How to Train a Young Destructive Cat
Making the impossible possible
Will stimulation for a cat work as a training tool? Pet expert Cathy M. Rosenthal offers advice to two pet owners with destructive and restless cats.
How can we stop two kitties under a year old from getting into the garbage can, tearing up a loaf of bread, opening up energy bars, and just jumping and tearing up everything? They are mostly home alone all day. Please help.
— Julia, Riverhead, New York
There are three ways to “train” – and I use that word loosely – a cat. Much like you would babyproof a house for a newborn, you have to kitten-proof your home for these youngsters. This means getting a garbage can that they can’t tip or open on their own. It means putting the bread in the fridge, freezer, cupboard, or breadbox – again, something they can’t open. Put the energy bars into a cabinet or pantry.
Bottom line: If it’s not out, they can’t destroy it.
Next, introduce humane deterrents to discourage destructive behaviors. If your kittens like climbing curtains, for example, put cat training tape (available at pet stores or online) across the bottom of the curtains and up to as high as the little ones can jump. Use that tape on couches so they can’t scratch them. These special tapes won’t harm your furniture or linens and can easily be removed when your cats have learned their boundaries.
Make sure to have scratching posts available, so they have something to stretch their claws on. Cats also despise certain scents, and there are products on the market that you can spray on your furniture and plants to discourage your felines from messing with them. These are temporary “training” techniques until your cats learn what’s off-limits.
Another strategy is to provide stimulation for your cat. Redirect your two kitties with exercise and interactive toys. Play with them three times a day for 10 minutes at a time. You can easily play with both of them at the same by introducing a fishing reel they can chase or a wand toy they can swat and bat about. An automatic laser toy counts as their 10 minutes of playtime. Turn it on and let your rambunctious felines stalk the laser while you do something else.
Like toddlers, they are going through their rambunctious phase and will eventually grow out of some of these behaviors. But it’s always good to train and set boundaries from the start so they learn what is acceptable behavior.
I live in Wyoming, where the winters are pretty bad, especially this recent one. I have a cat who is 13 years old and still has her energetic moments. She hates the wintry weather and stays inside most of the time, but she gets pent-up energy and sometimes goes crazy running around the house. She enjoys playing cat and mouse games with the dog a few times a week and climbing in new cardboard boxes, but more is needed.
I play with her a bit using a cat toy. I know she needs more stimulation, and I was thinking about setting up a ramp on my living room walls to stimulate her. She doesn’t like other cats, so getting a cat companion is out. I’m afraid of ruining my walls and that she will not be interested after putting the money and time into this. Do you have any suggestions to help relieve her boredom that won’t cost a fortune and will interest her?
— Susan, Wyoming
In addition to the suggestions offered to Julia from Riverhead, New York, in the question above, there are many other things you can do to provide stimulation for your cat.
As you note, cats love to be in high places where they can watch the rest of their world with more confidence. If your cat already jumps on the fridge or other pieces of furniture, then it’s likely your cat will love the ramp. If you want to be sure, though, stair-step a few small moving boxes (loaded with books so they don’t move or collapse if your cat jumps on them). If your cat goes up and down them, you know a ramp may be something she will love.
Another excellent way to stimulate a cat is to get a “cat tent” and put it on a patio or backyard – someplace where a dog or predator could not get to them – for your cat to enjoy in warmer weather. Watching nature out the window or being in nature in a cat tent stimulates your cat’s senses, which makes them want to rest more later.
Finally, feline puzzle toys are great for good mental health. Start out with easy toys and work your way to harder ones as you cat solves them.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist, and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. She addresses reader questions as diverse as stimulation for your cat as a training tool to bizarre dog behavior and other pet concerns. Send your pet questions, stories, and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.
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