Our four-month-old kitten is constantly climbing our curtains and our sofa. He uses them as a jungle gym. Sometimes when he climbs up the curtains, one of his claws gets stuck and he can’t get down. I worry that he is going to hurt himself when this happens and I can’t seem to train him out of this habit. Also, our curtains and sofa look like shredded wheat. It’s embarrassing. We don’t want to get him declawed because we understand that that is pretty inhumane. But we need to do something before he gets hurt and before we go crazy.
Christie and Ray
Dear Christie and Ray,
Raising a kitten is just like raising a young child. You need to be firm and consistent, but still remember to praise success and good behavior.You’re probably going to want to replace your curtains and couch soon if they are in the shape you describe, so now is a great time to train your kitten. You can be stress free and not worry about minor setbacks because you’ll know that any further damage is irrelevant. That will keep the insanity factor to a minimum!
The first thing that you should do is to trim your cat’s claws. If you haven’t been making a regular routine of this, you will have trouble at first because most cats are very uncomfortable with anyone manipulating their paws and toes. So, before you actually begin nail clipping, pet your cat and touch his feet in the process. If he seems to tolerate his paws being handled, you will be able to trim his claws without assistance. If he
becomes agitated, you’ll know that you will require someone to hold him while you take care of business.
Remember; do not trim too short as there is a blood vessel that grows within the claws. Just take off the tips. Plan on doing this once a week and be sure to give your cat lots of love and attention when you are done. Let him know he is a very good boy. In time, he’ll get used to having his nails cut and he will no longer fight about it.
When his claws are short, he is less likely to get snagged on the curtains. But of course, if he weren't climbing on the curtains to begin with, he wouldn't get snagged either. This is where consistent and firm training comes in. I generally encourage the use of a water bottle sprayer (Set on "mist" not "spray") in this type of training, combined with a loud noise, like an air horn. If the two of you work together, one person can “man” the air horn, and the other can take care of the water bottle.
Each and every time your kitten climbs the curtains or the sofa, spray him and sound the air horn. He will not associate these two negative stimuli to either of you, but rather to his action. Cats hate getting watered and they equally despise loud, sudden noises. The more he experiences the unpleasant consequences to his actions, the more likely he is to learn that the inappropriate behavior is causing the problem.
You must remember, however, that cats do need an outlet for climbing and playing. Therefore, be sure to invest in one or two carpeted cat trees that he can climb and scratch his claws on. Encourage him to use the cat trees by pulling a piece of string around them to entice him to play. As he wraps himself around the cat trees with playful claws and a happy little kitten face, be sure to tell him what a good boy he is. Be sure to place the cat trees in the rooms where the curtains and the sofa are located. Having them in back
rooms that he rarely spends time in will be of no value at all.
All animals can sense the emotions behind tone of voice. They know when they are being praised and they respond to it. They also know when they are in trouble. If you do not have a water bottle or an air horn close by when you notice a bad behavior, be sure and tell him, “NO!” in a loud and firm voice. Then physically pick him up and take him to one of his cat trees and start playing with him there. Follow this up immediately with a happy, praising tone of voice.
As with all training, your kitten will not learn over night what is expected of him. But if you remain consistent, you will find that you can soon purchase a new sofa and curtains and will never see them shredded – at least until you adopt another kitten! It’s a wild ride sometimes, isn't it? (But worth all the inconveniences.) Best wishes.