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Cat Behaviour Problems

You cannot discipline cats as you would dogs. Cats form social groups by necessity and based on respecting territory, rather than respecting “top dog”. Use of punishment will only teach your cat to fear you. It is better to train cats into behaviour that is alternative or incompatible to the problem behaviour. Prevention, or making certain behaviours impossible is another tactic, such as keeping food in containers and breakable, dangerous (or irresistible) objects out of reach. The key is to train your cat away from undesirable behaviour as soon and as young as possible, give praise and treats when they demonstrate acceptable behaviour - and to remain consistent!

Scratching
Cats need to scratch! It is essential to their need to maintain their main source of defence, sharpen and wear down their claws and to develop strong sinewy muscles. Scratching is also a way for the cat to leave his scent. Destructive scratching need not be a problem if you provide allowable alternatives to your furniture. Place scratching posts in areas of the house that your cat seems to like. Mildly scented ‘no scratch' sprays are available to be used on furniture that deter scratching. Keep your cats nails trimmed or dull claws by sheathing them with nail “caps” which are glued onto the cat’s claws and last 4 to 6 weeks. Use of facial pheromones is also effective in reducing territorial scratching. These can be sprayed on surfaces you wish to protect or as a diffuser in an entire room. Avoid punishing your cat! It will aggravate the problem and may encourage further destructive behaviour.

Urination outside of the litter box
There may be a number of reasons why your cat urinates outside the litter box, including inadequate cleaning of the litter box, unacceptable type of litter being used, a urinary tract infection or other medical condition, stress or even old age. Ask your veterinarian for a complete pet medical exam and try to identify any cause of anxiety.

Urine spraying
This territorial behaviour mechanism of spraying of urine on drapes, furniture and other surfaces is most common among male cats and in multi-cat households. It can be aggravated by a move, a new cat joining the family, a neighboring cat gaining entry into the household, stress, or in male cats excited by females in heat. Have your cat spayed or neutered by the time it is six months old. Most cats will not start spraying if they are fixed before the behaviour starts. If you have more than one cat, try to foster positive relationships between them by giving each equal attention and have them eat and sleep together. Change can cause anxiety in cats. Try to keep things (like feeding times) routine. A facial pheromone spray or diffuser can help reduce stress and unwanted spraying. Reduce his view of outside by moving furniture away from windows or covering the lower part of the window. This way, if your cat sees another cat he will not have the urge to “mark his territory”. Pet repellents can also be used to keep pets away from areas they prefer to spray- don’t let the cat get into the habit of spraying in one place continually. Keep the place clean and use a pet odour eliminator (do not use ammonia, this sometimes is confused by the cat as the scent of an elimination area).

Anxiety
Common causes of anxiety are often due to a change in the cat’s environment- moving the litter box to a busy or new area, a visitor or new occupants (people and other animals), new furniture, aggression between cats, travel or transport and boarding. If you move to a new location, keep the cat indoors for a few weeks. Make the set-up of beds, food bowls, litter box, toys as similar to the old house as possible. Natural facial pheromone sprays can be used to calm cats in new and stressful environments - including hospitalization.

Separation anxiety
Separation anxiety in cats occurs when the cat is separated from its owner or another companion pet. Signs may include vocalizing, urination or defecation (sometimes near a door or on owners’ personal items) and destructiveness such as chewing or scratching. Cats may also show distress by becoming too anxious to eat or vomiting, when the owner is away. A less common sign is excessive grooming, even to the point of creating a bald spot on the body. Consult your veterinarian and have your cat undergo a complete medical examination to rule out any medical condition that may be causing his behaviour. A cat that is urinating outside of the litter box or is howling may have a urinary tract infection or obstruction of the urinary tract. A cat that over-grooms may have a food allergy.

Here are some things to try to alleviate separation anxiety:

  • Make the cat’s environment more stimulating. i.e. A perch with a view from a window, carpeted towers with attached toys. Leaving a T.V. or radio on softly can be comforting.

  • Ignore the cat 15 minutes before departure. Leave a distracting toy or put favourite treats in various parts of the house. Ignore the cat for another 15 minutes upon your return.

  • Bring out toys that the cat especially likes just before you leave and put them away when you return.

  • Ask your vet about the use of cat facial pheromones. Cats rub their whiskers on things when they are happy and content and this leaves facial pheromones on the objects as well as the sense or message that “things are ok around here”. These natural pheromones are available in a spray or room diffuser that can be placed in the home, which calms and reassures the anxious cat.

In extreme cases, anti-anxiety medication may be needed. Use must be prescribed and carefully monitored by your veterinarian.


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