Dealing with Unwanted Cat Behavior
If you have a cat, or know someone that does, chances are you have at some point either witnessed or heard about unwanted cat behavior. Whether the behavior is scratching, marking, aggression or getting into something that is “off limits,” unwanted cat behavior can be very frustrating for pet owners. Many people assume that cats are being methodical or intentional in their behavior, even going to far as to assume that a cat may be attempting to exact revenge by urinating outside of the litter box. On the contrary, unwanted cat behavior is never malicious or intentional on the part of the cat. Typically, it results from stress, unmet needs, or even a misunderstanding on the part of the cat. How is a cat supposed to know that it’s not okay for him to eat your bamboo plant? While most of us are familiar with the basics of how to train dogs, understanding how to control cat behavior is still a relatively confusing business. The following list is intended to help restore harmony between kitty and parent by eliminating unwanted cat behavior.
1. Make sure that your cat’s needs are being met: cats are naturally playful creatures. If they don’t have toys to play with, they will make their own. If you don’t want your kitty to chew through your phone charger, take a few minutes out of your day to stimulate him or her with an appropriate toy. Also, cats need to scratch. Purchasing an appropriately sized scratching post and placing it in a good location could save your upholstered furniture. Finally, make sure that your home has enough vertical space for your cat to access. Cats like to check out their surroundings from a high vantage point. Make sure to clear some room on window ledges or other appropriate places so your kitty and access it. This will prevent anxiety from developing.
2. Don’t punish your cat: Many people assume they can stop unwanted cat behavior simply by verbally or physically punishing the kitty. This is an incorrect assumption with potentially dangerous side effects. If you don’t want your kitty to jump on the kitchen table, yelling at him to get down or swatting him with a rolled up newspaper is more than just ineffective– it also teaches your kitty to do it when you are not around. Worse yet, punishing your cat may make him/her fear you, which could result in other anxiety-related unwanted behavior. A more effective way to curtail unwanted cat behavior is to create consequences that will naturally deter the cat from performing the unwanted behavior. For instance, if you don’t want your kitty to walk on a surface, try placing aluminum foil on that surface. Your kitty will hate the feel of walking on the foil, and will avoid that surface. The same works for putting undesired flavors (like lemon juice or hot sauce) on plant leaves. If your cat doesn’t want to eat the plant, he won’t. Creating these negative consequences allows you to control your cat’s unwanted behavior more effectively, and without creating dissonance between yourself and your little furry friend.
3. Recognize and prevent stress: Many unwanted cat behaviors stem from feelings of insecurity or anxiety. The first step in addressing these issues is to identify and address the source of stress. Perhaps a kitty is urinating outside of the litter box because their are too many cats and not enough litter boxes. Perhaps a cat is acting aggressively towards humans (attacking feet) because another animal was improperly introduced to the home. Cats are very sensitive to change. If you are moving, getting a new roommate, or adding a new pet (or child) into the home, it is helpful to prepare your cat for these changes in advance. Failing to do so may cause the cat to feel threatened, which results in unwanted cat behaviors. If this is the case, the kitty can end up being blamed for reacting negatively to a situation that his/her owner should have prevented. Lastly, many cat parents have found success with using cat pheromones to help relieve anxiety. Pheromones are hormones that cats secrete naturally, and can help them feel calm and relaxed. Most pet stores carry cat pheromones in a variety of forms. Adding this to the mix can help your kitty relax, which will reduce his or her need to perform unwanted behaviors.
4. Give it time: many people become frustrated with their cat’s unwanted behavior and decide that the problem can not be resolved. Often, people reach this conclusions without realizing that their own actions are responsible for creating the unwanted cat behavior. Unfortunately, many cats end up in shelters or foster homes because their owners get fed up and give up on them. Changing a cat’s behavior takes time and consistency. Owning a pet is a serious commitment, and requires us to be loving and patient, especially at those times when it is most difficult to do so.
5. If needed, consult a professional: lastly, not all unwanted cat behavior can be corrected through changes that the owner can make. Sometimes, urinating outside of the litter box can indicate a serious health problem. If you have tried some of the above suggestions and the unwanted cat behavior still persists, consider involving your cat’s veterinarian. Even if the behavior doesn’t stem from a serious medical problem, the doctor may be able to make some suggestions that will help restore order and balance to your home.