Slideshow: Pet Health - Top 10 Behavioral Problems in Cats
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S, Dip ACVIM on Thursday, July 14, 2011
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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
When Cute Cats Become Problems
Those loveable, cuddly kittens sometimes grow up to be loveable, cuddly cats with problems. Do you have a cat that sometimes forgets there's a litter box? Here's a rundown of the top 10 behavior problems that can drive cat owners batty. See what you might be able to do if your cat displays any of these behaviors.
Avoiding the Litter Box
One out of 10 cats develops a litter box problem. Often, it's because the cat prefers a different kind of litter or doesn't like the box. Unscented litter in an uncovered box that's scooped out at least once a day seems to work well for most cats. They also prefer locations where there's not a lot of traffic. Try using more than one box and try different litters. Then watch to see which your cat prefers.
Urine Marking or Spraying
Urine marking is how cats communicate when they're seeking a sexual partner or trying to avoid disputes. Unless it's looking for a mate, a cat typically doesn't spray if it feels secure. But if there's conflict with other cats, multiple cats in the house, or changes in routine, there's more chance it will mark its territory. Having a cat neutered or spayed and addressing what's causing it stress are the first steps to resolving the problem. Cleaning the areas where urine has been sprayed with an enzymatic product will discourage the cat from spraying there again. Plug-in kitty pheromone dispensers may reduce inter-cat conflict and should be used wherever the cat spends a lot of time. Some cats may need anti-anxiety medications, so talk to your veterinarian if the problem persists.
All cats like to scratch. They do it to play, stretch, sharpen claws, and mark territory. Unfortunately, what your cat likes to scratch includes your furniture, carpets, and drapes. Protect your home by placing a variety of scratching posts with different qualities and surfaces around your house. Be sure they are sturdy so they won't fall over when used. Then invite your cat to explore them by scenting them with catnip or hanging toys on them.
When cats play, mock aggression is always a part of it. They pounce, swat, scratch, and bite. Sometimes it's hard to tell if it's a game or real. And, scratches and bites given in jest still hurt. To channel your cat's energy, use toys like balls or a fake mouse for batting. A paper bag can give him hours of pouncing fun. And to protect yourself, never encourage a kitten to play with your hands or feet. Nips become bites as a cat grows up.
Compulsive behavior is repetitive activity that stems from an irresistible urge. It could be otherwise normal behavior, like eating, or abnormal, like wool-sucking. Frustration or stress causes it, but so do some health issues. If your cat behaves compulsively, start with a visit to the vet. Then try to identify and remove any stressors. Enriching your cat's environment with structures she can climb and things like fish tanks to watch can help reduce her stress.
Cats like to have fun and often choose the middle of the night to have it. If your cat gets revved up or hungry at night, here are some things that might help. Play with her in the evening until she tires. Feed her just before bed. Or, try a timed feeder that will dispense food later so she doesn't need to wake you. And, unless you think she's hurt, never respond to her antics. If she gets you up once, she'll only try harder the next time.
Grown cats don't meow at one another. The meow is primarily for humans. Cats use it to say hello, ask for food, or get attention. If your cat seems to meow a lot, check with your vet. It could be a sign of a health problem like an overactive thyroid. If she meows for food, don't feed her when she cries. If she meows for attention, teach her you'll only give it when she's quiet. But don't ignore her meows. She could be telling you there's a problem, such as not being able to get to the litter box or chronic pain.
Cats are actually very social. They can form strong bonds and become anxious when their owner leaves. Signs of anxiety might include vocalizing when left alone, or inappropriately urinating. Ignoring your cat 15 minutes before you leave and after you return can help reduce some of the stress. So can putting out some of her favorite toys and putting them away when you come back. Regular play time may help dissipate your cat's nervous energy and help her rest when left alone. Your vet may also suggest medication to treat the anxiety.
Cats groom for more than hygiene. Grooming also calms them. But sometimes a cat will over-groom, which can result in injury from excessive licking, biting, or other grooming techniques. This is usually an indication of skin irritation or excessive stress. Have your vet check for dermatological problems or parasites first, as these need to be treated. If your cat is grooming too much because of stress, such as a change in routine or a new animal in the house, you can take steps to ease the problem.
An aggressive cat can inflict severe injuries by biting and using its claws. An aggressive cat in the house poses a real danger to everyone there. Real aggression as opposed to play aggression can be identified by a cat's posture. Any sign of aggression - such as a stiff-legged stance and dilated pupils, possibly accompanied by growling - is a signal not to touch or try to reassure or punish the cat. Sometimes fear makes a cat aggressive; other times, there is no apparent cause for aggression. Because living with an aggressive cat is risky, it's important to get professional help in evaluating and dealing with the cat.
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