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Q. We adopted a 5-month-old kitten who is now 10 months old, and we can't get her to calm down. She has several voice levels and sounds, and she is always running up the curtains and clawing at things. We won't remove her claws, but she's tearing up our house. What do we do?
A. The lyrics to "Wild Thing" kept running through my mind as I read your question. Luckily, your adolescent female hasn’t yet taken to swinging from the curtains Tarzan-style, complete with a bellowing howl, but it sounds like she’s on her way.
Your cat's behavior is normal, even though this normal behavior doesn't always fit easily with the expectations of a well-behaved feline in the home. She is trying to express her natural desire to claw, climb and communicate with you through vocalization. The best solution is to take your cat’s natural desires and direct them toward a more appropriate outlet that will still fulfill her but that fits comfortably with your expectations for your home.
Let’s begin with her excessive vocalization. Vocalization is your cat’s way of communicating with you. Certain cats, especially the oriental breeds, are more prone to being vocal. If your cat is using her voice excessively, it’s important to figure out the reason for the vocalization in order to provide for a solution.
Excess vocalization is often based on attention-getting behavior. Many times, the noisy cat is rewarded with a meal, some type of attention (even negative attention is rewarding for certain cats), a trip outside, or playtime. It’s important to reward your cat only when she is quiet for at least five to 10 seconds. Cats in heat will have increased vocalization, which is yet another reason why it’s beneficial to spay your cat. Excessive vocalization can also be an indicator of stress or tension, which will need to be addressed at its root cause in order for the extra meowing to stop.
Cats enjoy exploring elevated spaces where they can look down on a room. The high spaces expand the area of a cat's home, which gives them options for exploration, rest and, if needed, escape. Give your cat various places to climb and rest at elevation, for example, a cat tower or cat condo, optimally with scratching areas integrated into the climbing areas. The most amazing home environment I’ve seen that caters completely to cats is Bob Walker’s famous Cat House, which has provided countless cat guardians with inspiration for making their homes more critter-friendly.
Kittens naturally scratch at objects to release energy and to sharpen their claws, but they also scratch in order to mark their territory; cats have scent glands, which are unique for each individual cat, located in their paws. The desire to scratch isn’t going to abate completely, but you can make a cat’s natural behavior more conducive to the home by providing acceptable places to claw.
First, trim your cat's nails on a regular basis, and offer your cat a variety of scratching areas. Certain cats enjoy vertical scratching areas while other cats enjoy slanted scratching areas. Cat houses and climbing trees fill both the desire to climb and to claw, and can be made more desirable by using catnip, toys or treats to encourage the cat to use these areas rather than your sofa.
Second, as important as it is to give your pet an acceptable clawing outlet, it’s also important to make the old scratching areas less desirable. Although it’s inconvenient, while you’re trying to break the habit, cover the old scratching area with a plastic covering (for a big area, like the top of a couch) or double-sided tape (for smaller, vertical areas). Block access to the areas where your cat previously enjoyed climbing or clawing when you are not there to supervise. A designated cat room can be extremely helpful in preventing your cat from destroying your house when you’re not there.
Be consistent about redirecting your cat to an appropriate outlet when you catch her in the act of scratching or climbing in inappropriate areas. Let go of punishment, which only heightens anxiety and frustration and exacerbates the problem; instead, use praise, petting and treats, and provide your cat with plenty of attention when she is clawing or climbing the right areas. Redirect your cat when she is caught in the wrong area by picking her up and taking her to the proper area, or directing her toward the proper area with a toy or treat.
With training and management, your wild cat can be tamed in a way that both satisfies her natural desires and fits with your lifestyle.
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