IT’S IN THE NATURE OF ANIMALS, WHO HAVE A DISTRESSING disregard for sticker prices, sometimes to just tear things up. Cats will claw silk drapes into streamers, rugs into shreds, and couches into something that resembles the furniture you see at the most depressing yard sale you’ve ever been to. Or they do other things to annoy us, like jumping on the computer keyboard, plucking food off the dining room table while you’re calling the guests in to eat, or licking the butter you left on the kitchen counter—even though you have sat them down many times and carefully explained how the cons of such behaviors outweigh the pros. Luckily, you can stop all of these behaviors—humanely.
SHREDDERS AND SNAGGERS: WHY CATS CLAW
Have you ever wondered why your cat runs to your sofa and claws when you enter the room or come home from work? Although clawing things is partly about removing old claw sheaths and is necessary to nail maintenance, cats also claw to mark territory, to exercise, and to relieve pent-up emotions. Cats are masters at destressing. They have many ways to release emotional energy even without a membership at a yoga studio.
Cats claw mark their territory with both a visual and a scent mark, the latter from the glands between their paw pads. In a single-cat household these marks give the cat a sense of familiarity and security. In multicat households, cats will, not surprisingly, scratch mark more often than single cats. Even cats whose toes have been amputated will paw to place their scent in certain locations around the home. The marks may also warn other cats and help all concerned to avoid physical confrontation. One study recently pointed out that cats have not been observed to actually smell claw marks left by other cats, so it may be that the visual marks are enough—as may be the ostentation of a dominant cat scratching in front of a subordinate cat.
Clawing also allows cats to stretch and exercise. Cats are digitigrade, meaning they walk on their toes instead of the soles of their feet or paws. Their ligaments, nerves, tendons, muscles, and leg and paw joints are all designed to distribute and support the cat’s weight across its toes as it walks and runs. Cats use their claws for balance, for the climbing that’s so important to their feelings of safety, and to stretch the muscles in their back, shoulders, legs, and paws. They stretch their muscles by digging their claws into a surface and then pulling back in a form of isometric exercise. In fact, clawing is probably the only way they can exercise the muscles of their backs and shoulders.
Clawing is a completely natural behavior that cats should be allowed to perform, but there’s no reason to regard clawing on undesirable objects, such as couches, as inevitable—which most owners do. For example, in one study of 122 cats whose owners viewed them as having no behavior problems, 60 percent of the cats scratched furniture.1 If you’re one of these people, I can show you how to make sure your cat claws only in desirable places. There are humane and effective solutions. But first, a word about the inhumane practice and Orwellian linguistic dodge called “declawing.”
DECLAWING—UNNECESSARY AND INHUMANE
Before we get to real solutions for unwanted clawing, let me disabuse you of an abusive “remedy” chosen by far too many cat owners and their vets. Even the bland word we choose for it, declawing, is a clinical-sounding effort to cover up plain cruelty. The procedure is not a manicure or “a fancy claw trim.”2 Because a cat’s claw is part of the last bone in its toes (not like a human’s fingernail), a de-“claw” amputates the entire first joint of a cat’s toes, akin to amputating the first joint of every toe on your feet and every finger on your hands. In both humans and cats that constitutes mutilation, but there the comparison ends, because the damage done to the cat is even more severe. Cats walk on their toes. You do not—but imagine the pain and difficulty of walking if you did, and yet your toes had been amputated to the first joint. Cats depend primarily on their claws for defense, and their toes for balance. You do not need your toes for defense—but imagine the feeling of helplessness if you did, yet all your toes were mutilated.
Calling it declawing is dishonest. Toe amputation is not a mere “declawing,” just like sawing off your arm cannot be described as a delimbing: as if, like deicing, defrosting, or deodorizing, someone were doing you a favor. The use of the bland prefix de hides the horror of what is actually being done.
No veterinarian claims a medical purpose for declawing. It is a tenfold mutilation that serves only the (imagined) convenience of the client. Some say that the ten amputations are necessary because otherwise clients will threaten to have their cats euthanized instead. I hope that my readers will not harm their cats in this way. When I was a vet assistant many years ago, at the beginning of my lifelong career working with cats, I was unlucky enough to see or assist in many of what I now understand were toe amputations. For a distressingly long time I thought we were merely removing claws, not parts of digits. And because I saw it being done so routinely—the vet ran frequent Spay-and-Declaw Specials—I didn’t think to question it too much or to wonder what the other options might be. If you have previously declawed a cat because you also were unaware of the truth, I hope you’ll reconsider in the future.
