THE FIGG&PROWLE WAY
Training: the first week home
The way you start with your Siberian kitten is an important foundation for the rest of your life with your grown Siberian cat. Here are the most important training moves we recommend:
The way you start with your Siberian kitten is an important foundation for the rest of your life with your grown Siberian cat. Here are the most important training moves we recommend:
From Berkeley Humane
Confine your new cat to one room in your home to give her time to adjust and gain confidence in this new setting. Put all of her supplies in this one room, and shut the door so she can’t get out. Be prepared to give your cat a week or more in this one room before she sees the rest of your home. Shy or older cats may need more time to adjust. When your cat is comfortable she’ll show you by coming out of hiding, sniffing or pawing at the door, or trying to dart past you when you open the door. Open the door to your cat’s room and let her explore. Over the course of a week, begin opening up the rest of your home for to explore at her pace.
Cats rely on others to learn, aided by play and exploration. Pet your cat often and make sure to touch her paws, ears, and face. This will help for future nail trims and if she needs medicine. If your cat is resistant to touch, do not force her to endure more handling than she is comfortable with. Gradually increase the length of time that you pet her, while always stopping before she becomes agitated. Make the presence of strangers a positive experience for your cat. Do not allow guests to grab or chase your cat if she seems uncomfortable, but do encourage them to give her treats, play with her using interactive toys, and pet/hold her if she is comfortable.
Housecats require stimulation to keep their minds and bodies healthy. Be sure that you are playing with your cat (of any age) often. Adult and senior cats who are unenthusiastic about toys still benefit psychologically from watching feathers be dragged across the floor, even if they do not feel the need to actually “hunt” the toy. If given the option, most cats will become more interested in play over time. Play mimics hunting, which is a key component of feline instinct. Cats love windows! Make sure that your cat has at least one spot to perch near a window and observe the world going by. Cats are built to climb and enjoy doing so. Give them appropriate places to climb and perch. A variety of “cat trees” are the simplest way to achieve this. Most cat trees also include scratching posts and perches, which will give your cat a place to feel safe and identify as her own. Entertainment for your cat does not need to be expensive or fancy. For example, leaving a packing box out with a few toys in it can provide your cat hours of entertainment. Once she has lost interest you can move the box to another room, flip it on its side, and watch her become enthralled with it all over again! The more your cat is stimulated in an appropriate manner, the less likely she is to: • Be overly active at night • Scratch inappropriately • Spray or urinate/defecate outside of the litterbox • Bite or scratch • Hypervocalize (meow excessively) • Attempt to escape • Be destructive to property
Provide supervision Think “safety first” as you help your new cat settle into your home. When transporting your new cat, properly secure him inside the main vehicle compartment using a cat carrier. Do not let him travel loose inside the vehicle. Once you arrive home, help your cat settle in as smoothly as possible by providing close supervision.
Many cats will be nervous when they first arrive at the new home. They may want to hide under furniture for hours at a time. Be patient and do not force your new cat or kitten to come out.
If your family includes a dog, keep him leashed during any introduction periods to ensure he cannot chase or harm your new cat. Introductions should always be done while supervised and new cats should never be left alone with resident dogs until a consistently safe relationship has been established. Create a safe area for your cat where a dog cannot follow. Tall cat trees or baby gates will help give your cat a safe place to hide if she feels overwhelmed by the dog. Be sure the cat’s food, water and litter box are in an area that is safe from dog interruptions. All introductions should proceed gradually and as with other cats in the household, it may take several months for your new cat to accept a resident dog.
Now is the time to check for potential hazards that you normally wouldn’t think about. For instance, many common household plants are poisonous to animals, and should be put high out of reach or removed completely from your home. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a comprehensive list of poisonous plants that can be found at ASPCA.org. You should also check your home for possible escape routes, including damaged screens or screen doors. Kittens can fit into surprisingly small places, so don’t dismiss anything. They can easily become stuck behind a refrigerator or climb into cabinets while you are not looking, or slip through a crack in the wall.
