Cats are often thought of as independent or aloof. Rudyard Kipling so famously described “the ‘cat who walked by himself”. But the truth is that while cat’s can be very self-sufficient animals many of them are actually very social and love company. Early training can teach you kitten to enjoy human company and just as you can always teach an old dog new tricks, so too can you teach an old cat new tricks!
To help your kitten become a happy member of your household it will need to learn that people will want to pick it up. Because being restrained and elevated does not come naturally to cats, the earlier kittens are picked up and handled by people, the better. We like to call this ‘snuggle therapy’! Older cats may take some time to adjust to human company and contact. Take things slow and try for short sessions of contact and attention.
Cats are very open to training. They enjoy praise and many will work for tasty treats. Cats do learn differently to dogs so it’s important to be patient, keep the training sessions short (less than 2–3 minutes), and use rewards such as praise and food. Small tasty morsels, such as cooked chicken, butter or vegemite on fingers or spoons, work very well as training rewards.
Cats can be taught to come to their name, especially at meal times! They can be taught to sit and some cats will even fetch!There is no point in punishing a cat if it’s not doing what you’d like it to do. Smacking or yelling at cats is never needed, doesn’t work and can actually make some problems worse. If you do catch your cat doing something you don’t want it to do, distract it by clapping your hands, quietly ask your cat to come and give a reward straight away.
Litter tray training – Cats usually take to using a litter tray easily, but there are also things you can do to reduce the chance of having problems:
- Get a litter tray that is big enough for the cat. About 1½ times the length of an adult cat is the minimum size.
- Put the litter tray somewhere easily accessible and place it away from a high traffic area such as a passageway or kitchen. Cats do not want an audience! Toilet time is private time!
- Place the litter tray well away from the food bowl.
- Clean the tray daily. This is especially important for covered trays.
- If you have more than one cat in the household the general rule is one litter tray per cat and one extra if possible. This also applies to single cat households, especially if you are away for long periods of the day.
- Place each litter tray in a different location or room (not side by side) to prevent one cat blocking another cat’s access to the area.
Scratching is normal behaviour that cats use for communication. It’s a visual and a scent marker that allows messages to remain long after the cat has left the area. They are going to want to do this and we need to allow them too. We just need to find a place that’s appropriate! A good way to stop your cat scratching in unwanted places such as your furniture is to provide it with a scratching post.
To encourage use, scratching posts need to be: covered with a suitable loose-weave material such as hessian, sturdy and have a stable base so it doesn’t topple over, tall enough (or long enough if it is horizontal) to allow your cat to really stretch, placed where the cat will use it, usually a prominent area or in front of where the cat has already started to scratch.
Don’t replace your cat’s scratching material once it’s worn and torn – as that’s when it is full of meaning! You should cover areas you don’t want scratched with thick plastic as most cats don’t find it attractive.
If you have a specific problem with any of these issues or any others we are here to help. Come in and have a chat to one of our veterinarians and we will help put you on a path that works for everyone.
Material extracted from information sheets pulblished on the Australian Veterinary Association Website, with permission.