Teach these 3 habits to save your cat’s 9 lives
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
In the aftermath of a disaster such as the recent California wildfires — a time when people and pets often become separated for reasons beyond their control — it’s easy to worry about how to respond when lives are at risk. That’s especially true for cat owners, whose pets tend to hide at the best of times and are even more likely to do so during an emergency. Leaving them behind seems unthinkable, but if you are staring down a fire, flood or tornado, you may have no option if your cat can’t be found.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach your cat three habits that may save his life, not just during an emergency but in day-to-day living: come when called, willingly enter and ride in a carrier and scratch on a post. Here’s how.
• Come when called. When my husband and I acquired our first two cats, we didn’t know the received wisdom that “cats can’t be trained.” So we taught them to come to a whistle. Every time we fed them, we whistled a particular refrain. Soon we could whistle at any time of day, from any place in the house, and our cats would come running. If you can’t just put your lips together and blow, use another signal, such as ringing a bell, blowing a whistle or crinkling a treat bag. Always give a reward when your cat responds. Cats don’t work for free, after all.
• Enter and ride in a carrier. Every cat owner at one time or another has wrestled a cat into a carrier. No one likes it — least of all the cat. I asked fellow Pet Connection contributor and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker for tips on conditioning cats to love their carrier.
She says the key to carrier contentment is to give cats a positive association with it. Leave it out in your living room or other area where your cat likes to spend time, so she can explore it at leisure. Enhance its attractiveness as a hidey hole or resting spot by leaving treats inside for your cat to find (with a trail of them leading up to it), feeding meals in it (leave the door open), lining it with comfortable bedding, placing catnip or silver vine in it and applying a feline pheromone product to elicit calm feelings.
When transporting the carrier, hold it in both arms, close to your body, so your cat isn’t swinging at your side. Place the carrier on the floor of the car behind the passenger seat, where it won’t move excessively while the car is in motion. Play cat-specific music during the drive. Take your cat for rides to places other than the veterinary clinic. We often took those first two cats to the bank drive-through window or to Dairy Queen.
• Using a scratching post. Coming when called and going into a carrier have obvious benefits, but using a scratching post? You bet. Up to 42 percent of behavior complaints about cats involve destructive scratching, according to the AVMA. Cats who don’t scratch destructively are more likely to stay in their homes for life and to be welcome in homes or hotels if their people have to evacuate.
Four rules apply when teaching a cat to use a scratching post:
1. Never punish or frighten your cat while he’s using the post.
2. If you see him scratching where he shouldn’t, gently redirect him to the post, using a feather or fishing pole toy as a lure. Run your fingers up and down the post; the sound and motion will attract your cat’s attention and encourage him to scratch.
3. Attract your cat to the post with catnip, silver vine or a product such as Feliway Feliscratch.
4. Reward your cat whenever he uses the post, goes in the carrier or comes when called.