This morning, 5:03 AM, my alarm goes off. Not my real alarm, but the furry ball of nails and attitude known as Streaky Bell (named by my 10 year old daughter Mary, Streaky for Supergirl's cat, Bell for Alexander Graham who she was studying in school).
It seems I did the horrible thing of not filling his food bowl before going to bed. And, of course, he waited for me to be smack dab in the middle on my most restful art of sleep to remind me of my transgression. Hey, there was food in the bowl when I went to bed, just not a lot of it.
Such is the joy of cats. Sure, these moments make you want to test out the theory of there being more than one way to skin a cat, but before you know it, they are curled up in your lap, buzzing away with that infectious happiness, and all is forgiven.
Almost every day, I get someone asking me questions about cat behaviour, and how to go about correcting it. Scratching furniture and not using the litter box are the two biggest complaints. While I'm not an animal behaviourist, I have 20+ years of dealing with customers and their pets, so I've managed to pick up some tips along the way.
Scratching furniture is by far the biggest complaint about cats. The obvious solutions are to give the cats something more attractive to scratch, and remove access to the item being scratched.
Scratch posts, carpeted, covered with sisal rope, or made of cardboard are the most popular choices. From a simple cardboard pad (with a little catnip added) for under $10, to custom cat trees costing hundreds, its not hard to find an option that fits your budget and decor. Many times, this can be enough to stop the bad behaviour.
Removing access can be a little harder. Using commercial deterrents can help (Scat Mat static pads, XMat pin pads) by using a physical barrier. Some people use two sided tape or tinfoil to make the area less attractive. As well, there are scent deterrents that create the area unpleasant to the cat, but tolerable to our less acute noses. We recommend that you don't spray the scent deterrent directly on the furniture, but rather on a towel or cloth, and then place that on the furniture.
Litter issues are a different matter. Sometimes behavioural, sometimes a protest, and sometimes an issue with location or type of litter.
When the dynamic of a household changes (someone leaving, someone coming in), cats sense the upheaval and can respond by showing their disapproval. Peeing in the new person's shoes or on the bed is a standard response. Most of the time, this stops when the new member becomes accepted into the house by the cat. Having the new member feed, give treats and clean litter for the cat can accelerate the process. (Yes, you can show them this to get them to do those chores!)
Adding a new cat or dog can be an even more traumatic issue. If you are adding a cat, make sure to add at least one new litter box, so they do not have to share.
"Missing" the litter, pooping out the side of or beside the box, can be a signal that the cat is upset either by the cleanliness of the box, or the type of litter used. Figure out which, and you can easily fix that problem. Litter formulations can change, even though they may be in the same package from the same store, so you may not even realize the problem's source. If this behaviour starts, be extra vigilant in cleaning to see if that is the solution. You might also look at changing the location, especially if something else has changed in that room/area. It might be that something you've placed near the litterbox is bothering the cat.
There are no black and white answers for dealing with a living thing. But observation is our best diagnostic tool to finding a solution. Work with your cat, and you will resolve the issues much faster.