THE STORY OF CHARLIE CAT
When I worked as a veterinary assistant, I first saw the declaw surgery, and its aftermath, inflicted on a black-and-white tuxedo kitten named Charlie Cat.
Tiny Charlie Cat had bounded from his owner’s arms into mine, and as I caressed him he mewled and pushed his forehead into mine. His purr was audible across the room. I felt his sandpaper-like tongue on my cheek. Carla, the vet performing the declaw, was a stout, cheerful woman who was working as a relief vet for the clinic that day. As she was anesthetizing Charlie Cat, she told me she didn’t feel comfortable doing the surgery. “It’s ridiculous and unnecessary,” she said, but as the relief vet on duty it was her job. She said it had been a long time since she had done a declawing and at first she wasn’t sure where to make the cut. Her hands shook as she picked up her surgeon’s tool. You may have one in your own home: a dog’s nail trimmer.
“I hate doing this.” Snap. “I hate doing this.” Snap. Carla’s whole body trembled with each cut. I winced as the severed tips of each of Charlie Cat’s toes spat onto the exam table. (Of course, it was only later that I understood that what I was seeing were the tips of Charlie Cat’s toes. At the time, no one had ever uttered words like toe or digit or even amputation, so I saw what I had been conditioned to believe by the language everyone used: What was being cut off, awful as it was, were merely the claws at the end of the toes.)
The owner wanted Charlie Cat to be able to climb so Carla did not remove the toe tips of his hind feet. After amputating the toe tips from each front paw, Carla held the toe holes open with a hemostat. I looked into the gaping, fleshy tubes where his claws (and, we now know, the attached toe bones) had been. Inside I could glimpse the glistening, pinkish white of the bones that remained. At Carla’s instruction, I let fall into each hole a drop of tissue glue to seal the incision.
After the amputation was finished, Carla and I bandaged Charlie Cat’s limbs from his paws to his elbows. They looked like two big drumsticks. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman tells us what to expect next:
The inhumanity of the procedure is clearly demonstrated by the nature of cats’ recovery from anesthesia following the surgery. Unlike routine recoveries … declawing surgery results in cats bouncing off the walls of the recovery cage because of excruciating pain. Cats that are more stoic huddle in the corner of the recovery cage, immobilized in a state of helplessness … Declawing fits the dictionary definition of mutilation to a tee. Words such as deform, disfigure, disjoint, and dismember all apply to this surgery. Partial digital amputation is so horrible that it has been employed for torture of prisoners of war, and in veterinary medicine, the clinical procedure serves as a model of severe pain for testing the efficacy of analgesic drugs. Even though analgesic drugs can be used post-operatively, they rarely are, and their effects are incomplete and transient anyway, so sooner or later the pain will emerge.3
When I arrived to open the clinic the next morning, I realized there actually could be something more horrific than what I’d seen the day before. Charlie Cat was no longer a black kitten with white markings. He was now a bloody ball of pain and fury. He’d come in with a black-and-white panda toy, which he loved to snuggle with and knead. The panda was now spotted with crimson. The kitten had pulled his bandages off during the night and thrashed around his small stainless-steel cage so much that blood streaked the walls, ceiling, floor, and even the grated door. There was no doubt he was in pain. He sat on his back legs, careful not to touch his front paws on the floor. He cried nonstop. I scooped him up to comfort him just as the vet walked in. We began to rebandage him and the vet noticed that one of his joints had popped through the glue-sealed incision. We had to anesthetize him again and reseal the incision, this time with sutures, and put his bandages back on.
If anthropomorphism could be advantageous in the fight against cruelty to animals, I would say that Charlie Cat was wondering what he could have possibly done to deserve such cruelty. I like having all my fingers and toes, and I think it’s only fair not to put a beloved friend, my cat, through a pain I would not wish to endure myself, and a future disability I would not wish on anyone. Armed with the story of Charlie Cat, I would go on to covertly convince quite a few clients not to amputate their cats’ claws and toes.
