Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (2022)

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (1)

Cats will be cats.

Unfortunately, this means that cats will occasionally scratch your arm, wake you up at night, unroll your toilet paper, destroy the corner of your couch, swat your glass off a shelf, and exhibit countless other behaviors that are, from a human viewpoint, problematic. When considering the cat in its natural habitat and not in your living room, it can be a little easier to understand why cats do the things they do.

Cats scratch surfaces as a way of marking their territory and sharpening their claws. They don’t just hate your taste in furniture.

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Cats like to be up high so it’s easier to survey their territory and hunt. They aren’t trying to purposefully take down your ceiling fan.

Cats in the wild need to kill small animals to survive. Hunting is pretty important to them. As a result, they practice it all the time. They aren’t trying to ruin your socks or make you bleed.

Breaking cats of some of their most instinctual habits can be difficult. Most people resort to using a spray bottle of water or just yelling at their cat and hoping for the best. But neither of those strategies are good options. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of cat behavior Do’s and Don’ts for some common problematic cat behaviors.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (2)

Most Importantly…

These first items are the most important ones on the list. Not to say that there isn’t some great advice on this list. But following these first few pieces of advice is paramount.

DO…
  • Take your cat to the vet if the problem behavior they are expressing may indicate a health problem. Examples of these behaviors include:
    • Excessive meowing
    • High levels of aggression
    • Urinating outside of the litter box frequently
    • Loss of appetite
    • Frequent eating of non-food objects
DON’T…
  • Rely on Google searches to diagnose your cat’s ailments. Always take your cat to a licensed veterinarian if you have a concern that something is wrong.
  • Physically abuse your pet as a means of correcting his behavior. This is the worst thing you can do. Never do this.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (3)

General Friskiness (Scratching, Knocking Things Over, etc.)

DO…
  • Make sure your cat has plenty of interesting toys to play with. Otherwise, your cat may start creating “toys” out of your possessions and batting them around the house. Giving your cat plenty of acceptable play options will make it less likely that they will play fight with your shoes or repeatedly knock your glasses off of your nightstand.
  • Provide plenty of acceptable alternatives to unwanted cat behaviors. For example, if your cat is scratching one of your door jambs, make sure your cat has a good vertical scratching post available. Sprinkle it with some catnip to try and entice your cat into finding a new place to scratch. If your cat continues scratching the door jamb, trying moving the scratching post directly in front of the area that is being scratched. If you still catch your cat scratching at the door jamb again, pick up her front paws mid-scratch and move them gently onto the scratching post.
  • Try to get your cat to associate their problematic behaviors with unpleasant sensations that are completely detached from you, the owner. You don’t want your cat to think that an unpleasant condition only occurs when they exhibit the bad behavior around you. You want them to associate the unpleasant condition with the behavior. Examples of ways to create unpleasant conditions include the use of scents and tastes that cats despise as a means of deterring them from specific behaviors. We’ll discuss how to do this effectively further down in the list!

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (4)

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DON’T…
  • Tempt fate by leaving your house full of clutter that your cat may try to play with. If you leave small objects like paper clips, rubber bands, bottlecaps, and food wrappers around your house, your cat may easily confuse these small items with toys and treat them accordingly. Cats seem to have an extra sense that helps them instantly identify tiny objects that they can bat all around your house. Small objects like these pose a choking risk to cats, and you should prevent your cat from playing with them whenever possible.
  • Encourage bad behavior. If you laugh and pet your kitten after she unrolls an entire roll of toilet paper across your bathroom, she’s probably going to do it again. Don’t provide any sort of physical or psychological reward that your cat may link to her bad behavior. This can be especially difficult when very young kittens begin to nibble on our hands and feet. It’s super cute when this happens, and we tend to reward the kitten with pets and cuddles whenever they do this. Encouraging the behavior in this manner will lead to an adult cat that plays with your hands and feet in the same way, but now with adult-sized teeth and claws. Instead, don’t encourage your kitten when she nibbles at you playfully. You don’t have to discipline her or punish the behavior, but instead put your kitten down and withdraw attention for a couple minutes or so.
  • Yell at your cat to try and correct their behavior. Your cat will not understand. Unless you are yelling at the cat as the bad behavior is being performed, your cat will likely not make the connection between the behavior and the “punishment.” Also, to reiterate, your cat will not understand. He may recognize that you’re heart rate goes up when you are angry and you start making louder, more aggressive noises. But he may confuse it for play. At its best, yelling at your cat will just confuse him. To reiterate a third and final time, your cat will not understand.
  • Use a spray bottle or squirt gun filled with water to try and correct your cat’s behavior. Unless the cat is being sprayed as it is in the middle of performing the bad behavior, she will not link the behavior and the punishment, causing confusion. Also, she will associate the punishing spray of water directly with you, decreasing her trust in you and instilling fear. Your cat will identify the fact that she will only get sprayed if you are around while she is performing the behavior, and she will learn to do it when you are not around. Additionally, there is a good amount of evidence that shows that negative reinforcement (i.e. punishment) is an ineffective training tool, not only for cats but also for people. Animals in general respond much better to positive reinforcement than negative.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (5)

