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My Pet World: Cat riding dilemma and taming the feline acrobat

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

Frequently, if I stand in one place for more than a couple of minutes, my two-year-old cat lovingly leaps onto my back and hangs on to me with her claws. I don't have time to locate a spray bottle. Mostly, I yell and try to get low so I can roll her off. Any ideas?

— Verna McLeod, Bellingham, Washington

Dear Verna,

Cats love high places, and riding around on you is fun for her. If it’s just the nails and you otherwise don’t mind your cat jumping and riding on your back, simply toss a hand towel over your shoulder and trim her nails weekly.

If you don’t want her riding on you altogether, though, then provide her with plenty of alternative places to climb and perch, such as cat trees, shelves, and window perches. Reward her with treats, affection, or playtime whenever she uses these new play areas to reinforce the desired behavior.

Also, keep her entertained and engaged with toys, puzzles, and interactive playtime at least three times a day to ensure she is well-exercised and mentally stimulated, which can reduce the likelihood of her jumping on you.

Using a clicker training approach to teach her commands like "stay" or "down" can also help redirect her behavior. These positive associations are intended to redirect her behavior while keeping her body and mind stimulated.

If your cat still jumps on your back, gently but firmly remove her while calmly saying "no" (yelling not required) to teach her this is unacceptable behavior. If she persists, consider providing a negative (but still humane) association to deter her.

In this scenario, place double-sided tape on your shoulders where your cat tends to jump. She should dislike this texture, which should immediately discourage her from jumping on you. While she may make a few more attempts, the double-sided tape should eventually do the trick.

But before you do this, please make sure to provide the cat trees, shelves and window perches, so she has somewhere to turn to fulfill her need to survey her kingdom.

By combining these methods and calmly redirecting her, you can help her learn that jumping on your back is unacceptable and encourage her to find more appropriate places to climb and explore.

Dear Cathy,

Your advice to the reader whose kitten was scratching her and considering declawing left out one simple solution: get another kitten.

Kittens have enormous amounts of energy, and a kitten companion can help wear them out, reducing the likelihood of them using furniture or their owner for amusement. The other cat will also become a lifelong buddy, helping to eliminate stress when the owner is absent.

– Vicki, Tucson, Arizona

 

Dear Vicki,

Your idea is sound if the pet parent has the resources and desire to care for two cats and commits to not declawing either one. While cats don’t always like a new cat being brought into the family, a kitten is likely to welcome a newcomer as a playmate, providing both cats with companionship and fun apart from their human.

Kittens will roughhouse with each other, so the pet owner will still need to invest time in teaching the cats proper playtime boundaries with humans. Otherwise, there is a risk of ending up with two cats who don’t understand how to play with humans appropriately.

After another email exchange with the cat parent in this case, I sensed she was seeking my approval for declawing, which I can't give. She also seemed uninterested in trying the humane options provided.

However, for anyone else, if you want and can handle the additional responsibility of another kitten – and you understand it might not solve any issues – then having two kittens or cats can bring double the joy to both the human and the other feline in the household.

Dear Cathy,

Regarding the recent column concerning puppies biting, I learned a great tip years ago. Touch fingertips to a tiny amount of butter (it doesn't even have to be visible on the fingertips). The puppy will lick, not bite, the fingers. Over a short time, the butter won't be necessary, and you've stopped a bad habit from forming. This is especially effective when it comes to the fingers of little children.

– Paula, Brigantine, New Jersey

Dear Paula,

Thanks for the great tip. Not only may it help prevent biting, but the gentle interaction also creates a positive association for the puppy. This technique can be a gentle and effective way to teach puppies appropriate behavior, especially around young children. Thank you for sharing.

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(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)

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