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Yes, You Can Train a Cat
Cats require different methods of training and discipline than dogs do. Dogs form social hierarchies that you can take advantage of by placing yourself at the top (otherwise known as Alpha dog or Top Dog). Cats form social groups only by necessity and the arrangement is based on respecting territory, not by respecting the "top dog". Don't make the mistake of thinking your cat will react in the same way as a dog; it won't happen!
If you use physical punishment or discipline on your cat you will only accomplish teaching him to be scared of you and I should hope this is not what you trying to accomplish. There are training methods you can use to help you, though. Cats hate to be surprised, therefore you can use water bottles, clapping, hissing, and other sudden noises to stop unwanted behavior. The biggest disadvantage with these methods is that you have to be present to utilize them - if the discipline isn't immediate it isn't going to be effective. A way to discourage bad behavior such as biting is the "face-push"; put the palm of your hand in cat's face and gently push away while saying NO in a firm voice.
You need to provide a scratching post so that your cat will have an area that you approve of in which to scratch. Demonstrate how to use the post by going up to it and scratching it like your cat would. They will come over to investigate your scent and then leave their own. Give your cat lots of praise and give a cat treat when they use the approved scratching material.
Get your cat's attention and then say a firm "NO!" when your cat scratches on unacceptable items. Pepper (black, white, or cayenne) can be applied to furniture and plants to discourage scratching. This does not stop all cats. You can also cover areas with double-sided tape but it has to be sticky on both sides to discourage unwanted scratching. There are products available ("Bitter Apple" or "Bitter Orange", available at most pet stores) that you may wish to spray on items that they are particularly stubborn about.
The material your scratching post should be fairly smooth (cats usually don't like plush carpet) and shouldn't be a material that their nails get stuck in. If they get a nail stuck, they may not use the post anymore. Natural fiber rope wrapped tightly around a post is good and some cats like plain wood; a two-by-four made available may work well. My outdoor cats use tree stumps.
If you allow your cat to go outside please do not have their claws removed; they really depend on them to get up trees quickly. I personally prefer not to have claws removed even from inside cats. I feel that training them not to use people and other items as scratching posts is the best solution, but you will have to make this decision for yourself. I don't feel it damages the cat in any way to have the claws removed and I'm sure that there are circumstances where having them removed is the best for an individual family's needs.
There are many different cat litters available. The litter should be absorbent and many commercial litters are also deodorized to minimize litter box odors.
You should clean the soiled litter at least once a day; cats do not like to use a dirty litter box. At least once a week, the litter should be completely changed and the litter box thoroughly washed out. At this time you may want to really clean the litter box, but be careful to use disinfectants which do not contain phenol as this is extremely toxic to cats. Strong disinfectants may also smell offensive to cats and may deter them from using the litter box and they may go somewhere less appropriate instead.
NOTE Pregnant women should NEVER clean the litter box, due to risk of exposure to a disease called toxoplasmosis. Ask your doctor about this.
Cats instinctively bury their waste. If your cat goes outside you may want to cover sandboxes and put netting in garden areas to avoid any problems. Cats will often go through a routine of ground scratching after going to the bathroom; this is normal.
Problems With Toilet Training
A breakdown in toilet training can often be traced back to a particular incident, such as a bout of loose stools or a disruption in the cat's normal daily routine. If a kitten or cat persists in soiling in an inappropriate area, the following guidelines may help to solve the problem.
- Ensure that the litter box is kept clean.
- Ensure that the litter box is private and not close to feeding area.
- Ensure that the litter tray is large enough for the cat.
- Ensure that the sides of the tray are not too high for a kitten.
- If the cat goes to the bathroom in one area, make that spot as uninviting as possible. Aluminium foil or cling film, are useful since cats don't like to walk over these surfaces. You could also move his feeding bowls or bed to the area as most cats will not soil where they are to eat or sleep.
- Try to keep with the cat's routine.
- Try using a different kind of litter.
- If you catch your cat in the act of inappropriate behavior, you may startle him at the time by squirting him with a jet of water from a water pistol or misting spray. This will not harm the cat but it may deter him from repeating his mistake; he may however be mad at you for squirting him - after all you didn't like it when he sprayed!
For more in depth tips on litter training, read our litter training article.
Un-neutered male cats will often mark their territory by 'spraying' objects with their urine, which has a very bad smell. Neutered males and both spayed and unspayed females may also spray objects with urine, but they generally do so less frequently and the odor is less offensive.
Although the action of 'spraying' is a perfectly normal, most cat owners don't appreciate it when occurs inside the house. This may become a problem when cats are trying to establish their social rank in a house that has several cats, or if there is a new cat (or other animal - including humans) in the area. Having your male cat neutered usually is an effective way to cure this problem. Females which spray urine when in season can also be spayed to help alleviate this problem.
Cats and a New Baby
Cats often become jealous when a new baby enters the home. It is very important that you let the cat know you still have plenty of love for him/her by paying it extra attention. Even though your time will be stretched this is very important for the long range happiness of your household if the cat is to remain part of the family. In the exhaustion and turmoil of a new baby the cat is often neglected, this will add to its resentment.
