Taming a hissy feline

Contrary to popular belief, even the most mischievous cat can be rehabilitated. Here’s how to show the little terrifying furball who’s boss.
By Gillian Lim
Published on Thursday, 09 November 2017

Even if you don’t own a cat, it’s universally known that some felines can be devilishly mean. If you’ve returned home to ripped blankets or scarves, or have found random bunches of poop in your bags, slippers or bed, know that you’re not alone. American reality television show, My Cat From Hell, has seven seasons showcasing this furkid’s naughtiness!

Don’t fret, because these clawed devils can be tamed. Yes, you heard us right. “Any cat can be effectively trained,” shares Dr Elise Robertson, a feline specialist and
endoscopist at Amber Cat Vet. She adds: “The ease of training will depend on the age of the cat, its personality and past experiences.” Maureen Tay, a certified
professional dog trainer at KasPup UniFURsity, agrees. “I know cats that can do agility and tricks,” she says. “If you can find what motivates your feline, nothing is too difficult.”

Before you begin, know that Puss doesn’t learn from punishment or scolding. “Negative reinforcement will be negatively associated with the owner rather than the habit,” says Dr Elise. “They’ll learn to dislike you (and the situation) rather than the behaviour they’re being punished for.” Always go for positive reinforcement and/or rewards-based training, which cats are known to respond well to.

To start you off, here are a few common unruly cat behaviours and how to combat them.

Caterwauling
To understand why your furry friend regularly lets out banshee wails at 3am, you have to know that every feline’s secret weapon is persistence. “It’s hard-wired
into their brain as a necessary hunting tool,” writes Celia Haddon in Cats Behaving Badly. The history of feral cats displays this very trait. In order to eat, cats have to sit in front of the mouse hole for hours until the rodent appears. And that’s the main reason why Puss loves to wake you up at godforsaken hours—simply because they can, and they want to.

To put a stop to this, you need to be more persistent than Puss and ignore her demands. How long, you might ask? “Two to three weeks,” shares Haddon. Typically, most humans don’t last long enough in ignoring their kitty’s early morning summons and that usually results in the cat winning almost every time.

House soiling
Did you know that at least 10 percent of pet cats go through an elimination problem at some point of time in their life? And it might not be entirely their fault, especially if it’s caused by an underlying illness. “If your cat has a bladder infection, he may be urinating outside the litter box because he cannot make it in time. The cat with diarrhoea may experience a similar lack of control,” explains Dr H. Ellen Whiteley, author of Understanding and Training your Cat or Kitten.

If you’re certain that disease isn’t the cause of your kitty’s wrongdoings, figure out what exactly is prompting such behaviour. “For example, if you determine the cat has an aversion to the new litter, the answer may be as simple as returning to the old litter product,” shares Dr Whiteley.

If your cat still chooses inappropriate locations to eliminate, try catering the litter box to his preferences. If your kitty prefers carpets, add small pieces of carpeting to the bottom of the box. Simultaneously, make your feline’s preferred (but inappropriate) area of elimination less attractive. “It may involve leaving water in the sink or bathtub or covering frequented areas with a plastic drop cloth or aluminium foil,” adds Dr Whiteley. As a last resort, confine your kitty in close proximity to the box until he uses it. Once he does, reward him.

For more common unruly cat behaviours and how to combat them, flip to Body and Soul (pg 56) of our Oct/Nov 2017 issue!