5 Common Behavioural Issues of Cats & How To Fix Them

When first becoming a cat owner you look forward to having a new furry friend, companionship and many happy years together. So if your cat starts developing behavioural problems it can be disheartening and overwhelming. But that’s not to say it can’t be fixed.


Although cats all have their own special personalities, they are also very alike in a lot of ways, so behavioural problems are often consistent with other households. Read on for the 5 most common cat behavioural issues and how you can resolve them.


Litter Box


Ugh, there’s nothing worse than when your cat decides it doesn’t like the litter box and you’re constantly cleaning up it’s mess around the house. But there’s usually a reason your cat has decided the litter box is a ‘no-go-zone’, you’ve just got to figure out what it is:


  • Firstly, rule out any medical issues with a trip to the vet. Changes in toileting behaviour can signal a number of health problems including urinary tract infections and in some cases these can become very serious very quickly.


  • Once the medical issues have been ruled out, look into behavioural reasons. It is important to keep the litter box clean. Just like humans, cats like to go to the toilet in a clean space, not with someone else's business sitting there, or their previous business from their last visit! The general rule is to clean your litter box at least once daily. Provide one tray per cat, plus one extra, all in different places.


  • Change the litter. Sand-like, clumping and non-perfumed litter is the most preferred litter but offer a variety of types at a depth of >3 cm.


  • Consider moving your cat's litter box to a quiet space in the house with minimal traffic. Just like us, they prefer to do their business with a little privacy!

  • Stress can often cause cats to change their loo behaviour! If there have been recent changes, you have gone away for an extended period of time, or there’s a new person or animal in the house, your cat’s behaviour might change and they could feel anxious. Give them some time, it may take a week or two for them to settle again and be okay with these changes.

  • Look at the size of the litter boxes – some cats need more room to move and older cats may need a lower entry point. Hooded trays should be avoided as they tend to enclose any smells and don’t give cats the chance to survey their surroundings while carrying out their business.


Scratching Furniture


The first step is to ensure you have a quality scratching post that is high and sturdy enough for your cat to stand on its back legs and stretch up to scratch. If the post is too short or not stable, the cat will not use it (the couch won’t tip over and is therefore a safer choice!).


Place the post right beside the piece of furniture it normally likes to scratch. Use a product from the Feliway range called “Feliscratch” (available in pet stores and online) which will help redirect your cat to the scratching post. When you see your cat even sniffing the post, reward with a tasty treat and continue rewarding whenever your cat shows an interest in the post. Use playtime with a wand toy waved over the post as further encouragement.


Once the cat is using the post more regularly, you can slowly move it into its own position.

Scratching is a normal cat behaviour and shouldn’t be discouraged – you just need to offer lots of alternatives to the household furniture! And some cats prefer horizontal scratching – such as a sisal doormat – whereas others like vertical scratching. Offering choice is very important!


Aggression



Uh oh, got yourself an unhappy puss in boots at home? There are a variety of different reasons your cat may be acting out and not playing nicely; illness, feeling overcrowded, lack of socialisation, maternal protection, and changes in the environment. To help your cat play nicely again you can try:


  • Taking your cat to the vet to ensure there isn’t any pain or sickness your cat is suffering from. They may be acting out as a sign of frustration because they are having trouble coping with the pain.

  • Ensuring there is room for everyone. Cat’s like their own space and don’t often like to share. Making sure that each pet has plenty of choices in resting places, toys, food & water bowls, and litter trays can help to eliminate aggression between pets. Ensure there are hiding places, plenty of vertical space and eliminate any areas where cats can be ambushed.

  • Get a pheromone spray or diffuser product (such as Feliway). This artificial form of pheromones can help to calm cats, particularly in multicat households.

  • Getting your cat desexed. Sometimes hormones play a role in aggression so de-sexing can help to calm things down.

  • DON’T try to break up a cat fight by getting in the middle of it. To stop your cats from fighting you can try to distract them by clapping your hands and using your voice to make high pitched sounds.

  • DO take your cat to the vet and/or consult a cat behaviour consultant if their aggressive behaviour continues and you can’t resolve it. They will be able to give you some guidance on how to tackle the issue including possible medication and management strategies.


Play Induced Biting and Scratching


It’s all fun and games until someone bites or scratches you! And it’s even worse if this happens to your children. There’s no doubt about it, kittens and cats love play time, but there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting a nasty scratch or bite during play time:


  • Ensure your cat has plenty of enriching toys to keep itself entertained, toys that they can scratch & bite instead of your hands!

  • Put aside at least 15 minutes a day to play with your cat and entertain them.

  • When playing with your cat use safe toys, things that are dangly and long, items you can throw. Anything to keep your hands away from the action.

  • Don’t encourage your kitten or cat to play with your hands and feet. It’s not so bad when they’re kittens, but as they get older the scratches get nastier and you don’t want to have to untrain a bad habit.

  • Check out our blog on how you can keep your indoor cat entertained with lots of DIY toy ideas.


Excessive Meowing or Yowling


It’s important to understand that your cat may be trying to tell you something when this happens, but also sometimes it can become a habit - which can be untrained. Some breeds – like Siamese – are well known for being extra chatty to their people and it’s really a personal choice about how much meowing an owner tolerates. However, if your cat has suddenly started meowing more regularly than normal, it’s best to take them to the vet for a check-up as they may be telling you something is wrong and they need your help.


Otherwise, you can try these tricks too:


  • Work out when the meowing is happening and why it might be happening. If it’s meowing to get your attention, simply be patient, go about what you’re doing and wait until there is even a moment of silence, then give your cat the attention they’re asking for. Be consistent with this and your cat will soon realise they get the attention when they stop meowing, not when they start!

  • If you’re trying to transition your cat from being an indoor/outdoor cat to 100% indoor, firstly well done you’ve made a great choice for your cat’s health! Secondly, this is a big transition for your cat, so they may meow at the doors and windows, they don’t understand why all of a sudden they can’t explore the great outdoors. If your cat is older and used to going outside, remember that transitioning your cat indoors will need to be a gradual process as your cat adjusts to this new lifestyle.

  • Dinner time! Cat’s love to remind you when they’re hungry, especially when it’s not dinner time but they insist that you must feed them. Try to ensure feeding time is exactly the same time every day and don’t give in to those kitten eyes when they ask any other time of the day. Another option is to try feeding smaller, more regular meals during the day if that can fit in with your schedule.

  • Yowling during mating season can become very annoying and persistent. Your best cure for this is to have your cat desexed. Not only will this stop your cat from going on heat and trying to find other cats to mate with, but there is also a heap of other benefits to desexing your cat, which you can read here.


We know there’s a lot of other cat behavioural issues that we haven’t listed here, so please feel free to reach out to us if you’d like other topics covered. And, of course, remember to follow us on Facebook & Instagram to keep up to date with all things CATS!


© Tasmanian Cat Management Project 2019

TassieCat is a state-wide initiative to promote and facilitate responsible cat ownership and management in Tasmania. The project is supported by Cradle Coast Authority NRM, Kingborough Council, and NRM North through funding from the Tasmanian Government.