Disciplining Cats and Kittens

kitten playing with a doll

The innocent look cats give us when they misbehave may melt our hearts, but like any pet, cats need to be properly trained. For both the first-time cat owner and a “kitty veteran,” Dr. Sarah Griffin, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some advice on training your feline friend.

Kittens are playful and full of energy. Though biting and scratching are considered undesirable behaviors, they are part of the kitten’s natural instincts to hunt, even though no pet owner wants their kitten to see them as prey.

“There are many cat toys available that kittens love and also allow them to interact with their owners in appropriate ways,” Griffin said. “I recommend redirecting these natural biting and clawing tendencies to toys. When the kitten attacks your hand, give it a toy to attack and ‘praise’ the kitten with a gentle pet when it follows your redirection. If the kitten is scratching furniture, redirect them to a scratching post.”

For older felines that love exploring the highest of places in your home, Griffin said there are products and home remedies that can be used to keep cats off of furniture or counter tops. For instance, a sensory buzzer could be used to train a cat to not jump on an inappropriate surface. Griffin added that many cats don’t like walking on foil—so try placing foil on areas where the cat isn’t allowed until it learns.

Naughty behavior isn’t always about how your cat interacts with you; sometimes cats can misbehave in other ways, such as refusing to use the litter box. But before you blame your kitty for bad behavior, Griffin said this can be caused by a number of reasons, including feline lower urinary tract disease, kidney disease, arthritis, back pain, or anxiety.

In addition, your kitty’s refusal to use the litter box could be related to the condition and placement of the litter box.

“In general, I recommend one litter box per cat, plus one extra,” Griffin said. “Litter boxes should be kept in a quiet part of the home away from the cat’s food and water. The same type of litter should be purchased each time because cats are creatures of habit. It is also important to clean the litter box daily.”

Whether your feline is young or old, the easiest way to help prevent naughty behavior is keeping them entertained. Encourage their natural instincts to hunt by providing cat trees, places to hide, toys that encourage exercise, and scratching posts.

“Some of the neatest toys that have been created include toy mice that have food hidden inside them,” Griffin said. “The mice can be placed around the home so that the cat can hunt and play with the mice to get food.”

No matter the age of your feline friend, providing entertainment and discipline for your cat is an essential part of pet companionship. Though many cats have independent personalities, every cat needs a little training to be a well-behaved companion.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

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