Cats often surprise us, and usually it’s in a good way, such as with an affectionate head butt on the ankle or companionship just when we need it. But sometimes they can rub us the wrong way. For some reason, this usually happens after a long day when all you want to do is sit down, relax and snuggle with your kitty. Only the moment you start to unwind, you discover that your kitty wasn’t such a good feline today.
It could be a torn curtain, a soiled rug, an overturned plant or some other tell-tale evidence. In that moment, you might think your cat is out to get you. But it is only following natural instinct. It’s up to you to channel your cat’s energy in a more positive direction.
According to feline behavioral consultant Mieshelle Nagelschneider, “Cats will repeat behaviors that give them a reward, but they will stay away from behaviors that give them a negative experience.” This means you can change your cat’s behavior by providing appealing alternatives, while simultaneously laying down deterrents to prevent your cat from exhibiting undesirable behaviors. Here’s how.
1. Never reprimand or use physical punishment of any kind on your cat When you reprimand your cat, your cat will learn to associate you, rather than the act, with the punishment.
For example, if your cat soils outside the litter box, pushing your cat’s nose in the soiled spot is not going to do anything except stress out your cat. Conversely, according to Nagelschneider, you can stop your cat from eliminating in an inappropriate spot by playing with your cat in that location. This activity, which will trigger your cat’s prey drive, should put an end to the potty naughtiness, since cats usually will not soil where they eat, hunt or play. However, you must also figure out what is causing your cat to eliminate outside the litter box, and fix that problem. More often than not, litter box aversion stems from the type of litter you’re using, the location of the box or its sanitary condition.
2. Never punish your cat after the fact Felines are smart, but no cat is going to be able to associate punishment doled out a minute or more after the “kitty crime” took place.
For example, if you come home and find that your cat unraveled a roll of toilet paper throughout your house or decided to play in your laundry hamper, nothing you do to your cat in that moment will deter your pet from going after the TP or the hamper the next day.
However, there are a couple of things you can do to prevent this type of undesired behavior, which usually stems from boredom. First, make the problem areas inaccessible for your cat. Then, save your feline’s favorite toys for when you are about to leave so it has something to play with while you are gone. You may also want to hide treats and toys so it can hunt for them while you are out of the house. Also, try to make sure your cat is getting enough playtime while you are home.
3. Never get caught at the scene of the crime — or punishment Keep the action and the consequence very clear for your kitty. Allow no room for misinterpretation.
Let’s say you want your cat to stop jumping up on the table. If you scream every time your cat jumps on the table, your cat is more likely to think you are nuts than perturbed by its actions. (A really smart cat may even learn to jump up on the table only when you are not present.) But if you put something on the table to deter your cat, such as a motion-triggered noisemaker or any kind of unpleasant-feeling surface, like crumpled foil or bubble wrap, your cat should have no problem associating the act of jumping on the table with the unpleasant result. You then won’t be perceived by your cat as the screaming nutcase or the bad guy.
4. Call the experts If your cat suddenly begins to exhibit unusual behavior for no apparent reason, take it to the vet for a checkup. A medical issue could be at the root of the problem. If your pet receives a clean bill of health, yet you are still unable to resolve its behavioral issues, call in a cat behaviorist for help. Your vet or local cat rescue organization may be able to provide you with a referral.