Common Behavior Problems of Cats



Understanding your cat starts with knowing the behavior basics. Your cat is not all that different from its ancestor, the jungle cat. Domestic cats can at one minute be a purring ball of fur and the next be stalking your ankle. The behavior is not personal, its hereditary.  Your cat can be trained to use the litter box, to stop using your furniture as a scratching post, to treat you as its companion, not its next kill, and to leave your plants alone.  Your cat is much more independent than a dog because its ancestors lived solitary lives. The urge for independence is always present in your cat, yet he is easily socialized to be affectionate and friendly.  Your cat will take a long time to adapt to any change. The best approach is give her the time to accept the change or if you possibly can, return things to the way they were.  Never become aggressive with your cat, she won't cower, she may fight back. Use positive praise for good behavior.


1. She's not using the litter box!

Cats are usually trained by their mothers on how to use the litter box.  If your cat has not been trained, then try confining her in a small room like a bathroom.  Place her bed, litter box and feeding bowls are placed in the room.  Bed and food are kept as far away from the litter box as possible.  Keep the cat is confined for about two weeks.

Visits for daily play are important.  Do a thorough cleaning of any area in the house that was previously soiled.  If problems using the litter box arise, they may be due to:

  • Un-neutered males and un-spayed females trying to mark territory or attract mates.  Cats should be spayed or neutered at an early age.  A new cat in the home or cats hanging out in the yard may trigger this behavior.
  • Medical conditions such as diarrhea, bladder problems or other diseases may cause failure to use the litter box. (Cats should be checked regularly by a veterinarian).
  • Smelly litter. Cats need clean litter in a location they have constant access to.  Litter requires regular cleaning and changing.  Cats can vary in their preferences for type of litter -- most prefer a sandy texture.
  • Stress due to other pets, visitors, redecorating, renovation, moves, and schedule changes can cause inappropriate urination and other mistakes. (Try eliminating the stressors or providing your cat with its own "space" -- a favorite spot with a cubicle, box, create or shelf.)
  • For more information, read this article by Dr. Jane Leon.

2. She's scratching and clawing!

Cats have a natural desire to scratch and/or claw. There are several ways to try to resolve inappropriate scratching or clawing:

  • A good sturdy scratching post, either plain wood or with natural fiber rope around it, generally works best.
  • Pepper or bitter apple or orange applied to items being scratched will often deter cats from scratching.
  • Sticky double-sided tape can be temporarily applied to the objects or aluminum foil or vinyl sheeting attached to the sides or backs of the sofa until the problem stops.
  • Praise when she scratches on the post, but issue a firm "no!" when she's caught inappropriately scratching
  • Giving your cat a squirt from a water bottle may help to correct inappropriate scratching.  Cat's nails require frequent trimming, usually every two weeks.
  • De-clawing should only be a last resort. It's a painful process and may affect the cat's leg strength and various behaviors.

3. She's making me her prey and playing at night!

These behaviors represent a combination of instinct and boredom.  Your cat may try "sneak attacks" on your when she has been alone for extended periods.  Cats need at least five to fifteen minutes of active play time every day.  Cats like plenty of toys.

Cats often choose to try to play or wake your up at night.  If the cat is hungry, fill her bowl at night.  Try to ignore her or retrain her to have her food first thing in the morning.  If she wants to play at night, try a play period just before bed time or train her to sleep in a separate room where you won't be disturbed.  You may try using a squirt from a water bottle to deter this behavior in your cat.

4. She's fascinated with the plants!

Cats are often fascinated by plants in the home.  She may try to eat them. Plants may be moved out of your cat's reach or sprayed with bitter apple or its equivalents. Growing catnip or wheat grass may satisfy her craving for vegetation.  Play time and a variety of toys rotated over time can solve some of the desire to eat plants.  She may dig or urinate in the plant. The dirt can be covered with aluminum foil or gravel.  Vinegar may be added to the soil to counteract the ammonia in the urine.  Again try discouraging this behavior by squirting your cat from a water bottle.  These are just a few tips on cat behavior problems. If you have questions, you may ask your veterinarian for advice and guidance.

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