Your Ultimate Guide to Common Cat Behavior Issues
Sharing your life with a feline companion brings a variety of both joys and challenges. Besides the common cat behavior issues you might face, there’s also the fact that every cat is a unique individual.
What works perfectly for one kitty just might not do the trick for another. When problem-solving, take into consideration a cat’s age, gender, breed, environment, and history. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for a problem, it takes a little trial-and-error.
We’re guessing that if you’re reading this right now, you’ve decided the brilliant benefits of cat ownership outweigh the difficulties. We agree!
To help solve any problems you’re facing, we put together this ultimate guide to common cat behavior issues. It’s also handy for anyone looking to further educate themselves on feline behavior or strengthen their current relationship with their cat.
What Are the Most Common Cat Behavior Issues?
Let’s dig in on the main behavioral issues, as well as explore why a cat might resort to them. Before you can properly solve a problem, you have to understand the reasons behind it. Regardless of your cat’s breed, there are aspects of feline psychology that are universally true.
Firstly, the number one concern to rule out is pain. Cats are skilled at hiding their weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, this trait served wild cats well. Showing signs of pain out in the wilderness was a good way to label yourself a frail target. Since today’s domesticated cat has inherited this instinct to mask pain, it’s up to us to keep a close eye on them.
So, before researching other options, confirm your cat has a clean bill of health. When a cat’s behavior changes, there’s a reason for it. In fact, once cats show obvious signs of distress, they’ve probably been in pain for a long time. By monitoring any behavioral changes, you can nip illness in the bud before your cat suffers unnecessarily.
Aggression & Skittishness
We paired these two cat behavior issues together because they often stem from the same sources. Depending on a cat’s personality and upbringing, the same trigger could cause aggression or fear–or both!
It’s heartbreaking to watch a skittish cat live in fear. Depending on the severity of a cat’s behavior, it’s also very difficult to live with an aggressive pet. Wondering when your cat might lash out or bite you gets old pretty quick.
So, what are the triggers behind this kind of reactive behavior?
If you adopted your cat later in life, you may not have their full history. Even if you’re told a summary of their previous life experiences, it’s tough to get the full picture. Past owners may have used scare tactics, forceful handling, or neglected the cat.
If your cat is reactive because of past mistreatment, you’ll probably be well aware of this before you bring him home. Although rehabilitating an abused cat takes time, it’s very rewarding in the long run.
Do you suspect your cat’s behavior results from an abusive background? If so, patience is key. By providing a life of consistency, you allow your cat to grow in confidence. Don’t rush the process and always give your pet an “out.” For example, if he retreats to a safe space, don’t chase after him.
As your cat’s sense of self-esteem improves, he’ll come out of his shell and develop trust with you.
Inadequate Early Handling
It’s so valuable to socialize a kitten during those formative early months. Unfortunately, many kittens either miss out on this part of life entirely or have a lackluster experience.
Missteps during this crucial period can result in a socially underdeveloped adult. It’s not abnormal for these types of cats to be friendly with their intimate circle, but aggressive or fearful of newcomers.
Naturally, it’s much easier to socialize a kitten than an adult cat. Still, most cats can improve their social skills with a gentle and understanding owner. If you’re working on socializing your cat, start small by only having one or two trusted new people over at a time. Always allow him an escape route if it becomes too much. On your own time, work on bonding exercises to build your personal rapport.
Aggression between Cats
If your normally friendly cat is aggressive towards another cat, it could be as simple as a personality clash. However, it could also be from an improper introduction. Carefully planning your new cat’s introduction to your existing cat is the best way to avoid future feuding.
A useful approach for a successful introduction is to first only allow your cats to smell each other from opposite sides of a door. After a few days, consider allowing a visual greeting through a screen, baby gate, or large kennel. These slow steps toward the grand introduction really help take the pressure off.
Depending on the cat, feline aggression could also stem from territorial, hormonal, or poor socialization causes. Give each cat in your home adequate space and time alone. They should never have to use the same bowls or litter boxes, as this situation is ripe for rivalry.