It has often been said that cats will "steal a baby's breath" or they will lie on the baby and suffocate them. Cats do like the warmth of the baby and may lie close to benefit from the warmth, however, a cat will seldom lie on the baby and if the baby starts flailing and kicking the cat is most likely going to leave.
While most cats are trustworthy around babies, it is still best not to leave any child unsupervised around any animal.
Running for the Door to Escape
The best way to stop your cat from running out the door everytime you go in and out is to never to let the cat succeed! After a history of unsuccessful attempts, the cat will stop trying. After even one success, the cat will try hard and for a long time. Persistent they most certainly can be.
Spend the time to be in control whenever the outside door is opened. Don't arrive at the door with three bags of groceries in hand and expect to keep the cat inside. Come in with empty hands, and place cat in bathroom or cage before attempting to bring in bags. Kids will need to learn how to keep the cat in, too. A water bottle may help with persistent cats. Even though this may sound like a lot of hassle, it will pay off later when the cat stops trying to get out.
To turn a formerly outdoor cat into an indoor one (or to discourage a particularly persistent one), you might try this: Enlist the help of a friend to hide outside the door with a hose and spray attachment and have her or him spray the cat when you let it out. This may take several applications, over several days. Some cats are remarkably persistent, and never seem to give up.
Climbing the Curtains
Use tension rods instead of drilled into the wall rods. The tension rods will simply fall down on top of the cat if it tries to climb them. If this is not possible, take the drapes off the hooks and attach them back up with thread that is just barely strong enough to hold them up. When the cat climbs up, the drapes will fall down on top of it. After the drapes have remained up for a period time, you can re-hook them. These methods have the advantage of working whether you're home or not.
Vertical blinds also work very well; cats cannot climb up them, cannot shred them, cannot shed on them, and they cannot be bent the way horizontal blinds can. Furthermore, they are easy for cats to push aside in order to look outside.
Put something distasteful on item to discourage chewing. You may use tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, Bitter Apple/Orange, nail-biting nail polish, orange/lemon peel. Duct tape can also be used, but it's pretty messy and hard to clean up.
If your cat bites you, give a sharp, plantative yowl, like the sound a hurt cat will make. Pull your hand back, turn your back on the cat and ignore it for a few minutes, then offer a toy to play with instead. Be aware that a cat which has been trained not to use a person as a toy will be more trustworthy around a new baby. You may also try hissing at a cat that persistently attacks you. I used the hissing sound to discourage my cats and it was an effective, easy method for my granddaughter to learn as well.
To keep a cat out of the garbage can, it is best to just start off on the right foot; get a garbage can with a tight fitting lid. Another way is to keep the can out of reach under a sink with closing doors etc. If these options are not possible, you can get spray the cat with water from a squirt bottle when the cat nears the garbage can.
Keeping the Cat off the Counters
Don't ever allow your cat on the counters or table tops. There are several ways to prevent this becoming a problem. Leave a collection of poorly balanced kitchen utensils or set empty aluminum cans (or with a few pennies inside) on the counter near the edge, so the cat will knock them off if it jumps up. This is effective since cats hate surprises and loud noises. You could also try leaving some ordinary dishwashing liquid on the counters, or some masking tape arranged gummy side up. Don't leave things on the counter that will attract the cat (like raw meat).
Early AM Wakeups
Cats love to wake their owners - up the earlier the better. If you wish to stop this, there are several things you can do. Let the cat adjust to your habits; do not adjust to cat's.
If you feed the cat when it wakes you up at an ungodly hour, you are simply asking to be woke up. If this is why it's waking you up, you can handle this either by filling the bowl just before you go to bed or by ignoring the cat and feeding it at the time convenient to you every morning. Try to feed your cat at the same time every morning to establish a habit, they will adjust rather quickly and you will get your rest.
You can also make a practice of tiring the cat out with play just before bedtime. In this way you cover his needs while also allowing you to sleep longer in the mornings.
What works in some cases is to hiss gently at the cat. You can also try shutting it out of the bedroom. If it pounds on the door, put it in a bathroom until you are ready to get up. Or try turning the vacuum cleaner on when the cat wakes you. You may want to put the vacuum cleaner where you can reach it easily when cat comes in. Turn it on and continue doing this every time the cat comes back. The cat will eventually decide to stop bothering you in the morning.
Playing With Toilet Paper
Hang the roll so that the paper hangs down between the roll and the wall rather than over the top of the roll. If the cat knows how to roll it either way, then you can get a cover that rests on top of the toilet paper.
You can balance a small paper cup full of water on top of the roll, or try an aluminum can with pennies placed inside.
Cats love closets, you might want your cat to be able to get into the closet and keep larger pets out. A child-barrier that lets the cat jump over but not the dog is a possibility. If you do not wish your cat to have access to your closet, simply remember to keep the closet doors closed at all times.
The simplest way to keep your cat out of birdfeedeers is to put your birdfeeder in an area where the ground is clear, where the cat has no place to hide and be sneaky.
Fencing In your Cat
You can try keeping your cat from going over the fence by attaching corrugated fiberglass to the top of it. There is then no purchase for the cat to pull itself up. You can try making an overhang on the top of the fence; do it in such a way that your cat cannot jump directly to the top of it. Use large bookshelf type angle brackets and drape netting or screening on it, to create an unstable barrier.
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