Are you frustrated by your cat's behavior? Thinks that your cat may have a behavior problem? Does she scratch that expensive leather sofa? Does he bite the hand that pets? Or maybe they're pooping outside the litter box?
Do you think you want to correct the behavior but aren't sure how? You've come to the right place!
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In this article, we'll discuss cat behavior problems - what they are, and what you need to do to fix them. We'll also talk about what you should not do to try and modify feline behavior issues.
Here are the top 9 cat behavior problems that people bring up in the cat behavior forum -
- Litter box problems
- Cat aggression toward people
- Cat attacking other cats
- Scratching furniture
- Cat waking owner up at night
- Not being friendly enough (or being too friendly)
- An overly vocal cat
- Chewing household objects
- Excessive self-grooming
We'll go over these, what the causes may be and what solutions you need to apply. We'll also discuss behavior modification techniques and why you should never ever punish your cat.
The key here is to understand how a cat "works." If you understand that and accommodate Kitty's needs adequately, you have a much better chance of enjoying a happy and problem-free pet.
- Common Cat Problems
- 1. Litter box problems
- 2. Cat aggression toward people
- 3. Cat attacking other cats
- 4. Scratching furniture
- 5. Cat waking you up at night
- 6. Not being friendly enough (or being too friendly)
- 7. An overly vocal cat
- 8. Chewing household objects
- 9. Excessive self-grooming
- Other issues
- How to address any cat behavior problem
- What Not to do when your cat has a behavior problem
- Have patience - solving behavior problems takes time
Common Cat Problems
Let's take a quick list of common complaints that we hear from cat owners who post in our cat behavior forum. Some of these are natural cat behaviors that need to be redirected. Others are actual problems derived from medical issues or stress. With some, it's a mix.
1. Litter box problems
The most frustrating of all cat behavior problems are the ones that involve inappropriate elimination. Most kitties are very good about using the litter box, which is part of their allure as a house pet. There's no need to take your cat out for daily walks. All you need to do is provide them with a litter box, right?
Unfortunately, that's not always the case.
When a cat begins to pee or poop outside the litter box, you have a problem on your hand. The key to solving it? Figuring out why your cat stopped using the box. There are three main possible reasons -
a. Kitty has a medical problem
There are a variety of medical conditions that could lead to pain during urination or defecation. When that happens, your cat will begin to associate the litter box with pain, making him or her avoid that spot.
Urinary tract issues can be particularly persistent and recurrent. More often than not, if a cat begins to pee outside the box, he or she has developed a form of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder or FLUTD. What you have on your hands is a medical problem. You need to make an appointment with your vet ASAP.
In the case of a male cat that is straining to urinate, generating only small amounts of urine at a time, you could be dealing with a medical emergency: urinary tract blockage.
In addition to the pain and discomfort, this could be a life-threatening situation within a matter of hours. Call your vet immediately.
Do not attempt to correct the behavioral problem before you have the “all clear” from the vet. A sick kitty has no control over its elimination pattern. Anything other than quietly cleaning up after your cat is pointless. Even reprimanding the cat would do nothing but add to its stress, potentially complicating both the medical and behavioral problems.
Take your cat to the veterinarian. They will diagnose the condition and treat it. Only once the cat is no longer in pain, can you start re-training her to use the litter box again.
b. The litter box is not set up properly
Your cat should have a large, easily accessible, and clean litter box available to them at all times. Many cats do better with two boxes, especially in a larger home. If you have more than one cat, you should have even more litter pans. Ideally, one per cat, plus one additional box. So, for two cats, you should set out three litter boxes. Four cats? You need five litter boxes. And so on.
Learn more about how to properly set up the litter box and fix any issues you might have.
c. Your cat is stressed out
Stress can affect cats in many ways. In some cats, stress can trigger a medical condition called Feline Idiopathic Cystitis, where Kitty's bladder is inflamed. The stress could lead to peeing outside the box. While the condition is medical, it's often triggered by anxiety.
Try to reduce the stress in your cat's life. You could do this by making some changes around the home. In some cases, a veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs to treat the problem.
Fixing litter box problems
With so many potential reasons for litter box avoidance, where do you begin?
Start by talking to your veterinarian. Medical issues must be ruled out (or diagnosed and treated) before you can begin to address this particular problem. Next, you have to take a close look at how the litter box is set up, as well as at Kitty's overall stress levels.
