Some of the most annoying -- and odiferous -- forms of cat misbehavior center around bathroom habits. Spraying urine and avoiding the litter box are two common problems in this category.
Problem: Your male cat sprays urine on walls, furniture, and/or carpets.
Possible causes: Spraying is one of the ways in which cats mark their territory. Your cat's territorial instincts might have been aroused by the addition of a new pet to the family, the regular appearance of another cat outside the window, or a heightened stress level in the household. Male cats also spray to attract females.
- In most cases, spraying stops almost immediately after a male cat is neutered.
- If it doesn't, or if there's a reason your cat can't be neutered (for example, if he is a purebred stud cat), address the root cause of his marking impulse.
- On a practical level, try placing his food and water dishes close to his favorite spraying target -- cats generally won't spray near where they eat.
- When cleaning up his wet spots, avoid products that contain ammonia. Ammonia is a component of cat urine, and the similarity of the smell will draw your cat back to the same spot to do further damage.
Straying from the Litter Box
Problem: Your cat urinates and defecates somewhere other than in her litter box.
Possible causes: Your cat may be suffering from a urinary problem or disease. If not, she might have objections to the condition of her box.
- Start with a trip to the vet, to rule out potentially serious medical problems.
- If your cat receives a clean bill of health, turn your attention to the litter box. Are you scooping out solid waste and clumping litter daily? Is there enough litter for your cat to get comfortable -- or is there too much? Does your cat dislike the scent or feel of the type of litter you're using? Tend to these concerns and your smelly problem will be solved.
Scratching and Biting
Scratching and biting are natural behaviors for cats in the wild -- they use them to capture prey and defend themselves against attack. In your home, however, what's natural can become a no-no if it gets out of hand.
If your cat does scratch or bite you, apply a topical antibiotic ointment to the affected area. If your pet is healthy and her vaccinations are up to date, there's little cause for concern, but the antibiotic will help head off any mild infection that might result.
Problem: Your cat scratches you or other family members. (If your pet is inappropriately scratching furniture, see the "Claw Care" article.)
Possible causes: Most often, the problem is that when the cat was a kitten, "playful" scratching behavior was allowed. The cat is expressing her natural play instincts and doesn't understand she is hurting you. The problem may be compounded if your cat doesn't get enough playtime.
In rare cases, cats can become aggressive due to illness, age, or chronic pain.
- Provide your cat with plenty of play opportunities. Take 15 minutes a couple of times a day to interact with your pet, using her favorite toys to get her active and interested.
- Even during playtime, never allow your kitten or cat to scratch your bare hands or arms.
- When your cat sinks her claws into your skin, release them by pushing her pouncing paws slightly forward. Move the cat away from you with a firm "no." Then ignore her for a few minutes, to reinforce the message that scratching will not result in her getting the attention she desires.
- Protect yourself by never attempting to restrain a cat that doesn't wish to be held. Teach your children the same principle, and remind them that cats aren't always in the mood to be cuddled or played with.
- If your cat isn't craving playtime, and especially if she shows any other signs of illness, report the scratching behavior to your vet to make sure it doesn't have a physical cause.
Problem: Your cat bites you or other family members.
Possible causes: Like scratching, biting is often a form of play for cats. Your pet may be having fun pretending your foot, leg, or hand is a mouse to be pounced upon, and not realize you'd rather not play that game. Again, your cat may be initiating these play sessions because she hasn't been enjoying regularly scheduled playtimes with you.
Biting is another form of aggression that may occur in animals that don't feel well due to illness or injury.
Suggested solutions: Same as for scratching, with one addition:
- To release your skin from your cat's teeth, move that part of your body toward the animal's mouth, not away from it. This counterintuitive move will momentarily confuse the cat enough that she will release her grip.
Cats are known as dainty, even finicky, eaters. Yet sometimes the mealtime manners of these otherwise-elegant creatures leave something to be desired.
Begging for Food
Problem: Your cat comes to the dinner table begging for the "people food" she likes best.
Possible causes: Most cat owners who are beseeched by mealtime beggars have only themselves to blame. At some point, the cat was fed scraps from the dinner table and learned that it was acceptable to beg for food when people were eating.
- If you've made the mistake in the past of feeding your cat scraps at the table, stop now. If you have a new kitten, don't get her into this bad habit.
- Serve your cat her own dinner in a different room at the same time, so the family can eat in peace.
- Close the door on that room, if necessary, to keep your pet from wandering toward the dining room when she's done.
Problem: Perhaps the only thing more annoying at mealtime than a begging cat sitting under the table is a bold cat jumping right onto the table -- or the kitchen counter, or anywhere you'd rather she not be.
Possible causes: Cats always enjoy viewing their surroundings from a high vantage point. And if that choice spot happens to offer some tempting morsels, so much the better.
- Discourage your kitten or cat from jumping onto tables and kitchen counters. As soon as she jumps up, pick her up and gently but firmly place her on the floor, with a strong "no." Don't reward her with attention.
- During the day, keep the table's surface cluttered enough that your pet won't find it appealing.
- Place double-stick tape on the part of the table on which your cat typically jumps. She'll hate the sticky feeling on her paws, and avoid jumping on that spot in the future. (This trick works to keep cats from jumping on practically any piece of furniture.)