End Cat Behavior Problems

Stops using Litter Box            Clawing Furniture             Spraying               Chewing Plants

Jumping on Counters           Cat Aggression            Excessive Meowing             Regurgitation           Behavior Articles

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Stops using Litter Box

A cat that suddenly stops using the litter box is making a statement: something is wrong.  If your cat won't use the litter box your first call should be to your vet.  It could be illness (a urinary tract infection is a serious illness and requires prompt veterinary care). Once you have ruled out a medical reason other possible causes include; a dirty litter box, change in the type of litter you use, or perhaps something scared her the last time she used the litter box, distress over the introduction of a new pet or baby into the home, or moving to a new home, .   

 Here are a few steps you can make to get your cat back on track:

Destroy the Evidence – Once a cat has marked an area with urine or feces, the cat may naturally regard it as an appropriate area for relieving itself.  Do all that you can to eliminate any trace of odor from the “trouble spot”.  Clean it thoroughly with a liquid, enzyme cleaner or vinegar.  You can also cover the area with a plastic carpet runner with the spike side up, self-sticking shelf paper placed with sticky side up, or aluminum foil.  If your cat still can’t resist the area, try placing its food there.  Cats are not likely to urinate where they eat. 

Freshen Up – Your cat’s sense of smell is nearly 1000 times better than yours, so clean the litter box thoroughly and make sure you remove feces and urine clumps daily.  If your cat does not respond to a clean litter box you may need to replace it.  Old litter boxed can become scratched and permeated with a scent your cat finds unpleasant. 

Make Over your Litter Box – Hooded litter boxes were designed for owners not cats.  Try removing the hoods and rethink the location of the boxes.  They should be in a quiet, out of the way places with convenient access for your cats.  Keep the boxes away from bright lights, loud noises, and vibrations from washing machines or furnaces.  If your home has multiple floors, have a box on each level.  Finally, do not put a litter box near the cat’s food dishes. 

The Right Litter – Cats prefer fine-grained litter because it is softer on their sensitive paws.  Many of the low-dust scoop-able clay litters on the market today are usually acceptable to your cat.  It is also recommended that you used unscented litter since many cats are repelled by the odor of scented litters. For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box. A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat. Odor shouldn’t be a problem if the litter box is kept clean. Once you find a litter your cat likes, don't change types or brands. Constantly switching your cat’s litter could result in your cat not using the litter box.  One exception to switching your litter is to use a special litter formulated for problem cats.  I had an experience with a very difficult kitten who didn't want to use the litter box.  I tried all of the tips and tricks and nothing worked.  I went to a local pet store and one of the salespeople told me about Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract Cat Litter  As soon as I started using it my kitten (who never used the litter box before) started using the litter box.  I was amazed.  Once I found that she was sufficiently trained I started slowly mixing a different brand in with the cat attract over several weeks since using cat attract all the time can be a little pricey.  But for anyone with a difficult cat or training a new kitten it is worth it.  If you have any questions about my experience you can go to the feedback page and ask me there.  Don't forget to leave your email so I can write you back. 

De-stress your Cat – Stress is the leading cause of litter box problems.  Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to help ease your cat’s mind.  Cats are territorial by nature and need to feel secure in their environment in order to relax.  Therefore, in homes with multiple cats make sure each cat has a separate zone with its own bowls, litter box, and bed or elevated perch for relaxing.  Play with your cat for at least 15 minutes every day and make sure she has plenty of toys to play with when you are away.  Make sure you show your cat lots of attention and love and praise her when she uses the litter box.  

 

Clawing Furniture

A good scratching post should help eliminate this problem.  The scratching post should be high enough for him to stretch (at least 30 inches tall), have a sturdy base, and should consist of the right material.  Soft carpet-like materials are not usually the best choice.  Better materials include sisal rope and pine .  I have had great success with the sisal rope post, my cats love it. You may need to experiment to see which material your cat likes best.     icon

There are certain steps you can take to train your cat to use the scratching post.  When you see your cat start to scratch something that is off limits, pick him up and take him to the scratching post. Play with him there with his favorite toy, encouraging him to climb and scratch.  Stimulate his urge to stretch by petting him with firm strokes down the neck and back.  Always reward him with gentle petting and praise when he uses the post properly.  If you have a large house, you may want to have two posts, one near his bed and one near the couch or chair that he likes to scratch the most.  You can also rub catnip on the scratching post to make it more enticing to him. 

