Should My Cat Live Indoors or Out?
If you want your cat to live a long and healthy life, keep her inside. If you allow your cat to wander around on her own, without your supervision, she is susceptible to any of the following tragedies:
- becoming hit by a car
- ingesting a deadly poison like antifreeze or a pesticide
- becoming trapped by an unhappy neighbor
- being attacked by a roaming dog, cat or wild animalca
- contracting a disease from another animal
- becoming lost and unable to find her way home
- being stolen
- encountering an adult or child with cruel intentions
Following are some of the reasons people have provided for allowing their cat to be outdoors without their supervision, along with our comments and suggestions.
“I have a six-foot fence.”
Unless you have special fencing that is specifically designed to prevent your cat from climbing out, your cat will be able to scale the fence and escape the confines of your yard. If you do have special fencing, make sure that it can keep other cats or animals from getting into your yard.
“My last cat went outdoors and he loved it.”
Your cat may enjoy being outdoors, but by allowing him to go outside, unsupervised, is putting him at risk and possibly shortening his life span. Cats that are allowed to roam outdoors may not live as long as a cat who solely lives indoors. Cats who live strictly indoors can live up to 15 – 20 years of age.
“My cat’s litter box smells.”
Scoop your cat’s litter box on a daily basis. How often you change the litter depends on the number of cats in your home, the number of litter boxes, and the type of litter you use. Twice a week is a general guideline for clay litter, but depending on the circumstances, you may need to change it every other day or once a week. Wash the litter box with soap and water every time you change the litter. Don’t use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products when washing the litter box, as it may cause your cat to avoid it.
“My cat likes to sun herself.”
Your cat can sun herself by any window indoors. If you’re really set on letting your cat sun herself outdoors, put her on a harness and leash and stay with her while she’s taking in the rays.
“I can’t keep him in.”
Keep your windows closed or put in screens. Remember to always keep your doors closed and teach your children the importance of keeping the doors closed, too. It may take a few days or a few weeks, but if there are enough interesting things for your cat to play with indoors, he’ll come to enjoy being indoors. Be sure to provide him with a scratching post and safe toys to bat or carry around (see “Cat Toys and How To Use Them“).
“We’ve always let her out.”
You can change your cat’s behavior. It will take time and patience, but it might save her life. When you implement your “closed door” policy, give her a lot of extra attention and entertainment. At first she may cry, but don’t give in. Soon she’ll be happy to stay indoors with you.
“My cat knows to avoid cars.”
Even if this were true, all it would take is another car, a dog or a shiny object to lure your cat into the street and into the path of traffic. Also keep in mind that some people may not swerve to miss a cat in the road.
“My cat needs exercise and likes to play with other cats.”
Stray cats are likely to spread viruses like feline leukemia and other fatal diseases. If your cat needs a friend, adopt another cat that’s healthy and disease-free.
“My cat yowls and acts likes he really needs to go outside.”
Your cat may be feeling the physiological need to mate. If this is the case, make sure your cat is neutered (males) or spayed (females). Sterilized cats don’t have the natural need to breed, and therefore, won’t be anxious to go out to find a mate.
Animal shelters throughout the country take in millions of lost cats each year and 99 out of 100 of these cats have no identification. Less than three out of 100 lost cats are reclaimed by their owners, and usually one of those three has an identification tag or microchip. The owners of the other two cats end up spending hours, days and even weeks looking for their lost cats and personally visiting every animal shelter in their area. Most owners of lost cats search long and hard, and never find their cats at all.
Don’t risk losing your feline friend forever. Please put a collar on your cat and an identification tag with your name, address and phone number and equip your cat with a permanent microchip ID – all available at the Soffer and Fine Adoption Center. Be sure to keep the information current. You’ll want to tag your cat even if you never let it go outside because there is always the chance that it could slip through an open door or window and become lost.
There are collars made especially for cats with a short piece of elastic sewn in. These “break-away” collars can be buckled snugly around the cat’s neck, but will stretch and let the cat escape if it should get hung up on a tree limb or fence. It’s important to remember that many more cats have died because they were lost and their owners couldn’t find them, than have ever been injured from wearing a collar.
The first time you put a collar on your cat, give it a catnip-filled toy. The toy will distract the cat’s attention from the odd feeling of wearing a collar and by the time it finishes shredding the toy, it may have forgotten the collar entirely.
You can purchase an affordably priced microchip ID for your pet at any of the Humane Society of Greater Miami Clinics. You can get an identification tag made for your pet at our Soffer and Fine Adoption Center for between $6 and $10, depending on the size tag you choose.
Well-socialized cats are more likely to have well-socialized kittens. Kittens “feed” off of their mothers’ calm or fearful attitude toward people. Although feeding time is important, it’s also vital to include petting, talking and playing in order to build good “people-skills” in your kitten.
Kittens are usually weaned at six or seven weeks, but may continue to suckle for comfort as their mother gradually leaves them more and more. Orphaned kittens, or those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit inappropriate suckling behaviors later in life. Ideally, kittens should stay with their littermates (or other role-model cats) for at least 12 weeks.
Kittens orphaned or separated from their mother and/or littermates too early often fail to develop appropriate “social skills,” such as learning how to send and receive signals, what an “inhibited bite” means, how far to go in play-wrestling and so forth. Play is important for kittens because it increases their physical coordination, social skills and learning limits. By interacting with their mother and littermates kittens learn “how to be a cat,” as well as explore the ranking process (“who’s in charge”).
Kittens that are handled 15 to 40 minutes a day during the first seven weeks are more likely to develop larger brains. They’re more exploratory, more playful and are better learners. Skills not acquired during the first eight weeks may be lost forever. While these stages are important and fairly consistent, a cat’s mind remains receptive to new experiences and lessons well beyond kitten-hood. Most cats are still kittens, in mind and body, through the first two years.
The following chart provides general guidelines for the stages of development.
0 – 2 weeks = Neonatal
- Learning to orient toward sound.
- Eyes are opening, usually open by two weeks.
- Competition for rank and territory begins. Separation from their mother and littermates at this point can lead to poor learning skills and aggression toward people and other pets, including other cats.
2 – 7 weeks = Socialization
- By the third week smell is well developed and they can see well enough to find their mother.
- By the fourth week smell is fully mature and hearing is well developed. They start to interact with their littermates, they can walk fairly well, and they’re teeth are erupting.
- By the fifth week sight is fully mature, they can right themselves, run, place their feet precisely, avoid obstacles, stalk and pounce, and catch “prey” with their eyes.
