Is your cat urinating outside the box, fighting with other cats, scratching at things inappropriately, or doing something else undesirable? Are you curious about why your cat does some of the things he does, like purring? Learn all about cat behavior in our cat behavior guide!

Litter Box Problems

Why do cats refuse to use the litter box sometimes?

Cat behavior is very complex.  First, take your cat to the veterinarian to have his urine or stool checked, in case there is a medical problem going on. If not, your vet can help you figure out what you need to do to solve the problem. Common causes are marking behaviors, interference by humans or other cats, and problems with the litter box system.

I moved the litter box. Now my cat won't use it even though I showed him where it is!

Before moving the current box to a new location, put a second box where you want it to be long-term.   As soon as the cat is comfortable using BOTH boxes, try removing the first one.  Another option is to move the current box literally one foot at a time until it is in the new location.  Hopefully, the cat will follow the box!

  • Precious Cat Ultra Litter Attractant
    • An herbal scent  will help him find the litter box, and want to use it
  • Natures Miracle Calming Spray
    • Can be sprayed around the litter box areas and helps cats remain calm in tense situations
  • Feliway
    • Mimics a cat's natural facial pheromones, which are used to mark something as being safe and secure, and therefore reduces the urge and desire to mark with urine.

My cat won't use the litter box more than once without me cleaning it in between!

One box per cat, plus one is the rule!  This means a minimum of two boxes for one cat or 11 boxes for 10 cats.  This way the cat is more likely to always have a clean box. Clean the boxes twice daily for optimum cleanliness throughout the day.

My cat goes in the box but urinates and defecates with his tail end sticking over the edge so he misses the litter!

The litter box needs to be as big and deep as possible!  Everything you read here is based on research by feline behaviorists.  Cats prefer a lot of space so they can choose a new site each time, because they are very clean animals.  They also need a box that is at least 1  1/2 times the length of their body.  Sometimes, adding a cover helps but the box still needs to be BIG.

  • Pet Supermarket IRIS open top litter box
  • Pureness Giant Cat Litter Pan
    • The length of these extra large pans should be one and one-half times the length of the cat
  • HomeDepot, Lowes, or other hardware store large plastic storage containers
    • Place lid behind the box to protect the wall, and cut an opening for your cat to enter and exit
  • Walmart child’s small plastic swimming pool
    • This may seem excessive but cats love the huge space.  Perfect for multi-cat households             

How can I stop my cat from urinating or defecating right next to the litter box on the carpet!?

Put the litter box on a tile, concrete or wood floor, preferably as far away from carpet or rugs as possible.  If carpet is the only option, then place a large piece of plastic under the box so no litter can spill on the carpet, which can lead to cats eliminating on the carpet! (surface preference)

  • Purr-Fect Paws Cat Litter Mat
    • A commercially available mat to put under the box

What can I do if my cat doesn't use the box with a cover but I want the box covered?

This is a matter of preference for the cat. Most cats prefer open.  The larger and more secluded the covered box, the more likely your cat will use it.  Also try a box that is open on both ends, so your cat won't feel trapped inside.

  • Catit Jumbo Hooded cat litter pan
  • Booda Dome Cleanstep Cat Box
  • Litter hiding furniture
    • Instead of a box with a plastic lid, many manufacturers make furniture you can place a litter box inside, providing your cat with more room. The advantage of a covered box is that some of them are  designed to look like furniture so they are less obvious to visitors 

I bought the most expensive cat litter at the store and my cat doesn't like it!

Studies have shown that most cats prefer litter that clumps and is the consistency of sand, with no special scents.  Remember; in the wild they use mostly soil.  There are also clay, granular, recycled paper, silica beads, grain based, garden soil and other types available to try if your cat doesn't like sand.

  • Lowes playground sand or construction sand
    • These products can be more economical for multi-cat households, especially if you are using a small swimming pool as a litter box.
  • Precious Cat Ultra Premium Clumping Cat Litter
  • Tidy Cats Cat Litter Clumping
    • Available in pet stores, online and in grocery stores, both of these commercial litter brands have the ability to clump urine into easy to clean balls for scooping

One of my cats seems to be afraid to go into the nice, secluded room at the end of the hallway where I put the litter boxes. What can I do?

