stay indoors and may benefit from temporary use of tranquilizers. Letting the cat stay outside may be the best alternative. Also see “Last Resorts” in the Litter Box Problems section.

Helping the Shy Cat

Does your cat run away when other people or cats are around? Is he too easily frightened by everyday events? Although cats have a tendency to run away first before approaching something new, eventually his curiosity should win out. Sometimes cats will hide for a couple of days after a move; other than that, not many cats hide every day unless something is wrong.

The stress of being on the streets and in the shelter can cause some adopted cats to go into “shell shock,” which forces them to hide. Being around dogs may cause your cat to hide a lot too, but he could be sick, so take him to the veterinarian to be sure. Being handicapped is another possible cause of shyness. A shy cat also may not have been handled much, or may have been mishandled, mistreated, abused, ignored, and rarely praised or petted, especially when young. It has been proven that proper handling of kittens leads to healthier adult cats.

What Else to Do?

Gradually accustom your cat to handling and massages. Be sure to stop before he gets nervous. (For tips on handling techniques, see Touching and Holding Cats.) Say your cat’s name and talk to him gently whenever he comes around, or even when he just looks in the doorway. Train your cat to come when called. This helps build trust. (See Cat Training Basics to learn how to do this training. Play with your cat daily, one-on-one, in a bedroom with the door closed. Use lure toys or string, and let him catch the toy often. One or two fifteen-minute session each day should help increase your cat’s confidence and help him overcome shyness. Don’t use large feathers as a toy, because they may be intimidating for an already timid cat. And remember to always store string or lure toys away from your cat when you aren’t around.

Encourage him to use the scratching post more. Strong muscles build confidence. (See Scratching Posts, Exercise, and Play.)

If he doesn’t like being held, avoid picking him up. Pet him where he’s standing or lying down. If you want to hold him, get down on his level and gently walk him into your lap to avoid picking him up. He’ll be more likely to start approaching you on his own that way. If your friends are visiting, warn them not to pick up the shy cat. Ask them to not say his name or “it’s okay” if your cat runs away or acts scared. Just ignore him unless he approaches you or your friends. Then talk to him gently or get out a lure toy and play with him.

Provide him with elevated hiding places or a special cat bed. Cats like to view the world from a high vantage point. Looking down at the family can build trust.

If he’s extremely timid, set up a confinement room as described in Bringing Home a New Cat. A big house is overwhelming for a really scared guy. Keep him in his nursery for one to three weeks. Feed and visit him regularly. Use treats to entice him into having contact with you. Each day, spend as much time in the nursery as you can, playing with him, massaging him, and being with him. The more he responds to your touch, coming toward you and coming to your call, the more freedom he can be allowed.

One thing to do a shy cat that we don’t recommend otherwise: If you know it’s a time when he won’t hurt you, hold him against his will for a brief second or twolong enough to pet him using a forceful yet compassionate stroke, but not so long that he gets really fussy. Sometimes just a little loving hug and pets can make some cats who were thinking of getting away decide to hang out for a few more seconds. Also, it’s best to settle him down for a second or two before letting him go, so he’s likely to hang around longer next time. Don’t wait until he’s antsy to let a shy cat go.

Cat Cries Too Much

When your cat cries, he’s usually trying to tell you something. Find out what he wants. Does he want to go outside, or eat, or play? Or is he maybe sick, lonely, or frightened? Or is he just the sort of cat that naturally whines a lot?

  • If your cat cries while using the litter box, call the veterinarian immediately.
  • Sticking to his daily routine of play, meals, and outdoor times helps avoid whining. Play with him at least twice a day.
  • Using his name, ask him, “What do you want, Louie?” and follow him to where he walks. A cat will walk to his eating, outside, or play area. If it’s not the right time to eat or go outside or you can’t play right now, tell him “Not now.” Do not give in! Direct a clawed cat to the scratching post. By the time he’s done, he won’t remember what he was whining about. If later you want to take him outside or give him his special treat, wait until he’s sleeping and then call “Here,” using his name.
  • If he doesn’t lead you anywhere, he may just want lots of lovin’ from youthat is, petting and massage. Or he may be frightened or not feeling well. Pet him and comfort him. Put a night-light on where he sleeps at night. Keep an eye on him and take him to the veterinarian if he shows any symptoms of illness or injury. (See “Signs of Illness” in Taking Your Cat to the Vet.)
  • If he cries to you for something that he is scheduled to get at that time, give it to him as soon as he asks for it. Don’t let him cry for half an hour if he’s asking for something at the proper time.
  • Make sure the cat gets attention during the times when he’s quiet and good.
  • If these measures don’t work, your cat simply could be a natural-born whiner.

Training Cats Not to Chew

Although it is relatively rare, cats sometimes develop destructive chewing habits. You may find your cat chewing on objects such as furniture, electrical cords, or shoes. This behavior may be caused by stress, boredom, or a nutritional deficiency.

Because each cat is different, use your instinct to decide what might be causing the problem. In any case, secure your house by covering the electrical cords, putting your shoes away, and protecting other things that he’s likely to chew. Put perfume on objects that you don’t want him to chew, so that he will know they are your property. Spray catnip on the things that he’s allowed to chew, so he’ll know what stuff belongs to him.

Warning

Cover electrical cords with plastic safety coverings from a hardware store. A spray-on repellent may not be enough to stop your cat from chewing.

Here, Chew on This!

Set up things around the house that he is allowed to chew on, such as:

  • A yardstick or small branch tucked under a sofa cushion, where it will be steady while he chews on it
  • A dog chew toy or a large soup bone, left in a place where he likes to chew
  • A cardboard box (open the top flap of the box to about your cat’s height so he can chew on it)
  • Unsharpened graphite pencils

When you catch him chewing on things he shouldn’t, tell him “not here” and direct him to something he can chew. If it’s there, he’ll go to it. Even then, rather than set up your cat for failureand yourself for disappointmentdon’t leave your fancy shoes out. When you leave the house, cover up valuable things he’s likely to chew. Keep the electrical cords covered. Go back to whatever he was chewing on and protect it or put it away.

Once you think you know what caused the chewing problem, customize your approach as follows:

  • To minimize stress, establish an exercise regimen as outlined in the Exercise and Litter Box Problems sections. Play with him regularly, and supplement his diet with vitamins C, E, and B-complex to lessen stress.
  • If he’s alone for extended periods of time, he may be bored. Consider getting another cat for him to play with. If that’s not realistic, see “Owning an Only Cat” in the Adopting a Cat section suggestions. In addition, increase your time with him.
  • He may be chewing household objects because he’s not getting enough fiber. Add pet fiber supplement, cooked brown rice, and/or catnip to his diet. Some fiber supplements are made specifically for cats. (See the Cat Resources section.)
Shopping List

Morning Cats

  • Perfume
  • Carpet runner
  • Cat toys

Velvet Paws; Curtain and Screen Climbing

  • Nail trimmers
  • Nylon netting

Spraying

  • Urine neutralizer
  • Carpet cleaner
  • Carpet runner
  • Organic catnip
  • Vitamins
  • Bare wooden post, tree limb, or cardboard scratching pad

Shy Cats

  • Cat treats
  • Cat toys

Chewers

  • Fiber supplements
  • Catnip spray
  • Chew toys, graphite pencils, yardsticks

See the Cat Resources section.

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