How to Trim the Nails of a "Difficult" Cat

Some cats are more sensitive to being handled than others. If you work with them as kittens, you can certainly help them to overcome this sensitivity, but what about those adult cats that react negatively to any handling? Candy H. writes:

Cali is a very mean indoor cat who desperately needs her nails trimmed. The vet won’t trim them unless she is sedated and I have to administer the sedation. Do you have any suggestions on how to do that without getting torn up from biting and scratches? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Candy, we have a good general post about trimming nails here. You also want to make sure Cali has access to a good, rough-surfaced scratching post. It's important to note that if Cali's nail tips are digging into her paw pads, she may be experiencing a great deal of pain when her paws are handled. That would make anyone feel angry!

There are several ways to approach Cali's particular problem. The one most commonly mentioned is the burrito method. To restrain the cat, you basically roll them up in a towel like a burrito, leaving their paws exposed. This doesn't always work if the cat bites or if the hind legs aren't tucked in comfortably due to the cat struggling against you. Usually, it's safe to leave a cat's rear nails untrimmed unless there is obvious overgrowth. 

A better method is the sleeping method, though many scoff when it's mentioned. If Cali is relaxed and in deep sleep, she will probably allow you to handle her paws. This is especially easy if the cat will sleep on your lap. Many times, they'll allow lots of handling before they awaken and realize what's going on. Using this method, you could easily do a couple of nails at a time at home.

One other method that works for some cats is the distraction method. You place a little bit of a sticky treat onto the end of the nose. This can be enough of a distraction that the cat forgets about the nail trimming that's going on. We like to use mayonnaise. :)

Be cautious about labeling Cali as "mean". Cat's aren't really capable of being mean, in that they don't act out against others for no reason. Thinking of Cali as "mean" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. She can pick up on the nervousness of those who feel she is a mean cat and react to that energy in a negative way.

If Cali hasn't been well socialized and doesn't like humans very much, that's a behavioral issue that can be addressed. Getting her used to being handled would be the next step. Both can be achieved but will require a great amount of patience and, to be honest, the commitment of a good bit of time to the issue.

Here's a good post about why a cat may seem to be a bully.

We certainly wish you and Cali all the best!

Do Moon Phases Affect Cats?

Many people have made an anecdotal connection between chaotic human behavior and the full moon. According to this Washington Post article, it just isn't true, but what about animals? Are they more affected by the phases of the moon than humans are? Barbara B. writes:

My cat Benjamin is the most wonderful animal in the world approximately 20 out of 30 days a month. I truly believe he is a “lunatic” since I have noticed that his personality changes occur around the time of the full moon, when he becomes moody and aggressive. Do you believe my observation and if so what do you suggest?

Thank you for your question! While much of what we typically think of as "full moon behavior" in humans has little basis in fact, there has been a study that seems to confirm that cats may be affected by the phases of the moon. In it, veterinarians and their assistants noted a 23% increase in cat visits to emergency rooms on nights when the moon was more full. There are several ways to look at this study, including the possibility that outdoor cats could become more active due to the increase of nighttime light from the moon. Whatever the reason, some cats certainly can vary their behavior in a cyclical way. 

For some cats, these aggressive spells are indicative of the fact that they aren't getting enough of a daily play workout. Over time, this lack of "hunting" activity can manifest as nervous energy and frustration that builds and builds until it just has to come out. Scheduling playtime at least twice a day will certainly help to get some of that energy out before it becomes a problem.

A cat can also become agitated because of smells. Laundering bedding that Benjamin has his scent on could even be enough to set him off. Also, if an interloper cat outside is spraying, you might not notice the scent but Benjamin certainly would. We have a good post on removing this annoyance here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cleaning-cat-spray

One other thing that could be creating problems for Benjamin is pain. If you trim his nails every few weeks, one could be pressing into his toe pad and causing some pain until you trim them the next time. This sort of thing takes some detective work to sort out, but it's worth considering. Handle him (gently) all over and see if he shows a reaction. You didn't mention his age, but he could have arthritis. That can tend to become more or less painful depending on the barometric pressure and temperature.

Pay close attention to his litter box habits and the food and treats he consumes as well. Is there something you feed him from the table every now and then? If there's a recurring physical malady, it may take a little time to be noticed. Yes, it's a long shot, but the more attention you pay the Benjamin's habits, the easier the cause of his crazy spells will be to discern.

We wish you and Benjamin the were-cat all the best!

How to Redirect Chewing Behaviors in Cats

Most cats love to rub their faces on the edges of things to deposit their scent there. It's very satisfying for them to do so. But what if that rubbing becomes chewing? Judy C. writes:

My cat, Buffy, chews metal. She has chewed off bars for adjusting a lamp and has chewed a hole in a window screen. Not sure why she does this.

Judy, what cats choose to rub on depends greatly on what items are available to them. Things that stick out, like the bars on your lamp, are prime choices because they're easy to access and the ends rub Buffy's face in just the right way to satisfy her.

Our black spokescat loves to rub her face all over a used coffee cup because she likes the feel of the edge of the cup and the smell of the coffee.

