Unacceptable behavior in a pet cat—such as scratching furniture, inappropriate soiling, or sudden displays of aggression—should be investigated. It may be a sign that a cat has issues that are affecting his welfare and possibly his physical health.
Your job as an owner is to try to find out whether the behavior is caused by illness, stress, or boredom, or just a case of a cat following his natural instincts. You should, with patience, be able to solve or minimize the problem.
If your cat bites or scratches when you are playing with him, stop the game immediately. He is probably becoming overexcited or does not want you touching a sensitive area, such as his belly.
Don’t use your hands as “toys” when playing with him, since this will encourage him to bite or scratch them. Rough play may trigger aggression, so make sure your children play gently and know when to leave the cat alone.
Also train pet dogs not to tease your cat to prevent a backlash. If your cat likes to ambush ankles or jump on shoulders, anticipate this and distract him with a toy.
Should your cat become aggressive for no obvious reason, he may be lashing out because he is in pain, so take him to the vet. Long-term aggression may result from your cat not having been socialized properly as a kitten.
He may always remain wary of humans, but be patient and you may eventually gain his trust. In general, cats are much more docile after neutering.
Chewing and Scratching
Boredom may lead to stress and destructive behavior. A cat that spends his life indoors, especially if he is often alone, may chew household objects to relieve the tedium.
If this sounds like your cat, give him plenty of toys to play with and make sure you set aside some special time each day when you give him your full attention.
Scratching is a natural way for a cat to sharpen his claws and make a visible and scented sign of his territory. If your sofa is becoming heavily scratched, buy a scratching post as an alternative for your cat to mark his territory.
Most posts are covered with rough rope or burlap, which provide an inviting texture. Place the post close to where your cat has been scratching and rub some catnip into it to tempt him if he is reluctant to use it. If he prefers to claw at the carpet, provide a horizontal scratching mat instead.
If he persists in scratching the furniture, deter him further by cleaning the scratched area to take away his scent. Then cover the area in something that cats dislike the feel of, such as double-sided tape.
Another possible solution to scratching is to treat the targeted furniture with a spray containing a synthetic copy of the facial hormone that cats use naturally to mark their territory.
This product, which also comes in the form of a plug-in diffuser, is said to help reduce anxiety and stress- related behavior by sending out a reassuring message to your cat.
Like scratching, spraying marks territory, too, but this behavior usually disappears once a cat is neutered. It may recur if your cat becomes stressed by a change in his environment, such as the arrival of a baby or another pet.
To combat indoor spraying, distract your cat the moment you see him raise his tail to spray. Push his tail down or throw him a toy to play with. If there is an area he sprays repeatedly, cleanse it thoroughly and place his food bowls there to deter further spraying.
Use only safe biological cleaning agents, avoiding ammonia or other strong-smelling chemicals. You can also line sprayed areas with aluminum foil as a deterrent, because cats dislike the sound of their urine hitting it.
If your cat experiences pain when relieving himself, he may associate his discomfort with the litter box and go elsewhere. So when he relieves himself outside the litter box, seek a vet’s advice.
An all-clear from the vet will mean that the problem is probably about something else. If waste is not removed from the litter box frequently, your cat may find the odor overpowering.
Similarly, adding a cover to the box, to shield the smell from you, may make the smell inside too much for him. Switching to a new type of litter can also cause problems, since your cat may find its texture unpleasant.
Key Strategies for Resolving a Problem
- Have your cat’s health checked by a vet to rule out underlying medical problems
- Try to find out what first initiated the behavior and identify factors that trigger it now
- If possible, protect your cat from the triggering factors
- Never punish your cat for inappropriate behavior or give him attention for it
- Redirect normal cat behavior, such as scratching, on to more appropriate targets
- Ask your vet to refer you to a qualified and experienced feline behavior expert.