En español | For many people, cats are as near-perfect a pet as you can find. At their best, they're quiet, don't need walking and confine their messes mostly to an easy-to-clean box.
But much as we love our cats, we don't always love what they do to our homes. While scratching, shedding, chewing and even missing the litter box may be normal for cats, we all can do without these not-so-charming behaviors. Fortunately, you can minimize the mess with some simple, low-cost strategies:
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Scratching the furniture. This is a natural and satisfying behavior for cats. To keep those claws off your furniture, offer alternative places to scratch while at the same time making your upholstery unattractive to your pet's paws. Get Fluffy to use a cat tree by playing games with him or her and by petting and praising her for scratching there. Some cats may also enjoy having fresh catnip rubbed onto the cat tree as added enticement.
Once you have a cat tree in place, make the places your cat shouldn't be clawing unattractive by putting double-sided patches (such as Sticky Paws) or tape on the furniture.
Shedding. Assuming your pet is healthy — no thin or bald patches that could mean disease or parasites, for example — the best way to keep your cat's fur off your clothes and furniture is to stage a pre-emptive strike — with a brush. Most cats tolerate — and even enjoy — being groomed, and every bit of fur you catch on a brush won't end up elsewhere. For the shedding that's left, cover your furniture with washable throws to catch fur. You can find an endless array of attractive choices to complement your decor or even make your own. You can use a lint roller, too. In a pinch, you can also clean the fabric by using either some tape wrapped around your hand (sticky side out) or a damp sponge.
Chewing. While cats don't have the chewing problem many dogs do, some cats (especially the so-called Oriental breeds such as the Siamese) engage in a behavior called "wool chewing" or "wool sucking." These cats fixate on items, often wood but also plastic or other materials, and chew or suck holes in them. Some have attributed this behavior to a kitten's being weaned too early, or to the taste of lanolin in wool cloth. In fact, the behavior most likely has a hereditary component. In some cases, more roughage in the diet (such a pureed canned pumpkin) can reduce a cat's desire to destroy wool clothing and other household items. The best advice, though, is to put away what you don't want the wool sucker to destroy, and be sure your cat gets enough exercise — the more interactive play the better — to help reduce nervous energy.
Avoiding the litter box. If your cat suddenly stops using the box, the problem is likely medical, so see your veterinarian. Beyond that, know that you must provide your cat with a "bathroom" he or she likes. Cats are fastidious animals, and if the litter box is dirty, they look elsewhere for a place to go. Clean the box frequently — twice a day at least —and make sure it's completely scrubbed clean and aired out on a weekly basis. Cats can also be picky about box type and filler. Start with the basics: a large box with unscented clumping-style litter. Location is important: Your cat's box should be away from his food and water, in a place he can get to easily and feel safe in. Consider location from a cat's point of view: Choose a quiet spot where he can see what's coming at him. A cat doesn't want any surprises while he's in the box.
If you compromise with your cat, you'll find that most of the challenges can be easily managed, leaving you free to enjoy life with your purrfect pet.
Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," is the regular veterinary expert for Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DrMartyBecker.