- By the sixth and seventh weeks they begin to develop adult sleeping patterns, motor abilities and social interaction.
7- 14 weeks = Most active play period
- Social and object play increases their physical coordination and social skills. Most learning is by observation, preferably from their mother.
- Social play includes belly-ups, hugging, ambushing and licking.
- Object play includes scooping, tossing, pawing, mouthing and holding.
- Social/object play includes tail chasing, pouncing, leaping and dancing.
3 – 6 months = Ranking period
- Most influenced by their “litter” (playmates now include companions of other species).
- Beginning to see and use ranking (dominant and submissive) within the household, including humans.
6 – 18 months = Adolescence
- Heightened exploration of dominance, including challenging humans.
- If not spayed or neutered, beginnings of sexual behavior.
Play-motivated aggressive behaviors are common in young, active cats less than two years of age, and in cats that live in one-cat households. When cats play they incorporate a variety of behaviors into their play, such as exploratory, investigative and predatory behaviors. Play provides young cats with opportunities to practice skills they would normally need for survival. Kittens like to explore new areas and investigate anything that moves, and may bat at, pounce on and bite objects that resemble prey.
Kittens learn how to inhibit their bite from their littermates and their mother. A kitten that is separated from her family too early may play more roughly than a kitten that has had more valuable family time. In addition, if humans play with a young kitten using their hands and/or feet instead of toys, the kitten is liable to learn that rough play with people is okay. In most cases, it’s possible to teach your kitten or young adult cat that rough play isn’t acceptable behavior.
Encourage Acceptable Behavior
Redirect your kitten’s aggressive behavior onto acceptable objects like toys (see “Cat Toys and How To Use Them“). Drag a toy along the floor to encourage your kitten to pounce on it, or throw a toy away from your kitten to give her even more exercise chasing the toy down. Some kittens will even bring the toy back to be thrown again! Another good toy is one that your kitten can wrestle with, like a soft stuffed toy that’s about the size of your kitten, so she can grab it with both front feet, bite it, and kick it with her back feet. This is one of the ways kittens play with each other, especially when they’re young. It’s also one of the ways they try to play with human feet and hands, so it’s important to provide this type of alternative play target. Encourage play with a “wrestling toy” by rubbing it against your kitten’s belly when she wants to play roughly – be sure to get your hand out of the way as soon as she accepts the toy.
Since kittens need a lot of playtime, try to set up three or four consistent times during the day to initiate play with your kitten. This will help her understand that she doesn’t have to be the one to initiate play by pouncing on you.
Discourage Unacceptable Behavior
You need to set the rules for your kitten’s behavior, and every person your cat comes in contact with should reinforce these rules. Your kitten can’t be expected to learn that it’s okay to play rough with Dad, but not with the baby.
- Use aversives to discourage your kitten from nipping. You can either use a squirt bottle filled with water and a small amount of vinegar or a can of pressurized air to squirt your kitten with when she becomes too rough. To use this technique effectively, you’ll always need to have the spray bottle or can handy. You can either place one in each room, or carry one with you as you move around the house. In some cases, you may want to apply taste aversives to your hands (like Bitter Apple). If you have sensitive skin you may want to wear gloves and put the aversive on the gloves. The possible disadvantage to this method is that your kitten may learn that “hands with gloves taste bad and those without gloves don’t”. Remember that aversives will work only if you offer your kitten acceptable alternatives.
- Redirect the behavior after using the aversive. After you startle your kitten with the aversive, IMMEDIATELY offer her a toy to wrestle with or to chase. This will encourage her to direct her rough play onto a toy instead of a person. We recommend that you keep a stash of toys hidden in each room specifically for this purpose.
- Withdraw attention when your kitten starts to play too roughly. If the distraction and redirection techniques don’t seem to be working, the most drastic thing you can do to discourage your cat from her rough play is to withdraw all attention when she starts playing too roughly. She wants to play with you, so eventually she’ll figure out how far she can go if you keep this limit consistent. The best way to withdraw your attention is to walk away to another room, and close the door long enough for her to calm down. If you pick her up to put her in another room, then you’re rewarding her by touching her. You should be the one to leave the room.
Please Note: None of these methods will be very effective unless you also give your kitten acceptable outlets for her energy, by playing with her regularly using appropriate toys.
What Not to Do
- Attempts to tap, flick or hit your kitten for rough play are almost guaranteed to backfire. Your kitten could become afraid of your hands, or she could interpret those flicks as playful moves by you and play even more roughly as a result.
- Picking up your kitten to put her into a “timeout” could reinforce her behavior because she probably enjoys the physical contact of being picked up. By the time you get her to the timeout room and close the door, she has probably already forgotten what she did to be put in that situation.
Aggression: Kittens can bite or scratch through the skin. In these cases it’s best to seek help from a behavior specialist to work with your kitten’s behavior. Be sure to keep your kitten confined until you can get professional help. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean all bites and scratches and consult your physician, as cat scratches and bites can easily become infected.
There are many factors that contribute to the safety or danger of a toy. Many of those factors, however, are completely dependent upon your cat’s size, activity level and personal preference. Another factor to be considered is the environment in which your cat spends her time. Although we can’t guarantee your cat’s enthusiasm or her safety with any specific toy, we can offer the following guidelines.
The things that are usually the most attractive to cats are often the very things that are the most dangerous. Cat-proof your home by checking for: string, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands, plastic milk jug rings, paper clips, pins, needles, and anything else that could be ingested. All of these items are dangerous, no matter how cute your cat may look when she’s playing with them.
Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t “cat-proof” by removing ribbons, feathers, strings, eyes, or other small parts that could be chewed and/or ingested.
Soft toys should be machine washable. Check labels for child safety, as a stuffed toy that’s labeled as safe for children under three years old, doesn’t contain dangerous fillings. Problem fillings include things like nutshells and polystyrene beads. Also, rigid toys are not as attractive to cats.
Toys We Recommend
- Round plastic shower curtain rings are fun either as a single ring to bat around, hide or carry, or when linked together and hung in an enticing spot.
- Plastic rolling balls, with or without bells inside.
- Ping-Pong balls and plastic practice golf balls with holes, to help cats carry them. Try putting one in a dry bathtub, as the captive ball is much more fun than one that escapes under the sofa. You’ll probably want to remove the balls from the bathtub before bedtime, unless you can’t hear the action from your bedroom. Two o’clock in the morning seems to be a prime time for this game.
