5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat [Or otherwise punish them]

5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat

Some cat owners believe squirting water from a handheld bottle can be an effective and harmless way to teach a cat to avoid certain behaviors. The truth is that using the water bottle as a tool for disciplining cats is not a good idea.

Yes, in some cases it may teach a cat to avoid certain areas in your home or even certain behaviors, but that comes with a potential price tag that you really want to avoid.

How is disciplining a cat with a water bottle supposed to work?

The concept is simple enough.

Kitty does something "bad" and immediately experiences a negative outcome in the form of a harmless spray of water. That should teach her not to scratch the sofa or climb the kitchen counter again, right? And after all, what's the harm in getting some water sprayed around you? Hey, that's how theme parks keep people cool in the summer, so it can't be that bad.

When the topic comes up on our cat forums we often have members who say that spraying their cat with a water bottle did work for them. It helped them teach the cat to stop unwanted behavior.

Proponents of this method explain that you should avoid spraying the cat's face, aim for the back and try to hide the fact that you're the one operating the water bottle. While these measures could potentially help minimize the downside of water spraying, they are difficult to implement and may not work.

Why squirting Kitty with water isn't a good idea

1. It turns you into an obnoxious clown

Are you familiar with the classic water-squirting flower trick? The idea is to ask unsuspecting friends to smell that wonderful flower that's pinned on your shirt. Once anyone gets his or her face close enough, you squeeze a hidden pump with your hand which sends a squirt of water right out of the flower and into your victim's face.

How would you feel if your best friend were to pull that trick on you? In all likelihood, having water sprayed into your face without warning won't be very welcome. Chances are you will be keeping your distance from that "friend" in the future.

For your cat, that spray of water is as surprising as a squirt from a fake flower. Kitty was just being a cat, scratching to sharpen his or her claws or perhaps making good use of vertical space in your home by jumping on the countertops

. There's nothing wrong with these behaviors in the mind of a cat. From the feline point of view, you just decided to launch a very stupid sneak attack with no provocation.

2. It can be hard for your cat to make the connection

Consider this from the cat's point of view. Kitty was doing something, in a certain location, and got sprayed by you. Which should be avoided in the future? The location? The act? The person who sprayed?

If you're very lucky, the cat may successfully make the association between the water spray and his or her undesirable behavior. However, many cats realize it wasn't the couch or the kitchen counter that soaked them. All they know is that their dear and (formerly) trusted owner did. They are more likely to avoid you than to avoid whatever object you were trying to deter them from touching.


3. Your cat can get away with the crime - when you're not around

Using the water spray method depends on you being around to operate the bottle. If Kitty jumps on the counter while you're away at work, nothing happens. This means the association you tried to create—jumping on counters causes bad things to happen—doesn't work anymore. That's one reason why this method is often ineffective.

4. It's stressful for your cat

Imagine living your life knowing that something unpleasant is going to surprise you in the safety of your own home. For example, let's say you're afraid of bugs. How would you feel if you knew there were giant roaches somewhere within your home?

You may encounter them at any point in your daily routine and you just never know when or where that might happen. Can you imagine how stressful that would be? That's how your cat would feel with the water bottle lurking around.

Kitty needs to feel safe and secure in your home, living free of fear of mysterious unexpected sprays of water. The heightened stress level could lead to health and behavior problems.

If there are already other causes for stress in your cat's life, adding the threat of a water spray may just be the straw that will break the proverbial camel's back and lead to things like Feline Idiopathic Cystitis in cats that are prone to the condition.

5. It doesn't address the root of the unwanted behavior

Many owners use the water bottle to deter the cat from what is in fact a perfectly natural feline behavior. For example, cats jump on counters because they have an innate need to explore high places in their territory.

They scratch furniture because they need to claw at large stable objects in their territory for various reasons; they may attack other cats or even humans due to a variety of reasons, and they may even urinate or defecate outside the litterbox for other reasons.

The point is, there is a reason for Kitty's "problem" behavior. That behavior fulfills a need in your cat's life that you shouldn't just ignore.

If you want to teach your cat to avoid the kitchen counters, you have to first provide her or him with alternative vertical spaces to climb on. Do you want to protect your couch from being scratched?  The first step must be getting the right kind of scratching post and placing it in the right spot that meets the cat's needs. If Kitty is peeing on the carpet, you have to figure out why that is happening and address the root of the problem.