If the argument of excessive cruelty isn’t enough to persuade you, let’s look at some of the other disadvantages of toe mutilation in cats. Sometimes these surgeries are simply not performed well—all surgeries, including mutilations, have the potential for complications: In one study, 50 percent of toe amputation surgeries gave rise to complications immediately after surgery and almost 20 percent after the cat’s release.4 Some cats’ nails will grow back, and badly, causing even more pain. Some cats may experience later discomfort or even phantom pain. I’ve seen cats who won’t even groom their paws years after their amputation, or who are afraid to jump down from high surfaces or play with their once-favorite toy.
Toe pain can cause a cat to change his normal gait, causing stiffness and pain in his legs, hips, and spine of the kind you might experience if you were wearing ill-fitting shoes. A cat can lose the otherworldly balance synonymous with the word feline. An amputee cat has been robbed of its claws and the full functions of its toes, which are both oh-so-very-important to its physical and mental well-being. Many of the cat owners I’ve worked with over the last twenty years tell me if they had to do it over again, they would not amputate. Without claws, their once friendly and playful cat had become fearful, withdrawn, and introverted. Some cats also bite more after they no longer have their claws. Many are surrendered to shelters because of such behaviors.
Over the last two decades, amputation, along with tail docking and ear cropping of dogs, has been at the vortex of fevered ethical debate. The arguments for toe amputation are simple. Franny Syufy, an opponent of it and a writer at About.com, describes what happened when she proposed a “Disclose and Wait” bill to the California state legislature. A legislative aide took the proposed notification bill to the president of the California Veterinary Association, and “to the head of our local shelter for advice. Their consensus,” Syufy writes, “was that ‘if declawing were made illegal, more cats would either be “put down,” or surrendered to shelters.’ ”5 The no-nonsense Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights rightly called this emotional blackmail, and questioned the suitability of such owners to act as feline guardians, “especially when there are millions of non-declawed cats living in harmony with people.”
I have just one addition to make to this statement: Amputation is especially unethical because unwanted clawing is such an easy problem to solve.
Thankfully, declawing is becoming more and more unpopular. Declawing.com lists twenty-two enlightened countries in which declawing “is either illegal or considered extremely inhumane and only performed under extreme circumstances.” Most are in Europe (Spain and Poland are large countries notably absent), along with Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Brazil. The federalist system in the United States guarantees that there can be no nationwide solutions here.* Each state must, on its own, find legislators with the awareness and political will to prohibit toe amputation.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says amputation is appropriate only when a cat cannot be trained not to use its claws improperly. That’s where I come in.
Case Study: Shanti the Feline Shredding Machine
Shanti was a two-year-old Tonkinese that, as her owner Rajeev put it, was “the best cat ever,” but, with the caveat I hear so often, “except for just one small thing.” Shanti’s one small thing was a love of clawing Rajeev’s stereo speakers and slicing up furniture in the house like confetti.
The Problem: Widespread Destruction
Extracted from owner’s description:
Besides my stereo speakers, the arms of my sofas and all my chairs are ripped to shreds. Sometimes she chews on the stuffing pieces or bats them around in the air. My house looks like it has been attacked by a lunatic with a machete.
When I entered Rajeev’s living room, the first thing I saw was that the sofa’s stuffing sprouted forth as if it had been frozen in midexplosion. Everywhere I looked there was visible damage to the furniture. Rajeev had certainly not overstated the level of Shanti’s destructiveness.
“What solutions have you tried so far?” I asked.
“I clap my hands and tell her No!”
“Hmm. That doesn’t seem to be working so well.”
“No, actually it’s gotten worse. She now shreds the couches and speakers when I’m not around and I think she’s finding some new places to start on.”
“Exactly,” I said. “You helped her develop something called owner-absent behavior. She has learned to perform the behavior only when you’re not around so that she doesn’t experience your reprimand.” I added that any form of negative attention (even just clapping and yelling No!) could have caused her stress, and to reduce the stress, she may have clawed the fabric even more. He told me he had bought a cat scratcher pad to focus Shanti’s clawing elsewhere. “But she just looked at the scratch pad, walked past it, and then walked over to the sofa and began clawing the side.” He laughed. “But she does love to sleep on the cat scratcher.”
