Dr Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS.
We all love sharing our lives with a feline friend, don’t we? But sometimes, the reality of sharing our homes with them isn’t so perfect. From ripped wallpaper to soiled carpets, it’s not always a harmonious co-existence.
So, let’s find out about three of the most common cat behaviour problems and what you can do to help.
Cats love to scratch. It’s a very natural behaviour for them and is a way of scent marking. It’s also a bit like yoga for cats, allowing them to stretch their muscles and stay flexible. That’s all very well, but no one wants their antique chair scratched to pieces or their brand-new rug torn to shreds. Sadly, for many cat owners (or should I say people owned by cats!), damage to the home from unwanted scratching is a part of life. However, it doesn’t need to be! Let’s find out how we can help reduce unwanted scratching.
If your cat is scratching things that you wish they wouldn’t, try to provide them with a variety of materials that you want them to scratch. Remember that cats like to stretch, so scratch mats, posts, and cat trees are important. These should be in multiple locations around the house, and if you have more than one cat, you should make sure you have enough scratch posts, trees, and mats to go around. If you’ve invested in lots of cat paraphernalia, but your cat still prefers to scratch your favourite curtains, try using a pheromone spray or catnip to attract their attention to the places you want them to scratch.
Peeing outside the litter tray
Do you find wet patches behind the TV or in your clean laundry pile? Or perhaps your cat regularly pees in the bath or urinates near the litter tray but not in it? It’s infuriating, but what does it mean? Well, inappropriate urination can be caused by a few different things. It could be that your cat is stressed by a change in routine or their environment. New babies, new pets, nearby building work, or a new tom cat in the area are all things that could stress your feline friend. Aside from stress, another possible cause of inappropriate urination is a urinary tract infection or cystitis. It could also mean that your cat has bladder stones. Before assuming that your cat’s problem is behavioural, it’s worth speaking to your veterinarian to check for a medical reason.
If your veterinarian confirms that your cat’s inappropriate peeing is behavioural, there are a few things you can try. Firstly, ensure that you have enough litter trays around the house. A good rule of thumb is to have one litter tray per cat plus one extra. You can experiment with types of litter trays to see if your cat prefers the privacy of an enclosed litter box or the ease of a standard tray. It’s also worth trialling different types of cat litter to see if your cat has a preference, and you should always keep the litter trays clean. On the other hand, it’s important not to use strong-smelling chemicals to clean your cat’s litter trays because a strong chemical smell will put them off. If you think that your cat might be stressed, you can try using calming or anti-anxiety sprays and diffusers or speak to a qualified veterinary behaviourist.
If your cat is overgrooming, you might notice tufts of hair where they’ve been hiding, or you might see them literally tearing their hair out. Sometimes, though, the only sign of overgrooming is thinning fur or bald spots, often on their belly or inner thighs. Overgrooming can be due to stress and anxiety, but there are also medical causes, including allergies and skin infections. Therefore, it’s worth arranging for your cat to have a check-up with the vet before you try to manage it at home.
If your veterinarian agrees that the cause of your cat’s overgrooming is stress-related, you might be able to identify the cause. If you’ve recently moved furniture around and their bed is in a different place, or you’ve brought a new baby home, and you know that your cat doesn’t have their own quiet space anymore, it might be easy to fix. However, if the problem isn’t easy to solve, you might find an anti-anxiety spray, plug-in, or diffuser useful. It’s also a good idea to create a calm, safe environment where your cat feels secure. A crate or hidey-hole can be great at making your feline friend feel less anxious.
Cats are great cuddle-buddies, but they don’t always seem like the most courteous housemates! However, if your cat is behaving in a destructive or infuriating way, it’s important to remember that they could be feeling stressed or anxious, or there might be another medical reason. Whatever the cause, with the proper veterinary support, you should be able to restore the harmony in your home.