How to Break a Cat's Bad Habits

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Pick up or prevent your cat's access to materials she chews.
Pick up or prevent your cat's access to materials she chews. (Image: Jakov Cordina/iStock/Getty Images)

Removing the causes of the bad habits and reducing stress in your cat's life helps to discourage her annoying or concerning behavior. Make sure your vet has first ruled out illness. Bad habits in cats include soiling outside the litter box, spraying urine, aggression and scratching furniture. Cat owners also may be concerned about wool sucking and overgrooming. Medical problems can make cats develop bad habits. A vet always should see a cat who changes her behavior. Don't punish a cat with bad habits. Shouting at or hitting a cat is abusive. The cat is unlikely to understand or respond to punishments.

Soiling Outside the Litter Box

When a cat urinates or defecates in the home but outside her litter box she may be sick or she may dislike using the box. Medical problems such as inflammation of the urinary system or colon can make elimination painful and increase urgency. Take your cat to the vet for a checkup if she soils outside her litter box. If illness isn't the problem, your cat may be avoiding her litter box because it smells or she dislikes the texture or scent of the litter. Scoop and refresh your cat's litter box every day; try unscented litter with a different texture. The Cornell Feline Health Center advises that a cover on a litter box concentrates the smell, and that high-sided litter boxes can be troublesome for a kitten or an elderly cat.

Urine Spraying

Preventing a cat from spraying involves removing the triggers of the behavior. A cat who regularly sprays a small amount of urine on a vertical surface probably is marking his territory. Neutering or spaying your cat may solve the problem, though a small percentage of neutered or spayed cats continue to spray. Wash sprayed areas with a commercial neutralizing solution to discourage your cat from spraying the area again, and prevent strange cats from entering your cat's territory, such as your garden. If you can't keep other cats out of your garden, prevent your cat from seeing intruders by closing the blinds or drapes. Spraying is more likely in multiple cat homes.

Destructive Scratching

Scratching is normal and healthy in cats, but you can prevent your cat from scratching your furniture or other valued objects by encouraging her to use a suitable alternative. Cover valuable objects with plastic sheeting or spray them with pet deterrent spray or mothball spray, and provide your cat with a scratching post. Buy a commercial scratching post at least 3 feet tall or make your own from a narrow plank securely and safely nailed to a heavy base. Cover the plank in rough material such as burlap, and place the post in a prominent location near where your cat usually scratches.

Aggressive Behavior

Playing can reduce aggression in young cats, and gradual introductions reduce fighting between unfamiliar cats. Young cats love to play. If your cat doesn't have another cat to play with, keep her entertained with toys such as feathers on a string or pingpong balls. If the aggression is between cats who are new to each other or who have had a prolonged separation, keep the cats apart and slowly re-introduce them for short periods while providing a positive experience such as a treat. In severe cases of aggression, a cat behavior specialist can offer training advice.

Wool Sucking and Overgrooming

Enriched environments, exercise, diet and regular routines reduce habits such as wool sucking and overgrooming. Wool sucking is a term for excessive mouthing and chewing cloths and other soft or hard materials. Cats who overgroom create bald and sometimes sore, painful patches of skin. Take a cat who suffers from either of these conditions to see a vet as illness or pests could be the cause. If the cause is psychological, improve your cat's environment with things such as a climbing frame, fish tank -- fitted with a secure lid -- and a daily rotation of cat toys. Providing a range of food stations or a commercial food puzzle also helps stimulate your cat's mind. Play with her for at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. Feed her a high-fiber dry food diet to prolong feeding time. Stick to a regular routine to help keep her calm.

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