When Cats Won’t Behave, What Should You Do?

by TheWritingCowboy

Cats, as loveable as they are, can sometimes be a pain in the you-know-where. When that happens what should you do? Here’s some advice of what to do (and not do) to address feline

I have had many pets – usually dogs, but also cats. What always made me wonder is the tons of advice out there on what to do when a dog behaves badly (check out the popularity of dog trainers like Cesar Milan, “The Dog Whisperer,” and others who specialize in canine behavior), but there is a dearth of behavioral superstars like Milan when it comes to felines. After all, there’s no “Cat Whisperer” is there?

However, just because there are no television cat expert superstars on par with Milan it doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of people giving advice. Sometimes it’s in magazines that specialize in cats, in books, and online.

The American Humane Society says there are more cat owners in the U.S. than dog owners, 95 million to about 83 million. So when it comes to cats with behavioral problems you might have to do a little more digging to find answers in spite of felines greater popularity.

Here are a few of the more common cat problems and what you might do about it.

Doesn’t Go Where It’s Supposed To Go

At the top of the list of bad cat behaviors is the cat not doing its business where it’s supposed to go. You’ve nicely provided a litter box (you have haven’t you?), keep it clean and refresh it regularly, but still you find poop in places around your home that make you grind your teeth and wonder what’s wrong. Aren’t cats supposed to be super clean, after all?

According to author Cynthia Haddon (Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty) a cat instinctively will “mark” its territory to ensure their ‘territory’ is all about their own smell. But, you have to be the ‘pack leader’ and discourage the bad behavior and encourage the proper behavior.

There are several other reasons why a cat goes elsewhere. It could be there’s a problem with its health and/or nutrition. A vet visit may be in order. Possible answers may be a urinary tract issue. If that’s not the problem, maybe your cat just doesn’t like where the litter box is located. Yes, cats can be finicky that way. Maybe the litter box is uncomfortably high, especially for older cats or cats with joint problems. The type of litter could be a problem as well. It may be too scented for them (personally I don’t understand why anyone would want a scented cat litter product – at least not one that is malodorous to humans).

Another issue could be you the owner. Maybe you aren’t cleaning the box often enough. Cats don’t like dirty boxes. Keep it clean and inviting. Yet another reason might be there aren’t enough boxes. If your pet likes to be where you are – say in an upstairs bedroom – maybe it wants a box up there as well as downstairs. It could happen.

Angry Cat

Does you cat act aggressively toward you or other animals? It may be feline’s natural instincts becoming dominant. But, that would only occur if you were not establishing the rule of law from the moment you get the cat. Just like with any other animal, bad behavior has to be nipped in the bud. Even something you might consider to be cute when the pet is young will become a problem if you don’t step in with a strong “NO” whenever it happens. Cute isn’t an excuse. If you act like you are rewarding the early behavior by laughing and otherwise indicating how funny or enjoyable a behavior is, the cat gets the strong message that this is something it should continue doing. And, it’s a lot harder to break a bad habit when the animal is older than when it is young. Don’t reward bad behavior.


Sometimes bad cat behavior happens because the cat is just plain bored. That can happen especially when you have an indoor cat. Give it toys and other playthings. Try a cat tree or climbing device. Rotate items so it gets a variety of things to amuse itself with over time. You don’t have to go out and constantly buy new things. Just keep a few things out for it to play with, and keep other items locked in the garage or somewhere and rotate the items every month or so. And don’t forget – you need to be involved with the cat. While you can’t take it for a walk (in most cases) like you would a dog, you can have some ‘playtime’ with your cat to help burn off some energy and to remind the cat that you are someone it can engage with and see as a friend.

Furniture’s Worst Enemy

Cat scratching is a most natural behavior, but it can get out of hand. According to author Haddon cats need to scratch, whether it’s too leave a message (Haddon calls it a cat’s “Post-It” note) or because the cat is feeling insecure (it can happen). If your cat’s scratching goes beyond what is basic and common to the point where not even a scratching post (you do provide one, don’t you?) is stopping it from shredding pillows, couches and other furniture you might consider a few options (not including declawing, ugh!!). Haddon suggests roughing up a new post so the cat sees it as already ‘broken in.” There are also cat repellent sprays or natural products (Haddon says an orange peel is good) you can use.

While not all solutions will work for all cats all the time, there is a plethora of options and opinions available. It just takes time and patience. If you don’t have both maybe a cat is not what you should have in the house.

CuriosityTournée du Chat Noir, c.1896Commitment
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Updated: 08/18/2014, TheWritingCowboy
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DerdriuMarriner on 04/09/2022

Revisiting your wizzley made me realize the great importance of understanding why feline sentients do what they do.

Would it be possible that sometimes they just have cabin fever and would like to get outside for a great, long run through the yard and up a tree?

DerdriuMarriner on 07/17/2017

TheWritingCowboy, Gunther Gebel-Williams attributes his across-the-board success as a circus animal whisperer to maintaining the same posture and voice no matter what. It's important to enjoy and instruct domesticated animals in ways respectful to them and their witnesses. Donna Leon says that cats in particular teach us benevolence.

Guest on 08/23/2014

We are a cat friendly house. We are not a child friendly one. Clearing up after cats or kids? I know which option I would choose. A cat might even teach me to get the ironing dealt with already instead of leaving it around for weeks, too.

Telesto on 08/16/2014

I've got four cats. They keep me out of mischief!

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