Five Ferocious Cat Behaviors and How to Fix Them

When bad cat behavior strikes, many cat lovers are at a loss on how to bring kitty’s good side back. Find out how to bring out your cat's best behavior.

By Kristina Lotz

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Kitten Crying
Redirect unwanted cat behavior to happy cat status.
Kitten BIting
Avoid using your hand as a toy and you'll prevent aggression.
Cat LItterbox
Entice cats to use the litterbox with attraction products.
Cats are the most lovable creature on Earth when they want something (food perhaps?) and sharpening their claws on your couch the next. We asked top feline behaviorists for tips on how to solve 5 of the most common bad cat behaviors seen by the Humane Society of the United States when cats are relinquished to shelters.

Curb cat scratching with expert help >>

1. Cats Going Outside the Litterbox

According to Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Cat Behavior Advisor to and Cat Behavorist at The Cat Behavior Clinic, this bad kitty behavior is the No. 1 reason cats are relinquished to shelters. Never fear, she has some simple tricks to keep your feline going in the appropriate place.

Hear more about solving litterbox problems >>

Scoop your litterbox at least one to two times a day. Make sure you have multiple boxes in multiple locations for multi-cat homes. The rule of thumb is one box for each cat plus one more (though there are exception where more or less may be needed). "I have worked with thousands of cat owners since 1999 and placing all your boxes in the basement spells trouble,” Nagelschneider explains. "This can increase territorial thinking which leads to hostility between cats (and, of course, out of the box behavior).  Increasing box number and location can help your cats get along.” Use Night Lights. "Cats cannot see in absolute darkness. This is a misconception about cats! They need a bit of light to see well. Please add night lights on the way to and in the litterbox areas,” she suggests. Finally, uncover those boxes. "Where in nature do cats urinate in a hollowed out log? They don’t,” Nagelschenider responds, "Covered boxes create a Porta Potty effect, trap smell, and make the box very unattractive.”

2. Male Cats Spraying Urine

Some say cats spraying is worse than not using the litterbox. Intact male spray has a pungent odor that really repulses. Unlike any of kitty’s other bad habits, your cat will spray repeatedly after you clean up.

See how to suppress cat spraying >>
For most cats, a simple and effective solution exists. Dr. Carlo Siracusa DVM, MS, PhD, Dip. ACVB, Dip. ECAWBM, Director of Animal Behavior Service at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital School of Veterinary Medicine for the University of Pennsylvania, says, "Neutering reduces marking in about 90% of intact male cats.” For the rest, he goes on to explain that "the use of medication can also be discussed with the veterinarian.”

3. Cats’ Destructive Scratching
No one wants shredded drapes and a clawed couch. Amy Shojai ( blog), CABC IAABC Certified Behavior Consultant and author of 26 award-winning pet care books, explains that scratching for cats is a way of marking territory with visual and scented signs.

Keep kitty from destroying your territory by paying attention to what your cat scratches (fabric, wood, carpet), Shojai suggest, and providing "legal” opportunities to scratch in the material your cat is attracted to.

"Since clawing marks territory, location is key,” she explains, "Situate claw objects in the same spot as the illegal target. Then reward your cat with praise and treats for clawing correctly. Make the illegal targets unattractive. Sticky Paws double sided tape product can keep cat claws at bay when applied to these items.”

4. Play Aggression with Cats
Cats provide entertainment and bonding. This quickly can become a dreaded chore if your cat’s claws come out. Dr. Carlo Siracusa has a couple of easy tips to save your hands and your kitty friendship.

"Do not play using your hands and other parts of your body,” Siracusa warns. Instead, "provide environmental enrichment and play using toys that increase the distance from you (e.g. a stick with feathers). Redirect using treats or food-toys when you finish a play session, do not just walk away since this will leave your cat too aroused and likely to play with your hands/legs.” Dr. Siracusa also warns against trying you punish your cat, which can trigger fear-related aggression.

5. Cats Jumping on Counters, Etc.
We all know cats like to "perch,” usually on the highest point in the room. However, some places are just not for kitty – like the counter where there is food (and who can blame you? After all, your cat has had its paws in its toilet and you can bet he didn’t remember to wash his hands).

Amy Shojai suggests making the high surface, such as the counter, unattractive by putting away food, using a product like Sticky Paws or the Ssscat products. "give the cat a better place to lounge,” she says, "Provide a cat tree or other high perch that’s taller than the countertop, more comfy (has a bed, perhaps), and includes fun stuff (a catnip mouse, treats) that will create kitty allegiance toward the new spot.”

Do you have a cat with bad behaviors? Did you find a humane solution that helped restore peace in Catdom? If so, share it below!
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Five Ferocious Cat Behaviors and How to Fix Them

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Reader Comments

Alison    International

7/24/2013 2:25:28 AM

Claire, Weymouth - we have found Greenies Pill Pockets came to our rescue. You put the pill inside and seal them up. Kitty now eats her pill first :) You can get them at a lot of pet stores in the USA (we have to import them as we live internationally)

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

7/23/2013 11:50:19 PM

Good tips.

Karin    Dallas, TX

7/23/2013 6:55:26 AM

To Claire, Weymouth,
Take the prozac and crush it. Add the powder to some chicken broth, tuna juice, or some really mushy food. But it in a syringe and give it to him that way. By the time he realizes he's had it its too late. Works every time. Be sure to give a treat afterwards too so he associates something good with it.

Judy    International

7/22/2013 3:09:02 PM

To Claire, Weymouth,

I had a similar problem with my 4 yr old neutered cat. After months of foul smell on my carpet, I found out just scooping the litter box is not enough. I have to change ALL the litter often. He has not done it once outside of the litter box since then.

It's sometimes hard to distinguish 'spraying' from bad toilet habit. Maybe it's worth a try!

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