8 Reasons You Should Never Punish Your Cat

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Cats can bring a lot of joy to your life, with cuddles, purrs, and loving headbutts. But that doesn’t mean that life with a cat is all rosy. Sometimes, living with a cat can be a little challenging, especially if they continually pee on your doormat, scratch your furniture, or eat human food off the countertop.

Quick Overview


Training based on punishment or fear is widely considered outdated and ineffective as cats don't seem to understand the concept of doing something "wrong."


Punishment comes in many different forms, including shouting, other loud noises, squirts of water, aluminum foil, or vibrating collars.


Cats respond much better to positive-reinforcement methods, including ignoring unwanted behavior and using treats to reward good behavior.

If your cat has a bad habit or behavior problem that you find upsetting, unpleasant, or even dangerous, how do you go about stopping them? Is it ever a good idea to punish your cat?

What Counts As A Punishment?

Never resort to physical punishment to try to resolve unwanted behavior.

Behavior issues can be frustrating, but no one should ever use any form of physical punishment to discourage a pet’s bad behavior. Causing any deliberate injury or pain to an animal is never acceptable under any circumstances, but punishment comes in many different forms, and non-physical punishment is not the answer either.

Many cat training methods are based upon deterrents, including shouting, other loud noises, squirts of water, aluminum foil, or vibrating collars.

If you’re at the end of your tether with your cat’s behavior issues, you might be desperate to find an answer and willing to try anything. But let’s find out why punishing your cat is a bad idea.

Also Read: Can You Discipline A Cat?

Why Shouldn’t You Punish Your Cat?

Punishing your cat for bad behavior probably won’t help the situation, and it might even worsen it. Here’s why:

1. Punishment Is Ineffective

Punishment-based training is not only ineffective, but it can also damage your bond with your cat.

Training that is based upon punishment or fear is now widely considered outdated and ineffective. Cats don’t seem to understand the concept of doing something “wrong.”

Although in a human mind it might seem logical that the cat will associate their undesirable behavior with the punishment and avoid it in the future, in reality, they’re likely to become stressed and confused, and show no improvement in behavior.

Also Read: How To Tell If A Cat Is Angry

2. There Could Be Something Wrong

Feline misbehavior usually has an underlying behavioral or medical cause.

It might seem like your cat is naughty and simply misbehaving. But many unwanted behaviors in cats are for a reason. This could be a medical issue or even a behavioral issue like separation anxiety or stress. It’s best to get your cat checked over by a veterinarian or speak to a veterinary behaviorist to make sure everything is OK.

Also Read: Do Cats Feel Sadness?

3. You Could Damage Your Relationship

Punishing your cat rarely resolves the behavior, but it can cause your cat to become afraid of you.

Cats are very sensitive, and just as it can take time to form your beautiful bond, it can also be damaged very quickly. If your cat starts to associate you with feeling uneasy or scared, they might stop trusting you and their behavior around you could change. This could mean less of your cozy cuddles on the couch, or they might start avoiding you altogether.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Ignore Me?

4. It Can Cause Them Stress

cat refusing to eat out of a bowl

Since cats won’t understand why they are being punished, aversive methods can cause them to feel stressed.

Some cats are particularly prone to stress, and can be affected by changes to the home or their environment, like new people, new cats, or new smells. A change in your behavior when you punish them, as well as sudden loud noises, shouting, or other deterrents, could easily cause them to feel stressed.

Also Read: 7 Sounds Cats Hate That You Should Avoid

5. They Might Develop Cystitis

For reasons that are unclear, stressed cats can sometimes develop medical issues like stress-induced cystitis.

Stress isn’t just an unpleasant feeling, it can lead to other symptoms and health conditions. One example of this is cystitis. Stress-induced cystitis is reasonably common among cats. If your cat is affected, you might notice them straining or crying out when they pee. There might also be blood in their urine, and occasionally they struggle to pass any urine at all.

You should always get your cat checked by a vet if they are having any urinary symptoms, but it’s especially important if you have a male cat who is straining, since they might have a blocked bladder.

Also Read: Urinary Tract Infection In Cats

6. It Could Cause Overgrooming

When stressed, some cats will overgroom themselves to the point of hair loss.

Another health condition caused by stress is hair loss and skin lesions from excessive grooming. When they are stressed, cats will overgroom, especially on their belly, in their groin, and around their rump.

Eventually, the hair shafts break, leaving broken fur that feels bristly and rough. Over time, bald patches appear, and if the licking continues the skin becomes red, sore, and infected.

Also Read: Is My Cat Bored? 8 Signs to Watch Out For

7. It Could Cause Destructive Behavior

Attempts to punish your cat could backfire and lead to new behavior issues like inappropriate scratching.

If you have tried punishing your cat, you probably hoped their behavior would quickly improve. Sadly, it’s not as simple as your cat “getting the message” and learning for next time. If your cat feels anxious or stressed because they’ve had a negative experience like you yelling at them, their behavior could get worse.

They might start scratching furniture and carpets, even if they didn’t before. This is because scratching releases pheromones, which leave their familiar scent and make them feel safer and more secure. If your cat is driving you crazy by scratching, make sure you have plenty of scratching posts, scratching mats, or cat trees to redirect their behavior.

Also Read: The 10 Best Scratching Posts In 2023

8. It Could Lead To Inappropriate Toileting

Why is my cat peeing outside of the litter box

When cats are feeling anxious or unsure, they might have accidents in the house.

