Behavioral Problems and Your Cat: What You Need to Know
Is your cat urinating outside the litterbox because she’s upset at changes in the household, or because she has a urinary tract infection? Is she clawing up the furniture because she’s upset, or because she’s sick?
Cats are incredibly sensitive to stress, and that sensitivity often translates into genuine medical problems such as urinary tract and respiratory infections. What’s more, cats often hide signs of illness as part of their evolutionary defense against predators. That’s why behavior changes are often the only sign even the most attentive owner can pick up on that something’s wrong.
On the other hand, sometimes a behavior problem actually is primarily a behavior problem. How can a pet owner know what’s really going on?
Your kitten is so cute and adorable — she could never do anything wrong. Or could she? Some kittens can be feline terrors, leading you to question your decision about bringing a kitten into your home. Before finding a new home or banishing your cat to the perilous outdoors, consider learning about the problem, how to deal with the behavior, and re-training your pet. With proper know-how, your cat can be a loving and playful member of the family, providing hours of amusement.
The best way to deal with behavior problems is to avoid them in the first place. Learn the best way to socialize and introduce your new kitten to your home. If you are adopting an orphan kitten, be aware that they have their own set of issues.
Dealing With Existing Issues
Even though they have a reputation for being independent and self-sufficient, some cats develop behavior problems or bad habits that demand attention. Common behavioral problems include inappropriate elimination, aggression, fear, and separation anxiety. But those aren’t the only issues, so you need to be aware of everything and watch out for warning signs.
Once you understand what underlies your cat’s behavior and realize what is needed to correct the problem, you are well on your way to keeping your family intact.
Feline compulsive behaviors are based on natural behaviors that are somehow frustrated by management practices and/or restrictive environments. Compulsive behaviors may initially be expressed as displacement behaviors. For example, when a cat is torn between responding with aggression or running away, it may displace into a seemingly unrelated behavior, such as self-grooming, as a way of reducing emotional tension. If exposure to the anxiety-provoking stimulus continues, the cat may express the behavior repetitively and, finally, out of context.
In the end-stage condition, even when the behavior has adverse consequences for the cat (i.e. pain), they will continue to engage in the behavior. The level of stimulation required to trigger the behavior decreases over time so that the behavior occurs in response to any level of arousal. Certain breeds seem prone to compulsive disorders, so genetic influences are likely involved. Genetics may determine which individuals display compulsive behaviors and what those compulsions are.
Cat Scratch Fever
Cats scratch to smooth out the rims of their claws, which gradually get frayed. Scratching is also an instinctive method of marking territory. Each scratch leaves secretions from glands in a cat’s feet, a scent that gets other cats’ attention.
The cat’s retractable claws are also used for defense and add to the animal’s grace and acrobatic ability. But those claws can also rake a new sofa to shreds and lash a small child’s cheek during a playful encounter.
Learn more about why cats scratch, and whether or not you should declaw your cat.
Cats and Thunderstorms
Few species — including humans — are happy to endure the sounds of a full-blown thunderstorm, complete with darkened skies, lightning, and crashing thunder. Some become extremely fearful to the point where they show a full-blown phobia.
Before considering the specifics of thunderstorm phobia in cats, it is worth emphasizing that fear is a normal response to a fear-inducing situation or circumstance, whereas phobias are extreme and seemingly irrational fears in which the response has been magnified to the point of dysfunction. It is reasonable and biologically sensible to be a little uneasy during a lightning storm — to avoid open spaces and seek cover. But when an animal gets completely distraught at the first roll of thunder and harms himself to avoid the perceived mortal threat, then we are talking about phobia.
Many cats, quite sensibly, tend to become nervous during storms and may remove themselves from the fray by hiding under a bed or in a cupboard. This self-preservation response qualifies as a fear. Unlike dogs, however, cats tend not to advance to the phobic stage, perhaps because their strategy of avoidance works. They hide; the storm passes; they emerge unscathed.