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There’s no such thing as a bad cat: Their “naughty” behavior may mean something’s amiss

Cats have the reputation of being mysterious and independent creatures. However, once we make sense of behaviors we may consider bizarre or “unacceptable” and learn why cats do what they do, this will dramatically deepens our relationships with our fabulous furry best friends. Anyway, cats are really not all that independent.

So what might cause a sweet, gentle cat to suddenly morph into an unruly “psycho” kitty who hisses and growls at their owner? Are cats felonious when they are knocking everything off tables, leaping onto kitchen countertops, or gleefully climbing up the Livingroom curtains? Is it spite that causes cats to stop using litter boxes and start peeing on the furniture? Is urine-spraying a sign of feline defiance? Is this bad behavior; or is it possible that the cat is profoundly misunderstood and is frantically trying to communicate to their owner something of vital-importance?

Karen Becker, Holistic DVM reports that almost 43 percent of U.S. households are ruled by at least one cat. This amounts to approximately 86 million cats sharing our homes. However, with this staggering number of kitties owning their humans, many of these cats are considered to be “badly behaved”. When owners don’t fully understand the meaning of their kitty’s behavior, it can result in a “whole bunch of misunderstood kitties”, according to Dr. Becker.

I can’t begin to enumerate how many people that I’ve run into who believe their cat’s behavior is bizarre. But as far as their kitty is concerned, what they are doing is purrfectly normal. So let’s demystify a few feline behaviors that can drive owners up the wall.

Consider a cat with a ravenous appetite who is begging for food incessantly, is highly excitable, and is keeping his owner sleep-deprived. Before assuming this is just attention-seeking behavior, a veterinary check-up is in order. According to Certified Animal Behaviorist, Mikel Delgado, these actions may be due to an underlying medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism.

Many cats avoid getting near or into water, making it hard for their owner to fathom why their kitty enjoys putting a paw into their water bowl, and then licking off the water. Thankfully, Dr. Becker understands feline logic! Unless cats are measuring the size, shape, and distance of a narrowly enclosed area using their whiskers, they dislike the sensation of something else touching them. It’s uncomfortable when a cat is taking sips from their water bowl, with the rim of the bowl impinging on their whiskers. It makes perfect sense that they prefer to use the “dip and sip” method of drinking water. Providing kitties with a wider-rimmed water bowl makes this a non-issue.

What about those kitties who drop their favorite toy into their water bowl? Most people think that’s indeed very odd. But this is natural behavior from the cat’s purrspective. To hide their “prey” from predators, water bowls are a safe place in which to stash it, or they just enjoy “fishing.”

What about the sweet kitty who asks her owner to pet her? The keeper starts gently stroking the kitty. However, this commonly docile cat, who has been contentedly purring, without warning attacks with her claws extended, and sinks her teeth into her owner’s hand. The puzzled guardian immediately retaliates with a smack.

No matter how much a kitty enjoys being petted, cats can also feel over-stimulated. Had the owner noticed her kitty’s flattened ears, and swishing tail, she would have ceased petting her and put the cat gently on the floor and the owner would have avoided being injured. Never punish a cat. It doesn’t work and it erodes their trust. However, kitties learn and respond well using positive reinforcement.

Let’s examine some litter box issues. Cats are extremely meticulous about their toilet. Let’s examine some of the reasons for “inappropriate” elimination. When cats stop using the litter box, be sure that the litterbox is fresh and clean. Does the litter meet kitty’s approval? Is the litterbox is in a convenient location for the kitty and is there one litter box for every cat in the house plus one? If everything passes the “smell test,” the next step is to rule out an underlying medical condition by making an immediate appointment with your veterinarian.

According to Feline veterinarian and behavior expert Jean Hofve, Holistic DVM, one of the main reasons cats stop using the litter box is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease and blockages. When cats experience pain when urinating, they may associate the litter box with their discomfort. To avoid pain they may seek more comfortable places in which to eliminate. Since urinary blockages are very serious conditions, they should be be treated by a veterinarian without delay.

By nature, cats are highly territorial. If your kitty spies a strange cat outside a window, this “transgression” may trigger spraying or “marking” behavior. Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy’s excellent article on Little Big Cat has great information on this subject. Additionally, arrange a consultation with your veterinarian who can evaluate your kitty’s spraying behavior.

According to numerous feline behavior experts, there is no such thing as a “bad” cat. It’s all too often that it’s the reason for their “unacceptable” behavior which sadly, often falls on deaf ears.

Deepening our understanding what makes cat tick, greatly enhances our relationship with our kitties. To get the ball rolling, I highly recommend, “Starting from Scratch” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, “Total Cat Mojo” by Jackson Galaxy and “The Cat who Cried for Help”, by Nicholas Dodman, DVM

Photos and Article by: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW, (Ret.)

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