white cat with blue eyes sleeping on ledge

Potential problem behavior is probably not top of mind when you adopt a cat, foster a furball, or bring your little kitten home for the first time. You are more likely thinking about the purring lap warmer, fun play sessions & weekend cuddles in bed. But for many of the cat-loving community, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we end up struggling with common cat behavioral problems.

Did you know?

As many as 75% of owners report their cat has at least one problem behavior. So if that’s you – you aren’t alone!

Caring for antisocial kitties or owning a cat with behavior problems can be super tough, and it can affect the quality of life for both owners and their pets. Whether you’ve always struggled with cat behavior problems, or you’ve noticed your cat is suddenly antisocial, this guide is here to help! 🙂

We’ll run through the common issues owners face, the possible causes for your kitty’s mood swings & how to change cat behavior for the better. Including why a cat is suddenly antisocial. 

Here’s a breakdown of what we will cover: 

Behavioral IssuePossible CausesTreatment Options 
Excessive Vocalizing Medical Issues, Old Age, Boredom, StressPain Management, Enrichment
Inappropriate EliminationMedical Issues, Old Age, Stress, Inappropriate Environment Medical Intervention, Environment Change
Chewing Boredom, Stress (Commonly diagnosed as PicaEnrichment, Environment Change, Nutritional Evaluation
ScratchingBoredom, Inappropriate Environment Enrichment, Environment Change 
Aggression Medical Issues, Stress, Poor Socialization, Fear Behavioral Training, Socialization, Pain Management

So let’s get started by looking at the common issues cat owners can face, and how to be sure your kitty is experiencing a behavioral issue (not just running a little on the wild side…!)

Common Behavior Problems in Cats

orange cat laying next to sign displaying words cat behavior

What’s Normal and What Isn’t?

Excessive Vocalization

Noisy nocturnal play sessions, midnight howls, and meowing for attention – those are all normal parts of being a cat owner!

Our furry buddies can often behave more like vampires than kitties…becoming most active and vocal at night, due to this being their natural hunting time. 

However, if the howling is very persistent, happens often during the daytime, or seems to be associated with being touched or frightened – there may be something deeper going on that warrants further attention.

Chewing

Getting a kitten isn’t like getting a puppy…right? Well for some, it could be, if their little feline decides to munch their way through your belongings. Chewing behavior could be fairly normal if it’s something edible they found unguarded on the kitchen side…

But if your cat’s choice of chew toy is something that doesn’t look at all delicious (like your shoelaces, bits of plastic, or furniture) then they could be struggling with a nutritional deficiency or stress – the most common causes of feline Pica.

Scratching

Cats have a natural need to scratch, and those claws won’t mind if they are using your antique sofa to do it! In the wild, this would normally be done on a tree, so if you’ve got something that looks ripe for use – you bet your cat will want to use it! 

If you don’t provide a scratching post, there’s a good chance your cat is just using whatever they can to fulfill their natural urges.

If you already have a cat tree, and your cat is still intent on attacking the furniture, they may be trying to get your attention deliberately. Or they might not understand that they have a designated scratch space. This scenario requires some further behavioral or enrichment work on our part as owners.

Elimination

All cats pee and poop, but most are incredibly private and clean about it. Providing your kitty has a handy litter box that they can easily reach, you should have no problems!

Cats with inappropriate elimination, however, will be peeing and pooping anywhere but their litter tray… and this can be a cause for concern. They could be experiencing a urinary infection or a bladder issue, or a whole host of other problems. 

After ruling out a medical problem, your veterinarian will suggest looking at any environmental or behavioral factors that could be causing this issue. 

cat peeing in litter box

Spraying – Not be Confused With Peeing!

Male tomcats like to make it very clear where their territory is (and who’s the king of it too!). Not to be confused with peeing and pooping, a spraying cat will raise their tail into an upright position and start shaking or twitching it. 

This behavior occurs as a normal part of a boy kitty’s development – and some females’ too. It’s usually not a huge problem…

But! If a cat is spraying excessively all over the home, then they might be trying to tell you they are feeling threatened, or that something is wrong. 

Aggressive Behavior

Do you ever wonder…Why Is My Cat So Vicious?

Some biting and playful aggression is part & parcel of normal behavior, especially if we have the catnip toys out for a seriously rough and tumble session. Some cats will even ‘nip’  you gently, and some believe these are like “love bites” – just a way of cats showing us affection.

Don’t like even the loving nibbles?

Also Read: How to Stop My Cat From Biting Me

However, we all know when aggression is real. Whether it’s an attack on your hand for trying to pet them or aggression towards other animals in the home, it’s usually because they feel threatened, afraid, or are actually in pain

And ok…sometimes they do just get a little grumpy too… but socialization can help with that – so read on!

Common Causes for Cats With Behavioral Problems

gray cat with cone at vet

Medical Issues

A sudden change in a cat’s usually sunny behavior or litter etiquette can point to a medical issue being the cause. 

Some kitties are born with chronic or inherent conditions that can make life a little more difficult for them, so checking in with your vet is always a great start.

Have you heard of Hyperesthesia?

Hyperesthesia is a relatively new and not that well-understood syndrome found in cats and kittens, describing a hypersensitivity to being touched – especially along the back. 

They may howl, seem upset, or become aggressive when handled, and is sometimes the root cause for some kitties who seem excessively antisocial. 

Old Age 

Older cats can, like any of us, experience physical and emotional changes as they reach their golden years. 

As well as experiencing more medical conditions that can cause pain, they can also become more reclusive and impatient. 

Many also suffer from cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans, which can cause disorientation, howling excessively, inappropriate elimination & memory loss – explaining many common behavioral issues. 

Fear & Poor Socialization

Although cats may seem to have a lot of swagger, they are still vulnerable at heart. That’s because they are pretty unique as both a predator and prey species. 

If, as a kitten, your cat didn’t get a wide range of positive experiences (“insufficient early socialization”) or suffered from frightening events (“trauma”) they may well develop behavior problems as a result. 

This is usually common in adopted, feral or stray cats that are welcomed into your home. Even if you are showing them love & care, it can take some time and lots of behavioral work to build trust and improve their relationship with humans. 

Stress Or Anxiety

If their environment isn’t suited to them, or they feel unstable or worried, your cat is likely to exhibit stress-related behaviors. As well as behavioral symptoms, a stressed cat may also show signs of:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased food and water intake
  • Low energy levels & sluggishness

Identifying the stressors and anxiety-inducing triggers that are affecting your cat is super important to help them feel themselves again, along with any other behavioral interventions that might help. 

Here are our top tips on How to Help A Stressed Cat!

Treatment Options for Cats With Problem Behavior

tabby cat playing with toy

Alrighty, so now you understand the potential causes of your cat’s issues – what can you do to help?

Here’s a guide on how to understand cat behavior, and work towards changing it for the better.

1. Visit Your Vet

Ruling out any medical issues is an important first step in changing your cat’s problem behaviors. Once you’re sure they are free of pain or discomfort, you can confidently move onto the next steps in this treatment plan.

Your veterinarian may, in some rare cases, prescribe medication to help treat a behavioral problem, but most often they will want this combined with other behavioral work too. 

2. Assess Your Environment

For both the prevention and treatment of behavior problems, one of the most important steps is to be sure your fluffy kitty can engage in those all-important normal feline urges. 

Check all of the following: 

  • Can they eat & drink enough without competition from other cats or pets?  
  • Do they have an opportunity to practice hunting behaviors?
  • Do they have a clean & easily accessible litter tray with a litter you know they like using? (Be sure the texture, depth or scent isn’t putting them off using it, and that a multi-cat household has enough space/locations  for each member.)
  • Can they feel secure and have space for alone time and rest?
  • Are they able to access items or chewing objects that could reinforce their behavior
  • Whilst it’s enjoyable to keep multiple cats, do they have enough space to feel unthreatened and minimize fights?
  • Is there anything or anyone that could be causing your cat excessive stress? (Perhaps one of the children has been handling the cat badly or they seem uneasy around a certain type of stranger.)
  • Do they have a play area, outside access or catio, with room for exploration, climbing, perching, and scratching?
  • If they are an indoor cat, are they getting enough stimulation and exercise?

A few ways you can boost your cat’s happy hormones is by providing them with lots of environmental enrichment. A cat that’s busy doing it’s “job” and tired after a day’s activities is much less likely to exhibit problem behavior. 

Why not try some of the following:

  • Placing food or treats inside toys that require some serious hunting skills to release. (Like this cat food puzzle mat!)
  • Offer different types of toys and environments – either by rotating the ones they have to feel “fresh”, or by using your leftover cardboard boxes to create a new cat fortress. 
  • To encourage slower or lazier cats, try using catnip stuffed toys to boost their excitement. 

3. Learn To Read Your Cats Body Language

Knowing how your cat is generally feeling is super useful in minimizing any disturbances or aggressive outbursts. 

We all have times when we feel a little extra sensitive or times when we actually really need a hug, right? So read up and discover how to identify the best bonding opportunities with your kitty:

Using your knowledge of their moods and emotions, you could also begin to conduct some detective work about what could be causing their anti-social tendencies – ie: are there any repeating factors that seem to cause them to run and hide?

4. Try Some Cat Behavior Training Methods

There are a few different ways you can try and help your cat to understand what a more harmonious relationship is.

You can apply a few methods here, depending on what your cat responds best to, and what suits you both:

  • Positive reinforcement – This rewards desirable behaviors with something your cat likes should encourage them to repeat these behaviors. For example, if your cat listens to your commands, shows affection or toilets in the correct place, you could reward them with treats or their favorite toy. 
  • Clicker training – This uses the same principles, but a correct behavior is signalled by a cat training clicker. You build the association of the clicker by using a treat or reward at the same time, before long your cat will understand that the clicker means “well done!” 
  • Desensitization – This means slowly getting your cat more comfortable with anything that causes them to become stressed or fearful. This could be introducing a fireworks CD gently, gradually increasing the volume, until your cat accepts the sound as normal, or getting them more used to the sight of strangers in a step by step process. The key here is to create a positive experience for your cat to change their mind about the thing they don’t like!
  • Counter conditioning – This is often used with desensitization to boost it’s effectiveness, as it can help to create a positive experience. This could be playing the fireworks CD while your cat eats their favorite meal, or giving a stranger their favourite toy to play with them.
  • Negative Reinforcement – This is not punishment (which no cat-lover would want), but simply a removal or blocking of any behavioral problem from being repeated or unintentionally rewarded. For example, when Yoda decides to use my hand as a scratching post during a play session, I would place him in a kitty “time out” in a cat-proofed room for a few minutes. This way he understands that play time ends when he uses my hand and not the toy! 
senior orange and white cat sleeping

5. Try Some Socialization Exercises to Improve Your Cats Behavior

How to make an antisocial cat social? Socialization!

For cats who missed out on experiences with people, places and things as a kitten, they can struggle to adapt to a home and the comings and goings that happen there. But don’t worry – they can still learn to love people when they are older. It may just take some time. 

If you’ve adopted a fearful cat or taken in a stray, start with small steps and build their confidence and trust.

  • If you are bringing a new cat home, start by having her in a small room. Shy cats can be overwhelmed by too much space, and getting used to a small area will be easier for them.
  • Begin by just being in the same room as them, eventually letting them approach you in their own time.
  • It can help to have something yummy to feed them, to show them you are a pretty neat person to be around.
  • Allow them to become more comfortable around you, until you feel ready to reach out and touch them.
  • Allow them to sniff your hand, then gently run a hand along their head or back – all the while offering a treat.
  • Gradually increase the amount of handling and time spent together, and build this bubble of trust to include a few others.  

With time and patience, you’ll have a purring furry lap buddy in no time!

6. Seek Professional Help for your Cats Behavioral problems

Sometimes the best we can do for our kitties is to help them avoid any stressors or outbursts until we can see a qualified behaviorist. And that’s ok! 

Cat behavior problems can be really tricky for us to work out, as we can let emotion get in the way. A vet professional is the perfect person to step in and help you and your kitty, so don’t be worried or ashamed to seek help. 

You can find qualified specialists at the American Veterinary Association. 

We hope this guide helps you and your kitty find more peace together. 

Do you struggle with cat behavior problems? Have you found a great way to help your antisocial kitty feel more at home? Let us know below 🙂 

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The Fluffy Kitty

The Fluffy Kitty blog inspires cat owners around the world to live a more adventurous and eco-friendly life with their cats. Read more about our story on our about us page.

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