Owning a kitten or cat should be one of life’s great joys. There can be a few challenges along the way, and a cat who shows bad behaviors that we do not like can be a very frustrating thing indeed.
Most cats can be trained to stop unacceptable behaviors around the home.
With any behavioral issue, the first step should be a vet visit to rule out a medical reason for the behavior.
After identifying the underlying problem behind the behavior, it’s possible to redirect your cat to something acceptable.
The good news is that hope is not lost. It is possible to get your cat to stop doing something you would not like, and most cats can be trained to stop naughty habits around the home.
Common reasons people seek help with their cat’s behavior include:
- Urinating or defecating inside the home but not in the litter tray
- Urine spraying, often in male cats
- Biting, swatting, or clawing at family members
- Scratching furniture around the home such as the sofa and curtains
- Showing fearful or aggressive behavior to other pets in the home
How To Stop These Behaviors
The first step with any behavior issue is to rule out a medical reason that could be causing your cat to show these behaviors. If your cat has a medical condition, no amount of changes around the home will fix the problem, but medication may fix the problem completely overnight.
If your cat is older and has always used the litter box or toileted outside, and suddenly starts to toilet inside, this is not normal. Common reasons for this behavior change include osteoarthritis, feline lower urinary tract disease, or urinary infections. All of these conditions can be managed with the help of a veterinarian.
It’s best to start with a vet appointment for a health check, and possibly a blood or urine test. If your cat gets a clean bill of health, you can explore different solutions. Your veterinarian may even have some tips for managing the behavior you want to stop.
1. Provide Safe Spaces
Safe spaces are a great way for your cat to feel relaxed and at ease in their surroundings. It can help reduce arguments between pets, or between pets and people if your cat is feeling a little wound up. Make a quiet space for your cat, with a covered bed or box to hide in away from the noise and activity of daily life.
When your cat feels relaxed, they feel safe in their own home, so are less likely to strike out or pick a fight with your other pets or children. Cats feel safe when they can see their surroundings, so height is helpful here. Place the bed up high, for example, on top of a wardrobe. Using pheromone sprays such as Feliway in this area can be a great way to help your cat relax. Playing cat calming CDs or podcasts can also help your cat to relax.
You can add cat food and water bowls to this area if you think your cat is more relaxed eating in private. Remember, the litter tray should not be stationed near any food sources, as this can be off-putting for your cat. Keep a litter tray in a separate area of the home, and make sure it is cleaned daily.
Some cats become fearful if neighborhood cats can enter the home. This can cause them to run away and hide, and toilet inside for fear of leaving the home. A good way to fix this is to use a microchip cat door. This scans your cat’s microchip and only allows your cat to enter and leave the home.
2. Stop Inappropriate Scratching
Cats who enjoy a good scratch can easily destroy the carpet, couch, or curtains in a matter of minutes, leading to significant expenses to fix. For a cat, scratching is completely normal behavior. It’s something they would do in the wild so it makes perfect sense they still do this today in our homes.
The trick is to teach your cat to scratch on surfaces you want them to scratch on. Placing a scratching post near or in front of the couch and adding something to draw them to it, such as catnip or Feliway Scratch, can encourage your cat to use the scratching post and not your couch.
Having more than one scratching post can be helpful, or providing different types of scratchers with different textures can encourage your cat to use these alternatives.
If your cat is a completely indoor cat, you can trim their nails, but this will only reduce the damage, so a little so training is the best solution. Declawing cats is not recommended. This is because cats need their claws for complex movements such as running or jumping, and in defense.
3. Redirect With Play
Cats love to play! When they use toys or cat trees or towers they are utilizing their natural instincts for hunting and stalking. Encourage play as much as possible to tire your cat out both mentally and physically. When cats play, especially when we interact with them, they will have less energy to devote to undesirable behaviors.
4. Use Positive Rewards
Everyone likes treats and cats are no exception. Using rewards such as treats, praise, and affection can be very helpful in reinforcing positive behaviors. Find a treat your cat is crazy for, and only use it when they are doing the good behaviors you want (e.g. sitting on your lap without biting you).
Negative punishment like shouting, hitting, or using spray bottles or shock collars is not effective and can have lasting negative impacts such as increasing anxiety or even create further unwanted behaviors. Your cat learns much faster through positive reinforcement, so always use this as your training strategy.
5. Resolve Toileting Accidents
For cats not using the litter box or urine spraying in the home, clean any surface that your cat has urinated or defecated on as soon as you can. Any lingering scent of urine will remind your cat to go in that area again. Use an enzymatic pet cleaner to break down odors, and rinse well with water afterward.
Make sure you have enough litter boxes—at least one per cat, plus one extra—and clean them regularly, some cats need it cleaned after every use! Older cats may benefit from a litter tray with lower sides so they can step into the litter box comfortably, and cats with anxiety may benefit from a covered litter box for extra privacy.
Training your cat to stop undesirable behavior can be challenging. Being patient and having a plan with a consistent approach by all family members can lead to very positive changes in your cat’s behaviors around the home.
If you are struggling or not making much progress, it may be that there are other causes of stress that have not been identified yet, so working with a qualified behaviorist can help identify these sources of stress. Your behaviorist can make an action plan to stop your cat’s unwanted behavior.
Remember, most cats are sweet in nature and want only to fit in with our lives and homes. Behaviors we see as negative such as scratching are completely normal to our cats. With time and patience, we can communicate to our cats that there are acceptable places for certain behaviors and not others.
Also Read: The 7 Best Cat Treats For Training
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you discipline a cat?
It is possible to discipline a cat, but not through negative reinforcement (hitting or shouting). Disciplining and training a cat takes patience, identification of the underlying problem, and consistency in training out the negative behaviors to replace them with more positive ones.
Is it okay to spray your cat with water?
Using a bottle to spray your cat with water is not a good idea. Cats struggle to link negative or scary interactions with the behavior you are trying to correct, so often it is an ineffective training tool.
Does ignoring a cat work?
Ignoring a cat after they do something you don’t like, such as biting or clawing is a very effective way of getting a cat to stop this behavior. If you are petting your cat and they bite or scratch you, get up and walk away, and do not give your cat any attention for the next 20 to 30 minutes.
Does shouting at cats work?
No, shouting at cats is not a good way to train your cat to stop a behavior. Cats understand very little English to start with, so will not understand what you are saying. Cats can detect changes in tone, and this is unsettling for them, but they struggle to link the change in tone of your voice to the behavior that was done.