Cat Behavior Problems

Common cat behavior problems can sometimes be puzzling and seem almost impossible to solve. A little insight, however, into the needs of your cat may help you find a solution.

Watch as cat owners get their problems addressed on TV with Housecat Housecall.

Stress is an important and frequent contributor to both cat illness and behavioral problems.

So, doing what you can to reduce stress in your cat is of primary importance.

In addition, some behavior problems may either be aggravated by certain illness symptoms, or be the result of the illness itself.

Be sure to report any changes in behavior or physical appearance to your vet.


Cats Will Be Cats

Cat on scratching post

A scratching post is an essential item for the house.

Cats will be cats. Cats need to scratch.

They need to hunt. They need to play fight, and chase things (like mice, or birds, or you!).

Most of them like to climb and sit up high to survey their territory.

If you see your cat climbing your furniture, resist the urge to lash out.

Cats need to release pent up energy. They also need their space.

They would not ordinarily be living in crowded spaces with all manner of non-cat species (or even other cats, necessarily).

Solving a behavior problem involves thinking like a cat. Prevent future problems by giving your cat whatever environment satisfies her needs.

You can't take a cat, put her in a room day after day with nothing to stimulate her, and expect her to be happy. Cats need exercise, and most of them need to exercise their hunting skills, even if you serve them their favorite food on a silver platter every day.

You can't punish a cat for being a cat. In fact, most punishment techniques don't work on cats. They respond much better to positive reinforcement, including food, praise, affection and play activities. These are the tools that work for cat behavior training.


Tips on Solving Common Cat Behavior Problems

For the typical house cat, behavior problems are minor. They scratch the furniture here and there, they get into things they shouldn't, they want to get on the other side of the closed door, they jump on the counter, and so on. Below are some of the more common and perhaps more troublesome issues.

Spraying and Marking

Some cat parents will keep their cats outdoors because they complain that they spray. Marking behavior, usually exhibited by backing up to a vertical surface, tail quivering, and releasing urine, is used to mark territory.

Cats that mark territory indoors often either feel threatened by something, or are otherwise stressed. This behavior can be found in both mail and female cats, and is more prevalent in cats that are not spayed or neutered.

Solution: Spay/neuter is the name of the game. Mediate disputes and give each cat in a multi-cat or multi-pet household their own space. Provide plenty of attention, affection, and use positive reinforcement. Remove any threats to your cat.

More on eliminating cat spraying behavior.

Scratching the Furniture

Cat scratching behavior is natural. You can't stop it and you shouldn't try. Even cats that have been declawed will put their paws on an inviting surface and scratch away.

Scratching helps cats remove the old, split, dry outer sheath of the nail as the new nail grows underneath. Scratching also deposits scent markings, which is very important to cats.

Cats feel more secure when the home smells like them, and it's a method of communication between cats.

It's thought by some that scratching also relieve stress, gives your cat a bit of exercise and some stretching along with it, and it probably just feels good.

Solution: Provide a scratching post and toys, along with repellent methods on the furniture. Get rid of pent up energy with toys and play sessions. Provide acceptable and appropriate scratching places, including a cat condo and a scratching board (catnip enhanced and prominently placed to encourage usage, of course).

If your cat is climbing the furniture like a tree, offer your cat something else attractive to climb on, and praise her when she does. A tall cat condo is excellent for this.

You can get them equipped with scratching posts, built in toys, and hiding spots. Also make the furniture you don't want your cat to climb on less attractive by using cat safe repellent methods.

Jazzy the cat and I got a new PetFusion scratcher to try out, which seems to have reduced his need to scratch the furniture a bit. You can read how Jazzy liked it here.

More on the cat scratching post, and cat repellent for furniture.

Inappropriate Elimination

Litter box problems have essentially 2 causes, medical or behavioral (or both). Always assume a medical problem first. Resolve that, then deal with behavioral.

A healthy, well-adjusted cat with a clean litter box (clean enough for the cat, that is) will use it.

Solution: A large litter box (a low, but wide box is best for kittens and cats with mobility problems) placed in an easily accessible, but quiet area, on a hard floor is best. Clumping clay litter is usually the top recommendation as it matches the texture preferred by most cats, and is easy to maintain.

Cats generally like loose, sandy soil to eliminate on. If your cat was previously an outdoor cat, however, she may prefer some grass added to the box. Cat Attract can also be added to the litter to encourage box usage.

The 5 O'clock Crazies

Some cat owners will notice that many cats will get up after an afternoon nap and go absolutely nuts. Sometimes they jump all over the furniture they're not supposed to go on, and even climb curtains. This is, of course, perfectly normal, as pent up energies need somewhere to go.

Solution: Don't expect to break your cat of any of her instinctive drives. Allow your cat to run around the house if that's what she needs. I wouldn't expect to totally eliminate this behavior.

You might be able to keep your cat from going totally nuts and being destructive, however, by letting her go a little crazy on a regular basis. Controlled play and exercise sessions are great for both you and your cat.

Give your cat lots of exercise and stimulate the hunting and stalking instincts. Give your cat toys, and lots of them. Rotate out the toys so they seem fresh to your kitty. If your cat brings a toy to her bed, or has a habit of sleeping with a toy, leave that toy available and don't rotate it.

A Scratching board is essential, preferably periodically spiked with catnip or catnip oil (if your cat responds to catnip). Give your cat hiding spots and a bed. Leave treats around the house for your cat to find. You can also get feeders that hide treats and make them like toys.


Getting Professional Help

If you're unable to resolve your cat's behavior problem yourself, I recommend you enlist the help of a professional who is experienced in cat behavior. Some veterinarians are very skilled at dealing with feline behavioral issues, and others are specifically trained in clinical animal behavior.

These professionals act as pet psychologists and can work with you and your cat (sometimes in your home) to patch things up.

Some of these cat behavior specialists are not veterinarians, but nevertheless are trained to handle cat behavior problems. These folks may sometimes be called cat therapists, and they may have some veterinary training, perhaps as a veterinary technician. Others may be trained in human and animal psychology.

One way to find veterinarians who are also cat behavior specialists is to search the directory of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

To get an idea of how the process might work, watch an episode of Housecat Housecall and you'll see other cat owners get their cat behavior problems solved on TV.


Related Topics

Cat Repellent

Cat Litter Box Training Tips

Christmas Cat



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