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10 Common Behavior Problems in Cats: Prevention & Solutions

Cats are quirky, funny, loving, and adorable animals that we love sharing our lives with, but at times, mischief is afoot! Sometimes, though, that mischief borders on behavioral problems.

Here, we cover the most common behavioral problems that cats can display and a few solutions for you to try. This should help your relationship with your cat, so you can determine if it’s a simple problem or one that will need professional help.

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The 10 Behavior Problems in Cats

1.  Excessive Meowing

There are several reasons for a cat to be vocal. Cats use meowing to communicate with us; in fact, once cats are adults, they only meow at humans.

A yowling tends to happen more frequently at night—particularly when you’re trying to sleep—and it can be normal or an indication that something might be wrong.

  • Senior cats might be yowling because of senility or other health reasons, such as dementia, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, losing their senses, and pain.
  • Some breeds, like the Siamese, are just vocal in general.
  • They might be bored.
  • Yowling during the daytime can be a sign of pain, particularly if they meow while urinating or defecating.
  • It’s attention-seeking behavior.
cat meowing
Image Credit: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock
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2.  Aggression

Like meowing, aggression can come in many forms and for various reasons. It can be directed at you and other family members or toward other pets.

Aggression tends to occur because of anxiety and stress, hormonal changes, or pain from a health or medical issue.

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3.  Scratching

This is a common behavior that bothers cat parents. But it’s necessary for cats because it’s partly how they mark their territory and sharpen their claws. There are methods that you can use to redirect this behavior, though.

male domesetic cat scratching furniture with front claws
Image Credit: Melissa Sue, Shutterstock
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4.  Urinary Issues

Several health issues can affect how a cat uses the litter box, including cystitis, bacterial infection, or bladder stones. A stressed cat can also start eliminating outside of the litter box.

Changes in the home, like a new pet or family member, moving, or renovations, can cause enough stress for a cat to urinate outside the litter box.

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5.  Chewing

While dogs might enjoy chewing things up, they don’t have a corner in the market. Cats can also cause damage by chewing things. Every cat might show a preference for a specific texture.

They might chew things because they like the taste or feel of the material, or it might be boredom, a form of aggression, nutritional deficiency, or being weaned too young.

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6.  Obsessive Grooming

Cats spend a great deal of their time licking and grooming themselves, typically up to 50% every day 1. But some cats start to overgroom, which can be caused by pain or anxiety and stress. These cats will lick themselves raw and hairless on certain parts of their body.

a domestic tabby cat licking its paw
Image Credit: Karin Laurila, Shutterstock
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7.  Urine Marking or Spraying

This is different from a cat that doesn’t use the litter box. Cats will use their urine to mark their territory, which they will be more inclined to do if there’s conflict in the home, particularly if there are other cats or changes to their routine.

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8.  Rough Play

Some cats just don’t know how to play gently and might bite and scratch too hard. There are a few methods that you can use to redirect the rough play away from yourself, but it’s best to start when they are kittens.

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9.  Compulsive Behavior

This can include grooming, but it typically consists of pacing, chewing, and sucking on certain materials, such as wool (known as wool sucking), plastic, rubber, etc.

This can also include the condition of pica, which is when cats eat inappropriate material that isn’t food, such as cardboard, plastic, and elastics.

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10.  Separation Anxiety

Some cats are needier than others and get upset when left alone. This can turn into destructive behavior, which can also include spraying and excessive meowing.

Tortoiseshell cat looking out of the window
Image Credit: Michaela Filipcikova, Unsplash

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Top 9 Tips for Dealing With Your Cat’s Behavioral Problems

If any of these behavioral issues suddenly start, the first thing that you should do is take your cat to your veterinarian to ensure that there isn’t a medical problem.

Your vet can give you any necessary medications and advise about supplements and a change in diet. That said, there are a few steps that you can take yourself at home.

1. Excessive Meowing at Night

You can try extra playtime before bed to wear them out. Also, consider investing in a feeder that works with a timer. This way, if your cat wakes you up early every morning because they are hungry, they’ll be less likely to do so.