Location is everything!  Cats prefer a quiet, safe, private place to potty, just like we do.  However, this one cat may have been interrupted or frightened by noise or activity near the box or in the hallway.  Sometimes, hallways create an easy way for aggressive cats to "ambush" other cats on the way to the potty!  Two entrances and exits to the room where the box is located is ideal if you have multiple cats.  You may have to have another box somewhere for this cat or see your vet for anti-anxiety medication.

  • Age Pet Loo Litter Box Cover and End Table
    • This designer litter Box enclosure looks nice enough to sit in your living or dining room if your house has an open floor plan. 

I scoop the litter box every day, but my cat still won't use it every time!

Some cats need their boxes cleaned after each use, for others once a day is fine.  After each use is impossible for most of us, so rely on larger, and multiple boxes depending on your schedule, the number of cats you have, and how fastidious your cat is.  Most cats want a clean site every time they go!

  • Omega Paw Self-Cleaning Litter Box
  • PetSafe Simply Clean Continuous Clean Litter Box
    • Automatic self cleaning litter boxes clean the box after each use; however, some cats require special training to use them.  Make sure the manufacturer includes instructions with the product. 

What should I do if my cat goes on my rug instead of the litter box?

Confine your cat to a small room without carpeting with a large, clean litter box.  This is not punishment, just to deny access to the inappropriate site and encourage use of the box, until you can find a solution for the problem.

How do I make sure he doesn't do it again in the same place?

Clean and deodorize the inappropriate site, cover it with plastic or block access.  Keep the cat in confinement until she/he is using the box regularly.  Allow the cat out under supervision until you are sure he will not go back to the inappropriate site.  Cats can smell where they have been before, and can develop a location preference for a certain site.

  • Ammonia free cleaners,  Natures Miracle Urine Destroyer
    • Good for tile and wood
  • Chlorine Cleaners
    • Best for concrete
  •  Whisk Enzyme based laundry detergent
  • Lowes Capture Carpet Stain Remover and Deodorizer
    • For rugs and carpeting
  • Doggone Pet Products Black light
    • A black light can detect urine that may be difficult to find otherwise 

My cat uses the litter box but never covers up his mess. Do I need to try a different litter?

That is a good idea! Try putting out several choices of litters to see if there is one he prefers.  May sure the boxes are big enough and clean at all times.  If none of this works, he may simply be a cat who feels no need to cover.

Can my vet prescribe a medication that will make my cat always use the litter box?

We wish it were that easy!  If your cat is eliminating outside the box because of anxiety, medication can be very helpful.  That is why it is important to consult with your veterinarian.  He or she has special training in cat behavior.

  • AAFP
    • The American Association of Feline Practitioners Website is  an excellent source of additional information for cat owners

My cat is peeing on the wall by my front door. Why would he do this?

When cats, male or female, urinate up against a vertical surface, it is usually a sign of territorial marking or "spraying".  It is natural for cats to do this to distribute their own scent as a means of communication.  Intact males will do this almost 100% of the time which is why most people will not keep an intact male cat in the house.  Neutered male and female cats can begin urine marking as a result of any change in the household.  Introduction of a new item (i.e., furniture, human or animal), reorganization of current items (redecorating), or introducing the cat to a new environment (the garage) all can trigger marking behaviors.  Some cats will mark if they see a strange cat through the window. Marking is most common in multi-cat households.  The key to making the marking stop is to determine the cause.  If it is an outdoor cat, then you must make sure your indoor cat cannot see, smell or hear any cats outside.  The marking cat needs to feel safe and secure with appropriate places to eat, sleep and play.  Reduce stress; try anti-anxiety medications, and pheromone therapy.  Never use punishment---this will make the behavior worse!!

Socialization and Fear Issues

How can I get my new cat to stop hiding all the time?

Cats need time to adjust to a new environment.  Restrict the cat to one room of the house at first, with the food, water, litter box, treats and toys all inside.  If cat seems very anxious, you can use special "calming" products.   

  • Feliway
    • Feliway is a synthetic analog of feline facial pheromones available in plug- in diffusers and sprays that helps to calm the anxious cat. You can plug the diffuser in to affect a whole room or use the spray on local areas like bedding.
  • Pet Naturals Calming treats for cats
    • Treats can be offered during any potentially fearful event.

My "scaredy" cat is always hiding when I have guests. They don't even know I have a cat unless I tell them! What can I do to make my cat more sociable?