Litter Training

DO
  • Make sure to check with your vet if your cat is frequently going to the bathroom outside of the litter box. There are several medical conditions that can lead to a cat exhibiting this behavior.
  • Have a spare litter box handy. Cats are reluctant to use a litter box that another cat has recently used. To prevent accidents, make sure your cat always has a fresh litter box available. This typically means having at least one more litter box than the number of cats in your household.
  • See if there’s a specific spot your cat likes to go to the bathroom. If so, try moving his litter box that exact location.
  • Make sure the box is the right size for your cat. A kitten needs a box that is small and easy for them to climb into, while a larger adult cat may need a larger than average litter box to avoid going over the edge by accident.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (6)

Photo courtesy of Laura LaRose.

DON’T
  • Get lazy when it comes to scooping your cat’s litter box. Cats hate when their litter box is full. They’re more likely to go off and do their business outside of the box if their litter box is not well maintained. In fact, some cats won’t go in a litter box if there is any waste present at all. Keeping the litter box clean by scooping frequently will ensure that your cats always have a pleasant place to poop.
  • Rely on soap and water when cleaning up cat urine following an accident. Cleaning up cat urine with soap and water may mask the odor of the urine enough for you to find acceptable, but your cat cat smell a lot better than you can. The odor will linger, and since cats like to revisit the same locations when going to the bathroom, you are likely going to have repeat accidents. Instead, use a cleaning product that has been specifically designed for removal of pet odors to neutralize cat urine stains. Make sure to act quickly after observing an accident to prevent any repetition of the behavior. If repeated cleaning is unsuccessful, you may need restrict your cat’s access to the area where accidents keep happening to prevent them in the future. Check out this article for more information about cleaning up cat urine stains.
  • Use a covered litter box. Covered litter boxes are appealing since they (ideally) trap odor, preventing it from spreading around your house. In reality, adding a cover to a litter box introduces a series of other issues. Litter in covered boxes does not dry as quickly as it does in an uncovered box. As a result, it may not clump properly. Your cat will likely find the odor inside the box to be distasteful since covered boxes are typically not ventilated very well. Also, the space provided by a covered litter box puts a cat in a very vulnerable position. Cats like an open litter box since they can see in all directions. In nature, cats are very aware of their vulnerability while going to the bathroom and prefer a location where they can keep an eye on things. Going inside of a box with only one entrance and exit may make your cat nervous, leading to a failure to bury its waste or avoidance of the box altogether.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (7)

Photo courtesy of Your Best Digs

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Restricting Access: Keeping Cats Away From Places and Things

DO…
  • Use odors that cats hate to keep them out of certain areas. There are several sprays you can buy that can be applied to furniture and other objects as cat repellants, but these may contain harsh artificial chemicals. There are a number of natural alternatives you may already have around the house that may be worth a try. Here’s a list of smells that cats can’t stand:
    • Citrus – citrus is actually poisonous to cats, but they would need to eat a lot of it in order to have any negative effects. And this is no problem for most cats, since they really hate the smell of citrus.
    • Spicy smells, such as mustard, cloves, cayenne pepper, etc.
    • Eucalyptus oil
    • Wintergreen oil
    • Citronella
  • Take advantage of objects that cats don’t like the feel of, such as aluminum foil, plastic, or sticky surfaces. Placing these materials on or around areas you would like to keep cat-free will discourage your cat from walking there. Cats hate walking on these kinds of materials and will avoid them at all costs.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (8)

DON’T…
  • Use mothballs as a cat repellant. Mothballs are highly toxic to cats. They are used for pest control since they act as a pesticide. As a result, you should keep them far away from your cat.
  • Use aloe gel as a way of repelling your cat from places you want them to stay away from. Aloe is poisonous to cats and can cause serious medical problems if even a small amount is ingested. Aloe is one of over 400 plants that are toxic to cats. You can find a complete list of those plants from the ASPCAhere.

