Why Claw Care Keeps Cats Happy

Let Your Couch Do the “Talking”

One of the tricks of master cat owners is to have the cat learn that her humans are the source of all good things, and let the environment handle the negative reinforcement.This is easier than it sounds.For example, if your cat is scratching a piece of furniture, let the furniture tell the cat to stop by putting some aluminum foil or double-sided tape over the scratched area and put a scratching post nearby. Make the post irresistible by including tasty treats nearby and offering plenty of praise when the cat does what you want her to do.

Cats’ activity preferences vary, and this is yet another opportunity to establish communication with your friend. Some cats seem to prefer to be petted and groomed, whereas others may prefer play interactions with their owners.Cats also can be easily trained to perform behaviors, or “tricks” — particularly when we act on our understanding that cats respond much better to praise than to force and seem to be more amenable to learning if the behavior is shaped before feeding. Cats generally enjoy playing with toys that are small, move and that mimic prey characteristics. Many cats also prefer novelty, so provide a variety of toys, and rotate and replace them regularly to sustain the cat’s interest.

Play sessions also provide a great opportunity to teach cats to be careful and gentle, and not to bite, scratch or play-attack. Start by enticing your cat into a gentle game of play fighting, only allowing her to play using paws, not claws. Continuously praise her as long as she remains gentle. Gradually increase the excitement and intensity of the game, keeping your eyes glued to her actions. As soon as you see that she is getting too excited, or beginning to expose her claws or teeth, immediately freeze and "play dead." This usually causes cats to calm down and retract their claws. If she complies, then resume playing. If not, do not resume play until she has calmed down and retracted her claws. If she bites or scratches, sharply scream "ouch," immediately stop playing, walk away and ignore the cat until she returns to you for attention. Cats, especially kittens, love to play. Abruptly ending a play session serves as a powerful reprimand. After a few repetitions, cats quickly learn that it is their behavior that ended all the fun.

While your cat is learning not to bite and claw you, it is equally important that she be provided with something to pounce on, attack, grab with her claws and sink her teeth into so she can express her predatory telos. Unless the cat has real prey to hunt, you can provide toys that mimic prey.If one simply tosses a few toys on the floor, the cat may give them a few swats but then quickly lose interest. Better to investigate what your cat likes. Some cats seem to prefer bird-like, some bug-like and some mouse-like toys. The easiest way to learn what your cat prefers is to offer her alternatives and watch what she chooses, just as we would do for any house guest we couldn’t talk to. You can make play an interactive game with your cat by tying a toy to the end of a length of string and dragging it around the house with your cat in pouncing (predatory) pursuit. Pet stores are full of both inexpensive and exotic toys for cats, or you can use your imagination and create your own toys. The idea is to stimulate your cat's interest and participation. Two 10- to 15-minute play sessions a day (let your cat determine the duration) work wonders for venting a cat’s excess energy and fulfilling her predatory telos.

We use treats for rewards for learning and stress reduction, with “treat” meaning opportunities for voluntary exploration activity and play as well as food snacks. The enriching, stress-reducing power of activity comes from its ability to stimulate mental and physical activity by the cat, and positive interactions with us to enhance her relationship with us.

Now that we have all the essentials for basic cat care in place, we need to have a way to tell if we are reaching our goal of providing a cat-friendly home. In my next article, I’ll outline all the ways you can tell if your efforts are working.

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