Cat Behavior Tips

by DFS-Pet-Blog on May 31, 2010

Helping pet owners learn more about how to care for their pet is one of the most important things we do here at Drs. Foster and Smith. We have a Pet Information Center plus the whole site to help people through every stage of their pet’s life. Now it’s your turn!

You could win this Classi-Cat Treehouse!

You could win this Classi-Cat Treehouse!

Let’s start with cats. Tell us, and other cat owners…

Your best tip for encouraging good cat behavior OR
how to deal with a cat behavior issue.

Comment in this post
With your cat behavior advice and
You’ll be entered to WIN this
Classi-Cat Treehouse

(valued at $179.99)!

UPDATE: Entry to win is now closed, but you’re welcome to still contribute cat advice. Thanks to everyone for making this post such a valuable resource for cat owners!

To be eligible, you must leave your comment by noon CST on 6/7/2010. To help you get started, here are a few tips from cat owners that work at Drs. Foster and Smith.

From Dr. Kathy Hillestad:

Never underestimate the importance of an adequate number of litter boxes. The rule of thumb is one box per cat plus one extra. Also, the boxes must be kept very clean. Remember that cats are extremely fastidious and if the litter box is dirty, they may just decide to use something else (the rug, your shoe, the laundry basket, etc). Here is a good article for more information about inappropriate elimination in cats.

From Melissa R.:

Our two newest additions are both under a year. We do not plan on declawing them, so training them to scratch on appropriate surfaces is very important to us. Since day one, anytime they start to “claw” on something they are quickly transported to one of the several scratching posts we have. Occasionally we also pepper these posts with catnip to further entice clawing on the “good spot”. So far this has worked great and we haven’t had any furniture or rugs torn up!

From Keri Kelley:

Speak to your cats in their own language! Using human speech usually gets me nothing but a blank look from my two cats, but a real hissing sound gets a quick reaction when they’re caught on the forbidden countertop or trying to knock the garbage over.

Try not to make extended eye contact with a nervous cat. Slowly blink and look away instead to show you’re friendly. Relaxed cats like this signal too — it’s a sign that everything’s okay between you.

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For a chance to win this Classi-Cat Treehouse, simply leave a comment in this blog post with your cat behavior advice. To be eligible, post your comment by noon CST on 06/07/10. Limit one comment per person. We will pick one lucky winner. No purchase is necessary to participate. You should be a legal resident of the United States and 18 years or older. Void where prohibited. Shipping to winner will be supplied by Drs. Foster and Smith. To see who won, go to Sponsor: Foster & Smith, Inc., P.O. Box 100, Rhinelander, WI 54501-0100. Employees and their immediate family members are not eligible to enter.

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Pet Care: Top 10 Pet Care Posts of 2010
December 27, 2012 at 1:35 pm

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine June 6, 2010 at 5:44 pm

One thing we’ve learned is to never leave any type of string, yarn, etc. around the house where our cats can get at them. A cat can eat the string or get tangled up in it; even choking themself. If you put the item away and only bring it out for play time, they’ll be so much more excited and ready to play. A simple piece of cotton string has become one of our cats (Hunter) favorite toys (and he has lots to choose from). The string is about 3 feet long and frayed at the end. We pull it around the house and he’ll chase it, pounce on it and sometimes even do a somersault when he attacks it. We were lucky the one time we left the string out. Nothing serious happened but it could have. Hunter ate the string and had issues with his bowel movement a couple days later. It all came out OK in the end (ha ha), but it was a bit messy. The string now “lives” in a closet and Hunter will go to the closet door and meow loudly; asking if the string can come out and play.

LuAnn Schulte June 6, 2010 at 6:06 pm

We foster and have rescued lots of cats. its amazing how these animals can turn around. These cat trees and other toys keep them all active.

Kathy S. Quinn June 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm

I have 3 rescued, neutered, and microchipped male cats. Frank and Uber had been at the vet’s for 3 years before I adopted them. The vet wanted to keep them together since they had bonded with each other – the other 26 cats that were rescued with them were adopted shortly after their rescue. Frank has experienced depression and anxiety. When I see him looking sad and depressed, I talk to him and tell him what a pretty boy he is, how sweet he is, how much I love him, and how special he is – he responds by smiling. Frank lets me know when it is all right to pet him – he raises his tail and leads me to where he wants me to play with him! He will actually let me hold his tail while he leads me to where he wants to play. Otherwise his tail is usually down. When have come a long way in the 4 years that I have had Frank. Frank loves my sunroom – actually my 3 boys (the cats) get to enjoy the sunroom much more than I do. My other two cats – Uber and Ziggy – have a good sense of self esteem as indicated by their tails being contantly raised when they are walking around the house! I my next life perhaps I will be an animal psychologist specializing in working with depressed and anxious kitties since Frank seems to have responded so well to my “talk therapy.” I always worry about what would happen to Frank if anything happened to me as he is my “special needs” baby. Uber and Ziggy make friends with others much more easily but Frank is slow to warm up to others.