Kittens are curious by nature and will play with many things left lying around, including items such as pens, tacks or pieces of paper. Phone and electrical cords can be particularly dangerous if a kitten becomes entangled. Be sure to secure loose cords and pick up any small things your kitten may be able to swallow. Before leaving your kitten alone, conduct a “kitten check” to make sure she has not been accidentally locked in a closet or empty room.
Play time is an important element in an indoor cat’s life. Stalking, pouncing and other natural, instinctual predatory behaviors are often mistaken for aggression which can be redirected and addressed by offering proper toys and play time. Cats may also bite or scratch when they are over-stimulated, feel cornered or are trying to get away. These behaviors can occur during a particularly energetic play-session or when they have seen something that stimulates them, such as a bird or another cat. Remember that cats are nocturnal and will often need a play-session before bedtime to help settle them down for the night.
Scratching is a natural and important behavior for cats that helps them stay limber and healthy. While kneading with their paws and stretching, they both strengthen and relax the muscles of the feet, forelegs, backbone and shoulders. To accommodate this essential scratching behavior in your cat, it will be important to practice patience and provide proper areas for your cat to scratch. Cats can learn to use a scratching post at almost any stage in their life. Positive reinforcement will help teach your cat to use the scratching post instead of the furniture. When choosing a scratching post, think about what your cats already like to scratch. Some prefer sisal or rope covered posts, while others prefer wood or corrugated cardboard scratching posts. In addition, cats may have a preference about a vertical or horizontal orientation of the scratching posts. Observe your cat’s behavior when he is scratching to see what he finds the most comfortable or enjoyable. An easy way to eliminate damage to your furniture or to you during very active play is to simply clip your cat’s nails. You should consult with your veterinarian about when and how to properly trim your new cat’s nails.
Training Your Cat
We all like to be praised rather than punished. The same is true for your cat, and that’s the theory behind positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement means giving your pet something pleasant or rewarding immediately after she does something you want her to do. Because your praise or reward makes her more likely to repeat that behavior in the future, it is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your cat’s behavior. It’s more effective to teach your pet what she should do than try to teach her what she shouldn’t.
Correct timing is essential when using positive reinforcement. The reward must occur immediately – within seconds – or your cat may not associate it with the proper action. For example, when your cat uses her scratching post, you can throw a piece of dry cat food for her to chase as a reward. Many cats enjoy chasing (hunting) their food and it’s good exercise, too. But if you throw the food when she has stopped scratching the post and is walking toward you, she will think she’s being rewarded for coming to you.
Consistency is also an important element in training. Everyone in the family should reward the same desired behaviors.
It is critical that while discouraging undesirable behaviors, you help your cat understand what you want her to do and provide appropriate outlets for her normal cat behaviors.
One of the reasons that cats are such fun companions is that when they’re not sleeping, many of them enjoy playing. Playing helps your cat develop physically and behaviorally. Providing appropriate play outlets for your cat can reduce undesirable behaviors. Be sure your cat has safe toys to play with by herself, and don’t underestimate the power of playing with your cat to strengthen the bond between you and enhance the quality of life for both of you.
When you cat matures from kittenhood to adolescence, behavior once giggled over can become obnoxious. An intolerant owner might begin to search for another home for Fluffy Sue. Adolescence calls for a little understanding. Perhaps looking at your cat’s behavior through his eyes will provide you with that understanding.
Crouch, stalk, pounce and bite! That was no mouse; that was my ankle! Felines are predators, and many cats have all the training they need to become mighty hunters when they are only 8 weeks olds. Cats need an outlet for their predatory behavior. Channel their predation toward playthings that you can make come alive. If your cat zeros in on your body parts, correct him with a loud hiss or a puff of air in his face. For more hard‐core cases, use a spritz of water or a loud noise. Praise the cat for any interest he shows in the toy with which you are tantalizing him. No hitting please, or his predatory play could swiftly turn into defensive aggression.
