ASK THE VETS
By Dr. Kim Anderka and Dr. Christina Douthwaite
Help! My kitten is into everything! If he isn’t digging in my plants, he is on the kitchen counter as soon as I turn my back. How do I train him to stay out of trouble?
It sounds like you have your hands full with this little guy. Young cats tend to be more prone to getting into mischief with most outgrowing this behaviour around two years of age. Cats are natural explorers and the key is to provide lots of appropriate outlets for this curiosity otherwise an active, bored cat will find endless opportunities for mischief.
Ensure you are providing lots of toys and interactive play sessions with him. Rotating the cat toys to keep them fresh and interesting can also help to keep him engaged. It is important to avoid giving him the opportunity to engage in inappropriate behaviour. When we try to intervene, we often inadvertently reward the naughty activities and accidentally reinforce them. Mental stimulation is equally important as physical play. Consider food hide and seek games, laser pointer play, fetch games and problem solving games. Be creative-hide a toy under a cardboard box or in a container and see if he can get it out.
Ensure that rewards are given for the desired behaviour as well. With interactive play using his own toys, ensure you are using verbal praise, petting, or treats to show him that you approve. Remember that a tired cat is a happy cat.
Physical or verbal punishment should always be avoided as it can have dangerous consequences. It can damage the owner-pet bond and cause fear, anxiety and owner avoidance, which in turn can result in a cat developing other disorders such as house soiling and/or aggression.
Protection from harmful objects and other substances is key to keeping him safe and out of mischief. Ensure you protect wires from chewing and ensure all houseplants are out of your cat’s reach. Check out the ASPCA poison control website (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control) for a complete list of household toxins to ensure his environment is safe. If your cat is entering into your cabinets, use baby latches or an elastic band around the knobs to prevent access. Remove dishes from the counter and put food away promptly before the kitchen is left unattended so there aren’t any food rewards for counter surfing.
Remote training devices can be your eyes and ears when you are not in the room and allow for consistency in reinforcing areas that are off-limits. Before using a deterrent product for interrupting the undesirable behaviour, ensure that the cat is being given sufficient enrichment and outlets for its exercise and social needs. If a training device doesn’t work for your cat, discontinue its use and speak to your veterinarian about other options.
SSScat® is a motion-activated cat training aid that releases a spray of compressed air. This device can be put on counters to act as a deterrent when the cat jumps up. Double sided tape or an upside down carpet runner with the plastic knobs facing up can prevent access to areas that are off limits for the cat. Tin foil, noise-makers and chewing deterrent sprays also help to discourage unwanted behaviour.
Pet containment solutions also exist and include a wireless transmitter puck to define areas that are off limits for your pet. These devices operate with a collar to warn your pet about the set boundary that you have defined. They are specific enough to cover one houseplant or define a larger boundary for an entire room such as the kitchen.
Speak to your veterinarian about the best training options for your cat. With some patience and perseverance, cats can be trained to stay out of trouble. Good luck with your kitten.