What you shouldn’t do is respond to or give your cat attention while they are yowling. Try to avoid giving them any attention, and don’t feed them while they are asking for it. Only feed them when they are quiet.

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2. Aggression

Depending on how severe the aggression is, you might need to speak to your vet. If your cat has attacked you or someone in your family, don’t punish them, as it might just make the problem worse.

Try not to react when it happens; running away or doing something similar will just get them more excited. Direct your cat’s attention to something else, like a toy, and speak to your vet. They might prescribe medication, and you might also want to try pheromones like Feliway.

angry domestic cat growling
Image Credit: pixbull, Shutterstock
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3. Scratching

Invest in good, sturdy cat trees and scratching posts. Some cats prefer to scratch horizontally, while others prefer a vertical scratching post.

You can try out multiple posts in different positions and with different materials. Put them in various places around your home, and if necessary, rub catnip over them to make them more enticing.

Keep your cat’s nails trimmed regularly, and consider using nail caps. There are also couch covers and other items that can protect your furniture.

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4. Inappropriate Urination and Marking

There are many different reasons that a cat might spray and eliminate outside the litter box. If your cat seems healthy and doesn’t have trouble urinating or defecating, you should check the litter that you’re using and where the box is located. Be sure the litter box is large enough for your cat to walk in and turn around. If it’s located in a high-traffic area or where there’s a great deal of noise, you’ll need to relocate it to a quieter and more private space. If the litter is scented, go with unscented and try a different texture. Cats tend to prefer a sandy texture. Also, be sure to scoop the litter daily. If you have multiple cats, the rule of thumb is to have one box per cat plus one extra.

If your cat is spraying, having them spayed or neutered should stop the marking behavior, but if not, see your vet. You might need to use calming treats or Feliway diffusers.

Finally, when your cat eliminates outside of the box, use an enzymatic cleaner to clean up the mess. This way, your cat won’t keep going to the same spot to do their business.

Overall, if your cat is not acting like their usual self or seems to be straining to urinate or defecate, see your vet. It could be a health condition and not a behavioral problem.

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5. Chewing

Check with your vet first to ensure that there aren’t any dental issues. If nothing is wrong with your cat’s teeth, this might be another case for calming treats and diffusers. It might also be a problem with pent-up aggression, so your vet might be able to help, whether it’s a medical or behavioral problem.

For a bored cat, ensure that they have cat-appropriate toys to chew on, and you might need to consider a bitter spray deterrent for any items that they shouldn’t chew. If they go after electrical cords, invest in cord covers.

cat chewing finger
Image Credit: SerPhoto, Shutterstock
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6. Obsessive Grooming

This is a problem for your vet to help you with. At home, try calming chews, pheromone sprays, or diffusers to help keep your cat calm. Ensure that their environment is as stress free as possible. Get them tall cat trees and cat shelves that give them the security of escaping to high-up spaces.

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7. Rough Play

Ensure that your cat has enough toys to play with so they don’t always go after you. If your cat starts playing roughly with you, redirect them to one of their toys.

If you have a kitten, don’t use your hands or feet to play with them, as this will only encourage them to believe that your body parts are toys.

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8. Compulsive Behavior

Compulsive behaviors are stress related, so you should look at calming treats/diffusers/sprays. Keep your home as stress free as you can manage. Ensure that your cat has enough toys and climbing spaces.

Speak to your vet, as they can help you with a behavior modification program and/or medication to manage this behavioral issue.

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9. Separation Anxiety

You can start by ignoring your cat for 15 minutes before you leave, as well as when you’re back home. Leave out a few of their favorite toys for when you’re gone, and put them away once you return.

When you are home, play with them and spend quality time petting them. It can also help to wear them out by playing before you leave (if you have time) so they will sleep while you’re gone.

sleepy cat laying on owners lap
Image Credit: Alena Ozerova, Shutterstock

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So many things go into behavioral issues in cats. It often starts when they’re kittens, or it might be a temporary problem due to a health condition. If your cat seems to suddenly act differently, speak to your vet immediately—it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

There are many ways to help your cat, with one of the most common solutions being a stress-free environment. Experts, like animal behaviorists, might also be able to give you a hand.

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Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock