what cat behaviors mean
Behavioral Problems

10 Bad Cat Behaviors (and What They Mean)

It is common for pet cats to exhibit bad behavior at some point in their life. However, sometimes what looks like a behavioral issue could indicate that something is not right – whether it is related to your cat’s behavior, environment or physical and mental health. Understanding different cat behavior types can help you get to the root of many feline issues.

Scratching, biting, yowling at night, spraying and aggression towards other cats are common bad cat behaviors that can be rectified by the owner. Start by ruling out sickness and understanding the cause for your cat’s odd behaviors. If there is no sign of disease or anxiety, discouraging bad habits and reinforcing positive ones can improve your cat’s behavior.

A combination of education and intuition is all that is needed to correct poor behavior in cats. Pay attention to what your cat is attempting to tell you. Is your cat stressed or hurting? Have you moved your cat’s bed or litter box recently? Is there a new member of the family? The chances are that your cat is reacting to its current situation, and providing it comfort can help significantly.

Understanding Common Cat Behavioral Problems

Any strange or aggressive behavior that your cat is exhibiting could be a result of stress or something that your cat feels is wrong.

It’s relatively easy to identify the cause and improve the situation. Keep reading to understand why cats act up sometimes and what you can do about it.

1) Cat Biting or Scratching People

The bite of a cat can lead to a bacterial infection. If your cat has been biting or scratching more recently, start by asking yourself if this behavior is new.

The good news is whether your cat is a new biter or has been biting people for a while, it can be taught to be gentler with others. To do this, you need to provide your cat with enough opportunities to show its aggression more acceptably.

Why Does My Cat Bite and Scratch?

  1. Cats fear humans and may bite when afraid. This may be a result of a lack of socialization with people when they were kittens. A cat that isn’t acclimated to being around people may bite or scratch when approached to be petted. However, even if your cat is a social butterfly, it is vital that you never tease your pet as this can be annoying or threatening for a cat.
  2. A medical condition can cause a cat to bite because of the pain it is experiencing.
  3. Your cat may be used to playing with people with their hands. Playing with your hands is not recommended as it can induce a cat to react with rough play. Furthermore, some kittens may show aggression stimulated by too much petting. This is especially common among cats that have a low tolerance for physical contact and petting.

Whatever the reason for a cat biting you, they often give away visible warning signs before they attack. Some of these include flattening the ears, a low growl, a tensed body, hissing or an irritated meow. In such cases, it’s crucial to back away immediately to discourage its bad behavior.

Pay attention to your cat’s body language to understand when it is getting annoyed and to avoid getting bitten or scratched while playing or interacting with your pet.

cat behaving strangely

How Do I Prevent a Cat from Biting Me?

If injury or illness isn’t the cause for your cat acting out, then training at home can help in curbing its aggression. If you rough play with your cat, stop completely as it encourages violent behavior toward you and your family. Instead, allow your cat to chase after and play fight with a toy.

Walk away immediately if your cat nips at you while you pet it or play with it. If your cat responds to your affection and rubs with bites, take your hand away slowly. It’s important to respect your cat’s personal space and opinion to ensure it doesn’t show any unnecessary aggression toward people.

All cats need time to play. Cats enjoy rough play, where they wrestle, tackle, bite, swat and chase their prey. If your cat bites your hand, it probably feels that it’s playing with you.

Never use hands or feet to play with a cat. Keep plenty of feather toys, wands, scarves and interactive toys that can be chased around in your house and include at least 15 minutes of playtime for your cat.

2) Cat Scratching Furniture, Rugs, and Clothes

Scratching is a common behavior among cats as it helps them shed the outer surface of their claws, keeping them in proper condition. Cats also scratch surfaces to leave their scent and visual marks on various objects, and to stretch numerous muscles in their bodies. This means a cat cannot be blamed for scratching furniture or other objects around the house.

However, if you are frustrated by your cat destroying your carpet and furniture, some behavior modification can help. Instead of punishing your cat or pulling your pet away while it scratches something, try providing alternative scratching surfaces around the house. Place scratching posts near objects that your cat frequently scratches. For example, you can place a small scratching post near your sofa, and another in your bedroom.