You can’t remove your cat’s wild instincts, but you can orchestrate where they’re acted out. You have to accept your cat for what she is—a cat—and accept that cats come equipped with claws and a drive to use them. It’s easy to look at clawing as “bad” behavior, but it would be wiser to accept cats for the amazing creatures they are—claws and all. There are too many cat owners who want a “push button” cat—one with no claws, no fur, and no instincts.
The best way to prevent future scratching problems may be to start your kitten out with scratching posts from the beginning and to get her used to having her nails trimmed. One reason older cats scratch is to remove the sheath from their claws. If you do this for them, by trimming their claws, they will feel less need to scratch. And of course with blunted nails, even when they do scratch, they will do much less damage to things.
Never trim a cat’s claws immediately after she’s been scratching; she may view it as a punishment, and you want to avoid creating any negative associations with nail trimming (or with scratching appropriate objects, if that’s what she was doing). Wait until your cat is calm and seeking your affection. While trimming, praise, pet, massage, and give food or treats. If your cat tends to exhibit status or other aggression, consider letting a professional do the trimming
C.A.T. Plan for Unwanted Scratching
CEASE the Unwanted Behavior
There’s a behavior of your own that needs to cease: Stop all reprimanding. You know it doesn’t work—as Rajeev agreed—and only causes your cat stress, so why do it? But following are some things you can do that will work.
Deter Unwanted Scratching
You have to remember that if a cat has been clawing the sofa for a while, she’s developed a habit. That means you have to work on making the inappropriately clawed area unattractive to undo the habit.
To deter scratching in small areas, apply double-sided tape (or products made especially for cat clawing; ) to the clawed areas. In large areas or on furniture, drape or secure plastic carpet runners with the pointy nubs facing up. Deterrence is the most effective method. Instead of yelling at your cat each time she scratches, you will help her learn on her own that her once-favorite scratching areas are now verboten.
At the same time (see the Attract section) you will be promoting the new areas where you do want her to scratch.
CONVENTIONAL ADVICE ALERT
Some people will tell you that if your cat tends to scratch only in certain areas of the home, you should try to prevent your cat from entering those areas because they encourage her to rehearse her habit. Whether you’re home or not, they suggest, you can set up barriers like doors, baby gates, screens, or even (egad!) indoor electronic fences. Some suggest booby traps such as pull-string firecrackers that go off when pulled, or small balloons that pop.
As you might guess, I consider many of these deterrents inhumane; others, like baby gates, don’t really address the problem. I wouldn’t even bother to block off a room. Your cat will just learn to scratch elsewhere and ruin more furniture. I also don’t recommend remote deterrents, like air cans, against scratching; you’d need several, and they’d go off continually as anyone—cats, dogs, or humans—passed within ten to twenty feet, and your cat’s resulting stress could lead her to even more undesirable behaviors.
If covering your furniture with a deterrent doesn’t sound appealing to you, you can experiment with plastic nail caps to cover your cat’s nails, though caps require maintenance every six to twelve weeks as nails grow. You can also distract your cat when she’s on the way to or even looking at the inappropriate scratching location. Lure her with a toy to a desirable scratching area (see the Attract section). Fitting your cat with a breakaway collar (the safest kind of collar because it snaps open when under stress, like a good ski binding, and therefore won’t strangle her if it catches on something) and belling the collar is a good way to stay aware of where she is.
ATTRACT Your Cat to a New Behavior
Rajeev was on the right track, but he needed to experiment with different cat scratchers until he could find one that Shanti liked. He had purchased a horizontal scratcher that lay flat on the floor, but the quality and consistency of Shanti’s handiwork on the chair, sofa, and stereo speakers made it clear she preferred to claw on the vertical. This is not uncommon, because vertical scratching gives a cat the added benefit of a good stretch. It’s best to start with scratchers positioned like the objects your cat is drawn to. If it’s the sofa, that’s vertical. If it’s the rug, that’s horizontal. If you’re not sure whether your cat likes horizontal or vertical—or both—experiment. Cat trees can be a good solution because most are basically vertical, scratchable structures and yet often have horizontal scratching areas on the bases and platforms.