It's a short step to go from rubbing on something to chewing on it and Buffy's clearly taken that step. You need to redirect her rubbing and chewing toward something she'll like even better. Many cats respond to the prickly surfaces on toys such as these self-groomers:

All three of these have been a huge hit in our house! To get Buffy to transition, you might want to put one of these toys close to spots where she used to rub against the lamp. Cats are creatures of habit, so it may take a little bit of time to get her to move to the new groomer, but once she tries it, she'll probably like it much better than the prickly metal she's been using. Just observe her and make sure she isn't chewing bits off the groomers. The nubs are usually short enough that this isn't an issue but with a particularly chewy cat, it's a possibility.

You'll also want to discourage Buffy from using the old items, so just rub a little bit of lemon juice on them. Cats generally hate citrus and one whiff should send her running to her new toy. It also has the advantage of not having anything but natural ingredients. Never use a citrus cleaner or air freshener for this purpose as they often contain things that could actually kill cats! Just use plain old lemon juice.

You should be able to redirect Buffy's behavior, but it will take a little time. Just be patient with her and you should see results. We wish you and Buffy all the best!

My Cat Stopped Sleeping On My Bed

Many cats like to move their prime sleeping spots around from time to time. For some, this happens daily and for others it might only happen occasionally. Tammy G. writes:

My cats, Camo & Shuga, ALWAYS slept with me. Since our move from the East Coast to Central America, Shuga refuses to sleep on the bed with Camo and I, despite my efforts to get her up on the bed. What do you think would cause her to be defiant?

Tammy, you have to begin by reframing your own thoughts on this matter a bit. Shuga isn't refusing anything and she's not being defiant. She's being a cat. Cats like to make their own choices about where they sleep. Trying to force her to sleep on the bed with you will only result in her being less likely to sleep there. You have to give Shuga the gift of allowing her to be her. Just like with a person, the less you try to force your desires on her, the more loved she will feel and the more she will bond with you. In this case, it may seem counter-intuitive, but it really isn't. You remember the old adage, "If you love something, set it free", right?

Cats choose their sleeping spots in a variety of ways, but the choice is mostly governed by temperature, comfort, scent and security. Those last two are closely tied. If there's a strange new scent or a new detergent being used to launder the bedclothes, some cats will avoid it because it doesn't fit the "safe" profile in their scent rolodex. 

There could also be a bit of a power struggle between Camo and Shuga for prime space in the new place. Cats like the time-share model for sleeping spots, so maybe they've decided that Camo "owns" the bed space at night. Watch the two of them interacting and you'll probably see them negotiating for prime real estate - the sunny window seat or the highest spot in the room. You want to make sure there are plenty of equal spaces for them to "own" so their subtle competition doesn't escalate.

So, Tammy, our advice is to relax and enjoy your two cats on their own terms. Isn't that what you'd ask of your friends? We wish you all the best!

Help, My Cat's Eating Trash!

Some cats develop a compulsion to chew on and eat some pretty strange things. Hair bands are popular as are paper, plastic, string and especially wool. Sue P. writes:

Aiden is a healthy 4 1/2 year old former stray cat. He was found with his brothers after his mom was hit by a car. Aiden has developed a desire for trash. He eats plastic bags, string, plastic, wrappers - pretty much anything that he can fit in his mouth. I’m wondering, besides being diligent in keeping these things away from him, how can I get him to stop? His brother has no problem and would love some toys to play with, but Aiden has and will eat them.

Sue, despite what some would have you believe, we really have no idea why cats engage in this behavior. It's called pica (from the Latin word for magpie - a bird who eats just about anything) and it occurs in humans too. Theoretical causes range from a dietary deficiency to physical brain issues to behavioral disorders and even stress. The biggest danger to Aiden is intestinal blockage since things like plastic bags and hair ties can keep real food from getting through his digestive tract. 

To begin with, you want to make sure Aiden has a clean bill of health from a veterinarian. A general checkup is in order, with additional tests if there's any indication of problems, especially vitamin and other nutrient deficiencies.

Once that's cleared up, you want to take a good look at Aiden's nutrition. Make sure he's getting everything he needs, which usually means shying away from most commercial cat foods available at the supermarket. We have a post on cat food recommendations here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/best-cat-food-and-food-bowls . 

 
 

Just be sure that he's getting as complete a diet as possible. Besides a high-quality wet or raw food diet, he may need his meals supplemented with a teaspoon of pure pumpkin puree and a good probiotic. Remember, for full nutrition, you're not only feeding Aiden but also the bacteria in his digestive tract. 

 
 

You may find some success in redirecting his behavior toward something that's good for him. Cat grass is an excellent substitute for the long, stringy things that many cats with pica like to chew and ingest.

 
 

It may also help to play with Aiden more often and more actively. Exercise alleviates stress and can help him to forget about his compulsion. When you see him indulging, don't overreact. Just remove the offending object and replace it with a fun activity that Aiden enjoys. Reward him when he's playing with toys without eating them by offering his favorite treats. Adding treat puzzles to his toys may be helpful because he'll be rewarded by a new behavior, such as rolling a treat ball around.

 
 

If all else fails, Sue, you may want to consider a pharmaceutical solution. There are several drugs for felines who have excess anxiety or depression and can help tone down stress-related behaviors. We'd suggest trying this only after exhausting all other options and only for a short time at first. Feliway, a synthetic cat hormone, has also proven to be effective and has the advantage of being readily available.

Sue, we know this can be a real challenge. Just don't give up on Aiden. It may take some time but we're certain you can find a way to minimize and possibly even stop this behavior. We wish you both all the best!