- Paper bags with any handles removed. Paper bags are good for pouncing, hiding and interactive play. They’re also a great distraction if you need your cat to pay less attention to what you’re trying to accomplish. Plastic bags are not a good idea, as many cats like to chew and ingest the plastic.
- Sisal-wrapped toys are very attractive to cats that tend to ignore soft toys.
- Empty cardboard rolls from toilet paper and paper towels are ideal cat toys, especially if you “unwind” a little cardboard to get them started.
- Catnip-filled soft toys are fun to kick, carry and rub.
- Plain catnip can be crushed and sprinkled on the carpet, or on a towel placed on the floor if you want to be able to remove all traces. The catnip oils will stay in the carpet, and although they’re not visible to us, your cat will still be able to smell them.
- Catnip sprays rarely have enough power to be attractive to cats.
- Not all cats are attracted to catnip. Some cats may become over-stimulated to the point of aggressive play and others may be slightly sedated.
- Kittens under six months old seem to be immune to catnip.
- Catnip is not addictive and is perfectly safe for cats to roll in, rub in or eat.
- Soft stuffed animals are good for several purposes. For some cats, the stuffed animal should be small enough to carry around. For cats that want to “kill” the toy, the stuffed animal should be about the same size as the cat. Toys with legs and a tail seem to be even more attractive to cats.
- Cardboard boxes, especially those a tiny bit too small for your cat to really fit into.
Get The Most Out Of Toys!
- Rotate your cat’s toys daily by making only two or three toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your cat has a huge favorite, like a soft “baby” that she loves to cuddle with, you should probably leave that one out all the time, or risk the wrath of your cat!
- Provide toys that offer a variety of uses – at least one toy to carry, one to “kill,” one to roll and one to “baby.”
- “Hide and Seek” is a fun game for cats to play. “Found” toys are often much more attractive than a toy which is blatantly introduced.
Most cats have a specific preference about where they want to eliminate. By following the suggestions below, you’ll be able to start off on the right foot with your new cat.
Most people are inclined to place the litter box in an out-of-the-way spot in order to minimize odor and loose particles of cat litter in the house. Often, the litter box ends up in the basement, sometimes next to an appliance and/or on a cold cement floor. This type of location can be undesirable from your cat’s point of view for several reasons.
If you have a kitten or an older cat, she may not be able to get down a long flight of stairs in time to get to the litter box. Since she is new to the household, she may not remember where the litter box is if it’s located in an area she seldom frequents. Your cat may be startled while using the litter box if a furnace, washer or dryer suddenly comes on and that may be the last time she’ll risk such a frightening experience! If your cat likes to scratch the surface surrounding her litter box, she may find a cold cement floor unappealing.
Therefore, you may have to compromise. The litter box should be kept in a location that affords your cat some privacy, but is also conveniently located. If you place the litter box in a closet or a bathroom, be sure the door is wedged open from both sides, in order to prevent her from being trapped in or out. Depending on where it’s located, you might consider cutting a hole in a closet door and adding a swinging door. If the litter box sits on a smooth, slick or cold surface, put a small throw rug underneath the litter box.
Type Of Litter
Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained litters, presumably because they have a softer feel. The scoopable litters usually have finer grains than the typical clay litter. However, high-quality, dust-free, clay litters are relatively small-grained and may be perfectly acceptable to your cat. Potting soil also has a very soft texture, but is not very absorbent. If you suspect your cat has a history of spending time outdoors and is likely to eliminate in your houseplants, you can try mixing some potting soil with your regular litter. Pellet-type litters or those made from citrus peels are not recommended. Once you find a litter your cat likes, don’t change types or brands. Buying the least expensive litter or whatever brand happens to be on sale, could result in your cat not using the litter box.
Many cats are put off by the odor of scented or deodorant litters. For the same reason, it’s not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box. A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat. Odor shouldn’t be a problem if the litter box is kept clean. If you find the litter box odor offensive, your cat probably finds it even more offensive and won’t want to eliminate there.
Number Of Litter Boxes
You should have at least as many litter boxes as you have cats. That way, none of them will ever be prevented from eliminating in the litter box because it’s already occupied. You might also consider placing them in several locations around the house, so that no one cat can “guard” the litter box area and prevent the other cats from accessing it. We also recommend that you place at least one litter box on each level of your house. It’s not possible to designate a personal litter box for each cat in your household, as cats will use any litter box that’s available. Occasionally, a cat may refuse to use the litter box after another cat has used it. In this case, all of the litter boxes will need to be kept extremely clean and additional boxes may be needed.
To Cover Or Not to Cover
Some people prefer to use a covered litter box, however, there are some potential problems with using this type of box. A covered litter box traps odors inside, so it will need to be cleaned more often than an open one. A covered litter box may not allow a large cat sufficient room to turn around, scratch, dig or position herself in the way she wants. A covered litter box may also make it easier for another cat to lay in wait and “ambush” the user as she exits the box. On the other hand, a covered litter box may feel more private and may be preferred by timid cats. You may want to experiment by offering both types at first, to discover what your cat prefers.
Cleaning the Box
To meet the needs of the most discriminating cat, feces should be scooped out of the litter box daily. How often you change the litter depends on the number of cats you have, the number of litter boxes, and the type of litter you use. Twice a week is a general guideline for clay litter, but depending on the circumstances, you may need to change it every other day or once a week. If you scoop the litter daily, scoopable litter can go two to three weeks before the litter needs to be changed. If you notice an odor or if much of the litter is wet or clumped, it’s time for a change. Don’t use strong smelling chemicals or cleaning products when washing the litter box, as it may cause your cat to avoid it. Washing with soap and water should be sufficient.
Some cats don’t mind having a liner in the litter box, while others do. Again, you may want to experiment to see if your cat is bothered by a liner in the box. If you do use a liner, make sure it’s anchored in place, so it can’t easily catch your cat’s claws or be pulled out of place.
Depth Of Litter
Some people think that the more litter they put in the box, the less often they will have to clean it. This is not true. Most cats won’t use litter that’s more than about two inches deep. In fact, some long-haired cats, actually prefer less litter and a smooth, slick surface, such as the bottom of the litter box. The litter box needs to be cleaned on a regular basis and adding extra litter is not a way around that chore.
There’s really no such thing as “litter-training” a cat in the same way one would house-train a dog. A cat doesn’t need to be taught what to do with a litter box. The only thing you need to do is provide an acceptable, accessible litter box, using the suggestions above. It’s not necessary to take your cat to the litter box and move her paws back and forth in the litter, in fact, we don’t recommend it. This may actually be an unpleasant experience for your cat and is likely to initiate a negative association with the litter box.