If your cat is scratching something that it shouldn’t, cover that object with plastic until your cat develops a habit of scratching the posts only. Discourage your cat from clawing at your furniture with a firm “no” and reward your cat with praise every time you find it scratching the scratching post. This will help reinforce positive behavior. If verbal discouragement doesn’t help, a gentle squirt from a spray bottle is likely to work.

In most cases, cats scratch furniture due to the lack of adequate scratching objects around. Make sure the scratching object is large and stable enough to allow your cat to stretch sufficiently, while having enough scratching surface. Some excellent scratchers include, scratching posts covered in sisal rope or carpet, horizontal cardboard scratchers and cat trees with multiple scratching posts. Try different objects to see what your cat prefers.

Should I Declaw My Cat?

It can be frustrating to see your cat destroying expensive pieces of furniture around the house, but declawing is not a suitable solution. Cats that have been declawed undergo a lot of pain and may develop behavioral problems in the long-term. A more humane alternative would be to clip the white tips of your cat’s claws.

understanding cat behavior

3) Cat Waking You Up During the Night

The worst thing about a cat that wakes you up during your sleep is that you don’t have the option to hit snooze. If you are feeling groggy and tired every morning or if you’re developing dark circles under your eyes due to your cat’s nighttime or early morning behavior, it may be time to make some behavioral changes in your kitty.

Cats are crepuscular, which means they are active in the daytime and nighttime. Determine whether your cat is waking you up on purpose or is just being noisy in the night. Your cat is intentionally waking you up if it enters your bedroom and paws your face, meows loudly, or gently bites your hand. Start by understanding what your cat wants. This could be for the following reasons:

  • Your cat is bored. Make sure you give your cat at least 15 minutes of playtime. This will keep your cat’s mind, and body stimulated, while providing it with sufficient exercise. Placing a few quiet toys in the house for your cat to play with while you sleep can also help. If you have only one cat in your house, consider adopting a suitable companion cat.
  • Your cat is hungry or thirsty. Make sure that there’s enough food and water for your cat before you go to sleep. Have a proper feeding schedule and avoid offering food whenever your cat asks for it.

If your cat wakes you up during your sleep unintentionally, put away all noisy toys before going to sleep. Replace squeaky toys with soft toys, such as foam balls that your cat can play with without waking up the entire house.

4) Cat Not Using the Litter Box

If your cat has stopped using its litter box or is urinating on your clothes, understand that it is not doing this to upset you. This cat behavior is a common sign of a medical or behavioral issue, so begin by understanding what your cat is feeling.

In most cases, cats refuse to use the litter box if it is not cleaned regularly. If you suspect that litter box hygiene may be the cause, follow these steps to keep it in good condition:

  • Remove soiled litter every day.
  • Wash the litter box every week with a mild detergent. Never use bleach as it can cause be harmful to cats.
  • Try providing extra boxes if you aren’t able to clean your cat’s litter every day. A good rule is to have one more litter box than the number of cats in your house. For example, if you have three cats, have at least four litter boxes placed in different areas of the house.
  • Keep the litter boxes away from areas with regular traffic to ensure enough privacy.
  • Use the same brand and type of litter that your cat is used to. Sometimes changing the type of litter you use can cause poor litter box behaviors in cats.

If your cat continues to avoid the litter box, don’t try to punish it as it may cause stress in your pet and worsen the problem. Clean the soiled area with a cleaning product containing enzymes that break down stain and smell. Avoid using ammonia-based cleaners as they smell similar to cat urine and can cause your cat to urinate in the same spot again.

Does Your Cat Have a Health Condition?

A medical issue can cause your cat to “go” outside the litter box. Older cats that aren’t able to climb into a litter box may insist on pooping on your floors or carpets. Try using a shallower pan. You may have to change the litter more often, but it can encourage positive litter box behavior in older cats.

Infections and other illnesses can also make it difficult for your cat to control its bladder. Your cat refusing to use the litter box may be its way of telling you that it isn’t feeling well.

Take your cat to a veterinarian for a proper examination and to make sure it doesn’t have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or another health condition. Hyperthyroidism, liver or kidney issues and diabetes are other conditions that can lead to increased production of urine in cats.

