Top 10 Behavioral Problems in Cats

Cat avoids the litter box.

Avoiding the Litter Box

Is your cat boycotting the litter box? Often, it’s because she doesn't like the litter or just doesn’t like the box. Your best bet? Use unscented litter in an uncovered box, and scoop it at least once a day. Put the box where there’s not a lot of traffic. Try using more than one box and try different litters.

Cats urine marking and spraying are a problem.

Urine Marking or Spraying

Cats use their urine to say "back off" to other cats. They tend to do it when they're in conflict with another cat, feeling insecure, or looking for a mate. If there’s conflict, many cats in the house, or changes in routine, there’s more chance a cat will mark his territory. To stop the spraying, have your cat neutered or spayed. Use an enzymatic cleaner where he's sprayed. If your cat keeps spraying, ask your vet for advice.

Cat scratching can damage furniture.


Cats like to scratch. They do it to play, stretch, sharpen their claws, and mark their territory. That's bad news for your furniture, carpets, and drapes. Put different types of scratching posts all over your house. Make sure they are sturdy so they won’t fall over when your cat starts scratching. Then invite your cat to play by rubbing them with catnip or hanging toys on them.

Some cats play too rough.

Playing Rough

When cats play, sometimes it's hard to tell if it's a game or real. They pounce, swat, scratch, and bite. And, play scratches and bites still hurt. To channel your cat’s energy, use toys like balls or a fake mouse for batting. A paper bag can give her hours of pouncing fun. And to protect yourself, never encourage a kitten to play with your hands or feet. Nips become bites as a cat grows up.

See your vet about your cat's compulsive behavior.

Compulsive Behavior

Sometimes your cat just can't help himself from doing something over and over again. It could be totally normal. In some cases, though, it can be a sign of a problem. If you're concerned, ask your vet. Also, give your cat fun, relaxing diversions, like structures to climb on or a fish tank to watch.

Some cats get hyper at night.

Hyper Nights

Cats like to have fun -- often in the middle of the night. Plan ahead if you know your cat gets revved up or hungry when you'd rather be sleeping. Play with him in the evening until he gets tired. Feed him just before bed. Or, try a timed feeder that gives out food later so he doesn’t need to wake you. And, unless you think he’s hurt, don't get up. Otherwise, you'll be teaching your cat to keep doing it.

Cats meow for people to get attention or to communicate their needs.

Lots of Meowing

Grown cats don’t meow at each other. Meowing is mostly for people. Cats meow to say hello, ask for food, or get attention. If she meows for food, don’t feed her when she cries. If she meows for attention, give it when she’s quiet. If your cat meows a lot and you can't figure out why, or if she seems distressed, ask your vet.

Some kitties have separation anxiety.

Separation Anxiety

Cats are very social. They like it when you're around. When left alone, they might get noisy or spray your house. Try ignoring your cat 15 minutes before you leave and when you get back. Leave out some of his favorite toys and put them away when you come back. Play with him regularly to burn extra energy so he'll rest when he's alone. If you still need more help, talk to your vet about other tactics or medication.

Cats may injure themselves with obsessive grooming.

Obsessive Grooming

Cats groom to look good, and to calm themselves. If they overdo it, it can hurt their skin. Have your vet check for skin problems first. If your cat is grooming too much because of stress, such as a change in routine or a new pet in the house, reassure her by playing with her and helping her feel relaxed.

Notify the vet immediately if your cat becomes aggressive.


If your cat becomes aggressive, tell your vet right away. Do not go near a cat that's showing signs like a stiff-legged stance, widened eyes, or growling. Do not touch or approach the cat, even if you have a strong bond. It's not that your cat is "bad." It may be fearful or stressed. But safety -- for your cat and everyone in your house -- comes first, so get professional help.



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  • ASPCA: "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Litter Box Problems;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Urine Marking in Cats;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Destructive Scratching;" "Behavior Tips;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Cats Who Play Rough;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Compulsive Behavior in Cats;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Nighttime Activity in Cats;" "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Meowing and Yowling;" "Ask the Expert;" and "Virtual Pet Behaviorist: Aggression in Cats." Merck Veterinary Manual: "Behavioral Problems Associated with Feline Elimination." "Separation Anxiety."
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