Changes in Routine
Cats may become aggressive or fearful when there’s an upsetting change in routine. For some sensitive pets, even moving the furniture around counts as “upsetting.” Chiefly, this kind of behavior rears its head when there’s a bigger shift in the household structure. For example, when families move, get divorced, or introduce a new member.
Even though changes in routine are inevitable, you can ease the transitions by taking them as slowly as time allows. If possible, don’t introduce more than one change at a time, and start as small as you can.
For example, if you’re introducing your cat to your new baby, start the prep work before the baby arrives. Put out the crib and toys ahead of time and bring in the new smells such as baby powder. You can even give your cat a piece of clothing or a blanket that smells like the newcomer to help with the introduction.
Just like when cats get sick, the aging process can bring out signs of distress. Your cat might not understand why he’s unable to do the same activities and grooming he once had no trouble completing. It’s particularly common for elderly cats to grow skittish around loud sounds or new people.
As a cat’s vision, hearing, and general health deteriorate, he may become more reclusive and easily agitated. The best thing you can do is remain observant of any changes and supportive of your cat’s sensitivities. As an example, you may need to move your cat’s supplies to a different level of the house if stairs become troublesome.
Try to maintain a good level of exercise and playtime, even if your cat is reluctant to move around as frequently. Playing games is a great way to maintain a relationship and stimulating the mind is as important as physical activity.
Is there anything more frustrating than coming home and witnessing the destruction your cat’s been up to while you were away? Whether it’s a scratched-up couch, ravaged house plant, or a ripped-up wall, it’s a maddening and often expensive dilemma.
If your cat’s scratching is driving you crazy, you’re not alone. Fortunately, once you determine the reason for the chaotic behavior, there are many options for deterring it. Let’s delve into the causes behind household destruction.
Since cats are often very good at occupying themselves, it’s easy to forget they need choices for entertainment. If cats feel unsatisfied with what’s available, they’ll likely look to more undesirable options (AKA–the couch!).
To keep your cat amused, offer a variety of toys. Some cats are endlessly thrilled with a cardboard box, while others might prefer an elaborate scratching tree. Experiment with different kinds of toys to see what floats your cat’s boat. Interactive toys such as lasers or wands are a convenient way to incorporate socialization within the playtime.
If your poor plants are your cat’s victim of choice, try buying a pot of cat grass. Remove any toxic plants or place them in a room where your cat has no access.
Lack of Physical Activity
An inactive cat is not only more likely to destroy your house but also prone to serious health problems. Sadly, overweight cats are at an increased risk for arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. As a result, maintaining activity is crucial.
Self-propelling toys are a solid way to keep your cat moving. Whether rolling or battery-operated, these toys trigger a cat’s innate hunting instinct. It’s also great fun to watch your cat stalk a robotic mouse around the house.
Another idea is to put up perches of varying heights. Since climbing is naturally one of a cat’s typical behaviors, they love the option of a higher vantage point. If they can bounce around on a variety of spots, potentially next to a window, all the better!
Before coming up with a game plan for stopping your cat’s spraying, make sure it’s truly spraying and not urinating. Catching your cat in the act is, of course, the easiest way to determine this.
Cats typically spray against a vertical surface like a wall. Most of the time, you’ll see the cat’s tail raised and vibrating. While any cat can be guilty of urine marking, spraying is most common in non-neutered males.
If you notice your cat is urinating inappropriately, not spraying, then skip to the next section on litter box problems.
A cat in conflict with another cat, pet, or person may be triggered into spraying. It’s a sign of anxiety being somewhat passively communicated. If your cat is in a disagreement with another pet in the house, urine marking is one way to go about expressing that. You may need to separate your cat from the offending pet for a while.
Notice spraying near your doors and windows? Your cat may have marked the area as a message to neighborhood felines. Try closing the blinds and restricting your cat’s view of any outdoor pets.
Cats sometimes turn to spraying when stressed by a lifestyle change. All the usual suspects can factor in here, including a new pet, a new baby, or a shift in the household schedule. If you’ve recently transitioned your outdoor cat to an indoor cat, that could also be the culprit.