You should place one or more scratchers on the way to and near to where your cat normally claws. Other scratchers should be located near the core areas of the home, because that’s usually where cats instinctively do most of their scratching. They scratch somewhat less on the perimeter of their home range, so don’t place scratchers in the far-off corners of the house (or a basement or garage) where the cat is less likely to use them. In thinking about where exactly to put the scratchers, try to replicate the feeling of space around the areas where your cat was doing its scratching, so that the scratchers are in areas that are as enclosed, or as open, as the previously favored scratching target.
Cat Scratcher Surfaces
You may be able to find a substance that is even more attractive to your cat than the surface she’s inappropriately scratching. Sisal rope, carpet, or corrugated cardboard are all great textures to experiment with. Some scratchers are made of hemp, logs, or even fabric. You may not like the idea of logs, but your cat may think he’s a proper lumberjack. The researcher Benjamin Hart has found that cats like to scratch materials with long, straight fibers, and have less enthusiasm for tightly woven, nubby fibers.
Other Cat Scratcher Desirability Tips
Make sure the cat trees or scratchers have a stable base and won’t wobble when your cat claws on them. If something threatens to tip over on her, or actually does, she may be afraid to use it again.
Because many cats will not use a cat scratcher that lacks their scent, add a little catnip or drag a wand toy across the new cat scratcher to lure her there so her scent will be added to it. Eventually, her claws will catch on the surface as she’s playing with the toy and in the catnip and she’ll get the idea. Hey! This is great for scratching! Never force your cat’s paw toward or across the scratcher. Physically forcing a cat to do anything is counterproductive.
Do not ever use facial scent or pheromones on the scratchers. Cats tend not to claw mark where they facial mark, so you could be preventing the very behavior you are trying to encourage.
Pheromones as Scratch Guards
I warned you above about not using pheromones on anything you do want your cat to claw mark, like the cat scratchers. For the same reasons, you should apply them to the areas where you don’t want your cat to claw mark, particularly the previously scratched areas and those similar to them (i.e., if your cat had scratched only the left side of the couch, it’s wise to add pheromones to the right side, too). The pheromones will promote facial marking on all the areas to which it’s applied. If you aren’t able to find synthetic pheromones, use a cloth daily to transfer your cat’s own facial scent to the objects you want to protect (see Chapter 4). You should also consider adding pheromone plug-ins near inappropriately scratched areas to reduce any stress-related claw marking.
Kind Words and Actions
Praise your cat when she scratches on her new scratching areas. Pet her, brush her (if she likes this), or bring out her favorite toy.
See Appendix A on clicker training to promote desirable behaviors in your cat. When your cat scratches the scratcher, reward her with the clicker and treat her. This positive reward system can even help rebuild any bond that has been damaged between you and your cat as a result of your reprimanding.
It’s important to show a cat what to do in the environment instead of just what not to do. If you’re going to treat your pets like children, at least follow this basic principle!
After your cat is consistently using the new scratchers for a few weeks, you can remove the double-sided sticky tape or carpet runners from the previously scratched areas.
TRANSFORM the Territory
At the same time that you Cease the undesirable behavior and Attract more desirable behaviors, you will be transforming your cat’s territory.
Toys, Trees, Tunnels, and Other Stress and Boredom Relievers
Take a good look at your cat’s environment. Could he be bored and understimulated? Does he lack enough outlets to release pent-up emotion or stress? Create a stimulating environment for your cat. Use an interactive wand toy to play with your cat more often, at least once a day, give him toys and food puzzles he can play with on his own, and add a cat tree and cat tunnels. (See Chapter 5 for full details.)
Is he happy with his feeding and litter box situation? See Chapter 5 on how to create a litter box situation your cat will appreciate. How is he getting along with the other cats, dogs, or people in the home? Read Chapter 7 to deal with aggression and social conflict. Identifying and eliminating stressors can decrease extreme clawing behavior.
Follow-up with Shanti
After following the C.A.T. Plan for just a few days, Rajeev reported that Shanti would walk up to the couch, pause, and turn right around to go to one of her new cat scratchers. I asked him what he did next. “Praised her, of course, and sometimes gave her a treat!”
Rajeev’s success happened fast. But be patient. It can sometimes take a week or more until you notice any decrease in the unwanted clawing behavior, and of course elimination of the behavior may require more time than that. Shanti was only two years old when I saw her. The older the cat and the longer the habituated behavior has been going on, the harder it can be to change it.