These types of cats usually were not socialized to many different people when they were young, so it will take some time with adult cats.  You can start with one person at a time, who will join the cat in a quiet room to feed and pet it twice a day. When the cat is comfortable with the first person, then go to the next one.  Give the cat treats every time it comes out of hiding.  Let the cat approach the humans, not the other way around. Your vet can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to make the process go faster.

Hyperactivity and Boredom

My cat is so hyper she is driving me crazy and won't let me sleep at night!

Try taking your cat for a walk or giving her lots of engaging play time, especially right before you go to bed!  The only safe way is on a leash with a special cat harness.  Introduce your cat to the outdoors one step at a time, using lots of treats until she is comfortable.  Some cats will enjoy this and others will prefer to stay indoors.  If successful, this will help burn off some of that extra energy.  Cats are naturally nocturnal, so you may have to keep your cat out of your bedroom at night.  Be sure to provide lots of toys and treats to occupy your cat while you are sleeping.

  • Coastal Pet Black Mesh Cat Harness
  • Kitty Holster Cat Harness
  • Savvy Tabby Nylon Cat Harness
    • These harnesses keep your cat securely attached to the leash outdoors, never rely on just a collar!

My cat seems to be very lonely when I am gone, should I get him another cat to play with?

First, determine if your cat really IS lonely.  Lonely cats will tend to pace and howl near the front door when you are gone. They won't eat and may eliminate inappropriately. You may need to sneak back home or enlist the help of a neighbor or video camera to spy on your cat.  If he is sleeping comfortably in a chair, he probably doesn't have separation anxiety.  The younger and more playful a cat is, the more likely he will enjoy another cat's company. But, sometimes getting another cat "backfires" and causes more problems because your cat really doesn't want to share you or his environment.

How do I get my cat to exercise when I am not home?

Some cats keep themselves busy, but most will sleep all day!  You can hide treats for your cat to search and find. Your cat may play with other pets in the house, but if not, you can encourage play with electronic toys.  This will help make your cat less attention-seeking when you are home!

  • Cats Meow Moving undercover mouse electronic cat toy
  • Ideas in Life rotating mouse kitten toy
  •  Smart Cat Peek and play toy box
  • Catit Treat Ball
  • Bergan turbo track cat toy
  • Kitty City pouncing paws motorized cat toy
  • One Fast Cat  exercise wheel
    • A great way for your cat to exercise indoors, but will require some training


Behavior Facts and Trivia

Why do cats purr?

It is believed that purring starts out as a form of communication between the mother cat and her newborn and deaf kittens.  After weaning, purring continues in hearing cats for the same reason.  Cats purr to communicate with us as well.  They will purr when in pain, nervous or when happy and content.

My cat will only drink water when I turn on the faucet. Anytime I go near the sink she starts meowing like crazy and demanding I turn it on. This needs to stop!

The bad news is, once a cat discovers the joy of running tap water, it is a hard habit to break.  Best to never even start!  Now that your cat has become addicted, the first step is to NEVER turn on the water for her again.  Keep a shaker can, air horn or water pistol near every sink to use when the cat jumps up there.  Lastly, you can provide your cat with her own running water fountain to drink out of.   

Why does my cat meow at me all the time?

Cats in the wild do not meow to communicate, except between mothers and their kittens.  Meowing is a behavior cats learn from humans.  They quickly learn that when they meow, we come a-running to give them attention.  Cats are very smart!  If the meowing is annoying, then try to ignore the cat when he meows and pay attention to him only when he is quiet.

Cat Aggression

My cat "nibbles” on me to get my attention and sometimes bites too hard!

Nibbling like this is considered "play aggression." Cats may bite when they are declawed, bored or over-stimulated.  Ignore your cat when he wants to play too roughly, and re-direct his aggression towards toys or treats.  Try to only pet him when he is calm and behaving.

Why does my cat turn and bite my arm when I pet my cat near her tail or on her belly?

Petting aggression is quite common and usually not related to a medical condition.  Some cats simply cannot tolerate being petted in certain areas of their body for longer than a certain period of time because their skin is so sensitive it actually becomes unpleasant for them.  The safest place to pet a cat is on its head!  The other trick to watch for signs the cat is getting an overdose of petting, like a twitching tail or ears laid back. Stop before the cat bites!