Carefully clean any areas your cat sprays. Use a strong, enzymatic cleaner. If your cat is not already spayed or neutered, consider doing so. “Fixed” cats are less likely to engage in this behavior.
Remember your cat isn’t trying to upset you, as bothersome as their actions are for you to clean up! Try to be patient as you work through this obstacle and don’t punish your cat for spraying.
Litter Box Problems
Another disheartening cat behavior issue is elimination outside of the litter box. It’s ordinarily very easy to train a cat to use a litter box, so it’s confusing when they go outside of the designated spot.
This is another area where you may be tempted to scold your cat, but remember that won’t fix the issue. Your fastest route to success is to decipher why your cat has abandoned the box.
As noted earlier, it’s important to rule out medical concerns before moving down the diagnostic list. With this behavior, that’s especially necessary. UTIs, arthritis, and other health problems can all result in a cat peeing outside the box.
Once your vet confirms that it’s not a medical worry, you can explore other options.
Objections to the Litter Box
Cats know what they like, and they aren’t often shy about showing it. Litter boxes come in all shapes and sizes, and not every cat will appreciate every box. If your cat’s not using the one you picked, try a different product.
Here are some litter box variations you can try:
An open or closed roof
A change in size (typically larger)
Low-sided trays (ideal for senior cats)
Don’t forget to experiment with the actual litter, too. You can try anything from walnut shells to non-clumping clay.
If your cat has to walk up several flights of stairs to get from the water dish to the litter box, he might decide it’s not worth the journey. Pay extra close attention to this if you have an elderly cat who might have difficulty accessing certain parts of the house.
Aim for a quiet, low-traffic area. It’s not comfortable for a cat to use a litter box if there’s noise or activity around. Some people like to put the box in the laundry room to hide it, but a loud washer or dryer could unnerve a sensitive cat. There are other, more creative ways to hide your litter box.
If you have multiple cats, it’s wise to have more than one litter box. Many cats turn up their noses at sharing with another feline. Even if they’ve peacefully shared for a while, it only takes one negative interaction near the box for a cat to pee elsewhere.
Last on our list of common cat behavior issues is excessive night-time activity, commonly paired with yowling. A little wandering around is normal, but you’re right to question it if it increases. Besides, it’s tough to get your own good night’s sleep when your cat is up at all hours (and vocal!).
Senior cats are prone to late night activity, especially when their cognitive abilities decline. As a result, disorientation and anxiety might keep your cat up at night. A visit with your vet will confirm whether your pet’s behavior stems from aging or illness. If it is something like feline dementia, your vet may suggest anti-anxiety medication.
Being the “crepuscular” creatures they are, cats are instinctively active around dusk and dawn. Depending on the individual cat, this tendency can turn into a nocturnal lifestyle. Fortunately, it is possible to convert a nocturnal cat over time.
Make sure you don’t accidentally reward the late-night activity by reacting to it. For example, if your cat scratches your bedroom door in the middle of the night, retrieving and cuddling him will definitely send the wrong message. If your pet interrupts your sleep, consider confining him to a certain part of the house at night.
Just like with children, if your cat has endless naps throughout the day, he probably won’t be too keen to fall asleep at bedtime. In order to tempt your pet into sleeping through the night, try to keep him as busy as possible during the day. Encourage exercise, play games, and engage with him frequently.
Think about the time of day you feed dinner, as well. A large meal just before bedtime induces sleepiness. Plus, your cat will be less hungry first thing in the morning and therefore less likely to jump on your pillow and meow for breakfast!
As with all aspects of cat training, consistency is key. Stick to a regular schedule, and soon your cat will adapt.
Handling Cat Behavior Changes
Regardless of the behavioral issue, it’s always distressing to see your beloved cat go through a negative experience. If you’ve never dealt with the specific problem before, it’s understandably daunting, too.
But rest assured there’s an explanation behind your cat’s actions, and as long as you’re willing to do a little digging, you’ll be able to support your cat’s developing needs. Considering all the love we receive from our cats, it’s worth taking the time.
No matter what our feline friends throw at us, we know the value they add to our lives is immeasurable. There are some things only fellow cat lovers understand, and this is one of them.