Cats and Problem Behaviors

line of animals at the outhouse

© Pelaqita Persians

Please Note:  This article addresses behavior, problems, and a possible solution for the indoor cat as we believe that all domesticated cats should live indoors, especially our beloved Persian cats.     🙂

Obviously, dogs and cats are different. Inasmuch as dogs are pack animals and form hierarchies and cats are solitary and more territorial than dogs. Therefore, dogs respect the pack leader or "alpha", while cats respect territory. Cats only form social groups out of necessity. Usually when cats live in a group that arrangement is based on each cat respecting the others' territory. I cannot stress enough that your acting like the "top dog" will not work with cats and therefore, physical punishment will not work as that will only teach the cat to fear you and quite possibly other people as well.

An effective "punishment" is to utilize the cat's natural avoidance of surprise and sudden noises. Use a spray bottle with water in it, clap your hands, make a hissing sound, and other such noises which will startle the cat and interupt the bad behavior. Your "correction" has to be as soon the cat exhibits the unwanted behavior or it will not be effective. Below are a few of the more common behavioral problems seen in cats.

Biting

There are two schools of thought on discipline for biting. Personally, I have tried both of the suggestions below and I believe it depends on the cat as to whether or not you feel comfortable allowing it to attack you. You can also gently place your hand on the cat's face and push it back while saying "no" firmly. Hissing at the cat also may act as a deterrent.  Never hit the cat!

Some people believe that you can train the cat not to bite by (1) allowing it to attack or bite, (2) crying out, (3) pulling the hand back, and (4) offering a toy as a substitute.

I have found with my Persian kittens which usually go through the "everything must go in my mouth stage", that withdrawing my hand and ceasing the "play" interaction with the kitten works well.  I only resume play with the kitten when it has had a few minutes to chill out.  I then allow the kitten to resume play and if it bites my hand or fingers too hard again, I withdraw my hand and cease "playing".  Repeat as necessary.  Some kittens learn this faster than others.

A cat that is trained not to use you as a toy will be more trustworthy around babies and small children.

Scratching

Always provide your cat with a scratching post or other acceptable scratching area. Part of having a good citizen is keeping the kitten's claws trimmed.  Trim the nails on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.

Scratching Post 101 - First of all, you may need to teach your cat or kitten how to use the scratching post.  Take your kitten and sit very close to the post, put the kitten up close to the post and take a front arm in each of your hands.  Then using their front arms/paws (an arm held in each hand)  "simulate" scratching on the post.  Make sure the kitten's pads of their toes make contact with the post as this will transfer its "scent" to the post.  Scratching posts are not just to keep the cat from scratching your furniture, scratching allows the cat to "mark" its territory.  Each time the pads and nails of their front feet come in contact with the post, they transfer their scent onto it.  A cat scratching is not meant as a destructive behavior, rather it is the way in which cat's communicate "this area is mine".

If you observe your cat scratching on an unapproved scratching area firmly say "no" and/or hiss at it. You can also use Bitter Apple or Bitter Orange on furniture and items you do not want the cat to use as a scratching post. Follow the product instructions carefully. Usually, I spray the item and then spray a small amount on the cat's tongue so it will associate the smell and taste of the Bitter Apple when it gets close to the item I don't want it to use.  I do not recommend putting pepper (white, black or cayenne) on the unapproved item - I think this is a bit harsh.

Different cats like different kinds of scratching posts. Some like scratching posts that lie flat on the ground rather than the vertical variety. In general, cats seem to like natural fiber rope that is tightly wrapped around the post. Do not use plush carpet or other fibers that the cat's nails get stuck in. Also, do not use a scratching post that has a carpet similar to what type of carpet you have in your home as it gives the cat a mixed message.  Cats will either love their scratching post and use it all the time or never use one at all!

Ripping Carpet

If you have a cat that prefers your carpet for a scratching post, and you have a carpeted scratching post, you may want to get a scratching post that is not carpeted and retrain your cat to use the "new" post. Get a scratching post with thick sisal rope as felines seem to love this material.  Refer to the "Scratching" section above.

Furniture, Counter Tops, etc.

Many people do not want their cats on their furniture, including tables and counter tops. I have found a few things that seem to discourage this behavior. Again, utilize the cat's natural avoidance for loud noises and surprises by using common kitchen utensils, cookie sheets, and/or empty aluminum cans with a few pennies in them. Place these items on the furniture, counter, table, etc. but slightly off-balance so that they will easily fall when the cat jumps or climbs up. Sometimes using double-sided tape (or tape with the gummy side up) on the item you don't want the cat on will discourage it from being there. If you happen to catch the cat in the act, squirt the cat with the water bottle while hissing at it.

Chewing

As stated above, use Bitter Apple (or similar product), on cords or other items you do not wish the cat to chew on.

Plants - Cats and plants are not a good idea as many household plants are toxic to cats. In addition, they might find the dirt in the pot interesting enough to use as a litter box. If you want to keep your plants, spraying Bitter Apple or a similar product specifically made for use on plants can discourage your cat from chewing on the plants. I have found that by putting rocks/gravel in the pot can discourage the cat from digging in the pot or using it as its litter box. But I must admit, that I got rid of all my houseplants which, for me, was better than playing "plant cop" all the time. 🙂

Garbage

The easiest way to eliminate this problem is to have a garbage can with a secure lid on it or by storing it under the kitchen sink or in a closet.

The New Baby

The arrival of a new baby can sometimes make your cat jealous. Just as you would reassure your child when you bring home a new baby that you still love her/him, you must reassure your cat that you still love it. Pay extra attention to the cat and it will get over any initial jealousy towards the new baby.

