Are Cats Evil By Nature?

Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA
By Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA on Aug. 22, 2023
black cat sitting on the windowsill

When your cat hisses at you or scratches your furniture, it might be easy to call them evil or think they’re being mean on purpose. But this is far from the truth—you just need to take the time to understand what they’re actually trying to communicate.

Are Cats Evil?

Cats are definitely not evil, but it’s important to understand that cats are not little dogs. Cats were used for working purposes and, unlike dogs, were not originally intended to be companion animals.

Cats were initially meant to be mousers. The goal was to have an animal who could sustain their own diet by eating rodents and other pests. In fact, cats weren’t generally welcomed into houses as companions until the 20th century.

Domestication takes generations. Many feline behaviors are naturally occurring and should not be thought of as retaliation or “evil.”

Labeling cats as “evil” can also have harmful effects. For example, black cats have the lowest adoption rate compared to cats with other coat colors. There’s reason to believe the lack of interest in black cats is due to their long-standing association with witches, the devil, bad luck, and malevolence.

Are Some Cats Naturally Mean?

Sometimes cats will exhibit certain body language cues to communicate that they’re not interested in interacting. These behaviors can include:

  • Enlarged pupils

  • Tucking into themselves

  • Arching their back

  • Hissing

  • Swatting

There are many reasons why cats display these behaviors. The most common causes include pain, resource guarding, and fear. When you take these factors into account, the majority of “evil” cats are simply displaying behaviors to protect themselves.

My Cat Hisses, Growls, or Bites

The most common reasons for cats to display outward behaviors such as hissing, growling, scratching, and biting are:

  • The cat is in pain: There’s a 60% increase in pain responses such as biting, growling, and hissing from cats that have undergone a declaw procedure. This is because the procedure removes parts of the toe that the cat uses to walk. Over time, this increases arthritis in their joints and causes constant pain.

  • The cat is afraid: When a cat hisses or growls, they’re telling you they don’t consent to what is happening and want to be left alone.

  • The cat is protecting their resources or safe spaces: Cats enjoy having their own space and resources (think food, water, and litter boxes). Even as your cat’s most trusted caregiver, you should still let them have their own safe space where you don’t intrude.

Biting is a serious and stressful response from cats. If you find your cat is biting for reasons that aren’t play-related, consider a complete orthopedic and pain assessment by your veterinarian. If your vet gives your cat a clean bill of health, seek professional behavioral therapy from a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

The majority of “evil” cats are just displaying behaviors to protect themselves.

To help prevent hissing, growling, or biting, create a safe space for your cat while also increasing their environmental enrichment.

Create a safe space for your cat within your home, preferably up high, that’s covered and where only this particular cat is able to go (away from other cats, household dogs, and even you). A cat condo is a good option, or you can place a covered cat bed or cardboard box on top of a bookcase or shelf. This helps give your cat a sense of security.

You can also fill the nearby area with interactive toys, cat scratchers, food and water bowls, and a litter box. This would also be an ideal location for a pheromone diffuser.

Cats are naturally curious creatures, and being confined to a home with limited activities can create anxiety and stress. This is also a great time to consider a catio or supervised outdoor time on a leash and harness. This activity can help decrease stress and anxiety while also giving your cat mental enrichment.

My Cat Scratches the Furniture

Your cat isn’t scratching up your favorite couch to spite you. Scratching is not only a natural behavior for cats, but it also releases pheromones and aids in communication.

Stop your cat from scratching your furniture by giving them things they can scratch. Just like a person choosing their favorite hobby, cats enjoy many different scratch substances and surfaces. Keep in mind that some cats enjoy horizontal scratchers over vertical, and some like cardboard over leather.

Find what your cat loves to scratch and give them ample opportunity to do so. You can even make a DIY scratcher that has the same fabric and texture of your furniture.

My Cat Doesn’t Use the Litter Box

Not appropriately using the litter box is the most common behavioral issue in cats. There are many reasons why our feline friends don’t use the litter box correctly, and none of them have to do with cats being evil or mean.

Instead, the common reasons why your cat poops or pees outside the litter box are the same for any other behavioral issue: pain, fear, and resource guarding.

Cats have amazing long-term memories. If they experience a negative event while using a certain type of litter box or substrate, that can cause an aversion and, in turn, make them not want to use the litter box. If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box, have them examined by a veterinarian to check for medical issues.

Try out different litter boxes and substrates to help determine what the best type of box and litter is for your cat. Keep in mind that, just how people don’t like to use some types of bathrooms (like a porta-potty), cats might not like their litter box setup. Some cats prefer privacy, while others might like to go in the dark. Making gradual, small changes can sometimes go a long way in helping your cat use the litter box again.

Not having enough litter boxes can also cause issues with resource guarding in multi-cat houses. As a general rule, pet parents should provide a litter box for each cat, plus one extra. Make sure the boxes are evenly distributed throughout the house and that nothing is preventing your cat from using them (such as another cat standing guard in the hallway).

When you take the time to understand cats’ behaviors and what they’re trying to tell you, you’ll see that cats are most definitely not evil.

Featured Image: iStock/Brycia James

Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA


Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA


Dr. Tiffany Tupler is a graduate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine with a certificate in shelter medicine and...

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