Simply trying to deter your cat from any unwanted behavior without providing a suitable solution to his or her needs is an exercise in futility.

"But it worked for my cat!"

When the topic comes up in the cat behavior forum, there's often a member who shares a success story where the water bottle method seemed to have worked.

The truth is that sometimes it really does. If you understand the behavior problem, provide good alternatives first, and then use the water squirt to deter Kitty from the unwanted behavior, it could work. Especially if you're around all day to create a strong association between action and outcome.

Moreover, if you're very good about masking the fact that you're the one operating the water bottle, it's theoretically possible not to undermine the bond between you and your cat. And if Kitty happens to be one of those stress-resistant cats and lives in an otherwise stress-free environment, then you may just luck out and avoid negative consequences.

There's one problem though: There are way too many "ifs" in the previous paragraph. This is why recommending this method is always a bad idea. Just because you managed to apply it without noticing any negative effects does not mean someone else can. You cannot assume that the owner understands the nature of the problem and knows how to provide good alternatives for the cat.

Perhaps more importantly, you have no way of knowing how resistant that cat may be to the high level of stress involved in applying this kind of deterrent. On top of that, unfortunately, most people perceive spraying water as a form of punishment, using it as a way to discipline through exercising imagined authority over the cat. That's a recipe for undermining the delicate human-feline bond.

For every success story, we hear many other stories where using the water bottle method failed. Unfortunately, in many cases, not only did it not solve the problem, it created new ones. Compared to the original problem, the damage caused by the constant stress and the blow delivered to the bond between owner and cat can be much harder to fix.

So, what to use instead?

We hope that by now you're convinced not to spray water on your cat. However, the behavior problem is still there, so how can you teach your cat to play by the rules?

If you're faced with any unwanted cat behavior, you should follow these steps:

  1. Understand why your cat is behaving this way and what natural needs the behavior addresses.
  2. Provide your cat with an appropriate and non-destructive way to address these needs.
  3. Use positive reinforcement or passive deterrent systems to teach your cat to stop the unwanted behavior.

You can read more about these methods here: The Dos And Don'ts Of Cat Behavior Modification

Sounds vague? Don't worry, we have you covered with very detailed guides about common cat behavior problems. These guides take you through the three above-mentioned steps and show you how to solve cat behavior problems without ever using the water bottle or any other form of punishment:

Still having problems? Post your questions in the Cat Behavior Forum where our members can help out with advice!


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12 comments on “5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat [Or otherwise punish them]

