How to Curb 6 Annoying Cat Behaviors

We love our cats unconditionally, sometimes in spite of certain habits that leave us scratched up, bleary-eyed and without presentable furniture. As much as we love them, though, we sometimes wish we could eliminate their less appealing behavior — so we've identified six common "bad cat habits" and determined what causes them — and how you may be able to fix them.

Clawing at furniture, chewing on plastic, jumping onto counters and peeing outside the litterbox are complaints we often receive from frustrated cat owners. You might be surprised to learn that some of these behaviors can be easily corrected with training, though others might indicate an underlying medical problem that your veterinarian needs to check out — and at least one of them might be your fault not your cat's. Read on for our analysis and advice, and letus know in the comments if you've had to address any of these issues!

How to Break 6 Common Bad Cat Habits

Bad Cat Habits Cat on Counter


Jumping Onto Tables and Counters

Though some of us don't mind this behavior, many cat owners prefer to keep their cooking spaces free of cat fur and curious paws. And even if you don't object to it for sanitary reasons, you wouldn't want your cat to get into any food that could be toxic to her.

So what's a cat owner to do? Because climbing and exploring high spaces comes naturally to felines, you will need to replace the appeal of the counter with acceptable climbing surfaces that are more fun to your cat. Invest in a cat tree or window perch with fun toys and perhaps an exciting view of birds outside. We also recommend you cover your counters with aluminum foil (a sensation cats don't like). The idea is to make your kitty's new, cat-friendly perches more appealing than the boring old counter.

Bad Cat Habits Scratching Furniture


Clawing at Furniture

Has your cat sent too many couch cushions to the furniture graveyard? Scratching, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung explains, is important to cats for a whole host of reasons: It helps them stretch their muscles, leave visual and scent markers, and shed their outer nail sheaths.

The approach to curbing this behavior is similar to the solution to the countertop problem: Redirect the behavior rather than trying to stop it completely. Cover your furniture with double-sided tape to discourage clawing and give your cat better options for scratching — like a fun horizontal or vertical scratching post. And, most importantly, reward her with treats and praise her for using it!

Bad Cat Habits Litterbox


Peeing Outside the Litterbox

You know how we talked earlier about how some "bad cat habits" can be related to training, while others actually may involve an underlying medical problem? Eliminating outside the litterbox is one of those that falls firmly into the "your veterinarian needs to check this out" category. Recurring accidents, urine spraying on furniture and peeing on your bed are all problems that call for a vet visit. Immediately.

Friends may tell you that your cat is just being "spiteful" when she potties where she shouldn't, but chances are there is something more serious going on. Plenty of medical conditions can cause your cat not to use her litterbox, including kidney failure, bladder infection or other urinary tract problems, diabetes and arthritis. The best thing you can do as a responsible cat owner is to tell your vet what's going on and have her check it out.

Bad Cat Habits Scratching and Biting


Biting and Scratching During Play

There's nothing fun about being bitten or scratched by your cat. But what if we said that you, the owner, might be more than a little responsible for this problem? You're playing a game with your cat, maybe roughhousing with your hands a little, getting her all excited, and then the claws and teeth come out. It's not uncommon — in fact, this is one of the top three problems that trainer Mikkel Becker says she sees in cats.

Many people assume that jerking away when a cat scratches or bites will put a stop to the nipping and clawing, but it actually reinforces the behavior, because it's the response that live prey would give in the wild. The solution is pretty simple: Stop using your hands to wrestle with your cat and redirect that instinct toward feather or motorized toys. That way, your cat can still play in a way that's natural to her — and you don't have to bear the scars of it. If the aggression continues, talk to your veterinarian.

Bad Cat Habits Chewing Material


Chewing Plastic and Other Weird Things

You may think of chewing plastic (and a related behavior, sucking on blankets) as just a weird kitty quirk, but the truth is, it could signal an underlying medical issue. Chewing on or eating nonfood items is a behavior known as pica — and can result from things like dental disease, gastrointestinal disorders and anxiety. If your cat makes a habit of chewing plastic or sucking on fabrics, bring it up to your veterinarian.

Bad Cat Habits Crying at Night


Crying at Night

Oh, this is a big one! If we had a nickel for every time someone asked us, "How can I get my cat to sleep later?" or "Why does my cat wake me up at night?" Well, let's just say we could afford a lot of cat toys. Felines' sleep-wake cycles are naturally at odds with ours, because they're based on the cat's natural hunting instincts, with the most active parts of the day being between dusk and dawn. Before we dive into any training solutions, though, remember that crying at night can be a sign of anxiety, dementia or disorientation. So if you suspect that's what's going on, talk with your vet.

Once you have a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, there are a few things you can do. If your cat is sleeping all day, it's no wonder she has energy to burn at night! Tire her out during your waking hours with food puzzles, simulated hunts, active play and even walks on leash. Another tip: Don't give your cat attention when she wakes you. Keep in mind that yelling at her is still attention — negative attention, but attention all the same. So your best bet is to not react at all. For even more advice, check out Mikkel Becker's helpful article on this issue.

More on Vetstreet:


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!