There Are No Bad Cats! (Behavior Problems and How to Solve Them)
Believe it or not, there are no bad cats. Cats are just unique. They live in a cat world and do what cats do, no matter what you try to say or do to convince them to adjust to your world. The most important thing for you as a cat parent is to understand why your cat does what it does. Cats do not go to obedience school. If they had their way, you as a pet parent would go to obedience school to learn how to deal with your pet.
A cat is not a dog; a cat does not act like a dog, think like a dog or behave like a dog. If you want a pet that behaves as a dog, get a dog not a cat. That said, let’s get to the point of understanding cat behavior. Punishing a cat for wrong behavior is like trying to empty the ocean one-cup at a time. Try as you may, you will never empty the ocean or get your cat to understand why you are punishing him/her.
Punishment will never cure bad behavior; it will only make your cat frightened and leery of you. Cats are smart enough to know that once punished for a misdeed they will not do it again, in front of you. They will wait until your back is turned or you are out the door. Though you may believe your cat understands what you are saying, or rather yelling about, it will pay you no heed except to run away, ignore you or wait to do it again later.
A perfect example is our male cat Smokey, he dislikes our female cat Tiger and every chance he gets he will chase her. However, if he starts out to chase her and then sees me he stops, looks at me and then will turn away as if he was just out taking a walk. He knows I will say “No” quite loudly and scold him. Of course, it doesn’t do any good to scold him, but it makes me feel better.
There are several good reasons why your cat does what it does to annoy you. First of all, cats really don’t have a good grasp of the English language; they are not furry little people. However, they do understand positive and negative responses to their actions. Cats love praise, pets and treats and this is our secret weapon. Screaming, yelling, spanking or throwing (heaven forbid) will only traumatize your cat and make it fearful of you.
Stop for a moment and think about the life your cat is leading (okay, you wish you could lead that life) take into consideration its day. You are at work all day and may get home late and tired. Your fur ball has been sleeping all day and wants to play.
You want to sit, eat and watch TV. You give your cat a few pets and while you are doing that he/she gives you a little nip on your hand. You react by jumping up and possibly yelling and chasing him/her. Hey, this is fun your cat got your attention and you are “playing.” We humans sometimes reward our cats for their bad behavior by giving them the attention they want.
In our house I am the perfect example of what not to do. Our Smokey is a night eater. Why? Cause he sleeps all day while I am at work. He started at a young age to come into our bedroom and nudge me with his head when he wanted to be fed, even though I would feed him before I went to sleep. Knowing what he wanted I would get up and feed him. This would happen several times a night and I would get up (truthfully this has been going on for years.)
However, since I started doing research for this book I suddenly came to realize that this is silly, the cat is not starving and I do not have to get up at all hours. I gradually started to push him away (nicely) whenever he nudged me and quietly said “No” as a result he moved over to the nightstand where he likes to sleep and laid down. It has been several weeks and he will once in a while nudge me and I say “no” and he goes away and waits until he sees me stir. Most cats when they are doing “wrong behavior” are really doing exactly what a cat should be doing.
Cats need to scratch and stretch their claws. It is a natural thing to do and it feels good. It is up to you as the pet parent to provide scratching material, whether it is the couch or a scratching post, it is immaterial to the cat. Cats learn by experience, if they do something and it turns out to be a good experience in their eyes, they will do it again, a bad experience may eliminate, the behavior or they just might try it again to see if something good happens.
One important thing to remember, if your cat suddenly starts doing things that he/she never attempted before and the behavior is not to your liking, observe the current situation in your household. Have there been sudden and unusual changes in the household routine, new furniture, new people or a new pet? Has there been a change in your cat’s bathroom routine; is kitty eating, do you notice any changes in your cat’s grooming habits?
It does not take much to disturb the serenity of a cat’s world as cats like routine and changes can cause reactions, which are not always to their liking. Also, consider medical problems, your cat may not feeling well and this too can cause behavioral problems. Since cats cannot talk they may misbehave in order to show their concern or displeasure to the changes that have occurred.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind while you are trying to reform kitty.
First of all stop all reprimands and punishment– they seldom do any good anyway. Make life with your cat fun and rewarding. Create an environment for yourself and your cat that satisfies you both. Remember a cat does not read minds and has little knowledge of English.
Help your cat understand what you want it to do by making the “yes” experiences rewarding and finding ways to eliminate most of the “no” experiences. We are going to list below some typical behavioral problems and possible solutions. It is important should you have any questions about your cat’s behavior that you consult your vet to discuss it.
Aggressive behavior: Can be caused by fear, being disturbed when napping, injury or sickness, or being in a bad mood.
Solution: Should the cat nip or scratch you while petting, say NO and stop petting. Do not play rough with your cat as it does not know nice from not nice. Were you petting or scratching in
a sensitive area of the cat’s body? If your cat hisses or its ears are flattened back, leave the cat alone. Check for injury.
Begging: Can be caused by the cat being hungry or just wanting attention.
Solution: Feed the cat just before your sit down to eat or if the begging is for attention take a minute or two to pet and talk to your cat a little quality attention will go a long ways.
Constant meowing: Females that are not spayed will meow constantly while looking for a “fellow.” Or your cat may need some quality time with you, remember just a few minute of undivided attention will do wonders. Another thought is your cat may be ill or hurt.