Spraying and Marking

If your cat is already properly litter boxed trained and suddenly starts spraying, first rule out any medical cause by a trip to your veterinarian. Intact male and female cats will spray or mark to claim their territory. Getting those cats altered will usually solve the problem.

There is a difference between spraying (on the walls) and marking (urinating on the floor or other flat surface). Typically, (if the cat is altered) marking is a medical problem and spraying is a behavioral problem. Females as well as males can "spray" or "mark". Oftentimes when one has multiple cats (i.e., more than one) a cat will spray to claim its territory. This can be easily solved by giving that cat its own bathroom area that others are not allowed in. Always allow one litter box for each cat. The general rule of thumb in multi-cat household is one cat for each litter box, plus one extra litter box. While they may all seem to use the same litter box, you should still provide each of them with their own to avoid potential problems. Additionally, some cats are more finicky than others regarding how clean they want their litter box. Keep the litter box scooped and frequently change the litter to avoid smells that could be deterring your cat from using its box. Once you solve the spraying or marking problem it is important to thoroughly clean the areas that the cat has inappropriately used. If you do not do this, the cat will return to that area and re-mark it. Do not use any ammonia products. If these steps do not work, read the following part on litter box training.

Litter Box Training

Some cats have trouble learning to use a litter box or sometimes they just decide not to use one anymore. Outlined below are some possibilities for a cat's failure to use a litter box.

A Few Of The More Common Medical Causes

  • adrenal gland disease
  • bacterial infections calculi (bladder stones)
  • colitis - (bloody, mucusy stool, straining)
  • diabetes insipidus
  • diabetes mellitus
  • diarrhea (many causes)
  • FUS
  • hypercalcemia (high blood calcium)
  • kidney disease (PKD1 or any of the other polycystic kidney diseases)
  • liver disease
  • polydipsia/polyuria
  • pyometra (uterine infection)
  • small intestine issues  (soft to watery stools)
  • trauma
  • tumors
  • urinary bladder inflammation

Treatment

Always rule out medical problems FIRST by taking the cat to the veterinarian and getting a complete physical. Examination should include urinalysis (to rule out infection), polydipsia/polyuria workup, and if needed, stool/GI workup. In a multi-cat household it is important to check out all the cats as more than one cat could be sick. Treat and correct all medical problems first as a behavioral problem can only be accurately diagnosed in a healthy cat.

Behavioral - Marking Territory

  • female in heat
  • intact male (an intact male will oftentimes spray to claim its territory)
  • sometimes a neutered male that has had previous sexual experience when exposed to an in heat female may display this behavior
  • walls near windows and peripheral walls may be used due to presence of outdoor cats
  • over-crowding may trigger "marking/spraying" behavior

Treatment

  • spay or neuter all cats
  • prevent overcrowding of cats in multi-cat households
  • close windows, curtains and doors to prevent outside cats from coming around your house

Behavioral - Stress

Causes of stress could be:

  • change in numbers of pets in household (addition or subtraction) parties, construction, visitors, moving to a new home, and other types of upheaval or commotion, including returning from boarding or hospitalization
  • a new job or a change in working hours

Remember that cats are not pack animals and the more cats you have in the household, the more opportunity there is for the cats to get stressed out because they cannot get away from each other

Treatment

  • if you know what the stressor is for your cat, try to eliminate the problem whenever possible.
  • provide each cat with its own "space" - use boxes, shelves, crates, cubicles, etc. to give each cat its own place
  • use favorite resting areas to determine where each cats favorite place may be and if possible, provide a separate litter box near each space

Other Litter Box Problems and Treatments

  • cats using same box - provide each cat with its own litter box
  • dirty litter box - scoop and/or change litter daily
  • change in type of litter used - switch back to previous brand of litter
  • litter box that is not always accessible - provide easy and constant access to litter box
  • change in location of litter box - move litter box back to previous location
  • unfamiliar or loud objects near box (i.e., washing machine, etc.) - move litter box or eliminate noise if cat doesn't like its litter box relocated. However, if your cat has a location preference you can gradually move it back to where you want it over a period of days (about a foot or two per day)
  • cat does not like the feel of the litter - find a type or brand of litter your cat likes
  • location of litter box to food and water (too close) - move food and water away from litter box
  • cats that stand in the litter box but eliminate on the outside of it - use a covered litter box instead or get a larger litter box

Attraction to Site of Previous "Accidents"

  • cats sometimes like to urinate where they or other animals may have already had an "accident"

Treatment

  • clean areas with a commercial product (i.e., Nature's Miracle) or 50% vinegar to water solution - NEVER use ammonia
  • throw out rugs and other soiled fabrics
  • do not replace or commercially clean wall-to-wall carpeting until the problem is solved
  • steam clean soiled carpets (after cleaning area with Nature's Miracle or other such product)
  • repellents may help

If all else fails, sometimes confining the cat can break the cycle. Confine the cat for 4-6 weeks in a kennel (dog crate). You should put a litter box in the kennel. Use Cat Attract litter (Chewy.com carries it).  Get dishes that hang or bolt to the door of the kennel so that the cat doesn't get litter in food or water. Keep the cat in the kennel at all times for at least four weeks in order to "break" the habit.  When you allow the cat out of the kennel, have a water spray bottle handy to squirt the cat if it attempts to urinate any place but its litter box. When the cat is consistently using its litter box  in the dog crate, gradually allow the cat access to larger and larger areas of your house, but only under close supervision. If the cat relapses, begin confinement over again and double intervals for any relapse. If problem continues, you should consult with your veterinarian for other alternatives. Sometimes, a veterinarian will prescribe Prozac.

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