Common Behavior Problems and Solutions (Cats)

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URINE SPRAYING
There is still much debate on the purpose of urine spraying, but it is generally considered to be a form of territorial marking behavior. The thing is when another cat smells the markings, the cat doesn’t retreat. (So stop doing it!!) It is very normal for outdoors cats to spray. But if your feline is an indoor cat, there’s a problem with him: he doesn’t feel secure, is experiencing stress or there may be a health problem that requires diagnosis. Common problems causing indoor elimination are actually the litter boxes: they’re too dirty, there aren’t enough or there’s a problem with the placement of them. If this is the problem, this is the easy to fix. The first thing to do is to take your cat to the vet and get a checkup to rule out a medical condition. If not, tinker with the litter box placements or try adding more. If that’s not the problem, it’s best to find a behaviorist and try to get to the bottom of the problem behavior.

SOILING INDOORS

If a cat is ill, trapped in a room or suddenly frightened, usually this will be a one-time problem. If this is becoming a chronic problem, you need to get your car to a vet because there is most likely a health problem somewhere.

Punishment (for soiling or spraying) is never the answer; your cat will only become more fearful and make the problem worse. Putting down deterrents will only cause him to move to a new location. The only solution is a vet visit.

SCRATCHING

Scratching can be another form of marking territory. There are scent and sweat glands between the pads of the feet that mix and produce a unique smell. It can be a sign that kitty wants to play or wants some attention. Of course, cats also scratch to sharpen their claws. Generally, if the majority of scratching occurs around windows or doors, your car is experiencing insecurity. The easiest way to deal with scratching is to provide plenty of scratching posts. If your cat is kept strictly indoors, trimming his nails can help this problem as well.

AGGRESSION BETWEEN CATS

In a multi-cat household, there will always exist a potential bully. When a “victim” responds to the threats, the more the “bully” will engage in aggression. The best way to handle strife is to remove the primary trigger of the aggression. If your cats are simply incompatible, you’re going to have to take steps to re-introduce them as though one cat is new to the household. Ensure that each cat has its own water and food dish, litter box, toys, bed, scratching post, etc.  is a necessity whether your cats get along or not. (Competing for the “best” resources can trigger aggression.) If these don’t help, consult a cat behaviorist.

Keep in mind that all adult cats continue to engage in play fighting (like they did as kittens). Play fighting is usually silent, happens in bursts, claws are retracted and any biting is done gently. It can escalate to include hissing. You can tell the difference by observing the cats during “normal” times. If there doesn’t exist a level of tension regularly between them, they probably engage in play fighting.

AGGRESSION TO HUMANS

Cats aren’t naturally aggressive. If they’re acting aggressive, it’s usually a sign of an emotional disturbance. The first thing to do is to take your cat to the vet to rule out a physical cause. The next step may be to take your cat to a behaviorist. However, if your cat is only aggressive with you at playtime, you’re probably playing too rough. (This type of play actually encourages aggression.) Play gentler games and whenever he gets aggressive, stop playing. If your cat hisses at you when you approach, he’s afraid. The best thing to do is let your cat initiate contact and keep your responses brief in reply to him. When your cat has had enough, he will leave; don’t take it personally. Don’t force social situations on him, if he wants to stay hidden, let him hide.

Perhaps aggressive cats didn’t receive enough human socialization during kittenhood. You can retrain an adult cat, but it’s a slow process that requires time, patience and dedication — and consists 100% of going at your cat’s pace, but it is possible.

OVER-GROOMING

If your cat has bald spots, he most likely is suffering from a skin condition or is in pain. Take him to his vet for a checkup. If there isn’t a medical cause, it’s possible your cat may be under some stress. Your best bet is to take him to a behaviorist to help you identify the stressors.

PICA

For many Siamese, Burmese, Tonkinese and Oriental breeds, there may be a genetic component; for some reason, these breeds enjoy “wool eating.” Pica is described as consumption of non-edible materials. Any ingestion of any material can cause obstructions in the intestine which will require surgery. It is quite possible for a cat to recover fully but they most likely will continue to engage in pica. Make sure that you’re providing as stimulating an environment inside as you can. If it’s feasible, let your cat outside into a secure garden or fenced in area outside. Remove any materials that your cat consumes. Switch to a high fiber diet or provide your cat with softened hide sticks dipped in fish oil for your cat to chew on.

It is also possible that there is a medical condition like hyperthyroidism, feline infectious peritonitis (a fatal viral disease) or cancer. A vet check-up should be your first step.

BEREAVEMENT

Some cats who had no particular bond may not show any symptoms, while other cats make it painfully obvious. There are generally three stages of feline bereavement. The first stage is usually very brief where the cat actively looks for the deceased. They may vocalize more and may sniff while walking from room to room. In the second stage, cats tend to become withdrawn or inactive. Some cats may develop appetite loss. The third is acceptance. Your cat may permanently change his habits. He may become more friendly and attentive (or less) and other resident cats who may not have actively grieved may “blossom” after a housemate’s death. In a multi-cat household, feline hierarchies may change. Unfortunately, there’s nothing really we can do, it’s best to let your cat figure it out and work through his grief on his own time. The only intervention needed is to ensure that your cat does eat if he experiences appetite loss.

ANXIETY

Unfortunately, most baseline anxiety is an inherited trait and the amount of human socialization that kitten gets in infancy will play a role in the cat’s level of anxiousness as an adult. You can’t change genetics or the circumstances in the past, but if you have an adult scaredy cat, the best thing to do is to act naturally and be relaxed with him. Let him dictate your relationship, let him seek you out. Give your fraidy cat an air of “invisibility,” let him move freely without focusing your attention on him.

If you’re in a new relationship and your cat is fearful of your partner, you can “bribe” the cat into a relationship with treats. Go slowly and be patient. Never force your cat to do anything he’s not comfortable with, he needs to feel in control.

There are synthetic pheromones that can be sprayed throughout your home to help him if he’s nervous or in your carrier when he has to go to the vet. However, if it’s a sudden change in behavior, there could be a medical cause and he’ll need to have a check-up.

If you would like to avoid contacting a behaviorist (due to the cost), but would like the advice of one, check out the book The Cat Whisperer, written by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, a cat behaviorist; it’s a wonderful book full of how to help your cat with common behavior issues. In fact, the books covers all the problems listed here and provides a multitude of solutions. Proven solutions that work!

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