Solution: Spay or neuter your cat (really should anyway), give your cat some quality time, cats need to know that they are loved, or your cat maybe sick or hurt, especially if the crying occurs when kitty is trying to go to the bathroom. If so, take a quick trip to the vet or call for advice.
Jumping on the counters and/or furniture: Cats love high places and cats are generally nosey, exploring is part of a cat’s nature.
Solution: When it comes to the counters, stove and the dining table in our house, a consistent NO and placing the cat on the floor worked fine. It took several tries at this, but it worked. Another solution is put double sticky tape on the counter for a day or two, the cat will walk on it and get stuck, not a good experience and will stop, as it is no fun. Also keep food and other attractive smells off the counter or table. Things that make noise and may fall off the counter also work, as it will scare the cat. Cats do not like to be scared.
If your cat is getting on the furniture and you do not want that, provide a comfortable nesting place high up if possible. There are window seats that you can fasten to a window sill. We have a small bed on top of a section of our entertainment center where our female can escape.
If you have a particular piece of furniture you do not want the cat on, put foil, plastic or some inexpensive netting that you can buy at a fabric store over it when you are not at home. Cats do not like the feel of that and will stay off it and soon will ignore it. There are also things called “scat mats” which can be purchased on the Internet or at major pet stores.
Fighting with other cats: Cats are inclined to protect their habitat, they might be looking to mate, and some cats just want to show who is boss.
Solution: First of all spay or neuter your cat as they make much better pets and are less inclined to fight. Never break up a cat fight with your hands. Use a hose to spray them, throw a towel on them or make a loud noise to scare them. If your resident cats are having a dispute, separate them by putting them in separate rooms for a while. Usually they will simmer down and become tolerant of each other again.
In our household a sharp “No” works for a while with our male and female. Be certain to give each one plenty of affection, out of sight of each other. Some cats are like people and they just don’t like each other no matter what you try to do.
In our household our female is wise enough to stay out of Smokey’s reach. Smokey doesn’t want to fight with her, he just wants to chase her.
Spraying: A cat operates on smell and spraying is a natural way to mark its territory. Also a cat will spray if it feels threatened, stressed or anxious.
Solution: Spay or neuter your pet to decrease the need to be overly territorial. Give your pet a lot of pets and attention, as it may feel stressed and/or unloved.
Provide a safe haven preferably high up (off the ground) if you pet feels threatened by another household pet.
If your cat is spraying near or on a window your pet may be marking its territory because of an outside cat. Keep curtains or drapes closed.
Do not punish your cat for spraying as it may increase his/her anxiety. Using a citrus-based cleaner will remove the scent and keep kitty hopefully from doing it again. We have found that the male cats usually do spraying, we have not seen our females do it, though they might. Interestingly, when our one male cat sprayed there was no odor after we had him neutered. However, the spraying left an oily substance that had to be cleaned up. There is a spray you can buy that has a calming effect on cats and has helped in stopping the spraying it is called “Feliway” and it can be purchased at major pet stores and on the Internet.
Scratching and tearing furniture: Scratching is a natural instinct of a cat. Boredom or a lack of a scratching post can cause the problem.
Solution: Scratching is part of a cat’s life it provides exercise, an opportunity to stretch, relieves stress and allows them to shed their claws. If your cat is a house cat and does not have the opportunity to find a tree or post to scratch, it is up to you the pet parent to provide one. Cats are not overly particular about what they scratch as long as it fulfills its criteria.
Couches and stereo speakers fit the bill nicely. Providing a good scratching post (actually several are better) is a great alternative to your couch. You can make your own with a little effort or buy one at your favorite pet store. A good scratching post should be at least 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall, be sturdy enough so it won’t fall over and scare the cat and be covered with either hemp rope or the reverse side of some leftover carpet.
Do not use the right side of the carpet for a post; use the backside as it provides the proper grabbing material. Actually you can make a post that lies on the floor, as long as it is long enough for the cat to stretch out on. There are some inexpensive ones made of cardboard that have a catnip scent that cats enjoy.
When teaching your cat to use the post it is a good idea to rub some catnip on it to attract the kitty. Whenever you see your cat using its post, praise the cat and give it a small treat, this conditions the cat into thinking this is a great thing to do. If you cat is scratching the furniture punishing will not help the matter. Remember that a cat knows better than to do something it has been reprimanded for in front of you.
If kitty is still going back to his/her old tricks the solution is to make the article of choice unacceptable. Cover it with a piece of plastic, foil, double-sided sticky tape or netting you can buy at a fabric store when you are not home. Continue to show kitty the scratching post, give praise and treats for using it, persistence pays on your part and soon kitty will leave your stuff alone.
Some people resort to having their pets declawed. We have a chapter on Declawing in this book. We do not recommend doing that, as there are other alternatives such as clipping your cat’s nails or using the nail covers that are sold in pet stores and glue on the claws.
There are also spray repellents sold in pet stores to use on furniture that make the furniture unattractive to your cat. Scat mats are also available at major pet stores and on the Internet, they give a “static” type shock to the pet that climbs on it (it is not harmful, just annoying.) We have covered what we feel are the most common bad habits of cats in this chapter.
Cats really do not have any bad habits; the things they do are the things that, as one of nature’s critters are natural to them. Climbing, hunting, spraying, biting, fighting, and clawing are all things the natural cat does. We have brought this magnificent creature in from the wild, domesticated it and demanded that it live by our rules. “We’ll see,” says the kitty as it settles down for a nap.