To help you out, we've created this guide to litter box problems in cats. It will take you through the various steps you need to take to fix this issue.
2. Cat aggression toward people
Our beloved kitties come equipped with teeth and claws. When they use these against other people in our home or us, the result can be painful. In some cases, it can even be dangerous, at these wounds tend to become infected.
However, not every cat scratch or bite is an indication of an actual aggression problem.
Playtime aggression in kittens is perfectly normal. You just need to learn how to redirect it to an appropriate toy. Read here on how to stop playtime aggression in cats.
Some cats practice love bites occasionally. These are perfectly harmless, but if they bother you, there are ways to teach Kitty to stop. Read here about cat love bites.
And yes, sometimes, you have an actual problem of severe cat aggression. And again, the key here is to figure out why Kitty bit or scratched you.
Other times, a cat may be displaying redirected aggression. Something else scared Kitty. Sometimes all it takes is seeing (or even smelling) a strange cat outside the home. Fear then drives the cat into a "Fight or Flight" mode, at which point, anyone attempting to touch or pick her up, may be on the receiving end of a full-blown "Fight response".
Rule out physical problems first
Your cat may have attacked because she is in pain due to injury or illness. When an unsuspecting owner touches a sore spot, a cat may instinctively lash out to stop the pain. This may be the first - or even only - clue that lets you know that Kitty is not well.
Aggressive behavior, in general, whether directed at humans, dogs, or other cats, can be a sign of a physical problem. Pain-induced aggression is a genuine thing. If your otherwise calm and playful kitty suddenly becomes “nasty,” she could be in pain. The cause may be an abscessed tooth, an earache, or another ailment, not necessarily related to being touched. It could also be a neurological condition, affecting the cat’s perception of its surroundings and making it lash out. When unexpected or unusual aggression starts, head to the vet for a checkup.
Again, do not try to address the issue using behavioral measures before you get the “all clear” from the vet. You won’t be able to change the cat’s behavior, and you could be neglecting a medical problem that needs immediate attention.
When cats attack, the key to the solution is to identify the cause and address whatever it is that triggers the attacks. To help you out, we've created several in-depth guides on aggressive behaviors. You should start by reading this one: Why do cats attack?
3. Cat attacking other cats
Next on our list of common complaints is another form of feline aggression. This time we're talking about cats that attack other cats and sometimes other pets in your home. You might be dealing with sporadic attacks, often following a visit to the veterinarian.
Or you could be dealing with an ongoing war between two or more of your kitties. Sometimes cats simply don't get along with one another, especially if they were not properly introduced or if they need to compete over access to food or litter boxes.
These situations can be very stressful for the cats involved, as well as for the owner.
Again, you need to figure out what's wrong and address the root of the problem. Make sure the cats have enough space, including access to enough food and an adequate number of litter boxes.
If the cats were not properly introduced, you might need to temporarily separate them and then go through the introductions phase again.
These guides may help you solve the issue:
4. Scratching furniture
Felines have a natural urge to scratch certain objects in their territories. Lions, for example, claw at trees. This is a form of territorial marking, but the act in itself provides the cat (big or small) with a sense of contentment and stress release. It also helps keep the claws sharp and healthy.
In a way, scratching the furniture or carpets is not a behavior problem. It certainly does not indicate that there's something wrong with the cat. You could say the problem is with us humans, who prefer to keep our furniture intact.
Let's start by saying what is NOT an acceptable solution. Declawing your cat is a painful and cruel procedure that is illegal in most countries. The American Association of Feline Practioners also strongly opposes declawing. Even if it happens to be legal where you live, please do not declaw your cat. Check out our article about declawing and its alternatives to learn more about the topic.
So, what can you do?
You need to provide Kitty with adequate scratching posts. The scratching posts should be sturdy, heavy, large enough, and stable. You should offer more than one, preferably using varied types, some horizontal and some vertical, and with a variety of textures.
Once your cat has a suitable scratching post that they seem to like, you can start blocking access to the furniture that you want to protect, gradually teaching your cat where scratching is allowed.
Read more here: 23 Proven Ways To Stop A Cat From Scratching Furniture
5. Cat waking you up at night
Getting a good night's sleep can be challenging for many people. So when Kitty comes over to wake you up at 4 AM, it's perfectly natural not to be happy about it.