Just as your cat might start destroying your upholstery, they might also start peeing or pooping around the house. This could be another effort to scent mark, but it could also mean they feel too anxious to leave their safe space to use their litter box.

Also Read: How To Stop A Cat From Peeing On The Carpet

How Can You Effectively Correct Your Cat’s Behavior Without Punishment?

Now we know that punishment isn’t the way forward when it comes to correcting your cat’s unwanted behaviors. But this is no consolation if your cat’s behavior is causing you worry or distress. Luckily, there are ways to improve your cat’s behavior without punishing them. Here’s a better recipe for success:

1. Get Them Checked By A Veterinarian

Get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian before attempting to resolve your cat’s behavioral problems.

A lot of problem behaviors in cats are a result of health conditions, including pain and stress. This is especially true if your cat has recently started doing something that wasn’t an issue before. Before you start trying to train your cat or encourage better behavior, take them to the veterinary clinic to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause that needs treatment.

Also Read: Top 10 Things Your Vet Wishes You Knew

2. Stay Positive

The first step to solving behavioral issues is remembering to remain calm as this will help your cat relax too.

Cats pick up on our moods and behavior. If you’re feeling stressed or angry about their behavior, your cat will notice the negative vibes and it could make the problem worse. As hard as it is, try to stay calm and remember that it’s not your cat’s fault.

Also Read: Do Cats Feel Sadness?

3. Ignore Bad Behavior

Any attention, even negative attention, could cause an attention-seeking cat to continue a behavior.

By the same token, if you react negatively to your cat’s bad behavior, you’re still giving them attention. Some cats will learn that they get a reaction when they behave that way, and they’ll be more likely to do it again. To ensure that attention-seeking behavior doesn’t continue, it’s best to ignore any bad behavior altogether and reserve big reactions for good behavior.

Also Read: How To Train Your Cat In 5 Easy Steps

4. Provide Rewards

Positive reinforcement using treats and praise can help your cat understand what you want from them.

Treats are your friend when it comes to positive reinforcement. By using something your cat enjoys, like toys, food, or human love, you can reward them when their behavior is good. It’s important to encourage even small steps in the right direction.

So, if your cat has stopped using the litter box and you’re trying to train them to use it again, start by rewarding them for looking at it or approaching it for a sniff.

Also Read: The 7 Best Cat Treats For Training

5. Manage Your Expectations

It can take some time to eliminate unwanted behavior—baby steps in the right direction are progress.

Cat behavior doesn’t change overnight and sadly there’s no quick fix. However, if you’re consistent, you’re likely to see steady progress.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Follow Me To The Bathroom?

Punishment And Cats: Final Thoughts

In some cases, it’s easier to block your cat’s access to something using baby gates.

If your cat keeps doing something you don’t like, it can be hard to keep your cool. But, in the long run, by losing your temper or punishing them you’ll end up making it worse and could even cause your cat to become unwell.

By following the advice above you should be able to make some positive steps toward changing your cat’s behavior. If things aren’t going well, though, speak to your veterinarian or a qualified veterinary behaviorist for some support.

Also Read: 10 Adorable Signs Your Cat Has Imprinted On You

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should you never punish a cat?

Cats respond much better to positive reinforcement than punishment. Punishing your cat could cause their behavior to become worse, and they might develop stress or other health problems.

Do cats like being punished?

Cats will find a punishment to be a negative experience, and this could cause them anxiety. However, it’s unlikely that punishing them will have any beneficial effect on their behavior so it’s best to stick to positive training methods.

Do cats get sad when you punish them?

Cats might become scared, anxious, or stressed if you punish them and over time this could damage the bond that you share. You might find that they act like they're sad, by hiding away and withdrawing, but this is usually a sign of stress.

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About Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVETMED MRCVS

Hannah graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, UK in 2011 and began work straight away at a busy mixed practice. Initially, she treated all species, but as the small animal hospital became busier, she focussed on small animals. Hannah is an expert on cat behavior and nutrition.

4 thoughts on “8 Reasons You Should Never Punish Your Cat”

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  1. Debbie

    I have two indoor kittens 7 months old approximately. Siblings to each other.
    I am trying to train them to use the toilet.
    One kitten is almost trained for the toilet about 97% there and the other one will pee in the toilet 99 % but poop on the floor next to the toilet 90% of the time.
    1) What should I do with the one that poops on the floor?
    2) Should I put a litter box down on that area?
    3) should I do the same setup for another toilet?
    I try to catch the second kitty and sometimes I am successful but when I am I have to put him up there manually for about 30 minutes working at him to do so.
    – I give treats for when they go into the toilet
    – they have no problem jumping up on the toilet but I almost feel they go at the same time for their poop.
    Thank you

    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hi Debbie, thanks for the comment. At All About Cats, we don’t recommend training cats to use the toilet—see our video on the downsides of toilet training here. However, we have gotten some comments from people who’ve had good experiences with this, and you may be able to get some advice from others in the community.

  2. Donna LOWELL

    I just adopted a cat which I love very much and can be very loving and out of the blue he turned vishesh and bites me to where I bleed and had to be on antibiotics for a terrible bite. I have had him for trree months and im trying to work with him but with no success. Everyone in my family and friends tell me to to bring him back but it breaks my heart. I am 81 yrs old and I am on blood thinners where I bleed a lot from the bites. Please help me with what you would do. Thank you.