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how do you discipline a cat when it's accidentally bad while being affectionate?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
My 5 month old kitten, Dahlia, always claws me when she's trying to jump on my lap. I've noticed that my other cat, Halo, uses his hind legs to "leap" up onto things. Dahlia, however, reaches up, grabs with her claws and then drags herself up. She does this when jumping onto the bed, the couch, me, everything. My arms and legs + my furniture are getting very scratched up as a result. I'm a little afraid to discipline her when she does this, because I don't think I can communicate to her that it's the claws I'm disapproving of rather than the fact that she is jumping on my lap or the couch. Any suggestions?

A few other, related issues: After the first month or so of no sleep, I finally started kicking my kittens out of the bedroom at night. I was unable to sleep at night because they were so active and loved to wrestle on top of me while I tried to sleep. In the mornings they get very loving and affectionate, which unfortunately has some annoying side affects that keep me awake. As a result of all this they spend the night outside of the room, which theuy adjusted to fairly well. It's the mornings that are a problem now. They've decided that every morning at 7 AM it's time for me to get up - so they meow and scratch at the door; waking/keeping me up and scratching the wooden doors. The solution to one problem creates another. :-) I would love to just let them in, however:

Every time Dahlia cuddles, she needs to nurse in my hair. It's long and she's in love with it. Problem is it's annoying. When I'm trying to sleep it keeps me up and it any time she does it it hurts because she's kneading my neck and face with her claws while she does it. Will she grow out of this? Again, I feel bad scolding her when she's being so sweet and happy. I've read a couple fo threads where people essentially said to just deal with it - but it's too painful, so I need her to stop. She does it EVERY time we cuddle. So if I put her down when she does it, then we'll never get to be affectionate.

Halo, my other kitty, also does a couple of things that keep me awake in the morning and are generally irritating. When he's happy he loves to lick my face - eyes, lips, nostrils. And if you don't stop him he ends up nibbling - which is no fun when it's your eyes he's nibbling! I always blow in his face but that only stops him for a second. Other issue: I had him for about a month before we got Dahlia, so he was used to being the only-kitty. They get along well but he's a bit possesive of my attention, so any time Dahlia's being affectionate (read: sucking my hair, kneading my face), Halo comes over and sits right on my face! He never did this before. For some reason it's important to him to be the cat closest to my face. He does the same thing when she's sitting on my lap - has to climb up on top of her to get closest to my face (but that one isn't a problem like sitting on my face).

So, you can probably see why I can't sleep with them in the room in the morning. I would love to be able to but just can't unless their behavior changes. Any suggestions on what to do? How do I discipline them when they're being loving? How are they going to understand what it is I can't tolerate? Do I just wait and hope that they grow out of it?

Any help would be appreciated.
post #2 of 3
I really laughed. Join the club. There isn't a thing you said that one or another of my many cats hasn't done. Even the king-of-the-mountain games of sitting on your face, etc. Just garden-variety me-too type of sibling rivalry.

The jumping up with claws is a harder problem. In my own experience, it takes endless patience and essentially training yourself to anticipate the cats sudden jumps to get on your lap (or, as one cat of mine does, swarming up to reach my shoulder much like he would go clawing up a tree trunk).

The only thing I found effective was to anticipate the movment, put out my hands in reflex-time, and lift the cat under the forelegs and place him on my lap, or, in the case of my swarmer, support him against my chest so he could reach his favorite spot (his forelegs around my neck, his head nestled somewhere behind my ear under my hair...). You can also, if you can't get him firmly enough under the body, take the ruff of his neck in one hand at the same time to give extra lift. This will not hurt the cat, since the cat's own momentum is in the UP direction. It just helps to keep the cat on an even trajectory and give a little extra lift as the cat reaches your lap so the feet a a little above your vulnerable thighs before you settle him safely there.