It's natural for your cat to be awake when you're trying to get some shuteye. Humans and felines live by different biological clocks. While we're diurnal creatures, designed to sleep when it's dark outside, our cats are crepuscular animals. That means they tend to be most active during dusk and dawn.
Up and about, bored, and possibly hungry, your cat may try to wake you up. After all, from the feline point of view, their owner has a behavior problem. Why else would they be sleeping in at these critical times of the day!
Solving this particular problem calls for making adjustments. You'll need to make sure your cat is getting enough stimuli when you're up and about, and then teach the cat that waking you up at night doesn't pay off.
6. Not being friendly enough (or being too friendly)
When adopting a cat, most people have their expectations as to how friendly the cat should be. However, just like humans, cats have their own personalities, with some being more social than others.
That's when we hear complaints from both ends of the spectrum. Some owners complain that their cat is shy, reserved, or "doesn't love them," while others complain that their cat is too clingy.
In most cases, there is no real "cat behavior problem" here. Cat owners just need to accept that their cat may have a different personality than they had hoped for. With time, they learn to get to know their new furry friend, and both sides adjust to each other's needs and preferences.
If you're dealing with a particularly shy cat, the kind that tends to hide under the bed, there are ways to make him or her more comfortable. Take a minute to read these tips for living with a shy cat to learn more.
7. An overly vocal cat
Kitty going around your home, meowing loudly? For some people, that can become a real problem.
When and how often your cat tends to make these loud sounds matters. Some cats tend to meow often, and loudly. Others are quieter by nature. If you know your cat, he or she seems otherwise happy, and they're just talkative, that's fine. However, if your cat has changed their vocalization patterns and has begun to meow more, possibly even howl, you need to pay attention.
Sudden onset of extreme vocalization requires medical attention. It could be a sign that your cat is either in pain or disoriented. With young unspayed females, loud meowing and howling could mean your cat is coming into heat, in which case, please get her spayed asap.
8. Chewing household objects
Kitty chewing on stuff? Maybe even making holes in your favorite sweater or blanket? When a cat sucks or chews on things, this could be normal behavior. Especially in kittens.
Kittens, much like babies, experience a teething phase. As they lose their baby teeth and grow a set of permanent teeth, chewing on things can help them alleviate the discomfort.
In some rare cases, cats suffer from a disorder called pica. That's when a cat chews and ingests things that aren't food. Pica in cats often involves wool and may be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, or stress.
If you suspect your cat has pica, talk to your veterinarian. Otherwise, if you have a kitten or young cat that keeps chewing on household items, read this article on how to stop destructive chewing behavior in cats.
9. Excessive self-grooming
Cats are known for being clean animals, primarily due to their habit of grooming themselves by licking the fur. Sometimes, self-grooming can become excessive, to the point of creating bald spots.
Excessive self-grooming is often caused by stress, though some cats are more prone to the behavior. Other times, fleas or some skin issues could be at the root of this habit.
Start by talking to your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. Once medical issues have been treated - or ruled out - it's time to consider stress reduction techniques.
The conditions covered above reflect some of the more common complaints we see from cat owners in the cat behavior forum. There are many others, though. If you think that you have a cat behavior problem on your hand, we encourage you to join our community and post your question in that forum.
How to address any cat behavior problem
Moving beyond specific issues, let's discuss the right approach for dealing with any feline behavioral issue.
Are you faced with a cat behavior problem? Here are the steps you need to follow.
- Find out if this a typical feline behavior
- Discuss the problem with your veterinarian
- Offer Kitty a solution to the need or problem
- Use positive reinforcement techniques to eliminate the cat's unwanted behavior
You must follow all four steps, in that order. Don't try to stop the behavior without understanding it first and providing viable solutions to your cat's needs. And whatever you do - never punish your cat.
Let's take a close look at each of these steps.
1. Find out if this a common kitty behavior
The first order of the day is to understand the behavior.
More often than not, the behavior is perfectly normal for a cat. Here are some examples -
- Scratching objects in our home is natural behavior for any cat.
- Biting the hand that reaches out to her during playtime is just what any kitten would do.
That does not mean you have to accept bite marks on your hands or ruined couches. Understanding the behavior helps you understand the motivation or need behind it. Providing a suitable outlet for that need would be the first step towards fixing the problem.
What if this isn't a typical feline behavior?
Not all behaviors fall under the "this is what cats do" category.