Did your cat keep you up last night? Contrary to popular belief, cats are not nocturnal creatures. However, latchkey adolescents and seniors have been known to get restless, usually near dawn. There may not be much you can do about a geriatric cat’s metabolism, but a 10‐minute play session followed by a fashionably late dinner does wonders for an early‐rising youngster.
When cats hunt, they stalk, pounce, kill, and then eat their prey. Replicating this predatory ritual by playing interactive games and then serving dinner can be tremendously satisfying for your cat.
Make sure you are not inadvertently teaching your cat any bad habits. If he cried loud and long and you get up to feed him, play with him, or cuddle with him, he will be rewarded for his bad behavior.
Create a plan space/bedroom in a containable room like the bathroom for cats who continue to be disruptive early risers. A litter box, bed and various types of toys dangling off doorknobs and towel racks should fill the environment. This will be your cat’s bedroom until he outgrows his pre‐dawn antsiness. Don’t wait until he wakes you up. Tuck him in there at bedtime. He earns access to your bed by learning to sleep in until you say so.
During this stage of rambunctiousness, expect willful disobedience and boundary testing. Patience, a sense of humor, and a sound understanding of feline adolescent behavior are the best revenge.
Cat Toys and How to Use Them
Although cats generally have different play styles than their canine counterparts, toys are as much a necessity for cats as they are for dogs. Toys help fight boredom and give cats an outlet for their instinctive prey‐chasing behaviors. And when you are the one moving the toy around while your cat fishes for it, chases after it, or jumps in pursuit of it, playtime becomes a bonding experience for you and your cat.
Our mothers always told us “no playing ball in the house,” but cats can usually participate in that forbidden exercise without knocking down a vase or a lamp (and being grounded for two weeks). Still, there are plenty of factors that may contribute to the safety of the toy they’re batting around.
Many of those factors are completely dependent upon your cat’s size, activity level, and preference. Another factor to be considered is the environment in which your cat spends her time. Although we can’t guarantee your cat’s enthusiasm or her safety with any specific toy, we can offer the following guidelines.
The things that are usually most attractive to cats are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Cat‐proof your home by removing string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, plastic milk jug rings, paper clips, pins, needles, dental floss, and anything else that could be ingested. All of these items are dangerous, no matter how cute your cat may appear when she’s playing with them.
Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t “cat proof” by removing ribbons, feathers, strings, eyes, or other parts that could be chewed or ingested.
Soft toys should be machine washable. Look for stuffed toys that are labeled as safe for children less than three years of age and that don’t contain any dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads. Remember that rigid toys are not as attractive to cats.
Round plastic shower curtain rings, which are fun either as a single ring to bat around, hide, or carry, or when linked together and hung in an enticing spot.
Plastic balls, with or without bells inside.
Ping‐Pong balls and plastic practice golf balls with holes to help cats carry them. Try putting one in a dry bathtub, as the captive ball is much more fun than one that escapes under the sofa. You’ll probably want to remove the balls from the bathtub before bedtime, or you may lose some sleep, as two o’clock in the morning seems to be a prime time for this game. Paper bags with any handles removed. Paper bags are good for pouncing, hiding, and interactive play. Plastic bags are not a good idea, as many cats like to chew and ingest the plastic.
Sisal‐wrapped toys, which are very attractive to cats that tend to ignore soft toys.
Empty cardboard tubes from toilet paper and paper towels are made even more fun if you “unwind” a little cardboard to get them started.
Soft stuffed toys are good for several purposes. For some cats, the stuffed animal should be small enough to carry around. For cats who want to wrestle with the toy, the stuffed animal should be about the same size as the cat. Toys with legs and a tail seem to be especially enticing to cats.
Cardboard boxes, especially those a little too small for your cat to fit into.
Catnip‐filled soft toys, which cats like to kick, carry, and rub. Catnip is not addictive and is perfectly safe for cats to roll in, rub in, or eat.
Plain catnip can be crushed and sprinkled on the carpet or, for easier cleanup, on a towel placed on the floor. Catnip oils will often stay in the carpet, and although they’re not visible to us, your cat will still be able to smell them.
