Trying to decipher your cat’s behavior can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Many of the most common behavioral complaints can be explained, although finding the reasons may require some time and patience. Here are some important facts regarding feline behavior.

Fact #1: Household soiling could indicate a medical concern

Cat owners most frequently complain about inappropriate urination and defecation, which can indicate more than a behavior problem. Possible medical causes of house soiling include urinary tract infection or inflammation, kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, or inflammatory bowel disease. Cats experiencing chronic pain may also avoid the litter box. Only after medical explanations have been ruled out, can another reason for the behavior be investigated. Non-medical causes of feline urinating or defecating outside the litter box include:

  • Aversion to a particular type of litter box; for example, too small, too large, covered, or uncovered
  • Opposition to a certain litter type
  • Unwillingness to use an unclean litter box
  • Reluctance to share a litter box with housemates
  • Dislike for the litter box location
  • Not enough litter boxes—the general rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus one

Fact #2: Feline aggression occurs for many different reasons

Aggressive behavior in domestic cats is a common and legitimate concern. Some cats show signs of aggression early in kittenhood, while others may develop the behavior later in life,  depending on the source of aggression. Aggressive behaviors in cats include:

  • Territorial aggression — This is often seen when a new cat joins the household, major environmental changes (i.e., moving into a new house) take place, or a kitten becomes sexually mature.
  • Fearful aggression — Cats with this type of aggression will often crouch low to the ground, pin their ears back, hiss, and attempt to hide from the feared stimuli. Fearful aggression is commonly seen when a cat is exposed to new people, pets, or environments.
  • Play aggression — This occurs when rambunctious, rough play goes hay-wire, and is most often seen in cats who were not exposed to their littermates as kittens, or who did not have adequate opportunity to learn how to play with other cats.
  • Pain-induced aggression — Cats in pain will often manifest their suffering with hissing, growling, or biting if the painful area is touched or manipulated. Arthritis commonly causes pain-induced aggression in older cats. 

Fact #3: You can likely curb your cat’s excessive meowing

Unless your cat incessantly meows due to a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism, cognitive dysfunction, or any disease that may make her more hungry, thirsty, or needy, she is probably vocalizing to get your attention. Redirecting this behavior can help. Do not feed or give attention to your cat when she meows at you, because this will only encourage the behavior. Rather, try feeding her at designated times of day and offer positive attention when she is calm and quiet. 

Fact #4: You likely won’t be able to deter scratching

Scratching is a natural feline behavior, but it can be bothersome to cat owners when furniture and drapery become favorite targets. However, refrain from punishing your cat when you notice her heading for your furniture or other undesired surfaces. Rather, redirect her to a scratching post and praise her when she uses it. Keep a variety of approved devices in the areas your cat likes to claw, and make them more alluring with catnip or pheromone sprays. Remember that any learned behavior takes time to undo, so be patient and celebrate the small, positive changes you see your furry friend make.  

Fact #5: Older cats can display any of the above behaviors

Our feline friends live longer these days, thanks to modern medicine and technological advances. While this allows us more time with our beloved pets, growing older, unfortunately, comes with an increased incidence of disease and behavior changes. Some common diseases of geriatric cats include kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, and cognitive dysfunction, which can all lead to changes in litter box habits, vocalization, and aptitude, to name a few. As with most behavior changes, ruling out medical reasons first is imperative, so seek veterinary care if your senior cat is behaving abnormally.

We know that feline behavior problems can be difficult to deal with. Contact the UVH team if you have any further questions, or to set up a consultation.