Monday, April 6, 2009

Funny Cat Behaviors and What to Do About Them

 
Funny Cat Behaviors and What to Do About Them
By Carolyn McFann

Cats sure have interesting ways of expressing themselves. Some are cute, and some, well, can hurt. Most cat owners know about love chomps, those playful nips cats give at times. They are different than true, defensive bites, which draw blood and really hurt. Love chomps are given out of affection, and sometimes can hurt a little, depending upon kitty's mood. What is going on, and why do they do this?

My cat Beau is deaf and is very physical in expressing himself. He loves to be touched, petted and kissed. His reaction back is to "chew" on me, sort of gnawing his teeth against my arm, as he purrs. I soon realized that this is out of caring, not out of defensiveness. He does this whenever he is deliriously happy, and it's sort of like he's trying to kiss me back but does it with his little teeth. Lucky me. I appreciate him for being so loving, and just show love back, but back off if he chomps a little too hard.

When your cat does this, don't hit or get mad, just gently brush it off and distract him to do something else. Cats respond to suggestion, professional trainers rely on this principle to train them. By giving kitty something else to think about, he will forget about gnawing on you and put his attention elsewhere. Though I'm not an animal behaviorist, I know what works for my cats, and use information learned by those in the know. A good resource to contact if you need a real professional's advice on cat behavior is at your local chapter of the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Aniimals). I called my local chapter and asked who to talk to regarding certain behaviors and they told me a behaviorist would call me back. She did, and was very helpful in giving me tips on handling problematic cat behaviors of different kinds. The ASPCA has local chapters in most cities and is a good resource for help with animals of many kinds so I recommend them.

Learning better communication with our pets is always helpful in understanding what they do and why they do it. Many pets end up at the pound because their owners didn't take the time or energy to learn why the animal did certain behaviors, then just gave up instead of fixing the gap in communication. We have to show our pets what to do in order for them to know what is expected of them. Cats can be more independent, of course, but they can be trained to undo bad behaviors with time and practise. Some things take more time than others. It is important to be patient and kind, anger only makes pets fearful and less apt to learn what you want them to learn.

For example, my cat Beau didn't sleep through the night when I first got him. As soon as the lights went off, it was his time to party. He sang his lungs out, picked on the other two cats (who were trying to sleep) and made a nusiance of himself. So, to combat his nighttime rowdiness, I kept him up all day, by waking him up every so often as he tried to nap, getting out a string with a toy on the end of it, and getting him to play till he was tired. By the end of the day, he welcomed sleep. And, he slept through the night. It worked. After awhile, I didn't need put forth any effort anymore, he just automatically slept through the night. I still wake him up occaisionally during the day, just in case, to make sure he's truly tired by the end of the day.

Another strange behavior is leg climbing. Sometimes, kittens think your leg makes a good substitute for a tree trunk and try to climb it. O-u-c-h! That can make just about anyone mad at first but remember, it's just a behavior that needs correcting. Kitty isn't aware that he is clawing the heck out of your skin, and is trying to be energetic. Give him something else to play on, like a kitty condo/cat tree. Those are great for cats who love to climb. Sprinkle it with catnip, and the next time little kitty throws himself at your leg, quickly put him on the cat tree, and mimic scratching on it, to show him what to do with it. By showing him, he will learn that it's more fun to climb the cat tree than you. Cat trees are always a good investment, I got mine on Ebay, and the cats live on it, practically. They know it's theirs and never scratch the couch since they have a place to get out their scratching needs.

Do you have a cat who loves to rocket around the house as he knocks over knicknacks and other stuff in his way? It's kind of like having a herd of wild elephants go charging through the living room, making a load of noise as they go. This is just cat energy being spent, kitty is bored and finding something to do. Give him some toys, and throw them for him so he can play. One great way to get kitty's energy focused is to use a laser light pointer and aim it at the wall. Watch kitty flip and flop, hopping at the wall on his tiptoes, as he tries to get that light. Don't shine the light in his eyes, because it is a laser, but do use it as a tool to play. Beau loves the laser light pointer and will watch the wall for hours afterwards, waiting for the light to come back. They can be bought at any office supply or pet store, cheap.

Another great and cheap toy to get kitty playing and distracted is the cotton swab, or Q-tip, but only let your cats play with these under your supervision so they don't ingest the cotton fuzz on the end. My cats never have swallowed any, and we've used them as toys for all my life. These things make my cats go wild. Just throw it in the middle of the room, or tie it to a string and drag it around the room. Any cat in the room will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My cat Blackie will do gymnastic manoevers with Q-tips, as he picks it up and throws it for himself, when nobody else does it for him. He can leap and rotate in mid-air. Cotton swabs make cats do the funniest things.

Embrace the crazy things your cat does, don't punish, just retrain if they do things that really bother you. It just takes a little understanding and patience. See what they need - are they bored, are they trying to show caring but doing it in a way that hurts? Gently retrain or distract. When kitty knows what you want from him, he will eventually get the hint and learn..most of the time. Beau still chomps on my arm, but doesn't do it as hard as he used to. He doesn't like being ignored, and if he mistakenly chomps too hard, I just walk off and don't give him the attention he wants. That, in itself, is punishment to him and he has learned from it.

If you want to see what other funny things other peoples' cats do, just watch America's Funniest Home Videos. Cats and dogs are great material for funny videos because they are fun and entertaining. Enjoy them, and let them enjoy you back. Teamwork is the answer.

Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: cafepress.com/twopurringcats . Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.

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