Carrie B. June 6, 2010 at 7:34 pm

I love cats! Just because they have their own minds made up about things doesn’t mean that positive reinforcement won’t work for them like it does for dogs. Training my cat has been very hard, but I have managed to use treats to enforce positive behavior. Now she’ll do just about anything when I shake her treat jar. Just like men, the way to a cat’s heart is through their stomach.

Leslie Kaufman June 6, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Sometimes a change in behavior (inappropriate elimination, decreased appetite, lethargy) can be indicative of a health problem. Please do not hesitate to contact your vet if your cat has been displaying uncommon behavior – be proactive about your cat’s health and well-being!

Randy June 7, 2010 at 5:52 am

We had trouble with the cats sharpening on furniture, so I made a board 4 feet long and covered it with rope. I can lean it on a couch or flat on the floor. When they would start to sharpen we would take them to the board, and move their paws on it, and give them a kitty treat. The treat was just a different brand of cat food than what they get daily.We would tell them good kitty. Some of them caught on real quick. They now go to the board and sharpen and turn around and look to see if we were watching so we can give them a treat. One of them runs to a sharpening post as soon as he Supposedly entermitten reinforcement is better than constant reinforcement.

Debbie Molnar June 7, 2010 at 9:27 am

Find what your cat responds to, food reward or attention and use it to “train” your cat to behave the way you want. My current cat has no interest in food treats but craves attention and praise. Play with her toys on the scratching posts encouraging her to see the posts as favorable places to scratch. Don’t respond to non-destructive bad behavior. My cat loves to go outside on her leash but she has learned crying hysterically at the door does not get her a trip outside, now she quietly goes to the door and comes to me signally it’s time to go out.

Sue June 7, 2010 at 9:45 am

For cats jumping on the countertop I use the word “off”. I started the process by using the word “off” and start banging pans. Banging pans definately gets them off the counter in a hurry. Eventually, you can just use the word “off” and they’ll know what it means. You do have to be consistant, and eventually they will understand that it’s not allowed . You really need to nip it in the bud, particularly if you own a group of cats. They do learn from one another.

Allison June 7, 2010 at 10:47 am

I have 2 cats brother and sister, they are as different as night and day. The female is afraid of heights, which surprised us for a cat, so she doesn’t like to be picked up and doesn’t jump to many places we have worked with her by picking her up and showing her we won’t drop her, a good tight hold on her and she will tolerate it, but she gets her exercise by playing fetch, we encourage this by throwing the ball for her anytime she brings it to us and her brother thinks he is a dog, he bites and wrestles like a puppy. Crazy pair,

Margaret Duclos June 7, 2010 at 10:59 am

We have 6 cats, care for a handful of ferals, have trapped/socialized/rehomed some feral kittens, and had cats my whole life. I have learned a lot about how to have successful multi-cat homes over the years. The 2 most important things Ive found are: LITTER BOX CARE and SPACE.

For multi & single cat homes, the 2 biggest things I find where people go wrong are: dirty boxes, and too few boxes. Ideally, you should clean your boxes every time your cat goes, but this is not usually doable without a self cleaning box, so aim for NO LESS than once a day.

The other key is having enough litter boxes, especially for multi cat homes. The rule of thumb is 1 box per cat, plus 1. Litter box placement is also important to cats, but especially in multi-cat homes. I had trouble for a while in a new apt when I had a litter box in a closet. One of my cats started peeing outside the box and I didnt know why until I finally caught one of my other cats bullying him in the litter box. Because there was only one way out of the closet, my younger cat would stand at the entrance/exit and bully my older cat while he was in the box/when he wanted to exit. I fixed things by adding another box in a different area of the apt, and keeping both sides of the closet open so there were 2 exits.

The other important factor for multi cat homes is SPACE. Cats are territorial, and it is crucial that each of the cats in the home have places of their own. Having plenty of elevated areas for each of the cats to hang out, and just plain having a big enough home/living space for the number of cats is imperative. Having multiple cat trees, beds in various places in the home, multiple window seats, multiple hide outs, etc are very helpful.

Additional tips:
When adding additional cats to your home, it is also important to choose a kitty whose temperament will fit with your resident cat’s. There are also some cats who just plain never want to share their homes, and that needs to be taken into account as well. In my home we have some trouble with a few of the cats at times, and this is because my fiancé and I each had cats before we met and when we moved in together our cats were not a perfect fit. They get along well for the most part but to keep the stress levels as low as possible we separate some from each other for several hours, a few times a week. Having a 4 bedroom/2 bathroom house is key in keeping our 6 cats (and occasional fosters) happy, and happy cats are well behaved cats. We also give all the cats one on one time each day, and exercise them all every day with interactive chase toys. Keeping them exercised and entertained makes our big, young boy cats less likely to pounce on or tease the older cats. Our cats are also NOT free fed, they eat 2 carefully measured amounts of food twice a day to keep them fit and healthy. They eat their meals right away and I also clicker train them all, and they all know how to sit on command, sit up, shake/wave, stay, jump, etc. Cats CAN be trained, and it is a LOT of fun!!! (The biggest help in “making” my cats trainable was switching them to scheduled meals from being free fed!)

