Behavior
A cat looking funny, surprised or concerned.

Explaining Cat Behavior Problems — and How to Handle Them

Cat behavior problems are incredibly common and there’s always a way to fix them with the right knowledge and help from pros like vets and behaviorists.

Angela Lutz  |  Mar 13th 2019


Cat behavior problems almost always have an underlying cause. Here’s what to know about cat behavior problems — and how to help a cat who’s acting out.

Cat Behavior Problems — Rest Assured That They’re Really Common

A kitten looking surprised or confused in the litter box.

You (and your cat!) aren’t crazy — cat behavior problems are really common. Photography © Astakhova | Getty Images.

Before we break it down and look at specific cat behavior problems, know that you and your cat are not the only ones experiencing issues! There is a way to fix just about any and all cat behavior problems with the right knowledge, training and professional help.

Anyone who lives with cats knows that they, like humans, have good days and bad days. Sometimes my cats will spend the whole afternoon sleeping and staring out the window like little angels. They don’t attack each other, they don’t climb the curtains and they don’t eat the plants. Instead, they gaze at me with their eyes full of love, and everything feels right with the world.

Then there are the other days. My husband brought a third cat home earlier this year, and while he is perfectly gentle and affectionate toward humans, interacting with our other two cats fills him with murderous rage. He also frequently pees on the floor, leaving me frustrated and confused.

What Are Some Common Cat Behavior Problems?

Here’s the good news about cat behavior problems: My cat, and other cats with behavior problems, are not broken. In actuality, cat behavior problems are extremely common.

Some frequently seen cat behavior problems include —

  1. Aggression toward humans or other cats
  2. Litter box problems
  3. Excessive vocalization
  4. Urine marking

Cats can also experience additional behavior problems as they age, such as —

  1. Eliminating outside the litter box
  2. Getting lost or confused easily
  3. Becoming more anxious or irritable

Why Do Cat Behavior Problems Happen?

Reading a cat’s mind can be tricky, but when it comes to the reasons behind cat behavior problems, there are a few possible culprits. According to veterinary nurse and cat lover Kelly Baker of Leawood (Kan.) Animal Hospital, “any changes to the family dynamic could be a stress on kitty and cause behavioral upset” – and that includes adding another cat, dog or human.

When it comes to litter box issues, Kelly says bladder infections, digestive upset, diabetes, kidney diseasearthritis, dementia and poor eyesight could all make it difficult for a kitty to get to the correct place to eliminate and lead to cat behavior problems. “They may not want to go down the stairs if they are painful orthopedically, having urgency/straining due to infection or inflammation of GI or urinary tract, having trouble seeing, or having senior moments and simply do not remember where to go find the litter box,” Baker explains.

If cat behavior problems manifest as excessive or disruptive meowing or yowling, your cat is probably trying to tell you something — she might be in pain, for instance, or she may simply be lonely or bored. Often cats yowl more often as they age or when their routine has been disrupted, which often happens with a move or other change in the household, such as a new baby or pet.

As for urine marking — perhaps one of the most irritating cat behavior problems — felines in multi-kitty households often feel a need to mark their territory and establish boundaries, though underlying medical problems such as urinary tract infections could also be a culprit and should be ruled out by a vet before exploring other causes.

How to Handle Cat Behavior Problems

To address litter box issues, first head to the vet to determine whether an infection or some other medical concern is causing this particular cat behavior problem – and if your cat has not been spayed or neutered, get this done as soon as possible. Especially in male cats, neutering fixes most instances of “spraying” or urine marking.

In addition to following your vet’s recommended treatment plan — which may include a change in diet or medication — Kelly suggests having one more litter box in your home than you do cats and placing the boxes in different rooms to make them more accessible, particularly for older or disabled cats who may struggle with stairs.

“Make sure there is not a conflict or bullying situation going on between individuals in multiple cat households,” Kelly adds. “Check for stray cats marking outside or trying to fight through windows that could upset inside dwellers.”

Getting Inside the Feline Mind to Solve Cat Behavior Problems

If your cat is showing aggression toward other cats or humans, medication may be helpful in treating the cat behavior problems at hand. In fact, this is the route my husband and I chose with our new feline addition, though we will have to wait a few weeks before we know whether it is effective.

“There are also calming pheromones that can aid in lessening the stress involved with potentially traumatic experiences,” Kelly says. “Also available are oral or transdermal gel medications that are used like a person taking an anti-anxiety/depression type drug.”

If cat behavior problems present as excessive vocalization, this may be your cue to step back, listen and respond accordingly. Some cats, for instance, just need a minute to collect themselves when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. However, if your cat also seems to be scared or in pain, he should most likely see a vet to rule out any underlying medical problems.

“Getting inside the feline mind sometimes proves to be the hardest part of kitty care,” Kelly says. “We sometimes say, ‘Hopefully kitty has a little bladder infection so we can easily treat and cure the problem and be done with it.’”

Thumbnail: Photography by fotostok_pdv/Thinkstock. 

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