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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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If you read this column regularly, you probably already know the answer to that question is no. Cats are definitely not evil, mean, or vindictive by nature. And yet this seems to be a recurring theme.

It’s something I hear in my veterinary practice all the time.

“My cat pees on my clothes just to be mean.”

“My cat claws my furniture out of spite.”

“My cat scratches and bites me with no warning. He’s evil.”

Cats are cats. They do what they do because they are cats. Like people, each cat has a unique personality. Some are more social and outgoing than others. Also like people, cats have specific needs. As a cat owner, it’s your job to make sure your cat’s needs are met. If you do not, your cat will likely find a way to meet them that is less acceptable to you. More often than not, that’s exactly what is happening when your cat is displaying a not so welcome behavior.

What does this mean for you as a cat owner? Let’s take a look at some common examples.

If your cat is not using the litter box, there is a reason for it. First and foremost, if your cat has suddenly started peeing or pooping outside of the box, there may be a medical reason. So your first order of business is a trip to your veterinarian. Once medical issues are ruled out, look carefully at the litter box situation in your home. Do you have enough litter boxes? In a multi-cat household, one litter box is not sufficient. You need one box per cat plus one extra. Is the box clean? Is it big enough? Is it in a quiet location where your cat won’t get interrupted when using it? Can your cat get to the box easily and get in and out of it without difficulty? Is the litter you’re using acceptable to your cat? (Just because you like it doesn’t mean your cat does!) These are just a few of the things to consider when dealing with litter box issues. Your veterinarian can advise you further.

What about cats that claw the furniture? Your cat is not clawing to annoy you or because he doesn’t like your furniture. He’s performing what is, to your cat, a perfectly normal behavior. Your cat is not only sharpening his claws, he’s also stretching his muscles and maybe even marking your home as his territory. This is a basic need for your cat. You need to give your cat items he can scratch and direct him to these items.

There are any number of scratching surfaces that are available commercially for cats, or you can make your own. Providing more than one type of surface is a good idea. Different cats prefer different textures and configurations. Just remember if you don’t provide adequate surfaces for your cat to use, he’ll use what is available. That’s probably going to be your favorite chair or some other surface you don’t want shredded.

What about the cat that solicits, or at least welcomes, attention only to turn on you unexpectedly after a few moments? Some cats simply get too worked up when they’re being petted. They become over stimulated and can strike out. The key here is to learn your cat’s body language. Learn to recognize when your cat has had enough. Watch for ears that are laid back, a twitching tail, hair rising along the backbone. Stop immediately if you see any of these reactions. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and keep contact short and pleasant until you do learn your cat’s signs of annoyance.

This post really only scratches the surface of meeting the needs of your cat. There are physical needs as well as behavioral needs that need to be met. At The Indoor Pet Initiative for cat owners you will find much more information on meeting the basic needs of your indoor cat, problem solving advice and much more.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: minkuni / via Flickr

Comments  3

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  • Think Like A Cat
    03/18/2013 06:00pm

    "If your cat is not using the litter box, there is a reason for it."

    What may not be obvious to us humans, things make perfect sense to the cat. "Missing" the litter box may be the cat's only way of communicating displeasure or health problems.

    When my Winston started missing the box after using it perfectly for years, it took 5 (yes, FIVE) trips to the doctor to find out he had lymphocytic lymphoma. He was telling me the only way he knew how. If he hadn't had a litter box problem, his condition wouldn't have been diagnosed until he exhibited overt symptoms. As it was, he got treatment fairly quickly and lived another 2 1/2 really good years.

    Another tidbit to add would be that cats usually hate change.

    Did the cat stop using the litter box when the type of litter was changed? Was the furniture rearranged? Was the box moved? Has another person or pet visited or joined the household? Has the cat's human been away more than usual?

    Litter that has been "perfumed" might be nice for humans, but cats usually don't care for that type.

    I once read a story about a cat that only missed the box on one particular day of the week. After a great deal of detective work, it turned out that was the day the trash truck by and made all sorts of scary noises.

  • 03/20/2013 01:48am

    I may not agre to this post as judging the cats for there arrogance or some different behavior patterns. The cats do have a profound behavioral patterns but still they are the cutest pets one can have. The general perception about the evil nature of the cats has been created by the horror movie visionaries. Every pet is fond of being pampered and cats are in no different with that.

  • communicative cats
    03/22/2013 10:37am

    How very true! Many people undervalue cats' intelligence. Though they may be harder to train than dogs, they are incredibly good at getting us to do what they want. My own cat is gentle, sociable and loving, but he occasionally gets into a biting mood. He never bites hard enough to break the skin, but it is hard enough so you notice. He startles easily and I have learned to move slowly and calmly when playing with him. This works. It occurs to me that he has actually modified my behavior. He bites if he has no food in his dish. I have tried to restrict his intake to maintain proper weight, but feeding him only at scheduled times has provoked his displeasure, so I began measuring his food. He has learned to conserve it so he has some left over to last the day. Many people can't even figure this one out. When I come home at night he usually has just a bit left, which he finishes at that time, knowing I will feed him more.

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