Kim July 27, 2022
I do squirt my cat with water sometimes. Very rarely and only on the butt area but I have found it to be the only thing that works. For example, I rent an apt. and my cat sometimes climbs up the screens when the windows are open. She cries until I open the windows for her as she loves all the outdoor smells that come in. This activity of hers thrashes the screens which do not even belong to me. I would go over and remove her from the screens over and over and over. That meant nothing to her. She'll even avoid her cat tower to climb up the screens. Plus, I was worried she would tear out a nail and hurt her paw. The only way I can get her to stay off the screens is by picking up the squirt bottle and shaking it or by giving her a little squirt on the butt. And to worry that my cat will see me as an obnoxious clown is one of the most asinine things I have ever heard of. That is the least of my problems, how silly. I'm a lot more worried about my cat's nails getting stuck in the screens and about her getting hurt. I love my cat as if she were my child. I would never yell at her or hit her and a little squirt on the butt seems very gentle to me. I dry her off afterwards and after a few minutes, I give her cuddles too, but I wait as I don't want her to associate the whole screen climbing thing with cuddles!
Eilidh December 22, 2021
I loved the "stimuli" my brother gave our cat Jimmie. He would pick him up, hold him so there were a few inches between their faces and scold him. This cat lived my brother to pieces. So much so that, if my brother was sick, Jimmie would feel so bad that my brother would have to comfort him and make HIM feel better! :)
AnSDRfanhere May 2, 2021
Ikr! I read the famous Wired article "why your cat thinks you're a huge unpredictable ape" and it was all about why you shouldn't punish your cat like a dog. Unlike dogs, who know not to do it ever again one you punish them, a cat (more specifically a mutt-cat) will start to become more and more aloof. So aloof, it won't even look at your face or pay attention to your scent anymore. (Some cats are already aloof, but because of the feline five, not all of them are. Some others are friendly or curious.) This is because cats are semi-tame. They have tamed themselves (and some of them tamed themselves to tame humans next,) so they do not understand doglike punishment. Instead of punishing cats, you have to train them with stimuli (unlike dogs, who need to be physically trained) for them to never do that thing again.
Cat man john March 16, 2021
Water pistol, easiest thing. You distance yourself from the act so less chance of the cat making the wrong association, or rather the undesired one! I wouldn't worry about my cat's stress level, he meditates.
Too Tired 2 Think February 10, 2021
Found your article very enlightening and informative....I do have one question regarding a particular thing my 13 week old Siamese cat is doing. At night time after we have had a good play session about 2 hours before bed time. She will calm down then when l am in bed trying to go to sleep she starts attacking my hands & feet. Thinking like a cat, what could her need be at 11:30 pm until 2:30 am? l am not getting very good sleep as she wakes me up....if l leave her out of the room she cries at my door waking my husband up. l welcome any advice. Too Tired 2 Think
hib June 17, 2017
I'd like to comment that it all depends on your relationship with your cat, in other words if your cat isn't trained to listen to you or if you just leave her alone and pretend she's so stupid to let her do whatever she wants all day and then suddenly you start spraying her with a water bottle whenever she scratches a couch or gets on the counter, in that case she would really think you're an obnoxious clown, and won't understand why you do that. But if she is used to the word ''NO'' she'll understand that she is doing an unwanted behavior so she will then understand the reason you are doing that. I personnally am against the idea of anyone punishing his or her cat if the cat doesn't have a good relationship with it's owner to be able to understand him/her.if the cat does not understand it may come to the point where it thinks it's owner is a rotten scumbag but some times he/she feeds me. They would probably end up stressed and uncertain of how to treat you. If your cat isn't trained to do anything then don't waste your time spraying your cat for bad behavior, it won't understand. But as for trained cats, there's a better chance they know why it's done and so avoid the bad behavior. Just don't be cruel and do it all of a sudden, warn them first, say ''No'' and then spray, thats if they didn't back off because of the word. Thanks Alot.
Sea2mist May 3, 2017
tarasgirl06 said:
...and we mustn't forget the all-important  6.  You end up with a wet cat.  And who likes a wet cat? ;)
All 4 of mine love to get in the bathtub right after people are out of the shower and then they roll in it. Lol. They love the smell of shampoo.
Sea2mist May 3, 2017
raysmyheart said:
I like that this article suggests that there is a need to look at why the cat is doing certain things. It is easy to say that a cat is misbehaving, but is there something more they need from us? Sometimes people will say a young or not so young cat is wild, uncooperative because they won't be held. It is really important to realize cats aren't avoiding being held to hurt our feelings. Rather, maybe they are dizzy, startled when picked up or are having their self-protective nature kick in. We should always try to think like a cat!! Thanks for the article!!:wave3:
Exactly. I have 4 cats and Sophie is the only one that is afraid being held. She lived with a family friend that give her to me after she was spayed and almost died. After almost a year I'm still the only one who can hold her. She still remembers how sick she was before I got her. She watches how the other 3 are being handled by the rest of the family, which is why she is slowly letting my mom pet her. I hope she gets over her fear of people as she is very sweet and sleeps on me at night.
BobTheKitty April 26, 2017
Thank you, this is very helpful
raysmyheart April 17, 2017
I like that this article suggests that there is a need to look at why the cat is doing certain things. It is easy to say that a cat is misbehaving, but is there something more they need from us? Sometimes people will say a young or not so young cat is wild, uncooperative because they won't be held. It is really important to realize cats aren't avoiding being held to hurt our feelings. Rather, maybe they are dizzy, startled when picked up or are having their self-protective nature kick in. We should always try to think like a cat!! Thanks for the article!!:wave3:
fantisticat April 15, 2017
Interesting. Thanks for this piece.
tarasgirl06 April 5, 2017
...and we mustn't forget the all-important  6.  You end up with a wet cat.  And who likes a wet cat? ;)

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