Behavioural Solutions


Aggression and Scratching


Aggression


Possible health issue

A cat who is in pain or feeling unwell can become aggressive.  Have him seen by a vet to rule out any health concerns.


Personal Safety

A bite or scratch from a cat can be a serious health concern.  Make sure that you bathe the wound immediately and treat it with an antiseptic ointment.  The bacteria in a cats mouth can be very harmful to humans.  If you notice the area of the bite swelling at all, seek immediate medical help.  You will likely require a course of antibiotics to avoid septicaemia (blood poisoning).


Some of the other causes of aggression and solutions are:


Spay/Neuter

Having your cat spayed or neutered can often prevent or correct aggressive behaviour.


Inappropriate play

It is important to show your cat that toys are for play rather than fingers, feet and other parts of your body.  When you first bring your cat or kitten home, make sure that all family members know to only use toys during play.  It may seem cute when your little kitten chases your fingers, however, it isn't so cute when your 10 lb cat attacks your toes in the middle of the night!  'Roughhousing' also teaches your cat to be aggressive and may result in him attacking you unexpectedly.


Redirected Aggression

Cats who attack for no apparent reason may be redirecting their aggression on whomever happens to be there at the time, be it another cat or a person.  He may be aware of another cat outside and be getting ready for a 'fight' when you happen to walk by.  In this heightened state, it is difficult, if not impossible, for him not to react.  On how to deal with cats on your property, please see our section on Stray Cats in Litter Box Issues.  If another cat has been a victim of redirected aggression, it is important to re-associate the location in the house with positive feelings.  If the cat who was attacked becomes submissive when he is in this location, it may result in the more dominant cat attacking again and continuing the cycle.  Feed the cat that was attacked in the location or give him treats and play with him to build his confidence and remove his association with the unwanted attack.  


Petting Aggression

Many cats like to be petted on their terms.  When cats groom each other (Allogrooming), they usually only groom around the head, which means it is more natural for cats to like to be petted only around their head rather than on their whole body.  Being aware of your cats likes and dislikes and watching for a change in their body language will help to avoid 'unexpected' attacks when they have had enough petting.  If you find you cat lashes out after a few minutes of being petted, pet him for one minute and then stop.  Do this for several days and then slowly increase the amount of time you pet him, stopping before he becomes agitated.   He will learn to associate the interaction as a positive experience and will likely learn to enjoy being petted for longer periods of time.


Routine Attack

If your cat attacks you every time you come home or every time you walk down a particular hallway, change the routine.  Come in a different door when you get home and reward a nice greeting with a treat.  If you can't change the way you walk down a hallway then first throw a toy for him to chase before you walk down it.  Again, reward the play with a treat.  Cats love routine, but you can teach them a new routine.


Defusing a Cat Fight

If two cats within get into a major fight, cover them with a blanket.  Move each of them to separate rooms (preferably smaller rooms such as a bathroom) and give them time to cool down.  A darkened room will also help them to feel calmer.  Never get in the middle of a cat fight as you could get seriously hurt.  Don't try to comfort the 'victim', as their emotions are heightened and this could cause them to redirect their aggression onto you.  The amount of time needed for them to calm down depends on the cats. The amount of time needed to keep them separated after the incident also depends on the cats and can either be minutes, hours or even weeks.  It may be best to seek the advice of a cat behaviourist to help in this type of situation.


Consult a cat behaviourist

It is important to ensure the safety of all members of the household. If the behaviour continues, contact a cat behaviourist.




Scratching


Scratching is a natural part of cat behaviour as it helps them to keep their claws nice and sharp and also mark their territory. Allowing them the freedom to scratch, without damaging your furniture, is possible without declawing. Positive reinforcement of any behaviour you wish your cat to do works much better than reacting negatively to the behaviour you don't want.  Encouraging your cat or kitten to us a scratch post is the best way to prevent them from scratching your furniture.  Ways to encourage the use of the scratch post:


  • If possible, start for day one when you bring your cat or kitten home.  Have a scratch post available in the transition room and use soft treats to positively reward them for using the post.  You can break a piece off the soft treat which enables you to reinforce the behaviour many times without giving too many treats. 
  • Have a scratch post near where your cat sleeps most of the time.  Cats like to stretch and scratch when they first wake up, so having a post near by will help avoid the use of the nearest couch or chair.
  • If she goes to scratch your furniture, simply take her over to the post and reward her with a treat once she has used it.  Cats are smart and can easily train us, so if you find that she is going to the furniture knowing you will then take her to the post and reward her, distract her as she heads to the couch by throwing a toy for her to play with.
  • If necessary, start from 'scratch'.  If the strategies above aren't working and your cat has been with you for a while, you can start again with the use of a transition room (see taking kitty home).  Starting again by keeping him in one room for a few days breaks the cycle of scratching the furniture and your regular response to the behaviour.  Use either a large bathroom or bedroom for the transition room; one that doesn't include the furniture he has been scratching. Ensuring he has all he needs including a scratch post that is tall enough for him to fully stretch out.  Use positive reinforcement with treats when he uses the post.  Once he is introduced to the rest of the house again, place at least one post in the room he used to scratch the furniture in. 
  • There are ways to make favourite 'furniture posts' less desirable, such as double sided tape or citrus sprays.



Caring for cat's claws


Declawing is illegal in many countries and many vets in North America are

no longer performing the surgery.  When cats are declawed, they actually cut

off the end of each toe down to the first knuckle.  It can cause the cat to have pain

for the rest of their life and can result in psychological damage.  Cats walk on their

toes and their feet are highly sensitive, so it is understandable that this procedure can

be extremely traumatic for them. 



Alternatives to declawing:


Claw caps are available and can be glued to your cats claws to prevent damage to furniture.

There are concerns about cats eating them should they manage to remove them.  Please

research this product before using.


Regularly clipping your cats claws can help prevent damage to furniture and can also prevent

your cat from getting his claws caught and injuring himself.  If you adopt a kitten, when he is calm,

pet his whole body including his paws. Getting him used to having his paws touched will make it

easier for you to clip his claws yourself. Some vets offer free monthly nail clipping for their regular

clients.