Whenever I feel claws, I support the cat and gently stroke the paws and the underpads, and speak softly -- usually a monologue about how mommy has thin skin, etc., which makes ME feel better about things...all the cat knows is that I am being loving and talking to him). Over the long term, this works fairly well. But the ability to jump up and to use balance instead of claws seems to be an instinct in some cats, and not in others. At present, with 16 cats, I have only 2 that have had this ability since kittenhood. All the others have had to learn sooner or later not to claw.

Cats will, even the best and gentlest, use their claws when startled, frightened, or falling, and the best you can do is minimize problems by never holding the cat tightly (so it can leap or scramble off your lap without feeling any restraint if something sets it off), and give the cat a lift up when you see it is going to jump (but be prepared NOTt to hold it once it is on your lap, because you may have misunderstood its body language). For a while you can leave folded or draped towels around the house handy to all the chairs where you might likely sit down. If you sit with a folded towel across your lap and knees, you are much less likely to get clawed. It also helps to minimize sucking and kneading episodes that can be hurtful.

Kneading and sucking are often a sign that the kitten didn't get a long enough time with its mother. Like some children with a pacifier (artifical or in the form of a thumb or an old crib blanket), this is something that can go on for years. My one male that carried it past the 1st year is slowly giving it up (he is going on 2 years old now). Some cats apparently never do.

Learn to sleep through the cats scratching on the door (like living next to a railroad line). Just as you tune your internal alarm system to the kind of sound from the baby's room, you have to tell you brain that certain cat noises do not constitute a threat or emergency. This takes a little time on your part, but it is do-able. For example, if you have a house that creaks in the night, you stop jumping everytime it creaks, because your superficial consciousness that is alerted by the sound gradually learns the following sentences by rote and incorporates them into the subconscious -- "Oh, creaking. That's the old floorboards in grandma's room..." OR "That's the oak tree on the window -- there must be a wind getting up..." OR "Mice in the attic..."

Once the surface memory stirs and informs your alarm system what the sound is, you drift back down without fully waking up.

Since your cats are night owls, you have to keep them out of your bedroom. Leave them in another part of the house with food, water, and a litter box and keep your door closed. A cat's sense of wake-up time is absolute. It takes them some time to learn that mommy doesn't like to be batted in the face when she is sleeping unless the house is on fire. Every time they do something like that, you pick them up and put them on the floor with a disapproving "No."

In general, I don't like to use water as a deterrence because I don't want my cats to be afraid of it. Sometimes they need urgent bathing, and it is essential that they are comfortable with it. Often a halloween clacker, a small bell or gong, hissing like an angry mother cat, etc. works very well, provided you don't get them used to it.

I hope someone else has other and better ideas. I'm open to quicker ways to teach my cats manners. But everything you describe is natural and easily recognizable behavior for many cats. Time will solve some of the problems (cats DO get a little more dignified and knowing as they get older), and what isn't solved by time must either be discouraged or lived with. The final alternative is to get a dog and give the cats away -- something that I, for one, am totally unable to do. Instead, I ended up with cats PLUS dogs.
post #3 of 3
Hi Mia,
You might also try playing more with them during the day, especially before your bed hour & make them kitty-tired. Most cats usually sleep after they play..Or you might try feeding them before your bed hour since again most cats like to sleep after eating..For scratches, you might try trimming their nails every other week; it really decreases the damage.

Catspride, I used water in a squirt bottle before (not anymore) for Minnosh. I tried pennies in a can, but it didn't work because Minnosh is deaf in one ear I guess or she wasn't bothered by that noise !??.. Now, she is not afraid of water by any means but she's afraid of all squirt bottles..She is 3 years old now & I have been washing her every 1-1.5 months since she was 1-1.5 months old..Although she was always an indoor cat, I find bathing quite useful. Well, cats clean themselves, yes, but they actually cover themselves with their saliva And bathing helps to remove the loose hair, too. Her coat has been always very shinny & healthy..Since she is very docile while bathing, I keep on giving her baths..

Love & peace.
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