11 Things You Need to Know About Cat Behavior

Cat Behavior 101

Portrait of tabby cat biting and scratching owners hand
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Behavioral problems in cats, such as avoiding the litter box, excessive meowing, and other attention-seeking behavior, biting and painful or destructive scratching can be corrected by first eliminating physical causes, then instituting a program of gradual retraining, with the help of these resources. Keep in mind that cats are not inherently bad.

Try dealing with one cat behavior problem at a time.

Too many "dos" and "don'ts" will only confuse your cat and frustrate your training attempts. Start with the most potentially hazardous problems first - such as chewing on electrical cords -- then move on from there. Here are the most-often reported behavioral problems in cats:

Attention-Seeking Behavior

Attention-seeking behavior and excessive vocalization often go hand-in-hand with cats. Causes for these behaviors can be either physical or emotional, or both. Before punishing your cat for excessive crying and meowing, or other attention seeking behavior, do some homework on possible causes.

Incessant Meowing

One of the most common complaints about cat behavior is their excessive vocalization: loud meowing or crying, sometimes accompanied by other attention-seeking behavior. Because causes for both of these behaviors can be either physical or emotional, or both, you need to do some homework on possible causes before punishing your cat for excessive crying and meowing, or other attention seeking behavior.

Sometimes what may seem to be a "behavior problem" may be completely normal behavior in a given cat. Weigh all the factors before deciding that your cat has a problem that needs correcting. Here are some of the activities that are related to or mistaken for attention-seeking behavior:

  • "Lost in the Night" Howling
    Although no one knows for sure why some cats do this, it sometimes is related to increasing deafness or even senility, as cats age. This kind of mournful calling, when associated with suddenly racing around the house with the fur on the back rolling, can also be the result of another physical condition, feline hyperesthesia, commonly known as rippling skin disorder. In both instances, veterinary intervention and treatment are indicated.
  • Begging for Food and Treats
    Although genuine hunger can't be completely discounted, cats, like humans, do sometimes suffer from addiction. They can be quite pitiful in their efforts to feed their addiction, especially for treats such as bonita tuna flakes. Occasional treats are certainly not harmful, and for the overweight cat, are a viable substitute when the cat begs for food.
  • Other Meowing
    Some cats are also very vocal (Siamese and Oriental breeds are famous for this trait). And many cats actually enjoy a back-and-forth feline-human chat and will meow right back at you when you talk (or meow) to them.

Inappropriate Scratching

Sometimes cats who have plenty of scratching poles and other "legitimate" scratching surfaces, still will insist on inappropriate scratching on carpeting or furniture. Cats sometimes use inappropriate scratching as communication. 

Cats' Aggression Toward People

Cats' aggression toward people can be caused by poor training as a kitten (as in play aggression), fear, or other factors. Learn how to prevent a cat's aggression toward people, how to deal with it when it happens, and how to curb a cat's biting and scratching behavior.

Destructive and Harmful Chewing by Cats and Kittens

Destructive chewing by cats is undesirable, first, because of the potential of danger to the cat, and second, because of damage to family valuables.

Causes of destructive chewing by cats can range from teething in kittens to curiosity to boredom, and even (surprise!) because of a nutrient deficiency.

Feline Aggression Toward Other Cats

Cats sharing a household will sometimes fight, but when active aggressive behavior between cats rears its ugly head, sometimes human intervention is necessary.

Aggression between cats can be fear-based, territorial, or redirected aggression. This article will help the reader deal with aggression between cats in a household.

Cat Urine Problems 

Inappropriate elimination (litter box avoidance) is the number one reason cats are surrendered to shelters. By eliminating physical causes, such as urinary tract infections, then targeting other common reasons for litter box avoidance, you can help your cat overcome this undesirable behavior.

Remember that cats don't like to use a dirty toilet any more than you would.

Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior in Cats

Cats, like humans, can indulge in obsessive-compulsive behavior. In cats, OCD manifests in activities such as excessive licking, fur-pulling, wool-sucking or feline hyperesthesia. Understanding the causes and eliminating physical problems can often lead to a speedy cure for undesirable behavior.

Shyness and Fear in Cats

Is your kitty a "scaredy-cat?" Shyness and fear stem from a number of causes but can be overcome with gentleness and patience, as these tips explain. It is always important to allow your cat to set his own pace and to be patient if his pace is slower than you had hoped for.

Destructive Scratching by Cats

Are you troubled by illegal clawing by your cats? Please don't consider draconian measures such as declawing a cat. There are a number of ways you can keep your cats' claws happily engaged in legal clawing with these articles and aids while protecting furniture and carpeting.

Stress and Anxiety in Cats

While stress itself is not of behavioral origin, it can lead to a number of problems often considered behavioral, such as litter box avoidance or depression. When behavioral problems suddenly appear, savvy cat owners soon learn to first rule out signs of health problems, and next for stress factors, such as changes in the environment.

Clicker Training for Cats

Anyone involved in clicker training their cats will readily tell you that it is not only fun for cats and their humans, but also important training for safety reasons. Need to get a cat in his carrier quickly? Clicker train him. Does he try to slip out the door? Clicker train him.

Cat Behavior FAQs

Many so-called "behavioral problems" result from the cat owners simply not understanding what cats are trying to tell us. And often cats' behavioral "quirks" are their most endearing traits.

Remember that there are no bad cats, only uninformed cat caregivers.