Is Your Cat Stressed?

Stress and anxiety are common causes of bad litter box behaviors in cats. A change in your cat’s environment, a recent addition to your family, a new dog in the house, house guests, changing your cat’s litter box location and moving can cause stress among cats. Sometimes, even small changes can cause stress in cats.

If your cat is stressed, consider resolving the underlying cause. Make your cat feel more comfortable by offering it a secure bed, a fresh litter box, plenty of hiding places around the house and sufficient playtime. Use pheromone sprays in areas where your cat relaxes to make it feel more secure.

According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine that studied the effects of feline pheromones in twelve 5-month old kittens, pheromones helped reduce stress and the recurrence of FHV-1-linked diseases in kittens.

cat behaving strangely

5) Cat is Too Shy or Scared

Although cats are independent, they are highly social. It can be disappointing for an owner to see a cat shying away or getting scared every time they try to pet it or cuddle it. Luckily, you can make a shy cat feel more comfortable in your home by respecting its personal space.

Cats, like humans, need alone time. Include plenty of enclosed spaces for your cat that allows it to hide while being able to survey your house.

Wicker baskets, cardboard boxes with holes, and covered cat beds placed in social areas of the house, such as the living room make excellent hides for cats. As long as your cat can watch you from its safe hiding spot, it will learn to become more comfortable with time.

6) Aggression and Fighting in Cats

Cats are easily stimulated by things that move, including you. This can cause them to pounce. Even though the cat is merely practicing catching its prey, it can get rambunctious at times, using its claws and teeth. If your cat has been showing more aggression lately, you can reduce this behavior by providing plenty of activity that will help your cat divert its energy towards more appropriate objects.

Avoid rough playing with your cat and punishing it physically for being aggressive as this can accentuate your cat’s negative behavior. Instead, provide your cat with interactive toys, such as wand toys and balls that can be chased.

How to Reduce Cat Fights in Multi-Cat Homes

Cats are highly territorial, which means cats fights are common in multi-cat households. If your feline friends aren’t getting along with each other, try understanding the cause. Cats that haven’t been introduced properly to each other when a new cat has been brought into the home, can result in one cat viewing as the other as a threat.

Sometimes cats in one house may have territorial disputes and have competition over shared resources, such as litter boxes, toys, food, and water. Ensure each cat has its own space. Offer individual attention to each cat in its favorite relaxing spot. If aggression between your cats continues, consider keeping separate litter boxes and feeding areas for each cat.

You may have to keep your cats in separate rooms, with the doors closed and slowly introduce them to each other again. After the cats have been kept entirely separate for at least two weeks, open the door slightly, allowing the cats to inspect one another. Switch rooms, bowls, and bedding, several times within this period so that the cats can get used to each other’s scent. Place a toy beneath the door to ensure the cats can gradually learn to play together.

Sometimes, curbing inter-cat aggression can be a slow and demanding process, but giving each cat the time it needs to acclimate to other members in your feline family can help them learn to live peacefully together.

7) Cat Bringing Home Live Prey

A cat may bring home dead or live mice, birds, geckos or other small animals into the house for many reasons. Some of them include:

  • To have its prey in peace. Cats tend to be discreet during hunting. This is because if another potential prey sees your cat consuming its friend next to its cave entrance, it would become more cautious in that area or move somewhere safer, reducing your cat’s chances of success next time it hunts. Bringing a small animal home also reduces competition for prey with other predators.
  • To share its meal. Some cats are better at hunting than others. One may catch more than its needs and may be willing to share. Your cat may even bring home a small animal for you.
  • To teach kittens how to hunt. Although cats are born hunters, they need to practice and learn from their elders. A mother cat may bring home alive, but injured mouse to help her kittens practice their stalking and pouncing.
  • As a stress relief. Cats are seen playing with their prey before they consume them. After all the concentration required in catching prey, a cat may release its stress by playing with its meal.
  • Your cat doesn’t know what to do with it. A cat’s urge to hunt may not be directly tied to its hunger. If a cat sees a moving animal, it cannot resist chasing after it. This is an evolutionary advantage among cats as it helps them strike whenever the opportunity comes. If your cat isn’t hungry, it may bring its catch home and leave it until it decides what it can do with it.

