Correcting Bad Behavior in Cats

Litter Box Re-training

Sometimes a litter-trained cat will start to urinate and/or defecate outside of its box. This is one of the most common cat behavioral problems.

If it happens only once you may be able to determine that your cat was simply showing displeasure with a situation. For example, countless cat owners have gone away and come home to find cat urine in inappropriate places. This is usually not a serious concern unless the behavior continues.

If your routine has not changed and your cat is “skipping its box” more than once, the first thing to do is determine whether this is a medical problem or simple defiance.

Watch your cat carefully to determine if it’s passing urine and stools normally. Straining, frequent urination in small amounts, and blood in the stool or urine are all signs of a medical problem. If you’re unsure, it’s best to get a veterinary opinion. Your vet should also be able to determine if your cat is spraying to mark its territory (more common with cats not spayed or neutered). Cats spray standing up and they crouch for regular urination, so if you witness the act you should be able to tell the difference.

Once it’s been determined that your cat is healthy, you must quickly address the situation before it becomes a habit for your cat. Most cats will not use a dirty litter box, so ensure you scoop it daily and clean it on a regular basis.

You may also run into problems if you suddenly move the litter box to a new location, or change brands of litter. When changing your brand of cat litter, make it a slow, gradual shift by combining the old and new brands for a few weeks.

If you catch your cat ‘in the act’ you can squirt her with water to deter the bad behavior, but do not scold your cat after the fact – there is no point. The cat will not associate the punishment with the behavior unless caught in the act.

Sometimes the location of the litter box is the problem. Cats do not like to eliminate and eat in the same location. Put the litter box as far away from their food as possible, but in a pleasant, non-threatening area away from loud noises or heavy traffic.

If your cat repeatedly uses one location for ‘out-of-box’ elimination, you can try placing a second litter box there to retrain the cat. You can also try to deter him by placing a dish of food on the area (for the reason explained in the previous paragraph), or by covering the area in tin foil.

Be sure to clean the area thoroughly whenever your cat skips the litter box. The smell of cat urine (and sometimes ammonia, which is similar) is a strong stimulus to a cat to urinate in that spot again.

Compared to the smell of cat urine all over the place, cat scratches on the furniture is a small problem!

Cats naturally scratch to sharpen their claws and keep them from becoming overgrown. It’s important to train your cat from an early age (ideally as a kitten) to use a scratching post rather than the couch or drapes. Cats like to scratch different surfaces, so consider acquiring a scratch post with a mixture, such as carpet, sisal and wood.

Be sure to physically show your cat the scratching post, and place it in a location the cat uses often. You can also attract your cat to the post with toys (sometimes they come attached to the post) or catnip. Be sure the post is anchored securely so the cat can’t knock it over. Just one mishap could cause a cat to avoid scratching posts forever.

To deter your cat from scratching furniture and other nice items, you can again spray her with water if you catch her in the act. Also consider shutting the cat out of a room where it does most of its scratching, until the habit is broken. Covering the inappropriate scratch area with plastic or tin foil may deter the cat, as will a strong scent of perfume or citrus.

If nothing seems to work as a deterrent, you can talk to your vet about small plastic caps that can be fitted over a cat’s claws. They last for 4-6 weeks and prevent the cat from doing damage while scratching.

Scratching is another way cats mark territory, and it leaves their scent. As with urine stains, be sure to clean the scratched area thoroughly to avoid repeat offenses.

Cats are hunters and sometimes their owners become the prey. Almost every cat owner has had a cat cuddle that ended with that cat suddenly attempting to bite. Once you know your cat’s habits, it’s easy to see this trick coming and avoid the bite.

To deter such behavior, never reward it. That means not playing aggressive games with the cat and your hands or arms.

Although kitten bites are not usually hard or painful, your cat will not realize the difference when it’s larger and stronger so be consistent with your rules. Provide toys to scratch and bite, or ‘hunt’ like prey, and your cat will learn to bite them and leave your fingers alone.

Cats often become aggressive toward people when they are ill or injured. They are also naturally aggressive when they feel threatened or defenseless, so be aware of your actions toward the cat.

Overall, if your cat’s behavior suddenly changes, speak to your veterinarian.

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