Behavior problems are the number one reason for feline relinquishment and euthanasia. Sadly, many of the common behavior problems actually are normal cat behaviors – they just don't coincide with living in our homes and with our routines! The best things that you can do for your cats are environmental enrichment i.e., providing personal playtime and toys, decreasing stress, and distinguishing a medical from a behavior problem.
Cat Behaviors – The Big Five
Feline Marking. Underlying social issues within your home can lead to urine marking (spraying). Marking often happens on an owner's possessions, on the other cats' toys, along the walls of the door or windows. Factors that contribute to this marking are arousing situations, disruptions (remodeling or visiting company) within the home, changes in the smell (new cleaning products) of the house, changes in routines and the presence of outdoor cats. First, make sure this is a medical problem (intact males frequently mark) instead of a behavioral problem. Try to correct the disruption. Do not allow access to the area that has been marked (cover with a litter box or aluminum foil). Calm the cat and area with a pheromone spray or diffuser.
Inappropriate Urination. This is most often caused from a medical problem, such as bladder stones, urinary tract infection, arthritis or problems associated with the litter, location or number of litter boxes. Try to determine if anything has changed in your household – new routine, addition of a pet, different litter box or litter? Do you have enough litter boxes (one per cat plus one) and do you clean it every day?
Inter-cat Aggression. Introducing a new cat to an existing cat in the home, an existing cat's illness, fear, anxiety and territorial responses all contribute to inter-cat aggression. In general, kittens and younger cats are easier to introduce than adult cats. Introduce two cats slowly and make sure there are several food and water bowls, scratching posts and litter boxes throughout the house. Utilize vertical surfaces so that a cat can climb to different height levels for safety. Place a collar with a bell on the bully cat to warn the one that is being bullied.
Play Aggression. Usually during play aggression, cats inhibit their bites, swat with retracted claws and there is no vocalization. Cats need to play; this is normal behavior! Owners should not engage in rough play or "tug-of war" games. Most cats enjoy wand and teaser toys or things they can chase around the room. A favorite window to see the outside world, scratching posts, enrichment toys (puzzle toys with hidden food) and scented toys make it an enjoyable play-time for both owner and cat.
Redirected Aggression. Redirected aggression occurs when a cat is stimulated to a heightened state of arousal and directs that aggression to a person or animal that was not the cause. This is very dangerous. Male cats are more likely to show this type of aggression. Triggers that can cause this arousal include the sight or sound of another cat, unusual noises, odors of other animals, and unfamiliar people or environments. Remove the cat's access to the stimuli. Isolate the cat immediately and try to learn what triggers this behavior.
Let's first determine if the behavior is caused by a medical problem. There are times when behavior can be altered with pheromone sprays or diffusers, desensitization, counter conditioning and, in some cases, behavior drugs. When all else fails, visit American College of Veterinary Behaviorists to find a Diplomate of the ACVB. Don't give up.