Linda June 7, 2010 at 11:06 am

We have three cats, all rescues, all at varying stages of life. Giving each cat adequate attention is so important to their behavior and interaction with each other. Our youngest needs a *lot* of play time, and we spend time with interactive play (she likes to fetch), as well as rotating her toys out of “the cat drawer” so that they are always new and interesting to her. If she doesn’t get this time with us, she tries to take it from the older cats, who don’t appreciate her youthfulness. Our middle cat came to us with a spinal injury suffered during his feral life; he too enjoys interactive playing, but we must be careful that it’s appropriate to his mobility and ability (he often forgets he’s broken and tries to do what the other cats do). We have special access to one of the cat trees and remind the other cats that they should use the other cat trees, leaving Middle Kitty’s seat available for him, which keeps things more peaceful. Our oldest boy wants his special time, too. His desire to play is limited, but he appreciates “alone” lap time, so at bed time I take a book to bed and he curls up on my chest, purring while I read. My friends laugh that we are held “hostage” by the wants/needs of our cats, but that’s not the case at all — they are members of the family, and as such, we’ve taken the time to learn the things that make them feel special, which helps everyone get along so much better!

Dennis Bourgoin June 7, 2010 at 11:33 am

I dont have a cat as of yet, but if I win I surely would adopt one from the local kennel. Ellen knows me I love animal. Every kind. And the Classic Tree-House looks awesome. Kinda wish they made them for us big guys. Looks relaxing. Have a great and safe rest of the day. Dennis

Genevieve Davis June 7, 2010 at 11:33 am

It’s all about setting aside time for playing and brushing. I’ve found that all 7 of my cats come to expect me to do both with them on a regular basis. This routine has worked out well as they don’t misbehave (as much!) and I’ve been able to cut down on my cleaning since they get brushed so regularly!

Melissa R. June 7, 2010 at 11:52 am

On behalf of one of our Facebook Friends who couldnt get her comment to work in the blog:

Erin Monahan: teaching kitties not to bite or scratch: when the cat/ kitten bites or scratches i firmly say no in a slightly louder voice (not yelling) & walk away. they learn that if they want positive attention & gentle affection they cant bite or scratch. when we adopted Siouxsie, @ 9mo in 5/06, she was downright vicious & when we tried to gently pet her she … See Morewould launch a full-bore attack, teeth & claws out, trying to do harm to me & hubby (i had a bruise from her bite for a month). in less than 6 weeks, she learned not to do that & is now the sweetest, cuddliest, most gentle cat ever! we get occasional scratches if our hands are too close during play but she has stopped playing if she thinks she hurt us.

Ellen B. June 8, 2010 at 10:23 am

Congratulations to our lucky winner of the Classi-Cat Treehouse, Kathy Q. Thanks to everyone who shared their cat expertise. I’m amazed at all the awesome advice – this post is truly a valuable resource for cat owners because of each and every one of you!

mary June 10, 2010 at 7:21 am

I found 5 kittens in the ditch that had been abandoned there my friends took some and I took one she is about 4 weeks old. How long before she stops meowing all the time? I have been feeding her milk from an eyedropper is that ok?

Eva January 20, 2011 at 8:27 pm

We took a cat in as a favor to a family member, we already had two cats of our own, problem being the new cat has severely attacked myself and my bf it was two separate occasions, these attacks are the worst ive ever seen and ive had cats over the years, but this is not the normal scratching and bitings , the first time I was attacked right after our other two cats had been in a fight, then my bf was attacked right after he stopped our two cats from getting in a fight, the previous owner then told us that a friend of hers and herself were also attacked a few months ago before she gave him to us and at that time there were no other cats fighting in the area. As well as these attacks he randomly will sit and growl and hiss at you for no reason whatsoever, we are not sure what to do with him we considered declawing but did not want to use it unless we had no other options, we have heard that this can also make them more aggressive, other then that we are just sitting and waiting to see when or if the next brutal attack will happen and also considering the fact we may have to just get rid of him. Wondering if anyone else has experienced this behavior and if so what they did to make it better.

Pat June 12, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I have a year old male tabby. Pancho Murphy and suddenly 3 months ago he started attacking. I can be sitting on the couch reading mail and he will jump up and attack my arm. I have scars on my left arm that are here to stay. You can tell him “No bite!” and he will go away to the bedroom but his strength is remarkable for a young cat. He doesn’t scratch you, just bites. Wondering if it’s something this type of cat does.

B. R. Highfield August 25, 2011 at 10:46 am

I found that a blast of air from a computer cleaning product will help to train my cats. I used this method to stop them from chewing wires, climbing on the kitchen table etc.
Now all I have to do is hold up the can and they stop.

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