“Why is my cat behaving badly?” is a question we’ve all asked. Scratching furniture, spraying, scratching you or your family—these are all behavior problems in cats that we’re familiar with.
Why are cats badly behaved? Cats which are mistreated while young develop bad behavior traits. If you mistreat a cat, they will learn not to like you. Or, your cat may be in a bad mood because it’s hungry, tired, or you’re too close to them. You can try to retrain badly behaved cats with treats, or by visiting a professional. Feliway may help the situation.
Whatever you do, don’t hit or shout at your cat, no matter how badly behaved they are. Cats don’t learn anything from this other than that you’re a cruel owner. But other cat training methods might work for you…
Bad Cat Behavior
Cats and kittens can be the world’s cuddliest animals: and that’s a scientific fact. Unfortunately, they can also be unruly, disobedient and a huge nuisance. Bad cat behavior, like bad behavior in humans, stems from unpleasant experiences in life. That’s why rescue cats and dogs, while they want a loving home, can also be such a handful. Perhaps, instead of asking “why is my cat naughty?”, we should be asking “what happened to make my cat like this?”
The good news is that even the worst-behaved cats can be tamed. Reeling them in is easy if you have the right attitude, patience, and the right tools at your disposal. That’s where this guide comes in. It’s divided into three. The first section delves into why some cats are well behaved, and why some, well, aren’t. There are a number of reasons behind your cat’s behavior, and it helps if you understand them. Bad cat behavior doesn’t mean your cat hates you, or doesn’t want to be with you. It could just be a response to something you haven’t thought of. The behavior of the domestic cat is a complex thing to comprehend. That’s why researchers wrote an entire book about it.
The second part addresses the tools you need in your toolbox: things like Feliway that, while not always effective, can calm your cat enough that they’re receptive to training and learning. These tools are absolutely vital to setting the stage for actually training your cat. They ensure the best possible outcome with the least possible fuss.
Finally, we suggest a few great ways to try training your cat, and actually getting them to listen. If cats were as easy to train as some dogs, your life would probably be a lot easier right now. But cats are anything but stupid: they can learn, too. With enough time, love and effort, any cat can become a well behaved cat. Let’s look at some cat behavior therapy!
Who Is This Guide For?
Before we actually dive into the rest of the guide, we thought it would be helpful to define who this guide is for. There are many different kinds of bad cat behavior; this guide isn’t necessarily applicable to all of them. If this sounds like you, read on:
- “My cat keeps scratching furniture!”
- “My cat is spraying indoors.”
- “My cat fights other cats when I let them outside.”
- “My cat growling at me!”
By contrast, this guide isn’t for anybody whose cat exhibits these behaviors:
- Hiding and appearing obviously nervous (we have a dedicated nervous cat guide on our site, too)
- Yowling and caterwauling (this is probably because your cat is in heat, and there’s only one solution for that: spaying!)
We’re talking about classic bad cat behavior here.
Bad Cat Behavior: Why are Some Cats Badly Behaved?
Your chances of success at training a badly behaved cat are much higher if you approach them with understanding. That’s why the first thing you should know is that…
Cats are badly behaved for the exact same reasons that some people are.
These reasons include:
- They had significant negative experiences when they were younger.
- They’re in the kind of mood where they want to be left alone for a while.
- They, quite simply, were born a little grumpier than your average cat.
- They don’t like you, for whatever reason.
- You did something that they didn’t like.
- They have poor impulse control.
- “Agh, my cat keeps waking me up!” They might just be bored…
Cats, and many other animals, have complex emotions and emotional needs. They think, they communicate (in many different ways) and they can lash out, too. Their emotions are guided by two key factors, just like ours: genetics and upbringing. In other words, their nature and their nurture. And they’re remarkably similar to us.
Do Cats Feel Emotion?
