Understanding Feline Behavior Problems

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Every pet owner knows that having pets come with a lot of responsibility. And when it comes to cats, understanding feline behavior problems can be difficult.

It’s important to train your pets while they’re young so you can avoid many common behavior issues. With cats, learning not to exhibit feline behavior problems as kittens can make a huge difference in the long run.

Older cats can be taught not to do things, but it can be more difficult to make good habits stick. When behavior problems do arise, how do you fix them?

Understanding why your cat is behaving a certain way is the first step to determining how to correct bad behavior.

Start Them Off Young

Getting a kitten for the first time is an exciting experience, but some kittens can exhibit negative feline behavior problems. 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 the 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 hoe to re-train 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 feline 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.

Behavioral or Medical?

It’s possible that your cats’ unruly behavior could be the result of a medical issue. Make an appointment with your veterinarian so you can know for sure. Is your cat urinating outside the litter box 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 that something’s wrong, even for the most astute and attentive owners.

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? At the 2016 NAVC Veterinary Conference, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz and board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Gary Oswald mapped out a path to guide veterinarians through that tangled terrain. Their advice will help frustrated cat owners too.

The most important message for pet owners and vets alike is this: The first step when behavior changes are noted by the owner is to rule out all likely medical causes. This goes for changes in eating habits, grooming, meowing or other vocalization, or litterbox usage, as well as the onset of aggression toward people or other pets.

Common Problems Mean Easy Fixes

Cats have finally surpassed dogs in the race for America’s number one pet. It’s easy to see why in a fast-paced society like ours. Cats are more independent, do better when left alone and require less time-consuming care, like daily walks. But like their canine counterparts, domestic cats come with their own set of natural feline behaviorsthat can confuse and inconvenience owners.

The most common cat owner complaints have to do with litter box habits, clawing furniture, and aggression toward other cats or people. Fortunately, most of these problems stem from normal feline behaviors and can be prevented or resolved. A little patience and understanding will allow you to see the situation from your cat’s point of view, and lead to a long, loving life with your feline friend.

Leaping Into Trouble

Do you struggle with keeping your cats off of your counters? This can be a frustrating behavior for many cat owners. Why do cats find counters so appealing? Take this quiz to find out:

A. Because they’re there.
B. Because cats naturally prefer a three-dimensional environment.
C. Because cats occasionally find food morsels while patrolling counter tops.
D. All of the above.

Answer D is correct.

There are many good reasons why your cat should stay off the counter. Cats spend a fair amount of time each day in their litter box, scratching around and covering up their waste. Although they frequently “wash” their paws with their tongues, it is likely that some traces of urine and feces will remain on their paws to be deposited on your countertops in molecular concentrations. Not a great thought if you are about to prepare food.

Also, while they are up on counters, cats may pause to lick the butter or steal nibbles or whole chunks of food that you have left lying around. It can be pretty annoying to find that your cooling bacon strips have been dragged to the floor as cat fodder. In addition, not everything the cat steals will be good for her — and some things, like chicken bones, can be downright harmful.


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Too Many Cats

Sometimes your cats’ behavior problems can stem from not getting along with the other cats in your home. Take a closer look at your cat consortium to determine if this is the source of the problem.

Dog-owning households outnumber cat-owning households, but there are more cats than dogs (64.1 million cats to 63.8 million dogs). That’s because people who have cats tend to have more than one: 2.1 cats on average per household compared with 1.5 dogs, according to the American Humane Association. Of course having a companion for a kitty is a good way to keep her from becoming lonely when you’re off earning the cat food.

However, overcrowding can create stress among cats. Cats are territorial by nature, and their society is structured in a dominance-controlled hierarchy governed by strict rules of conduct. In their natural environment, when cats have a confrontation, the loser will leave the dominant cat’s territory, which avoids further conflict and injury. But when both cats are indoors, the losing cat cannot get as far away from the dominant cat as he would like. Being forced to live in close proximity with rivals is foreign to a cat’s nature.

Therefore, think carefully before getting another cat or you may find even your formerly well-behaved cats developing feline behavior problems. Of course, you shouldn’t have more cats than you have the time and money to care for properly.

Resources for Feline Behavior Problems

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