COUNTER CRAWLING AND TABLE HOPPING: WHY CATS LIKE HIGH PLACES
Clients also ask for my help in keeping their cats off various high surfaces—kitchen counters, stoves, dining tables, and chests of drawers. Perching and resting on high places are behaviors that, like claw marking, are innate. High places give cats vantage points from which to survey the territory and, very important, give them feelings of safety. And of course some high places have food and other attractive items on them, whether it’s a piece of steak or something that looks like it might be fun to play with. You can channel your cat’s desire to be above it all, but you can’t stop it—or not humanely, anyway. As with excessive meowing, owners often inadvertently reinforce these behaviors, or fray the human-cat bond, with their negative reactions.
Many of my clients ask me, “How can I get my cat to obey me and stay off the counters?” If you’ve read this far, you already know the answer. You can get a cat to do what you want, but not by expecting her to obey a command in order to please you. This kind of obedience is for pack animals. But cats will usually avoid behavior that has a negative outcome—one rare exception being negative attention from you, which some cats actually crave—so the trick is to make the unwanted behavior unrewarding or even slightly unpleasant.
C.A.T. Plan for Counter Crawling and Table Hopping
CEASE the Unwanted Behavior
Make Food Inaccessible
First, if food is the draw attracting your cat to the kitchen counter, remove it! Whenever you’re not in the area to keep an eye on any food you may be about to cook or serve, you should make sure that there’s nothing your cat can get to. Keeping food on the counter or sink isn’t really fair to the cat. And don’t underestimate their ability to like any food. My cat Clawde has a fetish for bread, and until I followed my own advice he would find his way even to the top of the refrigerator to eat some. I’ll never forget the client whose cat managed to wrestle an entire rotisserie chicken off the counter and drag it into the bedroom. The client followed the greasy trail and found the little scavenger under her bed. He had wrapped his body around the chicken and had sunk every claw he had into it. He hissed and growled and spat at anyone who tried to take away his prize or so much as peered under the bed.
In case your cat jumps on the counter because he’s hungry, be sure you are feeding him frequently enough or, if he can self-regulate his food intake, free-feed him.
Stop Feeding in the Kitchen
If you normally feed your cat in the kitchen, you might also consider feeding him in a different location. Feeding in the kitchen can promote strong associations between that area and food, and more interest in the kitchen counters.
Avoid Sending Mixed Messages
Don’t give your cat mixed messages when he’s on the counter. Many, many people fall into the trap of only sometimes shooing the cat away when he jumps on the counter, while at other times petting him when he’s there, conveniently located right at arm’s height. For a cat who enjoys spending time around you—as most cats do—and who sometimes gets petted or talked to when he jumps on the counter while you’re in the kitchen, hanging out on the kitchen counter may seem like the best way to get the attention he wants. So you need to choose: Allow the cat on the counter without shooing, or follow the advice here, while consistently keeping the cat off the counter.
Make being on the counter an unpleasant experience, albeit in a way that does not seem to be connected to anything you do, so that the bond between you and your cat will not be damaged. Place a remote deterrent, such as motion-sensing air-in-a-can, on your counter. (Of course you should be sure that you don’t feed any of your cats in the vicinity of the air can.) Whenever your cat jumps on the counter, the can will emit a warning beep and then expel a gust of air with a sound that cats find unpleasant. Usually, after a few days of training, you can turn off the air so that the device emits only a warning beep. That alone may deter your cat from the area. Eventually, just the sight of the can on the counter, turned off, will remind your cat to stay off the counter. If your cat decides to test the boundaries and jump on the counter, turn the air back on for a few days. I’ve personally used this device with my cats and I will say it’s very effective, yet humane. (You can also create decoy cans that look like the original can. These Potemkin cans are especially useful if you have a large kitchen and want to save money.)
However, if you have a multicat household with a timid cat in it, an air-blast remote deterrent may be too upsetting, even if it’s a lot less distressing than a shouting owner.
