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How to Teach Your Cat to Enjoy Things He Doesn't Like

Learn how to teach your cat to enjoy things he doesn't like from board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. E'Lise Christensen, DVM in this Howcast video.


Do you ever do things with your cat that it doesn't like? If you do, you're really not alone. A lot of us have to do things with cats like groom them, give them pills, trim their nails. I want to tell you a little bit about one method that you can use to teach cats to be comfortable with procedures that normally they wouldn't happy with. I'm going to pretend that we're teaching Fryer here to take pills without too much struggle, and hopefully even to like it. The first thing we're going to do is get a treat that Fryer likes.

I've got some freeze-dried chicken which she seems to be interested in. Part of giving a pill to a cat, as you can imagine, is being able to grab the head. So, the first thing you want to do is make sure that your cat can tolerate grabbing the head. First, I'm going to grab the head and give some treats. Grab the head, give some treats. Fryer also likes to be patted, so that's a good reinforce for her but in this case I really want her to practice taking something from my hands because I'm going to open her mouth and put something in it. To start, I'm going to put something that she likes. Now, I'm going to continue hold her head and let her practice having me hold it. She's got good teeth on her, so you want to make sure you keep those fingers out of the way of those jaws. You'll notice that if you work with other species that cats actually work a little slower. It's not because they're not bright, they just take time to chew. I'm giving her big pieces because when I gave her tiny pieces she grabbed my fingers.

Now I'm watching Fryer's overall body language and she's pretty calm so I'm going to keep going but you could easily end this session right here and come back later. Now I'm going to grab her head a little bit more forward and give her a treat.

Now, you can also use a color pill gun for this and that keeps your fingers out of the way. It's a great way to work on pilling a cat. And what you can actually do is put the treat right in the pill gun where the pill will normally go. If you ask your veterinarian they'll show you how to do that. So, get her and grab her face and now I'm going to give her some treats. Basically, what I'm doing is I'm gradually teaching Fryer to be comfortable with head handling and eventually I'm going to make the handling more intense. Once I get to the point where she's really comfortable with all that, I'm actually going to practice opening her jaw and popping her treat right in. I think for Fryer it's going to take a few sessions, so I'm not going to push her today.

t's always good to end on a calm note, when she's happy and still interested in working.

But once I get to the point where I can open her mouth, I'm not putting a pill in there; I'm going to put this little piece of freeze-dried chicken in, so she knows that when my hand comes over her head and does something a little scary like opening her mouth then it means treats are coming. When you're working cats and you're trying to teach them to enjoy things that they usually don't, the one thing you want to keep in mind is that you want to work slowly and you want to present the trigger or the stimulus in small little bits and teach the cat to tolerate each bit individually.

So, whenever you're thinking about the trigger, think about what you're going to be doing, break it up into tiny steps, make sure that you have a good hand wraps where the cat's getting treats for each step that you're enjoying and then gradually you'll be able to teach your cat to enjoy whatever that trigger is.

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