How can I prevent my current cats from hissing and attacking my new cat?

Keep the new cat isolated in a "safe" room at first, and only allow the resident cats to smell the new cat under a door or see the cat through glass.   Provide as much human attention to the resident cats as possible!  When the residents appears to be relaxed with the barriers in place,  you can gradually allow the newcomer to explore the rest of the house, use other litter boxes and meet other pets, under your direct supervision, until everyone is comfortable with each other.

  • Vetri Science Composure Feline Chews or  NaturVet Quiet Moments
    •  Treats will encourage cats to be more social with each other.  Have a "treat party" when the cats encounter each other, turning a potentially negative situation into a positive one.  

One of my cats is a bully, constantly beating up on my other cat. What can I do?

It sounds strange, but usually it is a lack of self-confidence that makes one cat the target of a bully.  Your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medication for the victim. The victim should have a safe room to go in to get away from the other cat. You can facilitate positive interactions between the two cats by having a "treat party" when the cats are together, under your supervision. 

When I first come home, my cat attacks me and starts biting my feet, legs and hands, and it hurts!

This is called play aggression. Cats love to stalk, chase, and pounce. Your cat has had no one to play with all day so you are the perfect solution to his boredom when you arrive at home! Keep a hand held toy right by the door to grab when you walk in, to redirect your cat away from your body parts. You can drag a toy with a small rope (cats might ingest string) while you get settled in.  Wait until your cat calms down and then offer treats.  

  • Laser pointer
  • Cat Dancer 301 Cat Charmer
  • Go Cat Catcher Teaser Wand with Mouse Cat Toy
  • MYLAR Crinkle Balls

My friend brought her dog to visit and my cat attacked it and chased it across the house! What can I do?

This could be true territorial aggression or due to fear of the visiting dog.  Some cats attack visiting humans as well, so it is a good idea to keep the cat separated or confined in a harness and leash when visitors are expected.  Try giving the cat food or treats only when visitors are around.  Anti-anxiety medications and Feliway diffusers may help. 

Licking, Chewing, and Eating Issues

My cat is licking off all of her fur. Is this a sign of anxiety?

We used to think that "overgrooming" was always a sign of anxiety.  Have your cat examined by the vet to see if she has fleas, allergies, a skin infection or some other medical reason for this.  If she appears normal, then anti-anxiety medication can be tried.

My cat eats my jewelry, gets into the trash, eats my chapstick, chews on electrical cords and even swallowed a bread tie!

Cats are known to develop odd obsessions with certain objects or food, anything from newsprint to marshmallows, shoes, packing tape, photographs, bananas, bleach, popcorn, stuffed animals--you name it!   They may be a lot like humans with these behaviors.  The important thing is to not allow access to anything potentially harmful, and provide your cat appropriate things to chew like chew toys, rawhide, cat grass, toys with food inside or cat nip.  

Is it normal for my cat to lick and sometimes chew on my hair?

Consider this a compliment!  Cats will often groom each other as a sign of friendship (allogrooming). Unfortunately, we don't all appreciate our cat's hairstyling talents.  You may need to redirect your cat to sit on your lap or engage in play instead.

My cat sucks holes in my blankets and sometimes tries to suck on me. Was he weaned too early from his mother?

Sucking is a self-soothing behavior and normal in kittens, but in adult cats may be an Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Fabrics, especially wool, are usually the attraction.   It can also be an attention-seeking behavior. Try denying access to the offending items and provide alternative outlets such as chew toys, rawhide, catnip, herbs, toys with food inside, etc.  When the cat tries to suck on you, redirect by removing him from the situation, do not punish!  Sometimes medications are needed to resolve this behavior.

Clawing and Scratching

Help! My cat is tearing up my furniture!

Your cat needs an appropriate place to scratch as well as to climb and explore.   Cat condos help deter your cat from climbing on the furniture.  They often include places to hide, and scratch as well.  A natural wood fire log or an old wicker chair can also be great for scratching.   Try to find something your cat prefers over the couch!

  • Bergan turbo scratcher cat toy or KONG naturals Incline Scratcher Toy
    • These are designed to attract your cat to scratch
  • Cat Tree Scratcher Play House Condo or SmartCat multilevel cat climber
    • Put these in front of an uncovered window and your cats will love them!

