Problem Behavior in Cats: Correcting Common Bad Behaviors

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Learn how to fix these common cat behavior problems.

Its been written by author Ilona Andrews that, “Cats randomly refuse to follow orders to prove they can.” While it might be true that training a cat is more difficult than training a dog, it takes the same principles: patience, consistency, and praise. We’ll begin this article by providing tips for taming a nippy, swatting kitten, and then cover two other pieces of training advice that apply to cats of any age.

Bad Kitten Behavior

Newly adopted kittens can fool you with all sorts of strange behavior, however, they still share the same prey drive to stalk, chase and hunt as lions roaming the plains. That’s why it’s vital that you don’t initially dismiss your kitten’s playful love nips to your hand or ankle as merely playful love bites. Unchecked, her biting and paw swatting will intensify and could cause physical harm to you and your house guests. While uncommon, deep puncture wounds from cats have landed people in hospitals to receive treatment for Cat Scratch Fever, a disease caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. Affected persons can develop skin lesions, fever, fatigue and in severe instances, systemic infections.1

How to Train a Kitten to Stop Scratching and Biting

Immediately after bringing your kitten home, you should start schooling her on what is acceptable play and interaction with people. Here’s five effective strategies designed to tone down your kitten’s desire to nip and claw people:

  1. Be on the lookout for early feline attack signals. A kitten ready to attack does any or all of the following: tail lashing, ear flicking, dilated pupils, muscling tensing and hissing. That’s your cue to stop petting her to avoid being the target of her attack.
  2. Keep paper wads in your pocket. If you spot your kitten lying in wait to ambush your ankles once you pass by, toss a paper wad in front of you so she’ll pounce on it instead. This creates a win-win for the both of you: your ankles are saved and your kitten gets to work her predatory instincts.
  3. Re-channel your kitten’s prey drive toward cat toys. Offer her plenty of appropriate bouncing, fluttery and moving cat toys for her to chase and attack. The more erratic the movement, the better.
  4. Keep your hands out of the play sessions. Never place your hand over your cat’s face in a friendly game of wrestling. And never physically hit your kitten for swatting or nipping because you could cause her to retaliate and want to bite more and harder. If she nips you during playtime, stand up and stop all interactions with her.
  5. Work your cat’s brain and brawn. Provide food-dispensing puzzles to focus your feline’s energy on getting food and give her ample scratching surfaces—like kitty condos, cat trees and corrugated cardboard—to hone her claws.
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Redirecting Your Cat’s Energy

Part of having a well-mannered feline is redirecting all that energy. This can be accomplished through play, as mentioned above, or more creative means like teaching her how to sit. Training her to do so will stimulate her mind, sharpen her socialization skills, and hone her athleticism. The good news is your cat can easily learn this command if you follow this four step process:

  1. Select a quiet place where your cat feels comfortable and safe. Gently place her on a table near the edge closest to you. Give her some friendly cheek rubs with your finger to put them at ease.
  2. Get her attention. Say, “Sit” as you move a tiny, nutritious treat slightly above her eye level and directly over her head.
  3. Time when to dole out the treat. When she tips her head back to follow the treat with her eyes, she needs to sit down to maintain her balance. As soon as she sits, say, “Sit, good sit.”
  4. Repeat these steps in 5 to 10 minute training sessions until your kitty obeys the “sit” cue with a hand gesture and no treats. Once she is consistently sitting on cue, teach her to sit when she is on the floor.

Stopping Your Cat from Door Dashing

Finally, another behavior that can land your kitty in an unexpected predicament is door dashing. If your cat is like most, she can appear out of nowhere and dash out the door before you have a chance to stop her. Unfortunately, her escape can lead to outdoor dangers, such as a passing car or an encounter with another animal. Here’s seven tactics to diminish your cat’s temptation to bolt outside through an open door:

  1. Make the doorway an unfriendly place for your cat. Place squirt bottles filled with water on either side of the exit door. Aim low and squirt your cat in the chest area with water spray when they attempt to dart outside. This will teach your kitty not to want to stand near the door.
  2. Fill an empty soda can with a few pennies and tape the lid shut. Rattle this noise maker when you exit or enter through the door to irritate your cat enough to make her back away. Say, “Back!” in a loud, firm voice.
  3. Toss your cat a favorite treat or toy away from the door just as you prepare to leave. This distraction technique taps into your cat’s inner hunter mindset.
  4. Practice the art of the compromise. Satisfy your cat’s need to experience the outdoors by installing a window enclosure. Make this location feline-beckoning with a comfy bed. Select a location far away from the entry door.
  5. Provide your cat opportunities to spend time outside in a feline enclosure on your patio or backyard. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your cat alone unsupervised in this outdoor enclosure.
  6. If your house has multiple entrances, randomly choose a different door when you leave and return. It isn’t possible for your cat to lay in wait in more than one doorway.
  7. Post bright neon colored signs reminding all people entering and leaving the house to stop and look for signs of your daring cat before reaching for the door knob.
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The majority of cat owners consider their four-legged companions as members of the family.2 The best way to give them a great life is to provide positive, consistent training early and look into getting a pet insurance policy so that their medical needs are taken care of.

Sources:

1 Cat-Scratch Disease (2020, January 17). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html

2 Burns, K. (2018, December 31). Pet ownership stable, veterinary care variable, Javma-news. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2019-01-15/pet-ownership-stable-veterinary-care-variable

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