Catnip sprays rarely have enough power to be attractive to cats.
Not all cats are affected by catnip. Some cats may become overstimulated to the point of aggressive play and others may become relaxed.
Kittens under six months old seem to be immune to catnip.
Get the Most Out of Toys!
Rotate your cat’s toys weekly by making only a few toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your cat has a favorite, like a soft “baby” that she loves to cuddle with, you may want to leave that one out all the time.
Provide toys that offer a variety of uses – at least one toy to carry, one to wrestle with, one to roll and one to “baby.”
Hide‐and‐seek is a fun game for cats.
“Found” toys are often much more attractive than a toy which is obviously introduced.
Many of your cat’s toys should be interactive. Interactive play is very important for your cat because she needs active “people time” ‐ and such play also enhances the bond between you and your pet. Cats generally engage in three types of play – “fishing, flying, and chasing” – and all types are much more engaging for cats when you are part of them.
Why Do Cats Scratch?
The fact is that cats scratch objects in their environment for many perfectly normal reasons, for instance:
To remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
To mark their territory by leaving a visual mark and a scent – they have scent glands on their paws.
To stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.
To work off energy.
Because scratching is a normal behavior, and one that cats are highly motivated to display, it’s unrealistic to try to prevent them from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to redirect the scratching onto acceptable objects.
Training Your Cat to Scratch Acceptable Objects
You must provide objects for scratching that are appealing, attractive, and convenient from your cat’s point of view. Start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching. The answers to the following questions will help you understand your cat’s scratching preferences:
Where are they located? Prominent objects, objects close to sleeping areas, and objects near the entrance to a room are often chosen.
What texture do they have – are they soft or coarse?
What shape do they have – are they horizontal or vertical?
How tall are they? At what height does your cat scratch? Now, considering your cat’s demonstrated preferences, substitute similar objects for her to scratch (rope‐wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard, or even a log). Place the acceptable object(s) near the inappropriate object(s) that she’s already using. Make sure the objects are stable and won’t fall over or move around when she uses them. Cover the inappropriate objects with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double‐sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up. Or you may give the objects an aversive odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, a muscle rub, or other safe yet unpleasant substance. Be careful with odors, though, because you don’t want the nearby acceptable objects to also smell unpleasant.
When your cat is consistently using the appropriate object, it can be moved very gradually (no more than three inches each day) to a location more suitable to you. It’s best; however, to keep the appropriate scratching objects as close to your cat’s preferred scratching locations as possible. Don’t remove the unappealing coverings or odors from the inappropriate objects until your cat is consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent locations for several weeks, or even a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at once.
Introducing Your New Cat to the Litter Box
Most of us know cats are finicky eaters, but they can also be pretty picky when it comes to the other end of the digestive process – making use of a litter box. Fortunately, the following suggestions should keep your cat from “thinking outside the box.”
Location, Location, Location
There are two main mistakes new owners make with the location of the litterbox: putting it too far away from everything and putting it too close to everything.
Many people are inclined to place the litter box in an out‐of‐the‐way spot to minimize odor and prevent cat litter from being tracked throughout the house. But if the litter box ends up in the basement – next to an appliance or on a cold cement floor – a kitten or an older cat may not be able to get down a long flight of stairs in time to get to the litter box. If the litter box is located in an area that she seldom frequents, she may not even remember where it is, especially during the first few weeks she’s welcomed into your home. If a furnace, washing machine, or dryer suddenly comes on and startles your cat while she’s using the litter box, that may be the last time she risks such a frightening experience. And if you cat likes to scratch the surface surrounding her litter box (which some cats do), she may find a cold cement floor unappealing. So she’ll find a place that feels good and isn’t scary – maybe on a plastic bag upstairs, or in the laundry.
