Behavioral Issues

Behavioral Issues

cat playing with toy
No matter how much you love your cat, some behaviors are hard to tolerate and may even be dangerous to you, your cat or others. Here are a few common cat behavioral issues and how to best manage them.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Due to better food, information and veterinary care, cats are living longer than ever. However, this means more are affected by age-related cognitive dysfunction. Behaviors such as spatial disorientation, erratic yowling, altered sleep cycles and long periods of blank staring may have neurological or other physical causes. Your feline veterinarian can help you determine which behaviors are symptoms of a treatable condition and which are simply signs of age.

House Soiling

Few things aggravate cat owners more than litter box aversion. Your cat’s failure to use the box could have several causes. Medical problems, such as a urinary tract inflammation, can increase the urgency and frequency of urination, leading to accidents. Also, since this kind of infection is very painful, your cat might begin to associate pain with the litter box. Older, arthritic cats can find climbing into a box too challenging. These scenarios may be improved by having more boxes in more rooms and/or a box with lower sides. Some cats have aversions to particular locations. You could try relocating the box.

Many cats, especially males, like to mark their territory by spraying urine. While neutering drastically reduces spraying, up to 10 percent of neutered males still partake of this behavior. Spraying is especially common in households with more than seven cats. This behavior can also be a way to protest what your cat finds an unjust situation, such as you leaving him home alone while you’re on vacation, restricting his diet or installing an offensive-smelling new carpet.


Overly aggressive cats can endanger you, other pets or other people and cats in the neighborhood. Scratches and bites can get infected or spread diseases, as well as being very painful.

Sometimes aggression has a medical cause. For this reason, you should first have your cat thoroughly checked by a veterinarian. Pain involved in arthritis, dental disease and hyperthyroidism have all caused cats to act aggressively.

If the aggression is strictly behavioral, you should address it immediately but carefully. Physical punishment is not helpful. Instead, learn your cat’s signs of aggression. When you cat starts to exhibit these signs, immediately startle him or her without physical contact. For example, blast a compressed air canister, clap your hands or make a hissing sound. In some cases, your vet may prescribe medications to reduce aggression.

Some cats exhibit aggression due to fear. If your cat hisses at visitors, don’t console him or her or show approval in other ways. Instead, ignoring him or her might be the best policy.

Destructive Behavior

For cats, scratching and chewing things is a normal way to interact with the environment. However, for cat owners, this qualifies as destructive behavior. Scratching is a way to mark territory. Trying to stop this innate behavior is pointless. Instead, steer your cat toward appropriate targets, such as a scratching post or piece of wood. Observe your cat to find out whether he or she prefers a vertical or horizontal scratching surface. Also note textural preferences, such as fabric, carpet or wood. Try placing the new scratching surface in your cat’s favorite scratching area. Sometimes coating the surface with catnip helps redirect your cat. Since cats like to reclaim areas that are already pre-scented with their own scent, spray odor neutralizer on the couch or other places you’re trying to break the scratching habit.

Some owners want to declaw their cats. This is cruel, painful and leaves your cat defenseless if he or she gets outside.

Compulsive Grooming

Grooming is a good, normal behavior. However, licking until there are bald spots is not. Too much attention to one spot may indicate an itchy or painful area. Flea infestation, stress or allergies may be the culprit. Bring your cat to the veterinarian to identify what’s causing compulsive grooming.

Killer Cats

Cats are hunters and carnivores. That is why owners should not be surprised by the occasional dead bird or mouse dragged in by the pet cat. Keeping cats indoors or attaching a bell to your cat’s collar will help protect local bird, mouse and lizard populations. One study in Glasgow found that cats wearing bells killed only half as many mammals and birds as bell-less hunters.

Choosing a New Cat

When choosing a new cat, it’s impossible to predict all the behavioral issues that might arise. But you can make some educated guesses, especially if the cat is an adult. Since kittens have not yet formed their adult personalities, they are more of a wild card.

Look for a cat that is responsive and seems comfortable with you. Cats that run and hide will take months to win over and may never warm up to you. Spend some time with the cat before adopting him or her. Does the cat suddenly hiss and try to bite you during a petting session? Beware of these obvious signs of aggression.

If you’re concerned about your cat’s behavioral issues, call our office today. We can help find the cause and set a course of treatment.

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