In lieu of or in combination with a remote deterrent like the air-in-a-can, you can also place strips of double-sided sticky tape onto placemats and strategically locate them on the counters. You can also use baking trays with a little water in them, or set down plastic carpet runners with the sharp points facing up. Cut them to fit your counters and secure them with tape if needed. After a few weeks you can remove most of the carpet runners, except for a few pieces you leave to hang over the counter as a visual reminder to your cat of the unpleasant sensations he experienced there. If your cat starts jumping on the counter again, put the carpet runners back in place for a few days. These intermittent reminders can really make a difference in training cats. I do not recommend deterrents like upside-down mousetraps, shock mats, or foul-smelling chemicals.
Diversions—Snub of the Queen
If for some reason you don’t use remote deterrents, then, if you see your cat eyeing the counter area, distract her with a toy and lure her out of the room before she has a chance to jump up. However, if your cat has already jumped on the counter (and especially if she typically does so to get your attention), stop giving her any form of attention. Don’t pick her up and set her on the floor. Do not say a word, look at her, or move in her direction (unless of course there’s something there that she is about to devour or break, or that could hurt her, such as a hot skillet). If you believe she jumped up to get attention from you (rather than, say, to investigate something), the best thing to do is to leave the room immediately. That’s a connection she will start to make.
It’s extremely important to use the least invasive, minimally aversive (LIMA) deterrent to produce the desired result. And this involves knowing your cat well enough to respect his sensitivity threshold and not go past it (and create new problems). For example, as noted earlier, for a very shy, nervous cat, a compressed-air deterrent might be too much.
It’s also important that your chosen deterrent not result in owner-absent behavior. Squirt guns are often not effective in the long run. Some clients tell me they covertly squirt their cats with water every time they find them on the counter. But even if the cats don’t see you squirt them, they may engage in some “thinking” of a higher order: Funny—whenever I jump on the counter and she’s around, I get wet. Oh, and look! Now that she’s gone and I’ve jumped back up here, nothing happened! The result can be a cat, now dry, who returns to the counter when you’re not around. The only connection the cat made between getting soaked and being on the counter was that the soaking happened while you were hovering nearby, like a storm cloud. So you’ve got to take yourself out of the equation. The trick is to make the counter an undesirable place on its own merits, with or without you in the picture. That will also preserve your bond with your cat.
There may be other reasons your cat likes the counter. Perhaps he can see outside better while standing on it, or he feels safely out of the reach of the dog who barks or the two-year-old who loves to grab the cat’s tail. The more you can find out about why your cat wants to be on the counter, the more likely you’ll be able to make changes that will enable him to find satisfaction in other ways. If your cat is on the counter because he has a tense relationship with another cat, you may wish to read Chapters 4 and 7 on reintroducing cats and cat-to-cat tension, respectively.
ATTRACT the Cat to a New Behavior
While you are deterring your cat from inappropriate elevated areas, you must also give her alternative perching locations. It’s possible to create an even more desirable area for her than the counters or tables. If your cat didn’t already have enough vertical territory, your additions could make all the difference. Perhaps she was attracted to high places in order to get away from a dog, other cats, or small children? A cat tree, for example, could give your cat something of what she was looking for on the counter. If the counter offered a perch from which to watch birds out the window, set up alternative perches that safely allow bird watching. You can even strategically set up a bird feeder outside the window nearest the perch to which you want to attract your cat. If your cat really just wanted to be near you, as many of mine do, a new perch in the kitchen may be all you need to provide for some face-to-face or head-to-head bunting. In order to lure the cat to the alternative perching area that you want to promote, drag a wand toy over to it or place catnip or a treat on top of it.
Whatever you do, be sure to give your cat a lot of attention when she’s in the desired area. If your cat is motivated by treats or food, clicker training is a great way to promote the behavior you want (see Appendix A). If you see your cat sitting in an approved perching area, click and reward her behavior. Soon she will be repeating it.
TRANSFORM the Territory
See Chapter 5 to learn all the ways that you can give your cats feelings of safety, desirable perching areas, and the right kind and amount of stimulation. You’ll need ample cat trees and perches, hiding places, adequate litter box resources, dispersed food and water locations, food puzzles, and plenty of toys of all kinds. And of course you’ll want to conduct frequent play/prey sequences with your cats.
* To be fair, the higher rate of toe amputation in the United States is probably related to the greater rate at which Americans (like Canadians) keep their cats indoors.