If Problems Develop
If your cat begins to eliminate in areas other than the litter box, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. Many medical conditions can cause a change in a cat’s litter box habits. If your veterinarian determines that your cat is healthy, the cause may be behavioral. Most litter box behavior problems can be resolved by using behavior modification techniques. Punishment is not the answer. For long-standing or complex situations, contact an animal behavior specialist who has experience working with cats.
Cats tend to have surface and location preferences for where, and on what, they like to eliminate. Most cats prefer a loose, sandy substance, which is why they will use a litter box. It’s only when their preferences include the laundry basket, the bed or the Persian rug, that normal elimination behavior becomes a problem. With careful analysis of your cat’s environment, specific factors that have contributed to the litter box problem can usually be identified and changed, so that your cat will again use the litter box for elimination.
Some common reasons why cats don’t use the litter box are: an aversion to the box, a preference for a particular surface not provided by the box, a preference for a particular location where there is no box, or a combination of all three. You’ll need to do some detective work to determine the reason your cat is house soiling. Sometimes, the reason the litter box problem initially started may not be the same reason it’s continuing. For example, your cat may have stopped using the litter box because of a urinary tract infection, and has now developed a surface preference for carpet and a location preference for the bedroom closet. You would need to address all three of these factors in order to resolve the problem.
Cats don’t stop using their litter boxes because they’re mad or upset and are trying to get revenge for something that “offended” or “angered” them. Because humans act for these reasons, it’s easy for us to assume that our pets do as well. Animals don’t act out of spite or revenge, so it won’t help to give your cat special privileges in the hope that she’ll start using the litter box again.
It’s common for cats to begin eliminating outside of their litter box when they have a medical problem. For example, a urinary tract infection or crystals in the urine can make urination very painful. Cats often associate this pain with the litter box and begin to avoid it. If your cat has a house-soiling problem, check with your veterinarian first to rule out any medical problems for the behavior. Cats don’t always act sick, even when they are, and only a trip to the veterinarian for a thorough physical examination can rule out a medical problem.
Cleaning Soiled Areas
Because animals are highly motivated to continue soiling an area that smells like urine or feces, it’s imperative that you thoroughly clean the soiled areas (see “Removing Pet Odors And Stains“).
Aversion to the Litter Box
Your cat may have decided that the litter box is an unpleasant place to eliminate if:
- The box is not clean enough for her.
- She has experienced painful urination or defecation in the box due to a medical problem.
- She has been startled by a noise while using the box.
- She has been “ambushed” while in the box either by another cat, a child, a dog, or by you, if you were attempting to catch her for some reason.
- She associates the box with punishment (someone punished her for eliminating outside the box, then placed her in the box).
What You Can Do
- Keep the litter box extremely clean. Scoop at least once a day and change the litter completely every four to five days. If you use scoopable litter, you may not need to change the litter as frequently. This will vary according to how many cats are in the household, how many litter boxes you have, and how large the cats are that are using the box or boxes. A good guideline is that if you can smell the box, then you can be sure it’s offensive to your cat as well.
- Add a new box in a different location than the old one and use a different type of litter in the new box. Because your cat has decided that her old litter box is unpleasant, you’ll want to make the new one different enough that she doesn’t simply apply the old, negative associations to the new box.
- Make sure that the litter box isn’t near an appliance that makes noise or in an area of the house that your cat doesn’t frequent.
- If ambushing is a problem, try to create more than one exit from the litter box, so that if the “ambusher” is waiting by one area, your cat always has an escape route.
All animals develop preferences for a particular surface on which they like to eliminate. These preferences may be established early in life, but they may also change overnight for reasons that we don’t always understand. Your cat may have a surface preference if:
- She consistently eliminates on a particular texture. For example, soft-textured surfaces, such as carpet, bedding or clothing, or slick-textured surfaces, such as tile, cement, bathtubs or sinks.
- She frequently scratches on this same texture after elimination, even if she eliminates in the litter box.
- She is or was previously an outdoor cat and prefers to eliminate on grass or soil.
What You Can Do
- If your cat is eliminating on soft surfaces, try using a high quality, scoopable litter, and put a soft rug under the litter box.
- If your cat is eliminating on slick, smooth surfaces, try putting just a very thin layer of litter at one end of the box, leaving the other end bare, and put the box on a hard floor.
- If your cat has a history of being outdoors, add some soil or sod to the litter box.
- Make the area where she has been eliminating aversive to her by covering it with an upside down carpet runner or aluminum foil, or by placing citrus-scented cotton balls over the area.
Your cat may have a location preference if:
- She always eliminates in quiet, protected places, such as under a desk downstairs or in a closet.
- She eliminates in an area where the litter box was previously kept or where there are urine odors.
- She eliminates on a different level of the house from where the litter box is located.
What You Can Do
- Put at least one litter box on every level of your house.
- Make the area where she has been eliminating aversive to her by covering it with upside down carpet runner or aluminum foil, or by placing citrus-scented cotton balls over the area OR
- Put a litter box in the location where your cat has been eliminating. When she has consistently used this box for at least one month, you may gradually move it to a more convenient location at a rate of an inch per day.
If you catch your cat in the act of eliminating in the house, do something to interrupt her like making a startling noise, but be careful not to scare her. Immediately take her to where the litter box is located and set her on the floor. If she wanders over to the litter box, wait and praise her after she eliminates in the box. If she takes off in another direction, she may want privacy, so watch from afar until she goes back to the litter box and eliminates, then praise her when she does.
Don’t ever punish your cat for eliminating outside of the litter box. If you find a soiled area, it’s too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your cat’s nose in it, taking her to the spot and scolding her, or any other type of punishment, will only make her afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals don’t understand punishment after the fact, even if it’s only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good.
It’s important to have realistic expectations when introducing a new pet to a resident pet. Some cats are more social than other cats. For example, an eight-year-old cat that has never been around other animals may never learn to share her territory (and her people) with other pets in the household. However, an eight-week-old kitten separated from her mom and littermates for the first time, might prefer to have a cat or dog companion. Cats are territorial and need to be introduced to other animals very slowly in order to give them time to get used to each other before there is a face-to-face confrontation. Slow introductions help prevent fearful and aggressive problems from developing.