For example, peeing outside the litter box is not something that should be happening. If this is what's happening, there's cause for concern. You're going to have to check for medical problems first, and then employ various techniques to get your cat to revert to employing that natural cat instinct of using the litter.
Not sure if your cat's behavioral issue is normal feline behavior, a developmental stage, or an actual problem? Visit our cat behavior articles section and learn more on the topic, or visit our cat behavior forum and ask.
2. Work with Your Veterinarian
If your cat appears to have a behavior problem, consider medical issues. Check out our list of 35 things that may be a sign that your cat in pain. You'll notice that most of these are behavioral.
Your vet should rule out any physical problems before you can move on to address behavioral ones. While many vets are not experts on feline behavior, they can often refer you to a behaviorist and also help with stress-reducing medications, either as a temporary measure during behavior modification or a permanent solution. Read more about Anti-Anxiety Medication for Cats.
3. Provide Solutions
You can't teach your cat to behave in a certain way unless you address the root cause of the behavior. In the case of litter box issues, for example, you should use our guide to How To Stop Your Cat From Scratching The Furniture.
Remember, solutions and alternatives always come before correcting the behavior.
4. Use Positive Reinforcement Techniques
Depending on the type of behavior you're dealing with, positive reinforcement using praise and treats may work. Specific techniques are described in our various cat behavior guides and articles.
Stay Calm and Positive
Whatever your cat is doing, don't lose your temper. Cats do not do things "for spite" or out of vengeance. They are incapable of such complex motivations. Your cat is doing what she's doing either because she is physically ill or because one of her basic needs isn't met. That's it. So don't get angry and don't take this personally.
What Not to do when your cat has a behavior problem
Unfortunately, when facing what they consider to be a problem behavior, some owners try to punish the cat. They assume that the cat will somehow understand what he or she is doing "wrong" and change their ways. This isn't how modifying cat behavior works.
With that in mind, we wanted to cover the "Don't's" of cat behavior modification too.
Don't ever hit or otherwise physically hurt your cat.
Hitting or hurting your cat is pet abuse, plain and simple. It achieves nothing except distrust and potential stress-related problems.
Don't punish your cat
Cats don't understand the concept of punishment. Withholding food, confining a cat to a room, or any other method of punishment is a recipe for stress and stress-induced problems. It is possible to use confinement to a room as a way to allow the cat to calm down in a stimuli-free environment, but it should never be used as punishment.
Avoid shouting at your cat
Shouting can make a nervous cat even more nervous and more prone to behavior problems. Annoyed as you may be, avoid shouting at or near a cat.
Don't use spray bottles or air pressure cans
These are likely to startle and scare nervous cats and cause more problems. Moreover, they make the cat associate you - the owner - with something scary and unpleasant.
Read more: 5 reasons to never spray your cat with water.
Declawing is not a solution to either furniture clawing or aggressive behavior. It is a painful procedure that could potentially cause more behavior problems down the road.
Read more about declawing here - Declawing and Alternatives
Have patience - solving behavior problems takes time
When a cat doesn't behave in the way you expect them to, it can be extremely frustrating. It's up to us as responsible pet owners to overcome the frustration and work on fixing the problem.
Fortunately, cat experts have developed many useful techniques to help owners solve cat behavior problems. But here's the rub: Techniques are often not enough. You also need generous amounts of the magic ingredient:
Why patience is so important
Cats are creatures of habit.
Behavioral problems often mean a troublesome habit has been formed. Breaking that habit will involve making some changes that will address the underlying cause. Next, some amount of re-training may be required as well.
And that takes time.
During that time, you will probably need to create positive associations with the desired behavioral pattern (and possibly negative associations with the old pattern). Changing habits takes time simply because learning takes constant and consistent repetition, above everything else.
You will also have to reduce the overall amount of stress in your cat's life. Remember, stress can make any behavioral problem worse. If you get frustrated, you're far more likely to shout at your cat, groan and moan and otherwise show signs of anger. Your cat will pick up on that, and chances are it will stress him or her. This, in turn, can result in making the behavioral problem worse. Your own stress levels can affect your cat.
You may be asking yourself how it is possible keep patient while your cat is avoiding the litterbox or is otherwise misbehaving?
The key here is to understand that Kitty is not trying to aggravate you. He or she is not out there taking revenge on you or trying to do something "for spite". Your cat could be ill, stressed, disoriented or just unclear as to how to "be a cat" in your home.
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