To prevent your cat from bringing home live prey, try attaching a collar with a bell as it will alert any potential prey. Alternatively, you can add more play to your cat’s routine. Sometimes unsuccessful hunts can increase stress among cats.

To counter this, play with your cat more often indoors, using a toy with a string or letting it chase after a ball. Use playtime as an opportunity for your cat to practice its hunting skills, allowing it to pounce on, stalk at and catch its toys.

8) Cat Spraying

Cats spray urine to mark their territory. This behavior is especially common among male cats. A cat may exhibit such behavior when it feels its territory is threatened. Perhaps there is a new cat outside that your pet thinks is intruding on its territory. Or maybe you’ve introduced a new cat into your household.

If your cat hasn’t been spayed or neutered, doing so may reduce such behavior.

If your cat sprays on important household items, such as your bed or sofa, it could mean that your pet is stressed or is insecure about its relationship with you. Spraying may be an act of soothing itself as it helps the cat mix its scent with its owner’s.  Try including more one-on-one time with your cat, stimulating it with high energy play.

It is also important to talk to your vet about any potential health problems that may cause such behavior among cats.

9) Cats Meowing Loudly

If your cat yowls for prolonged periods without breaks, it could be a cause for concern – especially in older cats. An older cat may meow loudly due to pain or feeling disoriented. Therefore, take your cat to a vet immediately to check for any underlying health conditions.

Some cats may meow continuously if they’re bored and are trying to get your attention. Include plenty of playtime for your cat and make sure there are enough toys in the house that will keep your cat mentally stimulated when you aren’t able to give it attention.

10) Excessive Grooming

Stress is a common cause of overgrooming in cats. Overgrooming can lead to irritated, bald patches on your cat’s fur. Overgrooming is another self-soothing tactic among cats that can result from environmental changes, a new member in the family, guests, loss of a family member, and so on.

If you notice your cat grooming itself frequently, it may be time to get your pet examined by a vet for allergies or other medical issues.

Is Punishing a Cat’s Bad Behavior Effective?

It’s a common belief that cats aren’t trainable. However, a study published in the journal, Behavioral Processes, human social interaction is the most preferred stimulus for most cats – followed by food. Therefore, it is possible to train your cat and curb its bad behavior by using the right techniques.

While attempting to correct your cat’s vexing behaviors, it is vital to understand that your pet’s actions are likely motivated by its natural feline instincts.

Try redirecting your cat to perform more acceptable behaviors, such as scratching cat posts or playing with its toys. Include high perches and hiding spots around the houses as cats tend to seek such places to relax or investigate their environment.

However, sometimes you need to let your cat understand that its negative behavior is unacceptable. Physical or verbal punishment is the least effective in this scenario as it only reinforces aggressive behavior among cats.

Remote Correction

Remote connection means letting your cat’s environment punish it. This is highly effective because it dictates your cat’s behavior by the penalties that follow. If exhibiting a particular type of behavior results in an unpleasant experience, chances are your cat will hesitate from doing it again.

Another critical benefit of remote connection is that it doesn’t make you look like the bad guy, thus leaving your relationship with your cat untarnished.

Use unpleasant sounds, tastes, and textures to inhibit unwanted behaviors. Here are some examples:

  • Sounds. According to Hearing Research, the auditory frequency range of cats is much higher than in humans. Therefore, ring a bell, blow a whistle, or shake an empty can with a few pennies to redirect your cat’s attention and startle it while in the unwanted act. Never say a word while creating the startling noise as it should appear as if it came out of nowhere. Note that this may not be a suitable method for a particularly sensitive cat.
  • Texture. Cats despise walking on sticky paper, plastic carpet runners, heavy plastics and aluminum foil. Place these items near off-limits objects, such as the sofa it frequently scratches.
  • Taste. Rub citrus, bitter apple, cayenne pepper and hot sauces on surfaces your cat frequently chews on. Soon your cat will link the bad taste with the item.

Remember that you should never physically discipline your cat. Doing so can lead to more destructive behaviors. Scruffing is also no longer recommended as it is painful and can exacerbate the problem.