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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Is My Cat Misbehaving?

Many things can cause your cat to “misbehave,” a phrase I find ill-suited. No cat intentionally misbehaves – because cats can't communicate with us through words, they have to find other ways of stating their needs, wants, likes and dislikes.

Misbehavior such as urinating outside of the litter box, hissing, growling, scratching, biting, running away or any number of other behaviors deemed undesirable by pet owners are all communications from your cat that something is wrong.

And as the guardian and companion of that cat, when something is wrong, it's your duty to correct the issue to the best of your ability.

One of the first things you should examine when trying to determine the source of a cat's discontent is its physical health. Have there been any changes in your pet's routine? Is your cat eating or drinking enough? Is it eating or drinking too much? Is your cat refusing to eat altogether? Watch your pet's litter box behavior for excess urination or defecation, and conversely, too little urination or defecation. Are there changes in the color, consistency or texture of your cat's leavings? Are there any objects present in the urine or feces that shouldn't be there, such as blood, mucous or worms?

Any of these signs can indicate the presence of a health problem that needs to be addressed by a licensed veterinarian. Cats, like humans, act cranky when they don't feel well. A health problem can make your cat cry, scream, howl, growl, hiss, act unsociable, aggressive, lethargic or any number of things. If your cat has suddenly refused to stop using the litter box, it may have a urinary tract infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. A list of veterinarians in the area is available here.

If your cat has been given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian, look at your cat's environment. Has there been a new addition to the family – another cat, dog or baby? These things are stressful for everyone involved, including your pet. Spend time with your cat to calm its nerves. When there's a new addition to the household, your cat may need a little extra attention.

I am the owner of two dogs and two cats, with a revolving door for cats in need – currently I have two kittens and a fully grown cat residing with me in need of homes. This leads to internal spats among the animals, and my own pets sometimes feel put out by the foster animals. Give more attention to your pets as needed. Attempts to run away, vocalizing more and aggression may result if your cat is stressed. Inappropriate urination or the destruction of property are also possible results.

Look around for any changes to the physical plant – are you remodeling your kitchen? Are people constantly coming and going? Is your sleep schedule erratic? Is there construction going on outside? All of these things can make a cat nervous. Create a routine and stick to it as much as possible. A good routine involves spending time with your cat – playing, grooming, cuddling or just talking to your cat can allay some of these stresses. You can't stop the construction going on outdoors, but you can certainly do your best to ease your cat while a temporary nuisance is occurring.

Speak to a behavioral specialist, if things don't improve. A behavior specialist is a person trained to help you get control of that nervous or fractious kitty. This isn't always possible due to financial, geographic or time constraints - the Internatonal Association of Animal Behavior Consultants does not list any specialists certified in cat behavior in a 100 mile radius of Athens, Ohio. This does not mean they don't exist - your veterinarian may be able to give you a referral to a specialist.

I've recently had to struggle with the issue of cat stress. My cat with the most tenure in the household, Pythagoras (Pi, for short), has had a nasty habit of trying to run away. He would wait by the door, trying to open it. He became quite adept at opening it, in fact – so much so that we had to start locking the door even if we were stepping outside to water the plants.

At first we figured he was trying to answer the call of feral cats in the neighborhood – the behavior started in spring, during prime mating season. But Pi is neutered. We figured to ourselves “He's neutered, not dead!” and wanted some kitty action. But the behavior continued and even worsened.

We'd recently added two foster kittens to the household. Even after amping up the quality time Pi received, the behavior continued. Pi has a clean bill of health and seeing a behavioral specialist is out of the question for us. I turned to alternative means to try and help Pi feel less stressed and more comfortable in his own home.

Bach Flower Essences has created a mixture termed Rescue Remedy. A naturopathic concoction, it can be sprayed in the atmosphere or administered in food or water. Knowing my cat, I knew this was not the way to go, but have seen it work wonders for animals recovering from traumatic and stressful situations, such as a spay and neuter clinic.

I turned my attentions to a product called Feliway. Feliway is a feline pheromone diffuser. The diffuser plugs into the wall and is equipped with a container of liquid that mimics calming feline pheromones. We have just one diffuser in our three bedroom house, in a central location that the cats must pass in order to get to their food, water and litter box. In under a week, the undesirable behaviors have stopped and the other cats in the household have shown more amiable dispositions as well.

Feliway isn't for everyone and won't cure every problem, but it does make a difference in cases where cat owners have run out of options. The diffuser itself runs an average of $25 while pheromone solution bottles and refills are in the range of $17, with one refill lasting one month. At a moderate cost that can provide some pretty hefty benefits, particularly in a multi-cat household, it's a small price to pay for a piece of mind and happier kitties.

No one solution will work for everyone, and feline behavior issues are complex, sometimes caused by more than one factor. For “misbehaving” cats, take a trip to the vet, examine your cat's behavior and the behavior of humans in your household, make note of any changes in the environment. speak to a behavioral specialist if possible and examine alternative and holistic options. Between all of these, your kitty should be back up to his or her playful self in no time at all.

Feel free to peruse these links for more information:
ASPCA: Ask the Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Aggression Between Cats in a Multi Cat Household

ASPCA: Ask the Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Compulsive Behavior in Cats

HSUS: Solving Litter Box Problems

HSUS: Cat Aggression Toward People

Pet Education from Drs. Foster and Smith: Causes of Stress in Cats

Image of Jack the kitten taken by Caitlin Seida, available for adoption. More information can be found on his page with the Athens County Humane Society.


  1. Great article hun!! :D


  2. Wow thank you soo much my cat is being a really bad girl shes runny everywere and not listening to me for no reason :(