The second mistake owners make is to put all the “cat stuff” in one area. The food, box, bed, and toys, often adorably matching, are all put in one area of one room. But cats don’t like to poop in their dining room, or eat in their bathroom, any more than you would. You need to separate the litter from the food and from the bed and toys by at least ten or twelve feet.
Ideally, find a place for the box that affords your cat some privacy yet is also conveniently located. If you place the litter box in a closet or a bathroom, be sure the door is wedged open from both sides to prevent her from being trapped inside or locked out. Depending on the location, you might consider cutting a hole in a closet door and adding a pet door.
Pick of the Litter
Your kitten here was given non-clumping clay litter for the first weeks of her life and then transitioned to a pad-type litterbox. You can use any kind of litter or box you’d like, as long as your cat or kitten uses it. We recommend the pad boxes for sanitation and odor control.
What’s the Magic Number?
You should have at least as many litter boxes as you have cats. That way, none of them will ever be prevented from eliminating in the litter box because it’s already occupied. You might also consider placing litter boxes in several locations around the house, so that no one cat can prevent the other cats from getting access. We also recommend that you place at least one litter box on each level of your house. It’s not possible to designate a personal litter box for each cat in your household, as cats may use any litter box that’s available, and that means a cat may occasionally refuse to use a litter box after another cat has used it. In this case, all of the litter boxes will need to be kept extremely clean and additional boxes may be needed.
An Undercover Operation?
A surprising number of cats don’t like covered litter boxes (including top-entry boxes), and an equally surprising number won’t use anything but.
If you’re experiencing litterbox issues, a simple way to rule out litterbox preference is to offer the opposite type from what you currently use. If the issue “magically” disappears, then you have your answer.
Keeping It Clean
Cats are exceptionally clean animals, and hate using dirty or smelly boxes. Scoop or remove the poop every day, and change the entire box if there’s still a lingering odor after scooping. Don’t use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products when washing the litter box, as doing so may cause your cat to avoid the box. Some cleaning products are toxic to cats. Washing with soap and water should be sufficient.
Some cats don’t mind having a plastic liner in the litter box, while others do. Again, you may want to experiment to see if your cat is bothered by a liner in the box. If you do use a liner, make sure it’s anchored in place, so it can’t easily catch your cat’s claws or be pulled out of place.
There’s really no such thing as “litter‐training” a cat in the same way one would housetrain a dog. A cat doesn’t need to be taught what to do with a litter box, because instinct will generally take over. The only thing you need to do is provide an acceptable, accessible litter box, using the suggestions above. It’s not necessary to take your cat to the litter box and move her paws back and forth in the litter; in fact, we don’ recommend it, as such an unpleasant experience is likely to initiate a negative association with the litter box.
If your cat is showing signs of inappropriate elimination such as spraying, marking or not using the litter box consistently, this may be an attempt on her part to communicate with you that there is something physically wrong or something she does not like about the litter box.
The solution could be as simple as moving the box to a new, quieter environment or changing the type of litter to one that appeals more to your cat. In some cases the litter box may need to be cleaned more often, or in multi-cat families it may be necessary to add an additional box. Many cats prefer to have two boxes even if they are the only cat in the home, or if the home has several floors they may need a box on each level.
If a simple box or litter change doesn’t work, have your vet check the cat for health problems such as a urinary tract infection that may be causing him to avoid the litter box.
Some cats will spray or mark when they feel the need to protect or establish their territory. Watch for the stimulus that is causing the cat to feel concerned, such as seeing other cats outside, being unsure about resident cats, or other animals that are sharing the household. They may also mark over areas where other animals have soiled. Consider adding a pheromone diffuser, which in our experience can be very effective. And be patient and “try, try again.”
Some behavior problems occur when the cat has become more comfortable in his new home. Of course you want your cat to feel at home, but some cats start to “push their boundaries” once they feel established. Younger cats, up to about two or three years of age, may also display some behavior changes or start to “act up”—the feline equivalent of teenage years! If you suspect that teenager ‘tude may be at fault, restrict your kitten’s access to the entire house – keep him or her in a smaller area until litterbox behavior is perfect again.