A close second to cat allergies, cat behavior problems are an incredibly common cause for would-be pet parents to relinquish their delinquent cat. However, simply taking the time to figure out what is at the problem's core could mean getting to a smooth relationship with your cat. You'll be in purr-fect harmony, and won't have to think about taking your pal back to the shelter.
Common Cat Behavior Problems
There are a number of different problem behaviors that land cats in the doghouse, but the most common (and often most destructive) behaviors are:
Cats have claws. To use them is in their nature. However, there are many things in our homes that we would prefer they left unscratched -- most things, in fact. Since this behavior is instinctive, there is no way to actually prevent your cat from scratching (aside from having them declawed, which many veterinarians refuse to do, viewing it as an inhumane practice).
What you can do, however, is provide your cat with an acceptable outlet, like a scratching post, where they can scratch to their heart’s content. If you stay on top of them about not scratching up the upholstery, and reward them for using their post, it won’t take long before they realize that it is in everybody's best interest for them to stick to the scratching post.
Biting and Scratching
Sometimes cats bite or scratch. Given the way they play, it can be a common occurrence, although it is not one you want to promote. If your cat scratches at you, first consider whether the scratch is the result of:
- Playing gone too far
- A defensive mechanism
- Unprovoked aggression
If the scratch is light and the cat seems amicable, it is probably just a case of playing gone awry. The best defense against this kind of behavior is a good offense. If you notice your kitten displaying this type of behavior, nip it in the bud. If the behavior has already sunk in, you can still try to break it by disengaging with your cat the moment the claws come out.
As for defensive scratching, chances are your cat was giving off a lot of signals that they were in no mood to be messed with. Make sure you learn your cat's communication signals to help avoid any sort of defensively sustained injury.
Unprovoked attacks can be quite frightening -- at first you are just sitting there and then WHAM! You are in the midst of a flurry of claws and teeth. If your cat freaks out and scratches you, it could be time to take them to the vet, as they might be sick. Another possibility is that a loud noise startled them, and they attributed the noise to you.
While not as destructive as the previous discussion points, having a picky eater on your hands is in every way as aggravating. However, chances are they learned this behavior from you. Think about it -- if they refuse to eat a bowl of food, what do you do? Do you immediately reach for a different can or bag of food? If that is the case, this finicky monster is of your very own creation.
The solution, however, is simple -- don’t give in. Put down a bowl of food that you know they have eaten before, give them a half hour to eat, and at the end of that time, if the food is still there, take it away. Now comes the hard part -- no treats, snacks, or food until their next meal. After a few days of this, your cat is bound to get the picture and eat the food you so graciously provided them.
Knocking Stuff Over
One of the biggest concerns with cats is that they can get pretty much anywhere. It would be impressive if their death-defying stunts didn’t jeopardize the integrity of all your stuff. As far as acrobatics-related messes, the best thing you can do is try to keep anything valuable out of your cat’s reach. Another option is placing citrus peels where you don't want your cat to go. Cats hate citrus, and will actively avoid surfaces with that aroma.
Sometimes, however, when your cat knocks something over, they know exactly what they are doing. This can be a result of boredom or a way to get your attention. Again, the best defense is a good offense. Don’t leave fragile objects in places where your cat might knock them over. A solid arsenal of cat toys is a good way to prevent your cat from trying to entertain themselves with your stuff.
Litter Box Problems
While many cats take to the litter box naturally, being that they instinctively want to bury their waste, oftentimes cats will feel that your potted ficus over in the corner suits their needs much better. If your cat is relieving themselves outside of their litter box, a few things you can try are:
- Change up the litter - Cat litters that clump up, are deodorized, or antibacterial may be great for us, but sometimes these litter are unappealing to cats. Get back to basics.
- Move the box - Cats are peculiar creatures, with a strange set of tastes. Their litter box issues could be a simple matter of location. Perhaps their box is too far away, or maybe it is too close to a certain odor they don’t like.
- Clean like the wind! - If your cat is going outside of the box (especially if they have picked a new favorite spot) it is a good idea to do a comprehensive scrub of the area, removing any lingering odor that might be attracting them back to their spot by using an enzyme-based pet odor neutralizer.
- Booby trap! - If your cat is going in a new favorite spot, why not make that spot less appealing? The citrus peel trick, some double-sided tape, or some tinfoil can be all it takes to keep your cat from returning to the scene of the crime.
- Make the litter box undeniable - If it gets really bad, try leaving them in a small space, like a dog kennel, with their food and the box. After a while, they will get the picture. Gradually give them more space as they earn back your trust.
A common problem with unneutered male cats, spraying is a problem behavior that stems from the male need to mark their territory -- yet another good reason to have your cat fixed.
If the spraying is not a territorial reaction, it could be a way of dealing with stress. You may want to schedule in some extra petting and play time. It can also help if they have a place where they can get away from any hustle and bustle that's running them ragged.
More on Cat Behavior
Separation Anxiety in Cats
Why Cats Eat Grass and Other Cat Habits
All About Cat Sleep
How to Train a Cat