Cat Behavior - How to Recognize & Change Worrying Cat Behavior

What is the most important thing to know about cat behavior?

There are many important things to know about cat behavior, but the most critical thing to know is that every cat's different. You know your cat better than anybody else, so identifying any changes in your cat's behavior is a significant thing because that may indicate another underlying process that may be going on internally for them. Every cat's different, and in terms of behavior, you are the most pivotal piece in identifying any changes in those behaviors.

Dr. Cason McInturff
Berry Farms Animal Hospital - Cupola Animal Hospital

Is it possible to fix behavior issues in a cat?

Yes, it is possible, and every issue is different. Whether it's inappropriate urination, going outside the litter box, going in inappropriate places in the home, maybe not using the litter box at all, these can be signs of a medical issue internally or behavioral issues.

One way you can help is by making sure there are enough litter boxes in the house. We say that our cats need one additional litter box per number of cats in the house. So if you got two cats at home, you probably need three litter boxes to help benefit their behavior the most. Can we fix behavior issues? We can through simple strategies like that. Now, other things may be a little more challenging where we may even need to talk about medications, environmental enrichment, or de-stressing the environment.

What are some other signs and symptoms of cat behavior problems?

So, they can be many, and again, it depends on your specific cat. The first one may be, is your cat vocalizing differently than they have before? Do they not usually meow but are starting to make different or more frequent noises? Really, the litter box problems are going to be the number one thing that we see. Cats like their smell, and their scent can be comforting to them. They don't like changes in their environment. They often use that not using the litter box as their way of protesting, telling you, "Hey, I don't like how things are," or something else is going on internally. It's not like it should be. So, the litter box is a huge sign that something is wrong.

Scratching behavior is something to note. Have they always scratched on one thing, and now they're starting to scratch on the couch? That behavior would be another thing that you would keep an eye on. If there's more than one cat in the house, how are they getting along? Are they getting along together? Should we take steps to ease some stress in the home? There are pheromones that we can use for multi-cat households. Maybe the cat isn't eating as we have typically seen them eat, and now there is a decrease in their appetite. That can even be an element of behavior or stress in the home. So, there are many different elements or many different types of behavioral issues that we can see.

When should I bring my cat in to see a vet to discuss the behavior?

Great question. So really, I would say as early in the process as possible. Many times, it's imperative for us to diagnose. Is this a medical issue? For example, inappropriate urination—do we have a urinary tract infection? Are there urinary crystals or stones that are starting to affect the cat's behavior? Has stress got into the cat's bladder, and they're not able to pee like they need to? That's something that can be life-threatening and needs immediate attention.

So, the first step is identifying—is this medical versus this behavioral? So the earlier in the process, we can see that and partner with you, really the better. Once we've established that, we can develop a particular plan to attack whatever behavioral issues you see and if this behavior change could affect their overall wellness or wellbeing. Again, if they decide they don't want to eat. Our cats really shouldn't go very long without eating. Don't put off having your cat evaluated. It would be the best thing to do, and the sooner, the better.

What are some other possible health concerns that can arise from cat behavior problems?

So, of course, there are health concerns as they associate with your individual cat. These changes in behavior, they're often attributed to stress, right? That's affecting your overall cat's wellbeing. If it's a multi-cat household, of course, how the cats interact with each other is important. We don't want one cat hurting the other cat. We don't want one cat eating the other cat's food, right? Speaking specifically to the urinary issues, I can't stress how important it is to ensure that we get evaluated to ensure that it is more so a behavioral problem versus a medical problem.

Is there anything else important to know for cats with behavior issues?

Yes, there is. That's like we've talked about; every cat's different. The most significant piece or the biggest nugget we can take from today is that cats like their environment, and cats see changes in their environment as stressful. You can take a cat out of the junkyard and put it in the Ritz, and it'll stress it out, right? Because it's a change in their environment. So you can take them from a worse environment and put them in one that's better, and it can still stress them out.

You, as an owner, are a part of their environment too. So if your routine changes, that can incite some stress and some behavioral issues in our cats. Construction projects are the worst. Construction projects in the home, cats see that as definite stress or change in their behavior. If you're getting a new puppy, that would change that cat's environment and thereby affect their behavior.

So, stress, in general, is a critical element when talking about cat behavior. We can target the behavioral issues and help fix them, but really, being aware of your cat individually and their specific demeanor and minimizing any stressful situations are going to be the best overall for your cat. If we see any problems arise, we can undoubtedly partner together and develop the best way to reduce those or quieten them down.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (615) 224-7776, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.