Confine your new cat to one medium-sized room with her litter box, food, water and a bed. Feed your resident pets and the newcomer on each side of the door to this room. This will help all of them to associate something enjoyable (eating!) with each other’s smells. Don’t put the food so close to the door that the animals are too upset by each other’s presence to eat. Gradually move the dishes closer to the door until your pets can eat calmly, directly on either side of the door. Next, use two doorstops to prop open the door just enough to allow the animals to see each other, and repeat the whole process.
Switch sleeping blankets or beds between your new cat and your resident animals so they have a chance to become accustomed to each other’s scent. Rub a towel on one animal and put it underneath the food dish of another animal. You should do this with each animal in the house.
Switch Living Areas
Once your new cat is using her litter box and eating regularly while confined, let her have free time in the house while confining your other animals to the new cat’s room. This switch provides another way for the animals to experience each other’s scents without a face-to-face meeting. It also allows the newcomer to become familiar with her new surroundings without being frightened by the other animals.
Avoid Fearful And Aggressive Meetings
Avoid any interactions between your pets that result in either fearful or aggressive behavior. If these responses are allowed to become a habit, they can be difficult to change. It’s better to introduce your pets to each other gradually so that neither animal becomes afraid or aggressive. You can expect mild forms of these behaviors, but don’t give them the opportunity to intensify. If either animal becomes fearful or aggressive, separate them, and start over with the introduction process in a series of very small, gradual steps, as outlined above.
If one of your pets has a medical problem or is injured, this could stall the introduction process. Check with your veterinarian to be sure that all of your pets are healthy. You’ll also want to have at least one litter box per cat, and you’ll probably need to clean all of the litter boxes more frequently. Make sure that none of the cats are being “ambushed” by another while trying to use the litter box. Try to keep your resident pets’ schedule as close as possible to what it was before the newcomer’s appearance. Cats can make lots of noise, pull each other’s hair, and roll around quite dramatically without either cat being injured. If small spats do occur between your cats, you shouldn’t attempt to intervene directly to separate the cats. Instead, make a loud noise, throw a pillow, or use a squirt bottle with water and vinegar to separate the cats. Give them a chance to calm down before re-introducing them to each other. Be sure each cat has a safe hiding place.
Introducing a Cat to a Dog
Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats may become afraid and defensive. In extreme cases, the dog may use such rough play that it may harm your cat. Use the techniques described above to begin introducing your new cat to your resident dog. In addition:
If your dog doesn’t already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come” and “stay,” you should begin working on them. Small pieces of food will increase your dog’s motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat. Even if your dog already knows these commands, work with obeying commands in return for a tidbit.
After your new cat and resident dog have become comfortable eating on opposite sides of the door, and have been exposed to each other’s scents as described above, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog’s leash on, and using treats, have him either sit or lie down and stay. Have another family member or friend enter the room and quietly sit down next to your new cat, but don’t have them physically restrain her. Have this person offer your cat some special pieces of food or catnip. At first, the cat and the dog should be on opposite sides of the room. Lots of short visits are better than a few long visits. Don’t drag out the visit so long that the dog becomes uncontrollable. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear, aggression or other undesirable behavior.
Let Your Cat Go
Next, allow your cat freedom to explore your dog at her own pace, with the dog still on-leash and in a “down-stay.” Meanwhile, keep giving your dog treats and praise for his calm behavior. If your dog gets up from his “stay” position, he should be repositioned with a treat lure, and praised and rewarded for obeying the “stay” command. If your cat runs away or becomes aggressive, you’re progressing too fast. Go back to the previous introduction steps.
Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with your cat is unacceptable behavior, he must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so, such as sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a treat. If your dog is always punished when your cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
Directly Supervise All Interactions Between Your Dog and Cat
You may want to keep your dog on-leash and with you whenever your cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route and a place to hide. Keep your dog and cat separated when you aren’t home until you’re certain your cat will be safe.
Dogs like to eat cat food. You should keep the cat food out of your dog’s reach (in a closet or on a high shelf). Eating cat feces is also a relatively common behavior in dogs. Although there are no health hazards to your dog, it’s probably distasteful to you. It’s also upsetting to your cat to have such an important object “invaded.”
Unfortunately, attempts to keep your dog out of the litter box by “booby trapping” it will also keep your cat away as well. Punishment after the fact will not change your dog’s behavior. The best solution is to place the litter box where your dog can’t access it, for example: behind a baby gate; in a closet with the door anchored open from both sides and just wide enough for your cat; or inside a tall, topless cardboard box with easy access for your cat.
PLEASE NOTE: When you introduce pets to each other, one of them may send “play” signals which can be misinterpreted by the other pet. If those signals are interpreted as aggression by one animal, then you should handle the situation as “aggressive.”
A Word About Kittens And Puppies
Because they’re so much smaller, kittens are in more danger of being injured. A kitten will need to be kept separate from an especially energetic dog until she is fully-grown. Usually, a well-socialized cat will be able to keep a puppy in its place, but some cats don’t have enough confidence to do this. If you have an especially shy cat, you might need to keep her separated from your puppy until he matures enough to have more self-control.
When To Get Help
If introductions don’t go smoothly, seek professional help immediately. Animals can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Conflicts between pets in the same family can often be resolved with professional help. Punishment won’t work, though, and could make things worse.
Vocalizing is one way for your cat to communicate with you and with other animals. Some cats “talk” more than others, but most cats do make noise some of the time. We’re all familiar with the meaning of hissing and growling, but there are also many other sounds that your cat is capable of, and a variety of reasons for vocalizing. If your cat is hissing or growling, please see “Cat Aggression Towards People.”
If your cat’s behavior changes suddenly, the first thing you should do is take her to your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they’re seriously ill. Any change in behavior may be an early indication of a medical problem. A new vocalizing behavior, in particular, may indicate physical discomfort stemming from an urgent need for medical attention.
Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese, are known to be very vocal. If your cat has a pointed face and a long, lean body, chances are she has some oriental heritage, so “talking” may be a part of her character. Avoid giving her any attention when she is vocal because this will only encourage the vocal behavior. Instead, give her attention when she is quiet.
Some cats “talk” because they know they’ll get a reaction. People may talk back, feed her, yell at her, pick her up and lock her in another room, or pick her up and soothe her. All of these responses will encourage an attention-seeking cat. To discourage this behavior, simply ignore your cat when she does this, and when she is quiet, pour on the love, feed her or give her some treats. This will teach your cat which behaviors you would like her to continue.
Your Cat Wants to Go Outside
If your cat was previously an outdoor cat and you plan to keep her inside, then good for you! Following are some suggestions to help make the transition easier on both of you.