If your cat prefers using both the post and your furniture there are other methods for discouraging him or her.  You can cover the item he is scratching with unpleasant material such as plastic, double-sided tape, or aluminum foil. 

If your can stays indoors, keeping his claws in good condition with regular trimmings will also help to reduce clawing furniture. 

A few cats may prefer scratching on a flat horizontal surface.  Cardboard scratching boxes available at most pet stores are a good choice for these cats.    

It is also important to keep you cat both physically and mentally stimulated.  Many of a cat’s aggressive behaviors stems from the fact that he is bored or frustrated.  Make sure your cat has a variety of toys of different shapes, sizes, textures, and movement to keep him/her occupied.  For more information on cat toys see Cat supplies, Toys. 

 

Spraying

Spraying or marking territory with urine, is a natural behavior for both male and female cats.  It should not be confused with ordinary urination outside of the litter box.  Spraying usually involves just a small amount of urine on walls, furniture, floor, or occasionally the owner’s bed or clothes.  A trail of urine on the floor means the cat was standing to spray not squatting to urinate.  Since the frequency with which it occurs is related to hormone levels and sexual state, the problem can be reduced or eliminated by neutering the cat.   

However, even neutered cats spray occasionally if an established territorial pattern has been disrupted by moving to a new home, being forbidden from a space formerly allowed, or by adding a new cat to the family. 

You can discourage cats from spraying in a number of ways.  You should clean the area completely with an enzyme product specifically designed to remove pet odors.  This will help prevent your cat from going back to the same area.  You can also use your cat’s pheromones to trick your cat into thinking the territory is already marked.  To do this, simply rub a soft cloth between your cat’s eye and ear.  Wipe the cloth on the soiled area repeatedly over several weeks.  This tells your cat that this is a friendly zone and diminishes the need for them to mark the area.  Remember this is only useful for marking not for urinating outside the litter box.  You can also place a scratching post where your cat normally marks so the cat will mark with the scent off its pads and not with urine.  You can also leave a little of your cat's food in the areas where the cat sprays.  This helps for two reasons.  First, the smell of the food has a calming effect on the cat making him less likely to spray.  Second, cats don't usually spray where there food is. 

 

Chewing Plants

A taste for fresh greens is a natural reaction for your cat.  If your cat spends some time outdoors where grass and plants are readily available she may never touch a houseplant.  Indoor cats have little choice but to go after these plants to satisfy their salad craving.   

Some houseplants are poisonous, so you must either remove them from your home or make sure your cat cannot reach them.  You can persuade your cat from particular plants by planting a pot or two of something safe and edible just for her.  You can also purchase pet greens and pre-sown planters from your local pet store.   

If, despite all, your cat heads for the wrong plant again, correct her and take her to her own foliage.  Make sure her plants are easily accessible for her.  A little cayenne pepper or vinegar on the plant's leaves will make them less tasty for your cat. 

Good Plants for a Kitty Garden

Lawn grass, cat nip, petunias, oat grass, marigolds, nasturtiums

  

Toxic Plants (partial list)

Amaryllis

Ivy (most types)

Azalea

Lilies (all types)

Buckeye

Mistletoe

Castor Bean

Morning Glory

Clematis

Narcissus

Corn Plant

Oleander

Cyclamen

Philodendron (all types)

Daffodil

Poinsettia

Daphne

Precatory Bean

Dumb Cane (all types)

Rhododendron

Foxglove

Rubber Plant

Holly

Weeping Fig

Iris

Yews

   

Jumping on Counters

Cats jumping up on counters or tables in the kitchen can be a nuisance, plus very dangerous for the cat if he happens to jump on a hot stove versus a counter. Cats love to jump.  It is in their nature.  They love being in high places and they are also naturally curious about the unknown.  This is a common behavior problem that many cat owners seem to face.  Fortunately, there are some things you can try to help rid your cat of this undesirable behavior. 

One of the first things you can use to deter your cat is noise.  It is important however, that you disassociate yourself from the noise so the cat doesn't know it is coming from you.  If the cat cannot determine where the noise is coming from, it should quickly learn to stay away from the area whether the owner is present or not. Cats do not like loud noises and will associate the noise with the behavior and avoid it. Throwing or shaking a metal can full of pennies or popping a balloon are two of the most common noise deterrents used.