A great example is a paper in the journal, Animal Cognition. It assessed the bond between humans and cats, to see how cats responded to human emotions. The experiment went like this: cats were introduced to a novel/unfamiliar object in a controlled environment. Their owners had pre-recorded two kinds of response: positive and negative. In the negative response, the owner would be upset or angry, and the positive response was happier and more upbeat. They then took a look at how the cats reacted in each situation.
As social animals, we do something called ‘social referencing’. It’s where, when we’re in an unfamiliar situation, we look to see how our friends/relatives/colleagues are responding. It’s a way of gauging the room in order to assess whether the new thing is a threat or not: if everyone else is running away, you probably should too!
Remarkably, the majority of cats in the experiment (79%) did the exact same thing. They would look backwards and forwards to the screen with their owner’s face on, and would respond to the new item accordingly. Another study in PLOS One found that the only thing which stood in the way of more people recognizing animal emotions was familiarity: growing up with pets helps you to ‘read’ them!
Of course, this is something that any cat or dog owner knows. Pets are born with personality. Unfortunately, not all cats are angels. So how can you go about calming them? Let’s take a look at the toolkit you can use to do just that.
Cat Calming and Cat Training Products: Your Toolkit
Now that you understand why your cat lashes out, you can start to control them a little more. Begin by taking a top-down view. This isn’t just about your cat scratching you, or begging you for food. It’s about the environment in which they live, and the entire relationship between you and your furry friend. By reshaping your cat’s environment, you can shape your relationship, and eliminate bad cat behavior. So, the first thing you can do is make your home a more calming place for cats.
Feliway and Cat Pheromone Products
Cats naturally emit pheromones. Because of their sensitive noses, cats can pick up even the slightest scent of other cats or dogs. It’s one of the oldest forms of communication, one which existed long before we humans came up with language. Pheromones actually explain a lot about cat behavior, such as:
- Spraying cats release pheromones through urine. This is how a cat marking its territory does so.
- Rubbing their faces against things: cats have small glands that release pheromones in their cheeks, which is why they rub on things to claim ownership of them
- Scratching: scratching is a physical sign that a cat owns something; this isn’t driven by pheromones, but has the same effect
There are two key kinds of cat pheromone. The first is territorial: this is mine, so get outta here! But there are also pheromones that cats use to say that they’re happy. All pheromones linger for a while. That’s why a cat’s environment really shapes their thoughts and feelings, even if you try your best to train them. It’s also why cats aren’t fond of new places.
That’s where cat pheromone products like Feliway come in. Feliway is a chemical copy of cats’ happy hormones. Research is still relatively thin on the ground, but seems to confirm that it’s effective. A piece in the Journal of Feline Medical Surgery, for example, showed that branded Feliway products reduced cats’ stress during veterinary consultations. According to the researchers, the spray ‘significantly changed the behavior of the cats’ in the study.
Feliway and similar products give you a platform to work on: they help your cat calm down to a point where they’re more receptive to training. They also make your life a lot easier! These products aren’t a cure for bad cat behavior, but they’re certainly a big helping hand.
Give Them ‘Their Space’
Children like to have their own space, sometimes. Cats are the same. If they don’t feel that they have somewhere to hide and get some respite from whatever’s bothering them, that can lead to them feeling cornered and getting angry. This applies both to your behavior towards your cat and the environment you build for them.
First of all, if your cat is indicating that she doesn’t want company right now, you simply can’t force her. This might be indicated by body language, or simply getting up and walking away whenever you try and interact with her. The more you force the issue, the more annoyed she’ll get.
But second, and more importantly, your cat needs a place to go, to either hide or relax. Outdoor cats find this easy: they can get up and find a place outside, and do whatever they wish. But indoor cats don’t have anywhere to go. If your indoor cat is stuck with you all day (maybe with kids chasing her round, loud noises like the washing machine and TV, and other cats or a dog) then she needs a place that’s just hers. Cat beds are a good choice.
Tips: Leave your cat alone if they’re displaying angry cat body language. You can hardly blame them for bad cat behavior if you’re antagonising them! Create a place of their own, in a quiet room if possible, where they have a bed and maybe a little food. When she wants some peace and quiet, leave her be in her room.
Use Lures to Build Your Bond
So, as we know, social bonding and social referencing are a key part of calming your cat down. That’s why our next tip is to use tools that will lure your cat towards you and get them comfortable in your presence. The ideal lure very much depends on the cat, and there are plenty to choose from, including:
- A range of toys (although these aren’t a great idea if your cat’s bad behavior is caused by her becoming over-excited)
- Particular foods that they like
- Treats like extra-tasty dried meat, kibble and similar
The trick is all in how you lure your cat in, though. Gradually build up how close you cat get to your cat over time. Cats are notoriously fussy when they’re eating, for example: they like to have their space. Start by being in the same room as them while they eat. Don’t stare at them, or interact with them. Just get them used to being around you while they eat.
Eventually, get them to the point where they’re happy to eat treats that you put down in front of them. They’ll start to think of you as a food-giver, which will make them feel closer to you. After a while, if possible, get them to eat a treat out of your hand. This shows that you trust each other. Once you build trust and a bond with your cat, your cat will look to you as an emotional guide, just like the social referencing example we talked about above.
Tips on How to Train a Cat
Once you’ve got your toolkit ready, it’s time to start thinking of how to train your cat out of their bad behaviors. Cats have an innate ability to learn. They have a bad reputation compared to dogs, but it’s a myth that they can’t be trained and that they don’t listen, so if you’ve ever thrown your hands up and said “my cat won’t listen to me”, you’re wrong! All you have to do is get your tools, and learn how to apply them. It’s that simple. Bad cat behavior can be identified, controlled, and stopped. Let’s take a look at how to train cats out of different behaviors.
How to Stop A Cat Scratching You (And Also How To Stop A Cat Biting You!)
Scratching is the one thing that almost everyone can agree is bad cat behavior. If your cat often scratches and bites you, you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s simply an expression of a conflict between you. The cat wants to do something, you don’t want them to do it, and they don’t like you telling them what to do. Does that sound familiar? Probably.
The first thing you should know is that there are two kinds of scratching and biting. The first is during play. You can recognize this kind of biting and scratching easily: your cat will pull back and stop themselves from doing you real harm. This is a holdover behavior from when cats are kittens: kittens play-fight together to build their strength and create social bonds. This is common to kittens, puppies and dozens more complex mammals: including humans!
Scratching and biting done out of anger is easy to spot. It’s accompanied by your cat’s unhappy screeching. Body language will also make it obvious: your cat will display classic signs of being uncomfortable, like arching their back, puffing out their tail and keeping their ears low. This is the clue you need: it shows that your cat is angry because they perceive conflict. So, to stop your cat scratching and biting you, follow these steps:
- When they do attack you, don’t react, and don’t hit back. If you do, it just encourages them to hit you back.
- Make a note of what puts your cat on edge, and try to avoid it. If they don’t like loud noises, for example, this can put your cat on ‘high alert’ and make them more likely to bite and scratch.
- Give your cat an outlet. Cat toys let them playfight, and can take the punishment better than you can!
- Try to build a relationship with your cat that doesn’t involve so much conflict, so that you can reduce bad cat behavior in the long term.
How to Stop a Cat Jumping On Tables
In the wild, there’s no such thing as tables. We thought we’d get that out of the way first.
Cats don’t recognize tables, bookcases and the like as being off limits. In the wild, cats will happily jump from this to that like they’re filming a parkour video. As such, they won’t look at a bookcase and think “Oh… Better not jump on that!” Like many other things on this list, what might seem like bad cat behavior is actually just a lack of understanding. There are some fairly simple ways to avoid the problem, though.
- Give your cat a specified place in the room that’s just for them. If they like being able to look around from on high, give them a designated windowsill with a cat bed in it that they can use instead.