- Spay or Neuter: Spaying or neutering will rid your cat of those hormonal urges to go out and seek a mate. This will result in a calmer, friendlier cat.
- Play Schedule: Schedule play times during the times your cat would normally be outside. This will distract her from her normal routine and establish another, safer routine.
- Window Seat: Be sure your cat has a view of the outdoors and a sunny place to lie. Cats like to watch birds, so putting a bird feeder outside this window is likely to make it a favorite spot for your cat.
- Scavenger Hunt: Give your cat a game to play by hiding bits of dry food around the house. Hide the food in paper bags, boxes and behind open doors. This will give her exercise and keep her busy so she doesn’t think of going outside. This is especially good to do right before the family leaves the house for the day.
- Attention: Try to give your cat extra love and attention during this difficult transition.
- Aversives: If your cat still won’t give up meowing by the door, try an aversive. Leave strong citrus scents by the door or hide behind a wall and shake a pop can filled with coins to interrupt the behavior. When she is quiet, walk out and give her a food treat and encourage her to play or cuddle.
Sometimes after the death or departure of a person or animal in your cat’s life, she will vocalize to express her grief. This can be a normal part of the grieving process. The best thing you can do for her is keep her schedule the same (or as close as possible) and spend some extra cuddle and playtime with her. With time, this problem should take care of itself.
If your cat is new to your home or has just gone through a change (a move, new person/animal in the household, person moved out) and has just started her talkative behavior, be patient. This may be happening due to the transition and will stop on its own if the behavior is not encouraged. Remember, even scolding can be perceived by your cat as attention, and thus encourage the behavior.
Why Do Cats Scratch?
It’s normal for cats to scratch objects in their environment for many reasons:
- To remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
- To mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent – they have scent glands on their paws.
- To stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.
- To work off energy.
Because scratching is a normal behavior, and one that cats are highly motivated to display, it’s unrealistic to try to prevent them from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to redirect the scratching onto acceptable objects.
Training Your Cat to Scratch Acceptable Objects
- You must provide objects for scratching that are appealing, attractive and convenient from your cat’s point of view. Start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching. The answers to the following questions will help you understand your cat’s scratching preferences:
- Where are they located? Prominent objects, objects close to sleeping areas and areas near the entrance to a room are often chosen.
- What texture do they have – are they soft or coarse?
- What shape do they have – are they horizontal or vertical?
- How tall are they? At what height does your cat scratch?
- Now, considering your cat’s demonstrated preferences, substitute similar objects for her to scratch (rope-wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard or even a log). Place the acceptable object(s) near the inappropriate object(s) that she’s already using. Make sure the objects are stable and won’t fall over or move around when she uses them.
- Cover the inappropriate objects with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up. Or you may give the objects an aversive odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, a muscle rub or other unpleasant odor. Be careful with odors, though, because you don’t want the nearby acceptable objects to also smell unpleasant.
- When your cat is consistently using the appropriate object, it can be moved very gradually (no more than three inches each day) to a location more suitable to you. It’s best, however, to keep the appropriate scratching objects as close to your cat’s preferred scratching locations as possible.
- Don’t remove the unappealing coverings or odors from the inappropriate objects until your cat is consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent locations for several weeks, or even a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at once.
Should I Punish My Cat For Scratching?
NO! Punishment is effective only if you catch your cat in the act of scratching unacceptable objects and have provided her with acceptable scratching objects. Punishment after the fact, won’t change the behavior, may cause her to be afraid of you or the environment and may elicit defensive aggression. Used by itself, punishment won’t resolve scratching problems because it doesn’t teach your cat where to scratch instead. If you do catch her in the act of scratching inappropriate objects, remote punishment is best, in which you do not directly interact with her. Ideas for remote punishment include making a loud noise (using a whistle, shaking a pop can filled with rocks or slapping the wall), throwing a pillow at her or using a water-filled squirt bottle. If punishment is interactive, she’ll learn to refrain from scratching in your presence but will continue to scratch when you’re not around.
To help keep them sharp, cats keep their claws retracted except when they’re needed. As the claws grow too long and become curved, they can’t be retracted completely. You should clip off the sharp tips of your cat’s claws on all four feet every week or so. Clipping your cat’s claws will also help prevent them from becoming snagged in carpets, fabrics and skin.
Before trimming your cat’s claws, accustom her to having her paws handled and squeezed. You can do this by gently petting her legs and paws while giving her a treat. This will help to make it a more pleasant experience. Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes gentle squeezing, as you’ll need to do this to extend the claw. Continue with the treats until your cat tolerates this kind of touching and restraint. It may take a little longer if she’s not used to having her legs or paws handled.
Apply a small amount of pressure to her paw, with your thumb on top of her paw and your index finger underneath, until a claw is extended. You should be able to see the pink or “quick,” which is a small blood vessel. Don’t cut into this pink portion, as it will bleed and be painful for your cat. Always keep a bottle of styptic powder on hand to help stop the bleeding in case you cut the cat’s claw too short. If you cut off just the sharp tip of the claw, the “hook,” it will dull the claw and prevent extensive damage to household objects and to your skin.
There are several types of claw trimmers designed especially for pets. These are better than your own nail clipper because they won’t crush the claw. Until you and your cat have become accustomed to the routine, one foot a day is enough of a challenge. Don’t push to do all four at once, or you’ll both have only negative memories of claw clippers!
If you would like to have someone show you how to trim your pet’s claws, we would be happy to show you. Please call one of our clinics and ask when you can stop by for a demonstration.
Should I Declaw My Cat?
We strongly discourage cat owners from having their cats declawed. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items. Routinely trimming your cat’s claws makes a world of difference in the sharpness of her claws. Trimmed claws do little damage. However, if you feel that you must either declaw or give up your cat, we would rather see your cat stay in her home and be your lifelong companion. If you do decide to have your cat declawed, try to have the surgery done at the same time she’s spayed (or neutered if your cat is a male), that you only declaw the front paws and that you always keep your cat indoors. Once a cat is declawed, he is unable to defend himself against other predators that he might encounter outdoors.
When cats feel threatened, they usually respond in three ways to the object, person or situation they perceive as a threat: fight, flee or freeze. Some cats become so frightened they lose control of their bladder or bowels and eliminate right where they are. Each cat has his/her preferred way of dealing with a crisis. You’ll notice that your cat probably tends to try one option first, and if that doesn’t work, she’s forced to try a different option. For instance, if your cat is afraid of dogs and a friend brings his dog to your home to visit, you might notice the following: first, your cat puffs out her fur to make herself look big, then hisses and spits at the dog. If the dog doesn’t retreat, your cat may flee the situation, find a hiding spot, and freeze until she deems the situation safe.
Your cat may show the following behaviors when she is fearful:
- Aggression (spitting, hissing, growling, hair standing on end, swatting, biting, scratching)
- Loss of control over bladder and/or bowels
- Freezing in place
It’s normal for you to want to help and comfort your cat when she’s frightened. However, this isn’t necessarily the best thing to do from your cat’s point of view. It’s normal for a cat to feel insecure or frightened in a new environment. Often, your new cat will hide for a day or two when you first bring her home. Sometimes a traumatic experience like a visit to the veterinarian, or introducing a new animal into the household, can disrupt her routine and send her under the bed for a few days.
What Causes Fearful Behavior?
You’ll need to closely observe your cat to determine the trigger for her fearful behavior. Keep in mind that just because you know that the person or animal approaching your cat has good intentions, doesn’t mean that she feels safe. The trigger for her fearful behavior could be anything. Some common triggers are:
- A particular person
- A stranger
- Another animal
- A child
- Loud noises
What You Can Do
Take the following steps to reduce your cat’s anxiety and help her become more confident:
- First, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination to rule out any medical reasons for your cat’s fearful behavior. Cats don’t always act sick, even when they are. Any sudden behavior change could mean that your cat is ill and should be taken seriously. Some common symptoms that your cat may be ill are aggressiveness, hiding and eliminating outside of the litter box.
- If your cat is healthy, but hiding, leave her alone. She’ll come out when she’s ready. To force her out of her hiding spot will only make her more fearful. Make sure she has easy access to food, water and her litter box from her hiding place. Clean the litter box and change the food and water every day so you know whether she is eating and drinking.
- Keep any contact with the fear stimulus to a minimum.
- Keep your cat’s routine as regular as possible. Cats feel more confident if they know when to expect daily feeding, playing, cuddling and grooming.
- Try to desensitize your cat to the fear stimulus:
- Determine what distance your cat can be from the fear stimulus without responding fearfully.
- Introduce the fear stimulus at this distance while you’re feeding your cat tasty treats and praising her.
- Slowly move the fear stimulus closer as you continue to praise your cat and offer her treats.
- If at any time during this process your cat shows fearful behavior, you’ve proceeded too quickly and will need to start over from the beginning. This is the most common mistake people make when desensitizing an animal, and it can be avoided by working in short sessions, paying careful attention to your cat so that you don’t progress too rapidly for her.
- You may need help from a professional animal behavior specialist with the desensitization process.
A Note About Aggression
If your cat is threatening you, another person or an animal, you should seek help from a professional animal behavior specialist. To keep everyone safe in the meantime, confine your cat to an area of the house where all interactions with her are kept to a minimum and are supervised by a responsible person. Cat bites and scratches are serious and can easily become infected; contact your physician immediately and your local animal control agency for proper quarantine procedures if necessary.
What Not To Do
- Don’t punish your cat for her fearful behavior. Animals associate punishment with what they’re doing at the time they’re punished, so your cat is likely to associate any punishment you give her with you. This will only cause her to become fearful of you and she still won’t understand why she’s being punished.
- Don’t force her to experience the object or situation that is causing her fear. For example, if she is afraid of a certain person, don’t let that person try to pick her up and hold her. This will only make her more frightened of that person.
It’s impossible to estimate how well any particular pair or group of cats will ultimately tolerate each other. Some cats are unusually territorial, may never adjust to sharing their house, and may do best in a one-cat family. However, many aggressive problems between cats can be successfully resolved. To do this, you may need help, both from your veterinarian and from an animal behavior specialist who is knowledgeable in cat behavior. Cats with aggression problems may never be best friends, but can often learn to mutually tolerate each other with a minimum of conflict. Working with aggression problems between family cats will take time and commitment from you. Don’t give up without consulting the appropriate experts.
Common Types Of Aggressive Behaviors Between Cats
Territorial Aggression: Cats are very territorial, much more so than dogs. Territorial aggression occurs when a cat feels that his territory has been invaded by an intruder. Depending on where your cat spends his time, he may view your whole neighborhood as his territory. Female cats can be just as territorial as males. The behavior patterns in this type of aggression include chasing and ambushing the intruder, as well as hissing and swatting when contact occurs. Territorial problems often occur when a new cat is brought into a household, when a young kitten reaches maturity, or when a cat encounters neighborhood cats outside. It’s not uncommon for a cat to be territorially aggressive toward one cat in a family, and friendly and tolerant to another.
Intermale Aggression: Adult male cats normally tend to threaten, and sometimes fight with, other males. These behaviors can occur as sexual challenges over a female, or to achieve a relatively high position in the cats’ loosely organized social dominance hierarchy. This type of aggression involves much ritualized body posturing, stalking, staring, yowling and howling. Attacks are usually avoided if one cat “backs down” and walks away. If an attack occurs, the attacker will usually jump forward, directing a bite to the nape of the neck, while the opponent falls to the ground on his back and attempts to bite and scratch the attacker’s belly with his hind legs. The cats may roll around biting and screaming, suddenly stop, resume posturing, fight again or walk away. Cats don’t usually severely injure one another this way, but you should always check for puncture wounds which are prone to infection. Intact males are much more likely to fight in this way than are neutered males.
Defensive Aggression: Defensive aggression occurs when a cat is attempting to protect himself from an attack he believes he cannot escape. This can occur in response to punishment or the threat of punishment from a person, an attack or attempted attack from another cat, or any time he feels threatened or afraid. Defensive postures include crouching with the legs pulled in under the body, laying the ears back, tucking the tail, and possibly rolling slightly to the side. This is not the same as the submissive postures dogs show because it’s not intended to “turn off” an attack from another cat. Continuing to approach a cat that’s in this posture is likely to precipitate an attack.
Redirected Aggression: This type of aggression is directed toward another animal that didn’t initially provoke the behavior. For example, a household cat sitting in the window may see an outdoor cat walk across the front yard. Because he can’t attack the outdoor cat, he may instead turn and attack the other family cat that’s sitting next to him in the window. Redirected aggression can be either offensive or defensive in nature.
What You Can Do
- If your cat’s behavior changes suddenly, your first step should always be to contact your veterinarian for a thorough health examination. Cats often hide symptoms of illness until they’re seriously ill. Any change in behavior may be an early indication of a medical problem.
- Spay or neuter any intact pets in your home. The behavior of one intact animal can affect all of your pets.
- Start the slow introduction process over from the beginning (see “Introducing Your New Cat to Your Other Pets“). You may need professional help from an animal behavior specialist to successfully implement these techniques.
- In extreme cases, consult with your veterinarian about behavior modification techniques or other forms of treatment.
What Not to Do
- If your cats are fighting, don’t allow the fights to continue. Because cats are so territorial, and because they don’t establish firm dominance hierarchies, they won’t be able to “work things out” as dogs sometimes do. The more often cats fight, the worse the problem is likely to become. To stop a fight in progress, make a loud noise, such as blowing a whistle, squirting the cats with water, or throwing something soft at them. Don’t try to pull them apart.
- Prevent future fights. This may mean keeping the cats totally separated from each other while you’re working on the problem, or at least preventing contact between them in situations likely to trigger a fight.
- Don’t try to punish the cats involved. Punishment is likely to elicit further aggression and fearful responses, which will only make the problem worse. If you attempt punishment, you may become a target for redirected and defensive aggression.
Because their social organization is somewhat flexible, some cats are relatively tolerant of sharing their house and territory with multiple cats. It’s not uncommon for a cat to tolerate some cats, but not get along with others in the house. However, the more cats sharing the same territory, the more likely it is that some of your cats will begin fighting with each other.
When you introduce cats to each other, one of them may send “play” signals which can be misinterpreted by the other cat. If those signals are interpreted as aggression by one of the cats, then you should handle the situation as “aggressive.”
The factors that determine how well cats will get along together are not fully understood. Cats that are well-socialized (they had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those that haven’t been around many other cats. On the other hand, “street cats” that are in the habit of fighting with other cats in order to defend their territory and food resources, may not do well in a multi-cat household. Genetic factors also influence a cat’s temperament, so friendly parents are probably more likely to produce friendly offspring.
Cat owners sometimes have difficulty understanding why their cats seem friendly and content one minute and may suddenly bite and scratch them the next. Display of aggressive behaviors are part of the normal behavioral patterns of almost any animal species. Cat bites are seldom reported, but probably occur more frequently than dog bites. Aggressive cats can be dangerous, so attempting to resolve a cat aggression problem often requires assistance from an animal behavior specialist who is knowledgeable about cat behavior.
Types Of Aggression
Play-motivated aggressive behaviors are commonly observed in young, active cats less than two years of age, that live in one-cat households. Play incorporates a variety of behaviors, such as exploratory, investigative and predatory, and provides young cats with opportunities to practice skills they would normally need for survival. For example, kittens like to explore new areas and investigate anything that moves, and may bat at, pounce on, and bite objects that resemble prey.
Playful aggression often occurs when an unsuspecting owner comes down the stairs, steps out of the bathtub, rounds a corner, or even moves under the bedcovers while sleeping. These playful attacks may result in scratches and inhibited bites which don’t break the skin. People sometimes inadvertently initiate aggressive behavior by encouraging their cat to chase or bite at their hands and feet during play. The body postures seen during play aggression resemble the postures a cat would normally show when searching for or catching prey. A cat may freeze in a low crouch before pouncing, twitch her tail, flick her ears back and forth, and/or wrap her front feet around a person’s hands or feet while biting. These are all normal cat behaviors, whether they’re seen during play or are part of an actual predatory sequence. Most play aggression can be successfully redirected to appropriate targets, however, it may still result in injury (see “Managing Your Kitten’s Rough Play“).
“Don’t Pet Me Anymore” Aggression
Some cats will suddenly bite while they’re being petted. This behavior isn’t well understood, even by experienced animal behaviorists. For whatever reason, petting which the cat was previously enjoying, apparently becomes unpleasant. Biting is the cat’s signal that she has had enough petting. Cats vary in how much they’ll tolerate being petted or held. Although people often describe their cats as biting “out of the blue” or without warning, cats do generally give several signals before biting.
You should become more aware of your cat’s body postures, and cease petting or stop any other kind of interaction before a bite occurs. Signals to be aware of include:
- Your cat’s tail beginning to twitch
- Your cat’s ears turning back or flicking back and forth
- Your cat turning or moving her head toward your hand
When you observe any of these signals, it’s time to stop petting your cat immediately and allow her to sit quietly on your lap or go her own way, whichever she prefers. Any kind of physical punishment almost always makes the problem worse, because your cat is more likely to bite either because she is fearful and/or because petting becomes even more unpleasant if it’s associated with punishment.
If you want to try to prolong the amount of time your cat will tolerate petting, use some food rewards. When your cat first begins to show any of the behaviors described above (or even before she does so) offer her a special tidbit of food like a tiny piece of tuna or boiled chicken. At the same time, decrease the intensity of your petting. Continue to lightly pet your cat for a short time period while offering her tidbits. In this way, she’ll come to associate petting with pleasant things and it may help her to enjoy petting for longer time periods. Each time you work with your cat, try to pet her a little longer each time using the food as a reward. Be sure to stop the petting before she shows any aggression. If a display of aggression results in the petting being stopped, then this unacceptable behavior has worked.
Cats that are fearful may display body postures which appear to be similar to canine submissive postures – crouching on the floor, ears back, tail tucked, and possibly rolling slightly to the side. Cats in this posture are not submissive – they’re fearful and defensive and may attack if touched (see “The Fearful Cat“).
Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is aroused into an aggressive response by one person or animal, but then redirects this aggression onto another person or animal. For example, if two family cats have a spat, the losing cat, still aroused, may walk up and attack the family child.
Cats are highly territorial, even more so than dogs, however, they usually only feel the need to defend their territory from other cats. Territorial aggression in cats isn’t commonly directed at people.
What to Do
- Check first with your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for your cat’s aggressive behavior.
- Seek professional help. An aggression problem won’t go away by itself. Working with aggression problems requires in-home help from an animal behavior specialist.
- Take precautions. Your first priority is to keep everyone safe. Supervise, confine and/or restrict your cat’s activities until you can obtain professional help. You’re liable for your cat’s behavior.
What Not to Do
- You should never attempt to handle a fearful or aggressive cat. Cat bites and scratches become infected easily. If you do receive an injury from your cat, clean the wound carefully and contact your physician.
- Punishment won’t help and will only make the problem worse. If the aggression is motivated by fear, punishment will make your cat more fearful, and therefore more aggressive.
All information was taken and adapted with permission from information provided by the Dumb Friends League and the Humane Society of the United States. Copyright Dumb Friends League and Humane Society of the United States. All rights reserved.