When we asked our clients for topics that they would like to see covered in this blog series, the most commonly requested topic was cat behavior! Cats are unique creatures with a mind of their own, so you can easily see why this is such a popular topic. Read on to learn why cats do what they do and steps you can take to try to correct unwanted behaviors in your cat.
What causes behavioral changes in cats?
The first step to correcting unwanted behaviors is to determine the cause of the behavior. The most important cause to evaluate first is a possible medical condition. Have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian to make sure he/she is healthy. Some common causes of behavior changes include arthritis, hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, loss of hearing, brain tumors, cognitive dysfunction syndrome (similar to Alzheimer’s disease) and others.
If your cat has been cleared of any medical problems, evaluate your cat’s environment for sources of stress. Cats are creatures of habit and any change in routine (as minor as it may seem to us) can cause anxiety. Boredom is another big source of unwanted behavior. Your cat’s world may only be as big as your home and they need entertainment to pass the time. Lots of toys, attention and games will provide your cat with enrichment and focus their mind away from destructive behaviors. You also need to evaluate the demands that you are making. If you expect your cat to always use the litterbox, but are not keeping it cleaned regularly, you may have some unreasonable expectations.
Biting and Aggression:
The two most common causes of biting and aggression are fear/pain or overstimulation. Many cats have a “time limit” of attention/petting and will lash out when they get tired of being touched. Some people think that this may come without any warning, but if you watch your cat closely, they often will warn you before they bite. When the tail begins to twitch in a jerky fashion, be warned that you are reaching the point of overstimulation. Also, avoid touching your cat’s belly. Many cats do not tolerate petting in this area. Play aggression is more common in younger cats that get overexcited while playing. Use a toy on a string or other toy to run some excess energy out of your cat before settling in for a quiet session of petting.
After ruling out a medical cause for urinating in inappropriate places; improving the nature of the litterbox and retraining their habits is the key. Especially in older cats, arthritis may make climbing in and out of the litterbox uncomfortable. Keeping the litterboxes cleaned regularly, offering plenty of available litterboxes in multiple locations and making sure your cat has easy access to the litterbox (not behind a door or over a baby gate) will increase your chances of success. Limiting your cat’s environment, to only include a small area where the potential for urinating in an inappropriate place is much lower, will encourage your cat to eliminate in the litterbox. Once your cat gets back into a good routine, his/her environment can be expanded.
How to correct unwanted behaviors:
Make it a point to reward your cat for good behavior with praise, treats, petting and games. Cats do not respond to physical discipline and may even have an adverse reaction to this type of punishment. This can make your cat stressed out and afraid of you, which can make a situation even worse. A better option for negative reinforcement in cats is to make them believe that the wrong behavior triggers an automatic response they don’t like. A spray bottle filled with water can be a very effective discipline tool when used immediately at the instant of the bad behavior. Some cats also will respond well to loud noises, like a can of compressed air used in the same manner. If your cat is scratching on the furniture, make sure to have plenty of allowed scratching surfaces available and consider covering the areas you don’t want scratched with double-sided tape, foil or plastic wrap to deter your cat from these areas.
If all else fails, there are behavioral modification medications that can be tried to improve your relationship with your cat and provide a happy home environment for you both. Schedule an appointment today to discuss behavior solutions for you and your cat. We want to make your home environment as stress-free and happy as possible for you both!