- Make it more difficult for your cat to jump onto any surface in your home. Sticky tape is a great way of discouraging your cat from walking somewhere.
- If the worst comes to the worst and your cat just won’t stop, simply try to avoid putting anything valuable, smashable or dangerous in places where they’re likely to jump. This might feel a lot like giving up… That’s because giving up is exactly what you’re doing!
Whatever you do, don’t just push them off the table and scold them. Cats don’t really understand cause and effect, so they won’t understand that you’re ‘punishing’ them for jumping on the table. Shouting “naughty cat” doesn’t translate inside their heads. All they know is that the Big Human is pushing them around and maybe even hurting them!
How To Stop Cats Waking You Up
It’s Sunday morning: time for a blissful lie-in. You had a little to drink last night, it’s the first morning that the kids haven’t had anything to do, and for once the neighbors aren’t making a racket. Unfortunately, your cat is. Oh well.
There are two reasons why cats might want to wake you up. The first is that they’re hungry. In fairness, if you relied on somebody else for all of your food, you’d probably get annoyed if you’d been waiting hours for breakfast too. Being hungry doesn’t count as bad cat behavior! Fortunately, there are a few simple solutions: first, leave some food out the night before. If they’re full, they’ll leave it until morning. Great! You might also want to invest in an automatic cat feeder, that can do the whole job for you.
Your cat might also want to wake you up just to get some attention. Try not to get too annoyed with them: it’s a sweet gesture that your cat wants to spend time with you! You could try and spend more time with them during the day, when it’s more convenient, so that they don’t get so lonely. You could also invest in a little companion for them. Speaking of which…
My Cat Hates My Other Cat!
Cats don’t always get on. In the wild, they don’t hunt in packs, although cats are social animals. But just like us, sometimes they don’t take a liking to somebody else. Considering how territorial they can be, it’s little wonder. This isn’t necessarily bad cat behavior; just a clash of personalities. There are a few things you can do if your cat hates your other cat.
- Try Feliway. It’s based on happy cat pheromones. Cats use pheromones to communicate whether they’re happy, or whether they’re up for a fight. Happy pheromones put them at ease.
- Designate each of your cats their own area. Have two of everything: bowls, cat beds, toys and more. This is basic advice, but it’ll cut down on conflict in no time.
- Try and set up playdates. Housecats are especially ‘vulnerable’ to becoming reclusive, since they don’t get to meet any other people, cats or dogs. This’ll get your cats more used to others.
Why Is My Cat Meowing At Night?
Meowing isn’t normally considered to be bad cat behavior, but we appreciate that it can be an irritation; especially at night. If your cat is suddenly more vocal than usual, there may be a cat health issue at play. It’s best to take them to the vet and find out what’s wrong: they might be trying to tell you something. Of course, you could just have a chatty cat on your hands. If that’s the case, try distracting them… They’re probably bored. Playing with them or giving them a couple of treats might help.
Can You Discipline a Cat?
The short answer is no. Cats don’t understand cause and effect the same way that we do. If you were to punish your child, for example, you can tell them why you’re punishing them and they’ll understand. But you can’t do the same to a cat. They can’t make the connection between whatever they did wrong, and their punishment. All they’ll know is that you’re hitting them or shouting at them—and that’ll make them hate you. If you want to learn how to change a cat’s behavior, think more about their environment than offering the carrot and the stick.
Of course, this isn’t intended to be a guide to every bad cat behavior you can think of. If it were, we could go on for days! What this guide is intended to do is to introduce you to a few different concepts in managing their behavior, and get you checking out some of our blog posts. On there, you’ll find information on ever cat behavior problem under the sun, as well as plenty more about health and cat products too. Take a look and see what you can find!
If you’ve tried everything you can, it might be worth inquiring about cat behavior therapy or cat training classes. Remember, there’s only so much you can do if you aren’t an expert.