Imagine it’s the school holidays, but you have to work. You leave the kids home alone. . . but the TV’s broken, they’re too young to read, and you’ve locked most of their toys away.
When you come home would you expect them to be perched like little angels on the sofa, hands folded in their laps, without a hair out of place?
No! Of course not.
You’d be lucky if the house was still standing. When kids get bored they get up to mischief. . . which isn’t so different to cats.
Causes of Cat Behavioural Issues
Here are examples of the ‘naughtiness’ cats get up to:
- Over grooming
- Toileting outside the box
- Scratching furniture
- Fighting with other cats in the house
- Lashing out at people
- Over eating
Whilst not wishing to over-simplify things, the chances are cat behavioural issues can be attributed to one of the following causes [*Assuming your vet has passed your cat as healthy and there is no medical problem behind her behaviour.]
- Lack of socialisation as a kitten
- Not having the resources to exhibit normal feline behaviour
- Her guardian misunderstands cat psychology
The first step to solving cat behavioural issues is to ask: Which of these causes, 1 – 4, is the reason behind my cat’s bad behaviour?
1. Lack of Socialization
Think of a feral cat, which hisses and spits and skulks away when you approach. This cat was not exposed to people as a kitten and therefore acts as if they are a threat.
This can also happen to our pet cats if they came from a breeder who kept the litter in an outdoor run, rather than inside in a home setting. That cat may be friendly most of the time, but may lash out when you try to move her from a chair or attempt to stroke her belly.
An outdoor cat lives by hunting, which takes considerable patience and concentration. An indoor cat without any means to occupy her time is going to get up to mischief (just like children!)
Some cats resort to activities such as over-grooming. The repetitive natural of licking releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones that are released when we exercise). Cats can get hooked on these endorphins and literally groom themselves bald.
3. Not Able to Exhibit Normal Behaviour
Cats are territorial animals, and scratch with their claws in order to mark territory. When a cat isn’t provided with plenty of the right sort of scratching posts as an outlet for this natural urge, she will claw the furniture, walls, or carpet instead.
4. Cat Guardian Misunderstands Cat
The classic example is a cornered cat that is labelled as aggressive. A fearful cat has limited ways to tell you she’s unhappy. When an anxious animal is cornered, (perhaps when you’re trying to catch her to put in the carrier) a cat without an escape route is liable to lash out as her last means of preventing something awful happening to her.
Other examples of misunderstanding is expecting a group of cats to share one litter tray (ideally they need one each plus one spare) or providing double-dipper bowls for food and water (cats prefer their water to be at a distance from their food.)
Solving Cat Behavioural Issues
1. Appraise the Situation
Think through what’s gone wrong. If you identify that your cat is bored, the answer is to play with your cat and provide ways of keeping her mind busy when you’re out.
2. Put a Plan in Place
Some issues are harder to overcome, such as lack of socialization. In the case of the latter, learn to read your cat’s body language and withdraw your hand immediately you notice the tell-tale signs that her patience is about to snap. Concentrate of having your cat come to you, by sitting still and throwing her treats. Gradually build her confidence and wait to see what happens.
3. Tackle Boredom
Regardless of the cause of a cat behavioural issue, it is a rare cat who won’t appreciate not being bored. Ways to provide mental stimulation include:
- Play with your cat at least twice a day: For the scratchers and biters, use toys at a distance such as a wing-on-a-string.
- Use puzzle feeders: Instead of letting your cat chow down from a bowl, use a puzzle feeder. This mimics the thought and concentration that goes into hunting and keeps the cat amused.
- Provide something to watch: How about putting a bird feeder on the other side of the window to provide a living TV, or leave the actual TV on a nature channel when you’re out.
- Switch toys around: Leave toys out for your cat, but swap them around every day so she doesn’t get over familiar with them and bored.
- Grooming sessions: Brush your cat regularly which helps bonding and occupies her time.
4. Enable Her to Act like a Cat
Think about what cats like to do in the wild:
Provide tall cat trees for your cat to climb, with a high platform on top so she can look down on the world. Make sure she has a hidey hole in each room (especially when she shares the home with other animals or children) even if it’s a simple cardboard box.
Let her pretend to hunt, by hiding small treats or puzzle feeders around the room.
And arguably most important of all, provide scratching posts near her bed and beside entrances and exits. But not just any old scratching post. Work out if your cat is a horizontal or vertical scratcher (does she prefer carpets or walls?) and the surface she loves most (wallpaper, carpet, or wood). Then find scratching posts as close to her purr-sonal preferences as possible.
5. Understand Cat Psychology
This is where you may need to do your homework to better understand how a cat’s mind works.
For example, did you know that most cats prefer separate trays for pee and poop? Cats are also highly territorial and hate sharing toilet facilities. With this knowledge, it’s hardly surprising when you own five cats but offer one tray, that at least one of them toilets outside the box.
Consult Cat Experts
This quick guide to solving cat behavioural issues is not intended as a general fix it. If your cat has bad habits that you’re struggling to resolve (even when you’re read everything you can get your hands on about the issue), then ask your vet to refer you to a qualified animal behaviourist. In the meantime, whilst you’re waiting for an appointment use the strategies suggested above and see what difference it makes for your cat’s behavioural issues.