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Cat Behaviour and Potential Problems

The most common behaviour problems treated in cats [1] are:

  • house soiling, including spraying

  • aggression (towards people or other cats)

  • compulsive or repetitive behaviour

  • separation anxiety

  • vocalisation (howling and yowling)

  • wool eating ("pica")

  • fearful behaviour

Behaviour such as furniture scratching, problems eating or anxiety-related behaviour such as hiding or fur pulling may also cause concern for owners [2].





Common Causes of Cat Behaviour Problems

Although they often appear solitary in nature, cats are in fact social animals. However, they are very choosy about who they form social groups with; their groups are formed according to cats' rules and are not influenced by the factors we might consider relevant, such as living in the same house!

Behaviour problems in cats frequently arise in cats who happen to share a house but have not formed a social group together. The enforced close proximity can lead to aggression and fights, or more subtle anxiety or stress-related problems.

In other cases aggression or fear-related behaviours develop as a result of inadequate socialisation as a kitten, or from a previous bad experience. A cat's natural response to threat is to escape to a safe place, often at height. A frightened cat will usually only fight if cornered, but if the cat has learned from previous experience that it is unable to escape it may launch an "unprovoked" attack the next time it feels threatened. If this fear is directed at people, a serious behaviour problem causing potential injuries can develop.

Other behaviours e.g. biting or scratching may be misdirected play, while "spraying" in the house or furniture scratching are features of natural cat behaviour, which cause problems because they are inappropriate in the domestic setting.


Treating Cat Behaviour Problems

Using gentle, reward-based methods, many undesired behaviours can be reduced or resolved. In cases where anxiety, phobia or aggression is a symptom of an underlying fear, a behavioural modification technique called "de-sensitisation and counter-conditioning" can reduce the fear and allow the cat to learn more appropriate responses and behaviour.

If your cat is exhibiting any behaviour that is giving you cause for concern, please see your vet to rule out medical causes and to request a behavioural referral, then contact me to make an appointment.



Prevention of Cat Behaviour Problems

As with all animals, socialisation is vital to the prevention of behaviour problems later in life as it teaches the cat how to interact appropriately with the people and animals in its life, and gently introduces it to the sights, sounds and smells it will encounter later in life, preventing fear from developing later on. The socialisation period for cats occurs between the ages of approximately 2-9 weeks, during which time handling by different people improves the cat's later relationship with humans, while exposure to objects, events and other animals teaches the kitten how to relate to these things.

While the socialisation period is the optimum time for introducing a kitten to the world, learning continues throughout life, so even a poorly socialised cat can be rehabilitated with behaviour counselling. It is never too late to help your pet, and I'm always happy to hear from you and to talk about any concerns you have, so please don't hesitate to contact me.



[1] Halip JW, Vaillancourt JP, Luescher UA 1998 A descriptive study of 189 cats engaging in inappropriate elimination behaviours. Feline Practice 28 (4): 18-21.

 [2] Heidenberger E 1997 Housing conditions and behavioural problems of indoor cats as assessed by their owners. Applied Animal Behavioral Science 2:345-364.


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