Behavior Issues in Adult Cats
Nobody's perfect---not even your cat. It's not unusual for cats to develop irksome behaviors, some of which can rise to the level of true problem behaviors. Fortunately, many of these problems can be solved with retraining.
Inappropriate elimination, either defecating, or more commonly urinating outside of the litter box, is the most frequently reported behavior problem of adult cats. Sometimes a health problem is the cause, so your first step is to have your cat checked for urinary problems, diabetes, kidney disease, or several other problems that can cause more frequent attempts or need to urinate; diarrhea or colon problems can cause an urgent need to defecate.
The cat may avoid the litter box because it's in a high-traffic area, because it's too out of the way, or because it's next to where the dog that chases him sleeps. He may avoid it because it smells too strongly of harsh chemicals or the ammonia smell of urine, because the litter is scented (most cats prefer unscented litter), because the litter is dirty, or because he doesn't like the texture of the litter.
Urine spraying, in which the cat aims urine at a vertical surface, is marking rather than elimination behavior, so isn't affected by how much your cat likes the litter box. Spraying leaves a urine signature that declares that territory as his own. Marking is most common in intact males. Neutering very often, but not always, cures the behavior. Note that about 10 percent of male cats, even when neutered early, spray at least occasionally, and about 5 percent of all females cats will also spray. Spraying increases in multi-cat households and when a cat feels threatened, such as when outdoor cats hang around the yard.
Cats are more likely to respray where they find odor. Odor neutralizing sprays can help somewhat to eliminate the odor and mitigate this problem. Anti-anxiety aids such as cat pheromones sprayed into the environment may also be helpful in curbing spray behavior.
Discourage your cat from going to certain forbidden elimination areas by putting down sheets of newspaper or plastic, upside-down nubby plastic carpet runners, or even the cat mats that deliver a very mild shock. Place food and water bowls in favorite spraying areas. Keep your cat away by shutting the door. If (but only if) you catch him in the act, you can spray him with a squirt gun of water.
Aggressive behavior is another problem behavior that results from natural cat behavior. If your cat fights with outdoor cats, the solution is to keep him inside. But if he fights with other household cats, he may be asserting his right to have first dibs on the best resources. Cats may also bite their owners if the owner doesn't provide petting or food on demand. Cats may bite out of fear, especially if they are pushed into a corner and are not well socialized. Any sudden aggression should be checked by your veterinarian, as it could result from a medical problem.
Petting induced aggression is a special type of aggressive behavior in which the cat initially seeks out attention, seems to enjoy being petted, then suddenly seems get fed up with it and attacks. The cat does usually give a warning through his body language, which will include a tensed body, flattened ears, and lashing tail, but the warning is often unnoticed. You can work on this problem by enticing your cat to be petted for short but increasing periods of time, always stopping well before he gives any warning signs, and giving him a treat for his peaceful behavior.
Hunting behavior is a problem for many owners, although again, it is natural cat behavior. Cats enjoy hunting, stalking, pouncing, catching and sometimes killing small animals such as birds, lizards and bugs. The best cure is prevention by not allowing your cat outdoors, and by securing any small indoor pets where your cat cannot reach them or knock their cage over.
Fearful behavior is a normal way that cats have of keeping themselves safe, but as with humans, cats can sometimes develop accentuated fears or fears of illogical things. If such fears interfere with normal functioning, you may need the help of a behaviorist to combat these phobias.
Furniture scratching is yet another normal cat behavior that doesn't meld well with our households. Cats scratch vertical surfaces as a means of marking their territory with scent from their foot pads, as well as leaving a nice visual marker---your scarred and tattered furniture. Deter cats from your furniture by placing sheets of newspaper or plastic, upside-down nubby plastic carpet runners, or aluminum foil where he would stand. Use moth repellant aerosols (not moth balls) to deter him. Select furniture materials, such as velvet and leather, that aren't as appealing. Attract him to scratching posts--always keep one more post in your house than you have cats. Each post should be steady, made of a material such as burlap that leaves a visible mark, tall enough to allow your cat to stretch as high as he can reach, in clear view, and placed near the furniture you don't want him to scratch. Trimming the nails reduces the damage they can cause. Your veterinarian can also affix soft plastic nail caps over the claws that make his scratching less effective. They last about a month. Declawing is considered a last resort and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Hypervocalizing, or constant meowing, can be irritating if you're trying to sleep. Some breeds, notably the oriental breeds (including Siamese) are noted for being very vocal. A cat that meows excessively may be frustrated (perhaps locked inside when he wants to be outside), hungry, in pain, seeking attention, in heat, anxious, fearful, or have some sort of a compulsion, medical problem, or cognitive disorder. If the cause isn't obvious, try videoing the cat and bringing a copy of the video, along with cat, to your veterinarian.
Excessive grooming can result in hair loss, most commonly on the abdomen and inside the legs. Cats tend to groom when anxious, but in some cases, even when a conflict is resolved, the cat grooms vigorously, almost as though out of habit or compulsion. In fact, it appears to be a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Oriental breeds seem to be more prone. Your veterinarian will need to rule out parasites, allergies, fungal infections, or hormonal conditions; if they are ruled out, treatment includes enriching the environment to provide distractions, removing stressors from the environment, training the cat to do tricks he can be rewarded for, and treatment with medications used to treat anxiety or OCD.
If your cat has a behavior problem, don't think you can't address it. Not only can your veterinarian provide advice, but can also refer you to a veterinary behaviorists who is specially trained in matters of cat behavior.