My cat is destroying my house! Should I get him declawed?

Declawing is a last resort.  You can train your cat (lots of treats, again!) to allow you to trim his nails or apply nail caps to his claws at home.  Your vet or groomer can show you how. Keep your cat busy with interactive play when you are home and motorized toys when you are gone;  even try taking him for a walk outside to wear him out!  (see topics above for toy and play ideas)

  •  JW Pet Company Deluxe Nail Trimmer for Cats
    • For trimming nails at home
  • Soft Paws or Soft Claws Nail Caps
    • An alternative to declawing.  You can put these on at home.

I simply have to get my elderly mother's kitten declawed. Her skin is so thin it tears easily and she will never be able to maintain soft paws or train him much herself. She lives alone and needs a companion. Is laser declawing better?

Lasers are a way of cutting the skin and stopping bleeding at the same time, which makes them a little better than a scalpel for this surgery; however, it really depends on the skill of the surgeon.   An excellent surgeon can make a small incision, with minimal bleeding, and perform the surgery properly for quick healing and no complications with a scalpel or a laser.  Possible complications or mistakes include infections, bleeding, cut footpads and nails actually growing back.  Do some research when choosing a surgeon for this procedure.  Lastly, most  kittens will be running around the house the next day, but older cats will need a couple of weeks.  All cats should receive pain medicine after.

Traveling and Moving

How do I take my cat in the car without him yowling the whole time?

Cats are not small dogs. They get very anxious when removed from their familiar environment.  If you want your cat to be a good traveler, you will need to train him to go into a crate and relax.  A cat loose in the car is at very high risk for escape.

  • OxGord Pet Carrier soft sided cat carrier
  • Sleepypod
  • Petmate top load pet kennel

What if my cat doesn't like the crate?

You can start with short periods of confinement and lots of yummy treats! Gradually get your cat used to being in a crate for longer periods of time, in a moving vehicle.   The alternative is to get a strong sedative from your veterinarian, but this should only be used temporarily during training.

  • NurtureCALM feline calming pheromone collar
  • Calm Cat Anti anxiety and stress relief coat

I have to move. I have heard that cats will try to escape and return to their former homes. Is this true?

Unfortunately, yes!  Always confine your cat in a "safe" room, like the bathroom, when entering hotels, strange houses or your new house.  Make sure she is relaxed and using the litter box before letting her explore.  Never allow your cat to go outdoors unsecured.  They have been known to travel many miles to get back to their old home.

Training Cats

Can I teach my cat to fetch?

If you have ever been impressed by a pet show where cats are jumping through flaming hoops or fetching and performing other amazing stunts, and you want to teach your cat some cool tricks, you certainly can. Cats respond well to clicker training, just as dogs do, and can learn to do just about anything. The best way to get started is to take something that your cat does naturally, like sitting, and pair it with a verbal command, click the clicker, and give a treat. After you get the basics, the possibilities of what your cat can learn to do are endless!

Can I teach my cat to use the toilet?

Yes!  The best way to do this is to purchase a toilet training kit that provides a special insert for the toilet that you will use to turn the toilet into a temporary litter box.  It also comes with detailed instructions.

How can I stop my cat from getting on my kitchen counters?

Counter cruising is a normal behavior for cats who instinctively want to climb higher and use this space.  Never leave any food on the counters which will reward your cat for jumping up there.  Try to provide other sources of height for your cat, like a cat bed on a high shelf, a cat tree, or a window perch where he can see out.  Also make your countertops "undesirable" by placing  clear plastic carpet runner with the “feet" sticking up,  a "scat mat" that delivers an unpleasant electric shock, or a motion activated air sprayer.  Spy on your cat and use an air horn or squirt bottle when he gets on the counter, but don't let him see you.

Why won't my cat come when I call him?

You have to make it worth the trip!  Every time he comes when called, provide him with a tasty treat, petting session or play.  The reward has to be immediate so be ready before you call. Some cats will only come at feeding time, so feeding small amounts more often will make you feel "in control" and loved when he comes.  

Why does my cat like to lie in the sink?

Cats like to be up high and round sinks are especially attractive since they seem to be made for cats to curl up in.  If you don't like it, simply leave a little water in the bottom.  Provide your cat with an alternative high, comfortable spot for napping. Anything in front of a window is usually irresistible.

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