Solving Cat Behavioural Issues

Cats (sterilized of course) make wonderful pets, but have you ever felt that you just don’t understand your cat like you do your dog?  This could be because cats do not relate to their owners in the same way as dogs do and therefore you cannot discipline your cat like you can your dog.


Dogs respect the “top dog” (this should be the owner), and you can use your “top dog” status to modify its behaviour.  If you use the same theory on your cat you will only teach it to fear you, it won’t change its behaviour. Cats respect territory and form social groups by necessity.

So what can you do to fix your cats problem behaviours?  If you catch your cat doing something you don’t want it doing, immediately offer an alternative to this behaviour and then reward with praise or treats.  This will condition the cat away from the problem behaviour. 

If your cat is scratching your couch to bits you need to understand that this is essential to maintain its claws for peak tree climbing ability andNaughty Cat! defence.  Growling at your cat may make it run away because it fears you but it won’t stop the behaviour from occurring again. A far better response is to provide an alternative purpose built scratching post for its use. The key is to train your cat away from the problem behaviour by providing an alternative, give praise and treats when they display acceptable behaviour and do this consistently.

Prevention or making certain activities impossible is another tactic you can use to modify unwanted behaviours.  Even desexed male cats can sometimes spray or mark territory in the house.  This may be triggered by your cat seeing another cat outside the window.  Prevent this behaviour by covering the window or moving furniture that may be used as a perch to see outside away from the window. If your cat is stealing food or amusing itself by breaking nick-nacks, you will need to keep the food in sealed plastic containers and breakables locked away. The aim is to make physical barriers to prevent the unwanted behaviour. Provide alternative amusement such as a ping pong ball to swat around the house.

If your cat is not using its litter tray this may be due to inadequate cleaning of the litter box, unacceptable type of litter being used or a privacy issue.  Try placing the litter tray in a quiet, low traffic area of the house or place a box with a door over the litter tray to give a sense of security. Under lying medical issues can also be a cause such as urinary tract infection or other medical conditions, stress or even old age. Ask your veterinarian for a complete pet medical exam and try to identify any cause of anxiety.

Separation anxiety can also cause problem behaviours such as vocalizing, urination on or near owners’ personal items and destructiveness such as chewing or scratching.  To reduce this try to ignore your cat for 20 minutes before leaving and the same when arriving home.  Leave the radio on when you go or put out a favourite toy just before you leave and put it away when you come back.  These actions will help to reduce separation anxiety and eliminate unwanted behaviour when you are away.

Dr Laura Thompson Sanford Veterinary Clinic

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