Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, spoke at VMX about handling common feline nuisance behaviors that cause stress for clients.
Speaking virtually at the Veterinary Meeting & Expo (VMX), Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, provided veterinary professionals with simple strategies to share with pet parents to stop common feline nuisance behaviors. Her talk “Decoding your cat: how to stop normal behaviors that drive people crazy,” covered a range of nuisance behaviors, the reasons why cats feel compelled to perform them, and Fear Free tactics for encouraging the cats to satisfy these behaviors positively.
Counter lounging behavior in cats can be more than just a nuisance behavior for pet parents. It can be a health concern, as well. “Those paws we know were just in the litter box a few minutes ago, and now they’re prancing all over my counter where I’m eating breakfast or where I’m preparing my food,” said Herron, introducing the topic.
Herron notes that cats are naturally drawn to countertops, as they provide a safe, high vantage point closer to people. The behavior can be rewarded if they gain access to food. She says the best way to combat this is to offer a more attractive alternative to fulfill those environmental needs. Pet parents can do this by providing a high resting platform that is warm, stable, and located in a high traffic area. The pet parent can reinforce the behavior by relocating the cat to their new perch whenever they lounge on the counter and by giving treats when they choose it correctly on their own.
Pet parents should understand that cats need to scratch to shed the outer layers of their claws for nail maintenance. They are also driven to leave visual, scent, and pheromonal marks. However, if cats don’t have the proper outlet for this behavior, scratching can be one of the most stressful feline nuisance behaviors.
Herron recommends strategies that make furniture less appealing (without stress or punishment) while providing more appealing alternatives. She says a scratching post or pad should be located in a central area of the home, made of material that adheres to the nail well, makes a visual display when scratched, and is large enough (vertically or horizontally) for the cat to be able to fully stretch and scratch. “This is why that couch in the middle of your living room is so appealing…It’s a central area where they can scratch, leave a visual marking, and leave lots of messaging.”
Herron explains that despite being carnivores, some amount of plant chewing is a natural behavior for cats, even if there is no conclusive answer among the many theories as to why they do it. To offer a safe alternative to houseplants that are potentially toxic to the cat and an annoyance to the pet parent, Herron says, “Cat grass, wheatgrass, [and] fresh catnip are going to be your safest options here.” The other half of the equation is to either not have toxic plants in the house or to restrict access by placing them out of reach. Herron also suggests placing plants within a structure the cat cannot get at.
Herron M. Decoding your cat: how to stop normal behaviors that drive people crazy. VMX Veterinary Meeting & Expo; January 15-19, 2022; Orlando, FL. Accessed January 18, 2022. https://register.navc.com/conference/2022/virtual_lobby.cfm