Good behavior is essential to maintaining the human-animal bond. Some behaviors that are natural to cats are undesirable in pets, and there are many things that we as pet owners can do to maintain a happy household. Click on the topics below to learn more about feline behavior.
Chewing can be a normal cat behavior during exploration and play. However, some cats chew excessively, damaging property and putting their health at risk. If cats ingest the material they are chewing, it can cause an intestinal blockage which is life-threatening and requires emergency surgery. Chewing on electrical cords can lead to electrocution. Thus, it is important to monitor chewing behavior and limit chewing to safe items.
To reduce chewing behavior:
- Restrict access to inappropriate items that might tempt your cat. Some of these include strings, dental floss, meat wrapping string or plastic, Christmas tree tinsel, and soft plastic used in children’s toys.
- Provide daily supervised interactive playtime
- Provide appropriate items to chew (e.g. cat grass, safe cat toys)
Cats are often active at nighttime, which can be problematic for the sleeping humans in the house. This behavior may be a form of normal play or attention-seeking. Simple solutions do exist to minimize this potentially disruptive behavior. If your cat has a sudden change in behavior that results in increased nighttime activity, he/she should be examined by our St. Petersburg, FL veterinarians, as sudden changes in behavior can be the first sign of an underlying medical condition.
To Reduce Nighttime Activity:
- Provide ample interaction and playtime during the day and evening hours
- Remove any rewards associated with nighttime behavior, including but not limited to food, treats, and attention
- Confine the cat at night with appropriate resources and toys
Using The Litter Box
Using the litter box is essential for a happy cat and human household. The following guidelines should be followed to ensure your cat develops this important behavior.
- Spay and neuter your cats. Intact cats, both male and female, are more likely to mark their territory by spraying urine on walls or furniture.
- Have one litter box for each cat in the house, plus one extra (i.e. a 3-cat household should have 4 litter boxes).
- Make sure the litter boxes are placed throughout the living space. If you place the litter boxes side by side, most cats will see the boxes as one large box, thus defeating the purpose of having multiple boxes.
- Once you’ve placed the litter boxes strategically, avoid relocating them, as some cats will avoid the box if it is moved to a new location.
- Keep litter boxes away from loud appliances like washers, dryers, dishwashers, and HVAC blowers. The noise of these appliances running or suddenly starting up can scare cats away from the litter box.
- Scoop litter boxes daily, as cats are very particular about the hygiene of their toilet.
- Dump scoopable litter once weekly. Small pieces of litter with urine and feces remain in the box even after thorough scooping and can cause your cat to avoid the box.
- Clean the litter box thoroughly with soap and water prior to filling with new litter. Avoid using disinfectants and perfumed cleaners, as the smells from these products are unpleasant to cats.
- Plastic litter pan liners are an easy way to keep the box clean but will cause some cats to avoid the box. Use litter pan liners with caution.
- Avoid litter box deodorizers and scented cat litter. While the odor is pleasant to humans, it is not to cats.
- Once you have found a litter your cat likes, continue to use the same type. Switching to a new brand can cause your cat to avoid the litter box.
- When choosing a litter box for your cat, avoid covered litter boxes, as many cats are reluctant to use them. If your cat is large, make sure the box is big enough for your cat to use comfortably (many commercially available litter boxes are too small for large cats). Make sure the sides of the litter box are low enough for you cat to get in and out easily, which is especially important for kittens and older arthritic cats.
- New kittens should be confined to a small room (ie. a bathroom) with a litter box for several days to make sure they are using the box appropriately. Once your kitten is using the box well, you can gradually allow the kitten access to the rest of the living space.
Inappropriate elimination, or failure to use the litter box, is the number one reason that cats are turned over to shelters in the United States. There are many reasons that cats do not use the litter box, ranging from medical problems to inadequate training and behavioral issues. If your cat is not using the litter box, you should first have your cat examined by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes of inappropriate elimination. Once medical causes of inappropriate elimination have been ruled out, our doctors can advist you in techniques to encouraging your cat to use the litter box.
Many cats will ingest houseplants if they have access. This behavior is often a form of play and exploration but can also result from a nutritional craving for dietary fiber. A number of common houseplants are toxic to cats, so owners should prevent their cats from ingesting houseplants.
To stop your cat from eating houseplants:
- Prevent access to houseplants by hanging plants out of your cat’s reach or placing plants in areas inaccessible to your cat
- Provide daily interactive playtime
- Discuss increasing your cat’s dietary fiber intake with our veterinarians
- Provide safe plants for your cat to consume (e.g. wheat grass, lawn grass)
One of the most common destructive feline behaviors is scratching. Scratching is normal behavior that serves to scent mark, stretch muscles, and sharpen the claws. Indoor cats may select an inappropriate item(s) to scratch if not provided with an appropriate outlet for this normal behavior. Providing an appropriate object for scratching is essential to prevent your cat from damaging property.
To allow normal scratching behavior while minimizing damage to property:
- Determine your cat’s preference for location, fabric and orientation (vertical or horizontal) for the scratching post
- Most cats prefer longitudinally oriented fabrics and vertically oriented scratching posts
- Based on your cat’s preferences above, provide a sturdy scratching post(s)
- Place the scratching post(s) close to your cat’s resting place and near previously scratched items
- Make inappropriate scratching targets unavailable or aversive
- Remove the item or confine your cat when unsupervised to make the item unavailable
- Cover the item with plastic or aluminum foil to make the item aversive
- Positively reward your cat with praise and/or tasty food treats when using the scratching post
- Use a squirt gun to discourage your cat from scratching on inappropriate items
- Keep nails trimmed
- Sprinkle catnip on the scratching post to attract your cat if he/she is not using the post
- Resist the urge to replace the scratching post once it shows signs of wear – this is when the post is most attractive to your cat
- Consider the use of Soft Paws to prevent damage from scratching
- Soft Paws are soft rubber nail caps that cover the claws
- Applied with adhesive approximately once monthly. These caps do fall off at unpredictable intervals requiring frequent re-application of caps to one or two nails.
- Discuss Soft Paws with our veterinarians if you are interested in this option
- Declawing of cats is a last resort to prevent damage from scratching and can be discussed with our veterinarians if the other suggestions above are ineffective or impractical for your household and pet.
My cat keeps meowing!
Vocalization is a normal way for cats to communicate with their owners. This behavior can be problematic, especially if it occurs excessively and/or at night when owners are trying to sleep.
Common reasons for vocalization:
- Underlying Medical Conditions including pain, discomfort, hyperthyroidism, and senility
- Consult one of our veterinarians to accurately diagnose and treat the underlying cause of vocalization
- Sexual Behavior in intact cats, both male and female
- Spay or neuter your cat
- Anxiety due to a variety of causes, such as the presence of a new pet or family member
- Consult one of our veterinarians for tips on desensitizing your cat to the anxiety-causing stimulus
- Feline Aggression
- Prevent access to other cats
- Spay or neuter your cat
- Attention-Seeking behavior
- This behavior develops when the owner rewards the cat for vocalizing ( for example, the owner responds by feeding or playing with the cat)
- Provide daily interactive play when the cat is not vocalizing
- Remove all rewards for vocalizing
- Time is required for your cat to learn that vocalizing will not result in a reward
- Breed Related Behavior in Siamese cats
- Siamese cats vocalize more than any other breed of cats
- Frequent vocalization is normal in this breed
Please contact our veterinarians at Animal Medical Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida (FL) at 727-896-7127 for more information.