How to Keep Cats with Behavioral Issues in Their Homes
Guest Post by Dr. Rachel Geller, Certified Cat Behaviorist • March 2022
Are you dealing with a cat behavior problem?
First, we need to accept the fact that cats don’t misbehave the way we humans think of misbehaving. Cats don’t purposely do things to annoy us, or act out of spite or revenge, or do things deliberately to be irritating. It’s important for cat owners to understand that cats don’t think in terms of right and wrong like we do. They think in terms of fulfilling their needs. For example, a cat doesn’t scratch a scratching post because it’s the morally correct to do. He scratches it because it’s tall enough (at least 3 feet tall), it has the right texture (sisal or rope), it’s sturdy and not wobbly at all, and it is in a convenient location, not placed somewhere far away in the home. Another example is litter box use. A cat doesn’t use the litter box because it’s the right thing to do. If she’s using the litter box, it’s because it contains a litter with a soft, sandy texture that is unscented. In addition, she feels safe when going in this box, meaning the box is uncovered and in a location that provides a clear visual field. So, if these two cats in the examples start to scratch or pee/poop elsewhere in the home, they are not understanding that their actions are wrong. The real reason that that there is some problem with the scratching post or litter box, and they are solving this problem in a way that makes perfect sense to them as a cat. The cat who is not using the scratching post or pad is responding to a problem and scratching somewhere else that better meets his needs. Same with the litter box, she is going somewhere else that meets her needs because something or someone is preventing her from using that box. What we humans label as misbehavior is really a cat’s logical response to a problem in his environment.
If you are having a cat behavior problem, the most important thing to understand about cats is that they need to feel safe and secure in their home. A cat who feels safe and secure in her territory will know she can move freely and perform her daily routines, including using the litter box and the scratching post without fear of any threat to her well-being. A cat who is stressed is often a cat who is described as having a behavior problem.
How do we create a sense of safety and security for cats? Maintain predictability and familiarity in the home as much as you can. Provide plenty of resources so the cat feels in control of her environment. In terms of resources, there should be multiple litter boxes, scratching posts, food/water stations, hiding spaces such as cat tunnels and cubes and lots of vertical space which expands the territory for a cat.
Engaging the cat in daily interactive play sessions to decreases stress and increases confidence. The very best interactive toy for you and your cat to play together is a fishing pole type toy. A big part of the play session is to act like prey, using whatever is at the end of the fishing pole toy, fly it around, slither it across the floor, make it hope like a frog. All of these actions will stimulate your cat’s prey drive and put him in hunter mode. Keep in mind that play should simulate a hunt, so as you play, be sure that many times throughout the game the cat actually captures the object. Finish the game with one last successful capture. To make it a perfect play experience, let the climax of the game happen when you give your cat a little treat that simulates the feast on the captured prey after a hunt.
Remember, because cats are territorial creatures, the familiarity of their home and ample resources in that home are important to their emotional and physical well-being. In addition, interactive play releases stress and makes a cat feel confident. When cats feel unsafe and insecure, they experience stress, which ultimately leads to the behavior issues. But a confident cat with an outlet for his tension who has a safe and secure environment will be happy and content in his home.