Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

Some say the cat is the most popular household pet in the world. At the very least, it certainly is a contender for the title, side by side with the dog. That in itself tells us that cats are well suited for living with human beings. Their behavioral patterns are well matched to ours, so they can happily share our lives and homes with us.

Until something goes wrong, that is. That’s when “How to solve cat behavior problems” suddenly becomes a very real issue.

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:

Patience.

Let’s take a closer look at behavior problems in cats and see why without enough patience, your chances of solving them are slim.

What causes cat behavior problems?

Cat behavior problems usually fall into one of the following categories –

1. The cat is sick

It’s easy to mistake physical illness for a behavior problem. If your cat suddenly bites you when you try to touch a certain point on her body, then there’s a very good chance that she’s just responding to pain. Litterbox problems can also be triggered by medical problems. You can read more about it here: When Physical Problems Turn Into Behavior Problems

The only way to address these issues is by treating the underlying medical problem (though you may still need to help your cat regain her old habits once he or she is healthy).

2. The cat’s natural behavior is manifested in a way that causes a problem

Cats have natural needs which must be fulfilled. It’s up to us to provide them with acceptable outlets for these needs. For example, cats need to claw at large objects in their territory. That’s just part of being a cat. If that large item happens to be a scratching post, all is well. If it happens to be your expensive leather couch, then this could be a problem.

The way to fix this kind of problem is by finding the right alternatives and teaching the cat to use them (and only them). You can read more here about how to do that with furniture scratching: How To Stop Your Cat From Scratching The Furniture

3. The cat is stressed out

Stress is a very real issue with cats. There are many possible sources of stress in a cat’s life. Too much stress can build up over time to the point of undesirable behaviors. These behaviors become a coping mechanism for the cat, keeping his or her mind off the source of stress. Pretty much any behavior problem can be stress-induced, but a good example would be overgrooming to the point of creating bald patches on the cat’s skin.

The only way to help the cat and correct the behavioral problems is by reducing stress. Read more here: Six Surefire Strategies To Reduce Stress In Cats.

4. The owner simply misunderstands the behavior


Owners sometimes raise the alarm over something which is not really a behavior problem. A three-month-old kitten that goes crazy running around, climbing on curtains, jumping on you and constantly demanding attention? That’s just being a kitten.

The thing to solve here is not so much a behavioral problem as a question of perception. Educating owners about normal cat behavior can be very helpful in these cases.

And of course, behavior problems can be a combination of any of the above. A cat may stop using the litterbox due to a bladder infection which in turn is exacerbated by stress. The stress could be due to the location of the litterbox, perhaps because the owner didn’t know that cats don’t like to have their food dishes right next to the box.

Yes, it can be complicated.

Fixing behavioral problems in cats

The good news is that most – if not all – behavioral problems can be fixed. The even better news is that right here on TheCatSite.com you can find dozens of cat behavior guides which will walk you through fixing those problems. What’s more, you are welcome to post your story in the cat behavior forums and get advice and support from others for your particular case.

It really can be done. Sometimes it’s even much easier than you might think.

For example, if your problem is with your cat waking you up at night, a successful solution within several days is the norm (as long as you follow the provided guidelines). At other times, solving cat behavior problems can be a whole lot more complicated. Still doable — but complicated. With litterbox problems, for example, it can take a while to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. Once the underlying cause has been addressed, re-training Kitty to use the box again can still be a challenge.

With most problems both you and your cat will have to go through a process. Some changes will have to be made, possibly including some concessions on your part – either temporary or permanent. You may really prefer not to add another litterbox, but that could be something you’ll have to do.

And above all – you need to have patience. A LOT of patience.

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. Read more about this here: You Your Cat And Stress

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.

The Bottom Line

If you’re dealing with any kind of cat behavior problems, here are key messages to take from this article:

1. Know that your cat isn’t doing anything to spite you.

2. Figure out what is causing the problem and fix that.

3. Understand that changing behavior patterns takes time.

4. Don’t be angry with your cat. It’ll only make things worse.

Have patience, ask for advice and support on the forums and remember, you’re all your cat has and he or she is relying on your for help.