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (9)

Cat Behavior

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do's and Don'ts - Mr. Catmandu (12)

Mr. Catmandu

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FAQs

How do I correct my cats bad behavior? ›

Discourage Bad Behavior

Shake a noisy can: If you see your cat jump on the counters or somewhere it shouldn't be, shake a can with some pennies in it to startle your cat. Use deterrents: Some cats dislike citrus smells, red pepper flakes, and commercially available sprays designed to keep cats away from certain areas.

What do you feel is the best way to discipline a cat? ›

The best way to discipline a cat is to encourage good behavior rather than discourage bad. For example, if they start to use a scratching post rather than the sofa to exercise their claws, reward them. Give them a treat, a toy, some praise, or a bit of loving attention.

Should I hit my cat for bad behavior? ›

Never hold down, shake or hit your cat. Physically harming your cat can actually make the situation worse and cause her to lash out or become withdrawn. Also, cats have a hard time associating the physical punishment with the bad behavior, so you're not actually training her to stop doing it.

Do cats forgive you if you hurt them? ›

Yes, your cat will forgive you if you hit it and will not hold a grudge. An apology and a treat will help ease the process of forgiveness. However, remember that repeated abuse can last in a cat's long-term memory.

How do you teach a cat not to do something? ›

Teach NO to Your Cat - How and Why - YouTube

How do you calm an aggressive cat? ›

Give the cat its own space.

After an aggressive episode it's best to let the cat decompress and calm down on its own. Don't interact with it until it has calmed down and it comes to you for interaction or attention. You may even want to keep it sequestered in a room by itself with food, water, and a litter box.

What happens when you scold a cat? ›

Scolding makes sense to humans, but it won't make any sense to your cat because it lives in the moment. When you scold cats, they have no idea why you yelled at them. Your cat might start avoiding you or feel uneasy around you. Also, scolding can make your cat jumpy and sensitive to movement or the presence of people.

What are cat behaviors? ›

For example, the most common cat behaviors include purring, grooming, kneading and climbing. But each cat will engage in these activities differently. Pay attention to your cat's behavior and determine what is “normal” for your cat so you can be aware of unusual behavior that may require a trip to the vet.

How can we say that cats don't care? ›

Recently, researchers found that even though cats can differentiate between their owner's voice and that of a stranger, they possess more of a “don't care” attitude when it comes to responding. In other words, the furry felines can definitely hear you; they just don't care enough to acknowledge you.

Why do cats repeat bad behavior? ›

Common triggers include medical problems, inter-cat relationship issues, poor litter box maintenance and household upheavals, among others. There are also behaviors such as attention seeking, incessant nighttime activities and some destructive behaviors that people unintentionally reinforce.

Is it OK to spray a cat with water? ›

Spraying your cat with water can have long-term negative effects. On top of the physical discomfort, spraying your cat with water doesn't actually teach your cat better behaviors and could end up seriously confusing her.

Do cats remember abuse? ›

Cats have incredible associative memory, particularly when it comes to things that have hurt them. Cats have a very good long-term working memory, and they can recall certain acts of abuse and misbehaviour for a long time.

Is spraying a cat with water abuse? ›

Spraying cats with water from a squirt bottle is not a reinforcement; it's a punishment. Giving your cat a choice of ways to express his behavioral needs and then rewarding his use of the choice you prefer is the best way to encourage your cat's “good” behavior.

How long does a cat stay mad at you? ›

Because kittens have a relatively shorter memory than older cats, they don't hold grudges for long. Unlike dogs, whose memory span lasts only five minutes, cats' memory works for 16 hours. Accordingly, cats may stay mad for up to 16 hours, but generally, it takes a few hours before they forget and forgive.

How do I tell my cat no? ›

Simply say, "No" when it engages in a negative behavior. If your cat stops the behavior when you ask, reward it with treats, a toy, or praise. If your cat does not listen when you say "No," try adding a small clap as well.

Do cats say sorry? ›

But as it turns out, science shows us that cats are much more complex and emotionally attuned than we give them credit for. They may not say sorry the same way a human would. But they do apologise, in their own way.

