3. Be a Detective to Help Your Cat
You won’t be able to successfully solve the behavior problem unless you know what’s causing it. If your cat is peeing outside of the litter box, the problem may have less to do with the litter box itself but might have more to do if the fact that a companion cat is stalking and ambushing him every time he walks down the hall in the direction of where the litter box is located. In that case, you’d now have the information you need so start a behavior modification plan that would not only include adding more litter boxes in secure locations but would also include addressing the cat-to-cat relationship. Working on a behavior problem requires you to first uncover the cause (as best as you can) so you can then create a specific plan or make appropriate environmental modifications.
4. Never Punish Your Cat
Any type of punishment, whether it’s spanking, shaking, scruffing, squirting with water, electronic correction, rubbing the cat’s nose in his mess or yelling, will only serve to elevate your cat’s stress level. It doesn’t send the message to the cat the behavior he displayed was unwanted – it sends the message he should fear his owner because of the threat of physical pain. This method of problem correction will damage the bond you share with your cat, decrease his trust of you, increase his fear and could even lead to a more serious problem such as aggression. If he’s now unsure whether the hand coming toward him is going to stroke him or strike him, he may lash out in defense if the option to get away isn’t available.
5. Create a Feline Road Map
Rather than punish your cat for what NOT to do, create a road map that clearly defines what TO do. This doesn’t just mean placing a scratching post in the room to magically get your cat to stop scratching the furniture. What it means is to create an effective “think like a cat” roadmap. The scratching post you put out needs to meet the cat’s needs (tall, sturdy, covered in an appealing material, placed in a good location) in order to have the furniture become less appealing. If your cat is eliminating outside of the litter box because the box is not being kept clean, swatting the cat isn’t going to solve the problem – cleaning the litter box more often is the answer. Set the cat up to succeed by providing a better option when it comes to the behavior you want displayed. How would you feel if your boss kept telling you what NOT to do and focused on what you do wrong and never encouraged you by showing you what TO do and acknowledging what you’ve done right?
6. Regain Your Cat’s Trust
If you’ve punished your cat or if he has experienced stress and anxiety due to the behavior issue, this is the time to work on rebuilding the bond of trust. You may not feel like playing with him, creating fun games, petting him or doing things to instill calmness and security but that’s exactly what you should do. Believe it or not, any behavior problem he’s experiencing is already causing him lots of stress. He needs to know you are a source of security and comfort. If he doesn’t have that from you he’ll distance himself even more.
7. Stay Calm so Your Cat Will Stay Calm
Even if your cat has just urinated on your extremely expensive sofa, don’t panic or your little furry emotional sponge will pick up on your stress. If he’s stressed out enough about something to pee on the sofa and then he sees you acting like a raging maniac, it will only confirm in his head that the bottom has really fallen out of the world as he knows it. This will elevate his anxiety level and I can pretty much guarantee you that it will then increase the chances of even more behavior problems. Panicking and getting upset about the soiled sofa won’t do anything about getting the stain out. It will only add more damage to an already tense situation.
8. Remember to Praise Your Cat
Let your cat know when he has done something right. Again, it comes down to creating that effective road map. No matter how small of a step he may make, if it’s a step in the right direction, reward him with praise (a treat couldn’t hurt either).
9. Know When You Need Help Solving Your Cat’s Behavior Problem
Some behavior problems are beyond the cat parent’s ability. If the problem is too serious, dangerous or you simply don’t feel equipped to figure it out yourself, seek qualified professional help. Contact your veterinarian for a referral to a cat behavior expert. There are many people on the internet who claim to be experts and whisperers but they lack the ethics, qualifications and experience. Make sure the expert you choose has the credentials and experience because an unqualified person could make the problem worse. If you’re in doubt, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist, certified applied animal behaviorist or a certified cat behavior consultant.
10. Don’t Give Up on Your Cat
Your cat is a member of the family and one who deserves your time and attention to solving whatever is bothering him. Working on a behavior problem isn’t a magical overnight fix and it will require a commitment on your part but the pay-off is well worth it. Too many cats end up in shelters because families don’t realize that behavior modification can change unwanted behavior problems. When we bring a cat into our lives we take on the commitment of making sure we’ve provided what that precious animal needs to thrive and be happy. Fortunately, you’re not alone on this journey. There are so many resources available and the number of qualified behavior professionals throughout the world is increasing every year.
For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to the articles on our website and the best-selling books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior or health, contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis nor is it a replacement for your cat’s regular veterinary care. This article is for general information purposes only.