19 comments on “Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

tarasgirl06 August 24, 2016
Thank you for an excellent, insightful and educational article.  Absolutely, the points in "The Bottom Line" should be engraved on every cat guardian's heart; and I would add that in most cases it is not the cat who is at fault, but the person/people whose understanding is lacking.  Like cat behaviorist extraordinaire, Jackson Galaxy, you do cats a great service by trying to increase knowledge and compassion in those who care for them.
Alicia88 August 27, 2016
When I first brought Connor and Murphy home, they wouldn't use the litter box.  I moved it to an out of the way place so they could have privacy and they still wouldn't use it.  They'd been using a litter box at my aunt's house, but not mine.  At first, I thought it might be stress from moving to a new place with strangers.  Two and a half days later, I started wondering if it was because the litter box used to belong to another cat and they smelled her.  So, I went out and bought a new litter box and set it up.  Then, they started using the first litter box.  Go figure.  But, it's fine.  I have both of the boxes set up and they use them both.  One is in the corner of the bedroom and they other one is in a back corner of the kitchen - at opposite ends of the house.  I'm still not sure why they wouldn't use it at first.  Maybe it was the stress of moving,as I originally thought.
fur face September 2, 2018
I've had my Fliss for three years, when she first came to me as a rescue she did have the odd accident, which I put down to abandonment issues but we got over that she ruined a bedroom rug she seem to take a dislike to it and wouldn't walk over it,then she peed on it so I got rid! Shes been fine but recently I got a new rug , she was fine with it for weeks and then she attacked it and peed on it I really don't know why. Anyone got any suggestions?
Pepfin September 30, 2018
I need help! I brought home two cats that are sweet as can be. Loving, affectionate, they play together, sleep together, groom eachother etc. Get along amazingly and are such wonderful companions. But the elder (a HUGE 6 month old) is food aggressive. For some reason this wasn’t addressed in foster care and it’s a nightmare. The younger kitten is 4 months but TINY. He can’t defend his food from the other. I’ve tried feeding them across the room from eachother but the elder will inhale his food and then rush over to eat the other’s. And now the kitten is adopting this same food aggression and inhaling his food frantically. I could feed them in a different room but by myself it’s hard (and for a pet sitter) because the minute the food is being prepared (dry or wet no matter) they are already going nuts and it’s hard to separate them.) Again, I can likely get the little one into the bathroom or something but I can’t see him not trying to dart out and as he gets bigger this will be less and less manageable. Help!
catmom0317 October 4, 2018
My 2 year old male cat has been attacking my roommate, pouncing and biting. He has been around her for over a year and we cannot figure out why he is doing so. I believe it may be that he may be stressed out that I am not around or that he is not receiving enough attention. He does not do this to me, only her.
Suzy the Cat October 15, 2018
Can anyone help/reassure? We adopted an older cat in May. He's a delight and truly settled well. The people who caught him told us he had a mate - they used to sleep together and groom each other. The cat was also caught but 5 months later. We brought him home three days ago. Our current cat is pretty laid back but the new, younger one doesn't seem to recognise him at all and is growling and hissing all the time, swiping out from time to time. Is this going to subside and any ideas how long this may last. Help appreciate - desparate.
Ringojingles16 November 4, 2018
Need help please. I have 2 male cats both 2 yrs old. I took Jingles to the vet for his annual check up yesterday 11-3 and when I brought him home Ringo has done nothing but growl and hiss at him and time to time swat at him. In the past when I've brought jingles back from a visit it lasted a few hours and it's done. Very out of character for Ringo I might add. Can anybody give me some advice on what to do to handle this issue? Thank you in advance! :hellocomputer:
Devi13 November 17, 2018
