Friskies® Post

Cat Behavior Confusion

So many of the questions my office receives have to do with cat parents misunderstanding what their cats are trying to tell them through their actions. The key to solving a behavior issue is to identify the cause because when cat parents go off on the wrong track, problem-solving takes longer and often is ineffective. So I figured it was time to do a quick run-through of some common behavior concerns that cat parents have and give you a few key points to get you headed in the right direction.

Litter Box Problems

When a cat stops using the litter box it becomes quite stressful for everyone in the family - both feline and human. In many homes, a litter box problem can end up being a deal-breaker and the cat is at high risk of ending up at a shelter. That doesn't have to be the case. Here's the three-step process to resolving the issue:

  1. Have your cat checked by the veterinarian immediately because many litter box problems have an underlying medical cause.
  2. Take a second look at the litter box set-up. Make sure you're keeping up your end of the deal by maintaining box cleanliness and that the set-up and location are appealing to your cat. YOU may like the set-up (covered box or out-of-the-way location) but your CAT may not like it (too cramped or too remote).

    Examine the household dynamics and environmental issues. If your cat received a clean bill of health from the veterinarian and you know you have an ideal litter box set-up, something may be going on in the environment. In a multicat home there may be tension that causes one cat to be reluctant to venture to the box. Have changes taken place in the home? Stressors that we consider minor may be viewed differently by a cat.

Furniture Scratching

So many people view this as willful and deliberate destruction but nothing could be further from the truth. Scratching is a normal and natural part of feline life and your cat will choose the most effective surface for that task. If your furniture is the target then that means the scratching post isn't the right one. Here are some tips:

  1. The scratching post should be tall. I've seen so many short posts in homes and they aren't good for anything larger than a young kitten. When your cat scratches he is also stretching his muscles so provide a post that is tall enough for him to get a full stretch.
  2. The post must be sturdy. The taller the post, the wider the base must be. One of the reasons your cat chooses the furniture is that he knows it won't topple over.
  3. The post should be covered in a rough texture. Don't choose a fluffy soft, carpet-covered post. He needs something that will effectively remove the outer dead sheath of the nail. Sisal is a great option.
  4. Locate the post where your cat likes to scratch. Place the post near the piece of furniture that is currently the target. Cover the furniture with some double-sided tape or tuck a sheet all around it.

Counter Surfing

Cats loves elevated areas and there's usually one place they choose that we don't like - the kitchen counter. Some cats like to be up there because of all the food they can find. Other cats like the fact that they can be high up to look out the window. A cat may also want to be up there in order to get your attention. In a multipet household, a cat may go up there because he feels safer being elevated. Here's how you address the problem:

  1. Keep all food put away to remove temptation.
  2. Don't give your cat attention when he's on the counter - just place him back on ground level without making eye contact, talking or petting.
  3. Provide allowable elevated areas such as cat trees and window perches so your cat can look out the window. You can even put a bird feeder outside the window so the cat will choose to sit on the cat tree to look outside instead of camping out at the window above the kitchen counter.
  4. In a multipet environment where security is an issue, provide more than one elevated area in different parts of the home.
  5. When you aren't using the kitchen counter, cover the areas with pieces of plastic carpet protectors. Get the kind with the nubby feet on one side and place the pieces nubby-side up. This will make it an unappealing surface for the cat.

The above three behavior issues are just three of the most common issues that cat parents sometimes have to face but no matter what concern you may be personally dealing with when it comes to your cat, take time to figure out what he may actually be needing or trying to say by his behavior so you can provide a better option.

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About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and best-selling author of seven books on cat behavior and training. Pam is one of the most well-known experts on cats and a pioneer in the field of behavior consulting. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a veterinarian-referred behavior practice in Nashville, TN. Her website is

More about Pam

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