For example, your older cat may become less tolerant of the other cats in your household because of a serious health concern, such as kidney disease. Your older cat may not want to appear weak in front of your other cats, so instead of playing and cuddling as she once did, your older cat becomes aggressive towards her feline roommates. Additionally, behavior issues also can become medical problems. A cat who is fearful of another cat in the household may be too afraid to come out to eat and drink or may not feel safe going into the litter box. Not eating or drinking enough, or holding her bladder for long periods of time, can quickly become a medical problem.
Once you take your cat to a veterinarian and can rule out a medical condition, you can begin working with your cat to eliminate undesired behaviors. Here are some tips to get you started. A cat’s basic instincts for safety or play often are at the root of common behavior problems. For example, the need for safety when using the litter box is often at odds with where we would like to keep the litter box. The instinct to hunt and play hunt often is the motivation behind your cat attacking your legs while you sleep. And the fear of potential predators or the instinct to protect her territory from other cats may trigger an indoor cat to spray near the door after sensing another cat outside. Every cat has a different personality which may have been defined by life experience, genetic makeup, or a combination of the two.
Some cats are constantly on your lap and demanding your attention, some are content simply being near you, and some are fearful of people. There are also alpha female cats whose job it is to keep other cats in line, and who sometimes hiss, yell, or swat at their feline roommates. All of the aforementioned are examples of normal cat personalities. What you might consider a behavior problem may simply be the personality of your cat. They spend a great deal of time marking and defining the space that belongs to them, and most cats are not comfortable with change to, or within, their territory. If something new and possibly frightening comes into your cat’s territory, such as a new feline roommate or a construction project, your cat may perceive the territory as unsafe and retreat to a spot under the bed or couch.
This is a common response to change. Now that you know why your cat is behaving in a certain way, you can begin working to change that behavior. You can manage your cat’s natural instincts and her impact on your home by providing acceptable options to meet your cat’s needs. If your cat is attacking your legs while you sleep, try engaging her in a long play session before you go to bed, so she receives the play-hunting session she needs, and is tired enough to sleep through the night. Or you might consider adding another cat to your household, so the two cats can tire each other out during the day, leaving you able to sleep at night. If your cat reacts negatively to change, you can help her by introducing change more slowly to reduce the cat’s stress levels.
For information on how to correct problems with improper elimination, please see Litter Box 101. For information on how to deter your cat from scratching furniture, please see Why Cats Need Their Claws. Punishing your cat will only teach her to fear you. Also, punishing your cat can exacerbate problems and can make an anxious cat even more anxious. The easiest way to manage a behavior problem is to eliminate whatever is causing the problem. If your cat licks or chews plastic bags from the grocery store, be sure to keep them in a place where the cat cannot reach them.
If you have a cat who chews on cords, you should keep cords hidden, or coat them with liquid dish soap to discourage chewing. It’s easy to react to unwanted behavior by yelling or chasing your cat away from the couch she is scratching or the plant she is chewing. But, this reaction actually can be just the attention your cat is seeking, and by yelling or chasing, you have just unknowingly encouraged the behavior you are trying so hard to deter. Instead of reacting to the scratching or biting, ignore the behavior completely. You also can encourage good behavior. When your cat uses the scratching post or lies near a cat companion she previously disliked, be sure to give her treats or pets or engage her in play. By associating food, affection, and play with good behavior, you are ensuring that your cat will repeat the desired behavior.
Consistently ignoring unwanted behavior while encouraging desired behavior will bring about long-term change in your cat! Timeouts are very useful for managing a variety of feline behavior issues, including play aggression and intercat aggression. The cat will spend 20 minutes to 30 minutes in a room by herself, without the opportunity to continue the behavior. The key to correctly using timeouts is to corral or place the cat into the quiet timeout room, while giving the cat minimal attention. Do not chase the cat to give her a timeout. Chasing the cat may turn out to be even more fun for the cat than the original behavior, so you may inadvertently encourage the unwanted behavior. Do not play, pet, or talk to the cat when putting her in timeout. This attention could be viewed as a reward. After 20 minutes in the timeout room, release the cat. If she goes right back to the unwanted behavior, promptly return the cat the timeout room. Consistent use of timeouts will help eliminate many types of behaviors. We are here to help with any cat behavior issue. Looking to speak to someone over the phone or in person at our shelter? Visit our directory for further assistance. The Pat Brody Shelter for Cats is a non-profit, no-kill shelter.