How do I train a cat when everyone else in the house undermines my training. I live at home, meaning parents home. I'm an adult but affording a place in Los Angeles is impossible right now. So this summer a friend of mine gave me a kitten who was being excluded from her mother because I have previous knowledge of bottle feeding kittens. Needless to say, I ended up keeping the cat and naming her baby as she was bottle fed. However baby never grew up with other kittens and so I have tried very hard to train her correctly and raise her well, but the people in my house do not care about training, we have had dogs my whole life and those dogs have never been trianed, as a child I tried to train them to do simple things like sit and stay or don't running to food (I managed to teach one to sit and wait when I fed him at least) but no one else in the house was in board with the idea. They gave the dogs people food, they let them run up and eat and beg, they let them do whatever they wanted. Now I've seen the same bad behaviours in my cat. She has become demanding as my elderly grandparents give her plbits of chicken or cheese whenever they are in the kitchen, and they thought it was hilarious to let her play with their feet and hands, but now as a cat she scratches and bites and it is no longer working cute. However they now blame the cat for this, saying that is why dogs are better, but all this I'll behaviour was brought on by them not listening when I told them, don't give her treats, only play with her toys, never body parts. I can't control her at all anymore and I don't know what to do, because now she is distructive, and mistrustful. (I'm now the bad parent because I am the only one who corrects her bad behavoir. She no longer likes me, when likes the people who feed her more and make funny noises when she pounces in their feet) is there any way to solve this without giving up my sweet cat. I don't know anymore.
pamela wallace November 17, 2018
how can stop my cat from spraying?
Solarbyte January 6, 2019
Hello, I have a nearly two year old feline named Biscuit. She was the most loving and kindest cat I knew until this year when she had kittens. Suddenly she was cold and distant and then she got sick- I had to hold her down and handle her a bit to get her to take her medicine and put on a cone which I think might’ve added to her suddenly dislike of me. We still have one of the kittens and she hates her, lashes out at the kitten and us. I’m worried, is there anything I can do? I want her to be nice and friendly again but fear it’s too late because of the above mentioned things.
Trishtrash January 18, 2019
pamela wallace said:
how can stop my cat from spraying?
It depends on what the spraying is linked to. The obvious answer to this question is to neuter your kitty. If there is a reason why you wouldn’t want to neuter your cat, then you should look into anything that could be making your cat feel anxious or insecure! This could include other cats in the house/neighborhood, other animals or any intense changes in the environment. Another big piece of advice is make sure you don’t have like piles of clothes or anything laying around that he could ruin. Because spraying can stain and it smells gross.
Kristin1277 January 21, 2019
Hi, I have an 11 month old male cat, I’ve had him since he was 5 weeks. He IS neutered but about 2 months ago he started urinating on my bed and on my clothes. Not my husbands, JUST mine. And just on MY side of the bed. The vet tested his urine and it’s not a medical issue, the vet said it’s behavioral and he’s marking ME. How can I stop this?? My husband refuses to rehome him but I’m getting very tired of cleaning my mattress ALL the time!! Please help!!
RadioactiveCat February 25, 2019
Hello! I got a kitten at two months old November 29, 2018. Since then he has endured three house moves and now we have been settled for three months and he is acting very weird. As a baby at 2 mo he was very cuddly and since moving he has become more distant? He still tries to nurse on my other cat who is 3, he runs and is skittish and there’s no reason for so. He’s been loved, cuddled, fed, watered and played with. He loves to play with laser lights and eat canned food. When he wants to, he will snuggle up next to me on his own but when he is picked up he freaks out. It takes me at least 10-15 mins of holding him still for him to relax. My older cat who he nurses on is now weaning him (she doesn’t produce milk since she is fixed) so maybe this has a play on it? I’m not sure, let me know your thoughts!
J. A. Vann March 25, 2019
We have 3 cats. Two are rescues, 9 years old 1 is a simease & 1 is a ginger tabby. 2 years ago we got a 8 wk old Burmese kitten. All cats are male & nuteted. The kitten has always wanted to sleep with, cuddle & groom the older Simease. This starts out OK, but it always ends up in a fight with hissing from the older Simease. It also gets a little nasty when they start wrapping their mouths around each other’s necks! The Burmese is very active & very sweet,loves to be pet & cuddled by my husband & I just not for very long! He always goes back to the older Simease, who seems to just not care for this attention for more than 5 minutes or so! He seems to really want the affections if the older cat but the older cat just isn’t co-operating! On occasion they will sleep together for long periods of time then that will end in a disagreement! Nothing serious has happened, yet! We just seem to think the little Burmese wants to be with our older cat & not the ginger rescue or us very much for that matter! This situation is causing the older Simease cat to hide from the little one & do everything he can to get away from him! He’s not the same since the little one was brought into our home! We’re guessing he’s jealous but so far no real problems it’s just that the older one is not all that happy! We were wondering, would it help if we got another cat...a kitten as a companion for the Burmese, so he could have a cat friend to cuddle & sleep with? My husband seems to think it might not be a good idea! I’m hoping it would be good for our little Burmese to have a cat friend. My husband says the situation could get worse! All 3 seem to get along just fine when they run through the house chasing each other or when they play together! This sort of aggressive behavior only starts when the little Burmese wants to cuddle & sleep with the older Simease! Any suggestions or should we leave the situation as it is? Thanks all!!
