Tips from Cat Behaviorists on How to Solve Common Issues

Approximately 3.2 million cats are surrendered to shelters annually and shockingly about 360,000 shelter cats are euthanized each year. According to the ASPCAís National Rehoming Survey, pet problems are the most common reason that owners re-home their pet. These problems are defined as problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, grew larger than expected or health problems owner couldnít handle.

Following are tips from behavioral experts on how to resolve some of the most common behavioral issues with household cats.

Refusing to use the Litter Box

According to Cats International, a nonprofit educational organization founded by Cat Behaviorist Betsy Lipscomb, 90 percent of litter box problems are caused by owners not understanding a catís needs. The nonprofit offers the following guidelines for preventing litter box problems:

  • The single most common reason for a catís refusal to use a litter box is because the box is dirty. Scoop the box and change the litter daily. Wash the box when soiled.
  • Provide one litter box per cat, plus one. Extra litter boxes are necessary because some cats like to defecate in one and urinate in another. Also, some cats will not use a box that has already been used by another cat.
  • Choose an open litter box. Many cats donít like being confined inside a litter box while others are turned off by odors that are trapped inside a covered litter box.
  • Most cats prefer the texture of the sand-like clumping litter. Select a brand with no dust and one that clumps into a firm ball to make scooping easier and cleaner. As a health precaution for kittens that might be prone to ingest the litter, use a non-clumping litter until the kitten is older than four months.
  • Never use scented litter because perfumed chemical scents can repel cats.
  • Place litter boxes in quiet, private places that are easily accessible to the cat.

Scratching Furniture

Many people feel that declawing a cat is the only way to protect their furniture. They donít understand that declawing is a serious surgery that involves the amputation of the last joint of each toe. Instead of solving one problem, declawing can create even more issues. Declawed cats may become shy and fearful and avoid the litter box because it hurts to step on the litter.

In the more than 20 years of behavioral counseling, Cats International has never had a destructive scratching problem that couldnít be solved. Here are tips for Cats International behaviorists on managing a catís natural instinct so that everyone is happy:

  • Every home with a cat should have at least two cat-appealing scratching posts in high-traffic areas. Cats International provides an article on How to Build a Scratching Post that appeals to cats.
  • Place the scratching post in front of the furniture or the off-limits area where your cat is scratching. Show him or her the post by scratching your nails on the post to get him interested. Donít physically take the cats paws and hold them to the post. †It must be the catís choice to use the post, it canít be forced.
  • Praise the cat every time he or she uses the post.


Aggression in Multi-cat Households

Cats are a territorial species, according to feline experts at the ASPCA. Two unrelated males or two unrelated females may have a particularly hard time sharing space. The ASPCA offers the following suggestions for managing cats:

  • Cats donít resolve their issues through fighting. Interrupt aggression with a loud clap of your hands or spray from a water gun.
  • Neuter the cats. Intact males are particularly prone to aggressive behavior.
  • Reduce competition between the cats by providing multiple, identical food bowls, beds and litter boxes in different areas of your house.
  • Provide additional perches. More hiding spots and perches will allow your cats to space themselves out as they prefer.
  • Donít try to calm or soothe your aggressive cat, just leave him or her alone.
  • Reward desired behavior. Praise or toss treats to reward your cats when you see them interacting in a friendly manner.
  • Try pheromones. You can purchase a product that mimics a natural cat odor that may reduce tensions.

Urine Marking

Urine marking isnít a litterbox problem, itís a form of indirect communication used by cats,†according to behavioral experts at the ASPCA. Urine marks are usually deposited on vertical surfaces and have a pungent smell. Here are some tips from ASPCA experts on treating urine marking:

  • If urine marking is being done by an unneutered cat it could be an advertisement for a mate. Having your cat fixed is a proven treatment for cats who spray for this reason.
  • In a multi-cat household, you will need to determine which cat is marking. Speak with your veterinarian about giving fluorescein, a pet-safe dye, that causes urine to glow blue under ultraviolet light. Another option is to temporarily confine your cats, one at a time, to determine which one is marking.
  • Make sure the cat who is marking doesnít have a medical issue as physical problems can lead to increased stress which in turn can lead to marking.
  • Provide enough litter boxes to avoid conflict that can contribute to marking.†Place litter boxes in low-traffic areas with at least two exit routes and scoop at least once a day.
  • Provide multiple perching areas and multiple sources of food, water, scratching posts and toys.
  • Increased play with individual cats in different areas of your home can sometimes reduce conflict.
  • Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors.
  • Use a synthetic cat pheromone in areas where the cat has marked as this may help relieve stress in cats.

While many behaviors are completely natural for cats, some pet parents might find them challenging. The ASPCA provides guidance on how to find professional behavioral help.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

natasha p
Past Member 6 months ago


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill6 months ago


Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride8 months ago


HEIKKI R8 months ago

thank you

Elaine W
Elaine W8 months ago

Some very good advice. Thanks ;)

candy peters
candy peters8 months ago

We are going to make the cat scratching post ...thanks

Marigold A
Past Member 8 months ago

Excellent article, Vera! Lots of common sense solutions.

Richard B
Past Member 8 months ago

thank you

Vance E
Vance Edwards8 months ago

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