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Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

Some say the cat is the most popular household pet in the world. At the very least, it certainly is a contender for the title, side by side with the dog. That in itself tells us that cats are well suited for living with human beings. Their behavioral patterns are well matched to ours, so they can happily share our lives and homes with us.

 

Until something goes wrong, that is. That's when "How to solve cat behavior problems" suddenly becomes a very real issue.

 

Fortunately, cat experts have developed many useful techniques to help owners solve cat behavior problems. But here's the rub: Techniques are often not enough. You also need generous amounts of the magic ingredient:

 

Patience.

 

Let's take a closer look at behavior problems in cats and see why without enough patience, your chances of solving them are slim.

 

What causes cat behavior problems?

Cat behavior problems usually fall into one of the following categories -

 

1. The cat is sick

 

It's easy to mistake physical illness for a behavior problem. If your cat suddenly bites you when you try to touch a certain point on her body, then there's a very good chance that she's just responding to pain. Litterbox problems can also be triggered by medical problems. You can read more about it here:  When Physical Problems Turn into Behavior Problems  

 

The only way to address these issues is by treating the underlying medical problem (though you may still need to help your cat regain her old habits once he or she is healthy).

Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

2. The cat's natural behavior is manifested 
in a way that causes a problem

 

Cats have natural needs which must be fulfilled. It's up to us to provide them with acceptable outlets for these needs. For example, cats need to claw at large objects in their territory. That's just part of being a cat. If that large item happens to be a scratching post, all is well. If it happens to be your expensive leather couch, then this could be a problem.

 

The way to fix this kind of problem is by finding the right alternatives and teaching the cat to use them (and only them). You can read more here about how to do that with furniture scratching:  How To Stop Your Cat From Scratching The Furniture  

 

3. The cat is stressed out

 

Stress is a very real issue with cats. There are many possible sources of stress in a cat's life. Too much stress can build up over time to the point of undesirable behaviors. These behaviors become a coping mechanism for the cat, keeping his or her mind off the source of stress. Pretty much any behavior problem can be stress-induced, but a good example would be overgrooming to the point of creating bald patches on the cat's skin.

 

The only way to help the cat and correct the behavioral problems is by reducing stress. Read more here:  Is Your Cat Stressed Out?  and  Six Surefire Strategies to Reduce Stress in Cats .

 

 

4. The owner simply misunderstands the behavior

 

Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

Owners sometimes raise the alarm over something which is not really a behavior problem. A three-month-old kitten that goes crazy running around, climbing on curtains, jumping on you and constantly demanding attention? That's just being a kitten.

 

The thing to solve here is not so much a behavioral problem as a question of perception. Educating owners about normal cat behavior can be very helpful in these cases.

 

And of course, behavior problems can be a combination of any of the above. A cat may stop using the litterbox due to a bladder infection which in turn is exacerbated by stress. The stress could be due to the location of the litterbox, perhaps because the owner didn't know that cats don't like to have their food dishes right next to the box.

 

Yes, it can be complicated.

 

Fixing behavioral problems in cats

The good news is that most - if not all - behavioral problems can be fixed. The even better news is that right here on TheCatSite.com you can find dozens of cat behavior guides which will walk you through fixing those problems. What's more, you are welcome to post your story in the cat behavior forums and get advice and support from others for your particular case. 

 

It really can be done. Sometimes it's even much easier than you might think.

 

For example, if your problem is with your cat waking you up at night, a successful solution within several days is the norm (as long as you follow the provided guidelines). At other times, solving cat behavior problems can be a whole lot more complicated. Still doable -- but complicated. With litterbox problems, for example, it can take a while to figure out what's wrong and fix it. Once the underlying cause has been addressed, re-training Kitty to use the box again can still be a challenge.

 

With most problems both you and your cat will have to go through a process. Some changes will have to be made, possibly including some concessions on your part - either temporary or permanent. You may really prefer not to add another litterbox, but that could be something you'll have to do.

 

And above all - you need to have patience. A LOT of patience.

 

Why patience is so important

Solving Cat Behavior Problems: The Key Ingredient

 

Cats are creatures of habit. 

 

Behavioral problems often mean a troublesome habit has been formed. Breaking that habit will involve making some changes that will address the underlying cause. Next, some amount of re-training may be required as well.

 

And that takes time.

 

During that time, you will probably need to create positive associations with the desired behavioral pattern (and possibly negative associations with the old pattern). Changing habits takes time simply because learning takes constant and consistent repetition, above everything else.

 

You will also have to reduce the overall amount of stress in your cat's life. Remember, stress can make any behavioral problem worse. If you get frustrated, you're far more likely to shout at your cat, groan and moan and otherwise show signs of anger. Your cat will pick up on that, and chances are it will stress him or her. This in turn can result in making the behavioral problem worse. Your own stress levels can affect your cat. Read more about this here: You, Your Cat and Stress  

 

You may be asking yourself how it is possible keep patient while your cat is avoiding the litterbox or is otherwise misbehaving? The key here is to understand that Kitty is not trying to aggravate you. He or she is not out there taking revenge on you or trying to do something "for spite". Your cat could be ill, stressed, disoriented or just unclear as to how to "be a cat" in your home.

 

The Bottom Line

 

If you're dealing with any kind of cat behavior problems, here are key messages to take from this article:

 

1. Know that your cat isn't doing anything to spite you.

 

2. Figure out what is causing the problem and fix that.

 

3. Understand that changing behavior patterns takes time. 

 

4. Don't be angry with your cat. It'll only make things worse.

 

Have patience, ask for advice and support on the forums and remember, you're all your cat has and he or she is relying on your for help.

Comments (2)

Thank you for an excellent, insightful and educational article.  Absolutely, the points in "The Bottom Line" should be engraved on every cat guardian's heart; and I would add that in most cases it is not the cat who is at fault, but the person/people whose understanding is lacking.  Like cat behaviorist extraordinaire, Jackson Galaxy, you do cats a great service by trying to increase knowledge and compassion in those who care for them.
When I first brought Connor and Murphy home, they wouldn't use the litter box.  I moved it to an out of the way place so they could have privacy and they still wouldn't use it.  They'd been using a litter box at my aunt's house, but not mine.  At first, I thought it might be stress from moving to a new place with strangers.  Two and a half days later, I started wondering if it was because the litter box used to belong to another cat and they smelled her.  So, I went out and bought a new litter box and set it up.  Then, they started using the first litter box.  Go figure.  But, it's fine.  I have both of the boxes set up and they use them both.  One is in the corner of the bedroom and they other one is in a back corner of the kitchen - at opposite ends of the house.  I'm still not sure why they wouldn't use it at first.  Maybe it was the stress of moving,as I originally thought.
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