Do cats get mad at you? ›

Remember, while it's totally normal for your cat to get annoyed with you from time to time (you are roommates/best friends/confidants, after all), if it's happening frequently then it's good to do some sleuthing and try to get to the bottom of why they're feeling this way often.

Do cats cry? ›

Can cats cry tears? The short answer is yes, cats' tear ducts function the same way humans' tear ducts do, but they don't cry emotional tears from sadness or pain. While cats do “cry out in the sense that they may vocalize (meow, yowl, etc.)

Is it OK to spray a cat with water? ›

Spraying your cat with water can have long-term negative effects. On top of the physical discomfort, spraying your cat with water doesn't actually teach your cat better behaviors and could end up seriously confusing her.

Is spraying a cat with water abuse? ›

Spraying cats with water from a squirt bottle is not a reinforcement; it's a punishment. Giving your cat a choice of ways to express his behavioral needs and then rewarding his use of the choice you prefer is the best way to encourage your cat's “good” behavior.

Is using a spray bottle on a cat cruel? ›

It's widely believed that spraying a cat with a water bottle when they're doing something you don't want is an acceptable and effective means of disciplining and teaching them to stop unwanted behaviors. This is totally wrong! In fact, spraying your cat with water does nothing but harm your relationship with your cat!

How do you discipline a cat that poops on the floor? ›

What to Do If Your Cat is Pooping Outside the Litter Box. Should you come across your cat going outside the litter box, pick them up gently and deposit them in the box. Be calm and matter-of-fact about it. Be sure not to yell or pick up your cat by the scruff, or punish them.

Do cats understand no? ›

Cats don't understand the word “no.” Therefore, the way you say it to your cat is crucial. When disciplining your cat with the commands, use a firm, authoritative tone and don't change the way you say it.

How do I tell my cat no? ›

Simply say, "No" when it engages in a negative behavior. If your cat stops the behavior when you ask, reward it with treats, a toy, or praise. If your cat does not listen when you say "No," try adding a small clap as well.

How do you calm an aggressive cat? ›

Give the cat its own space.

After an aggressive episode it's best to let the cat decompress and calm down on its own. Don't interact with it until it has calmed down and it comes to you for interaction or attention. You may even want to keep it sequestered in a room by itself with food, water, and a litter box.

Can I spray my cat with vinegar? ›

It could cause irritation if undiluted vinegar ends up on a cat's skin or in a cat's eyes, so it should never be used to spray at the cat directly. Instead, use it to mark hotspots with their strong aroma and deter cats from being close to the areas you want them to avoid.

How do you teach a cat not to do something? ›

Correcting Unwanted Cat Behavior
  1. Texture: Sticky paper, aluminum foil, heavy plastic or a plastic carpet runner (knubby side up) can be placed in areas you want to be off limits. ...
  2. Smell: Citronella, perfumes, solid air fresheners, citrus, aloe, eucalyptus oil and oil of wintergreen are all aversive smells to cats.

Do cats know when you're mad at them? ›

While cats may not distinguish their actions, they know when you're mad at them about something. They pay attention to their owners' emotions. Cats show different behaviors when their owners smile at them. So, they pay much more attention to a positive attitude than a negative one.

Do cats cry? ›

Can cats cry tears? The short answer is yes, cats' tear ducts function the same way humans' tear ducts do, but they don't cry emotional tears from sadness or pain. While cats do “cry out in the sense that they may vocalize (meow, yowl, etc.)

How do you stop a cat from pooping in a certain area? ›

Put Up Obstacles. If there's a particular area where your cat has been going frequently and you can't block its access, try laying down aluminum foil or spray the area with a kitty-safe deterrent. The goal is to make the inappropriate area as undesirable to the cat as possible.

Does vinegar stop cats from pooping? ›

Aside from repelling cats, vinegar is also useful for repelling insects and pests. Vinegar, with its strong and soury smell, is said to be effective in removing the smell of cat's poop and preventing cats from coming back again. It's really easy to use. Simply mix vinegar with warm water in a spray bottle.

What smell do cats hate? ›

As a general rule, cats are sensitive when it comes to smells, but there are a few scents they hate that might just surprise you. They can't stand citrus and as much as you might love the smell of fresh herbs, cats hate rosemary and thyme. Banana and mustard are a big no-no too, as well as lavender and eucalyptus.

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