All About The Cats April 12, 2019
I have a kitten that is a male that has been neutered and he’s a little over 9 months old now. He has been causing trouble and I can’t seem to figure out how to teach him not to do the behavior. At night he decides at random times to make a lot of noise. I eventually close the bedroom door after he exited the bedroom to keep him out and not keep me from sleeping, he then begins slamming into the door and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt himself. I have gone so many nights with no sleep because my cat gets so out of control that it gets dangerous. Then during the day I’m working on homework and he decides to make a lot of noise by hitting the closet door repeatedly or charging at the door completely face planting to the point of collapsing, but he gets up and does it again over and over. I have tried to show him that he doesnt need to go in the closet by opening the door to let him see that it is just a hot water heater and there’s really no room in there for him but that failed. I don’t know how to get him to stop running into the door, I don’t want him to do this not just because he keeps me up but he can seriously hurt himself. I actually am more worried for his safety than me getting sleep at this point.
Garysmom May 14, 2019
I need help with ways to keep my 7 month old male cat out of the windows. He is destroying blinds and keeping my husband from a goodnights sleep when he has to be up at 5am to work a dangerous job.
bsilverfox June 1, 2019
My wife and I acquired 2 beautiful Birman kittens from a breeder in August of 2003. 1 Blue coat & 1 Seal coat. Very sadly, Seal Girl passed over the bridge 8 days ago. Since then, Blue, while eating and drinking has been fairly normal, spends most of the day under our king size bed nestled against the wall and will not be coaxed out. She comes out at meal time and she uses her litter box normally but other than that we see very little of her which is very abnormal--she used to take naps in our office chairs, or on the bed, and sometimes in the living room and just spook around a lot. Her relationship with Seal Girl-they did not spend a lot of time together and Blue was the dominant of the 2. Is she in mourning? Is this normal? How long is it likely to last? When she is about we hold her, pet her and talk to her but she is not "about" much at all. Any comment from someone with experience would be appreciated. They were not sisters but were born within 4 days of each other. They came to our home on the same day and have been together ever since-just a couple months short of 16 years.
Furballsmom June 13, 2019
Garysmom said:
I need help with ways to keep my 7 month old male cat out of the windows. He is destroying blinds and keeping my husband from a goodnights sleep when he has to be up at 5am to work a dangerous job.
Hi Garysmom! As the article suggests, please post your question in forum Cat Behavior . That's where our forum members hang out and they can provide you with advice and support. Thanks!
Furballsmom June 13, 2019
bsilverfox said:
My wife and I acquired 2 beautiful Birman kittens from a breeder in August of 2003. 1 Blue coat & 1 Seal coat. Very sadly, Seal Girl passed over the bridge 8 days ago. Since then, Blue, while eating and drinking has been fairly normal, spends most of the day under our king size bed nestled against the wall and will not be coaxed out. She comes out at meal time and she uses her litter box normally but other than that we see very little of her which is very abnormal--she used to take naps in our office chairs, or on the bed, and sometimes in the living room and just spook around a lot. Her relationship with Seal Girl-they did not spend a lot of time together and Blue was the dominant of the 2. Is she in mourning? Is this normal? How long is it likely to last? When she is about we hold her, pet her and talk to her but she is not "about" much at all. Any comment from someone with experience would be appreciated. They were not sisters but were born within 4 days of each other. They came to our home on the same day and have been together ever since-just a couple months short of 16 years.
Hi bsilverfox! As the article suggests, please post your question in forum Cat Behavior . That's where our forum members hang out and they can provide you with advice and support. Thanks!

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