Another method you can try (that doesn't require you to be there to catch your cat in the act) is to place various items on the counter or table that your cat will dislike.  You can place double sided tape along the edges of the counter.  Cats hate the feeling of sticky tape, and will be discouraged after one or two tries.  You can also place aluminum foil along your countertops.  Not only do cats dislike the feeling of the aluminum but they also hate the noise as well.    

You can also try a combination of the two methods.  This is done by popping a balloon if front of your cat a couple of times.  Your cat will soon learn that he dislikes balloons a lot.  Then you can tape some filled balloons along your countertop.  The cat will associate the balloons with the noise they heard previously and will want to avoid them.  There may be other items your cat does not like because of the sound they make. Placing several of these on the counter within visual range of the cat, may also persuade your cat to stop jumping up.

It is also important to try to redirect your cat's attention away from the areas by giving him areas he is aloud to jump on.  You may want to invest in a climbing tree or cat tower to help satisfy your cat's urge to jump and climb.  Make the tree more desirable by placing toys on it or rubbing catnip on the posts.  Window seats may also help deter your cat by allowing them to jump up to the window and being able to explore what is outside.  Make sure to praise your cat when he uses the designated jumping areas.

There are also several commercial products specifically designed for this type of behavior problem.  One type of product is motion detectors, these products detect your cats movements and emit an alarm.  There is also a product called X-mat which  has hundreds of raised bumps, creating passive discomfort that teaches your cat to steer clear of kitchen counters without the use of alarms or electricity.

Cat Aggression

Nipping can become a habit you might be encouraging without even realizing it.  When you tickle your kitten’s stomach and allow him to wrestle with your fingers he will probably respond by nipping and scratching at your hand.  Allowing him to do this reinforces inappropriate behavior and teaches him the hand biting is allowed.  

  • Never encourage your kitten to play aggressively.  If he tries to nip or scratch your hand, teach him that this behavior is not allowed. 
  • Disengage your hang by gently pushing toward him (if you try to pull away, he’ll hand on even more tightly).  Give him toys instead of your hand.
  • Leave him alone for a few minutes.  Return after he has calmed down and try playing again using a proper toy.
  • If he continues to grab your hand, say “NO” in a stern voice.  He’ll soon get the idea

* For in-depth information on different types of aggression and how to solve them see our article Cat Aggression

Yowling and Excessive Meowing

There are many good reasons why your cat could be fussing.  Does he have fresh food, water and a clean litter box?  Have you checked him for injury or sign of illness?  Has he been left without companionship for a few days?  Is kitty a she-cat longing for a he-cat?  Is he a former country farm boy who is now confined to a city apartment?   

Some cats are naturally more vocal than others (Siamese have a reputation of being loudmouths), but persistent yowling with no apparent cause can dim an otherwise pleasant relationship.  The following steps may reduce or eliminate the problem: 

  • Neuter/Spay your cat.  Noise if often related to sexual cycles.
  • Increase cuddle and playtime.  Like people, some individuals are affection sponges.
  • Leave toys for her to play with when you are away.
  • If you have an outdoor cat, install a pet door so she can go in and out as she pleases if you live in an area where that is safe.
  • If it’s not safe for her to roam, build an outdoor wire-enclosed play yard.  Furnish it with interesting things to see and do such as an old tree trunk to climb on, a grassy spot for munching, and elevated platform for sunbathing.  Include a pet door or other access to warm, dry shelter. 
  • Leave the radio on for your cat if you plan to be away for a while.

 

Regurgitation

Repeated vomiting is a sign of illness or hairballs and should be discussed with your veterinarian.  Regurgitation of recently eaten undigested food, however, falls in to the category of embarrassing nuisance.  The best solution is to try to avoid its cause. 

Some possibilities to consider are: 

  • Food served too cold, straight from the refrigerator.  (Warm it to room temperature.)
  • Being a piggy and eating too much at one time. (Try frequent, smaller servings, or if he’s not overweight, keep a bowl of dry food out for him to snack on when he chooses.)
  • Being a piggy and eating too fast (Same remedy as above)
  • Competition – separate feeding areas of several pets.

Behavior Articles

Cat Aggression - Do you have problems with an aggressive cat?  
Learn about the different types of aggressive behavior in cats and how to solve them!

Cat Behavior E-Book

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