11 Things You Should Never Do to Your Cat

Nicole LaForest, LVT, BSc, MPH
By Nicole LaForest, LVT, BSc, MPH. Reviewed by Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Mar. 25, 2024
A cat is cuddled by their family.

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Keeping your cat happy and healthy—and providing a safe and nurturing environment—are essential parts of being a good cat parent.

To prevent causing stress or putting your cat’s health at risk, it’s important to know what you should and shouldn’t do to your cat.

Let's explore a few things you shouldn't do, while highlighting the importance of understanding your cat’s behavior, providing a stimulating environment, and avoiding harmful practices.

1. Tease Your Cat

It can be tempting to tease your cat during play. However, there are some actions to avoid. These include:

  • Blowing in your cat’s face. Cats have sensitive noses, and blowing air directly at them can be unpleasant and can cause stress and anxiety.

  • Being overbearing. Smothering your cat with affection when they want to be left alone can cause discomfort and may lead to a scratch or bite. Respect your cat’s boundaries by giving them space when they need it.

  • Inappropriately grabbing your cat. Sudden or rough handling makes cats uncomfortable, and they can develop behavioral issues such as reactivity or fear if they are distressed.

Interpreting your cat's body language is essential, so you know when they want to be left alone and when they want to interact. Respecting your feline friend's boundaries is key to building trust.

2. Expose Your Cat to an Unsafe Environment

As a cat parent, you must protect your feline friend from potential dangers inside and outside your home. The outdoors presents significant risks to cats, including traffic, predators, and diseases. To keep them safe, keep your cat inside.

Although your cat is safest inside your home, many household dangers can pose a risk to your cat’s health and safety. Ingestion of household toxins—such as cleaning products, medications, and certain foods—can be deadly for cats. These items must be stored securely and out of reach.

Some houseplants are also toxic to cats.

In addition, cats like to play with yarn and string, and ingestion of these items can lead to serious health problems, including intestinal blockage.

Don’t allow your cat to have string-like toys. Wand toys or interactive puzzle toys are safer options that provide mental stimulation without risking injury.

3. Let Your Cat Get Bored

Cats require mental stimulation and physical exercise to thrive. Boredom can lead to unwanted behaviors, such as scratching excessively, reactivity, and destruction. A variety of activities can keep your cat healthy, happy, and engaged, and allowing them to express their instincts is essential.

Providing vertical spaces such as cat trees or shelves allows cats to explore their environment.

You can provide physical activity and mental stimulation with interactive toys that mimic prey—such as laser pointers or motorized mice—to help your cat burn off excess energy. Treat-dispensing toys or puzzle feeders can also keep your cat mentally stimulated.

Rotate your cat’s toys regularly to keep them engaging and interesting.

4. Punish Your Cat

Punishing your cat can damage the trust and bond you share with them and may result in additional behavioral problems. Cats respond poorly to punishment because they don’t associate the punishment with their actions.

Never give your cat negative consequences, such as yelling at or hitting them. Instead, use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors by rewarding your cat with treats, praise, and playtime. The positive association will motivate them to repeat those actions.

5. Skip Veterinary Visits

Keeping your feline friend healthy means never skipping vet visits. Regular wellness visits are essential for your cat’s health because they allow your veterinarian to provide vaccinations that prevent serious diseases. Additionally, your vet will perform a physical exam and screening tests to detect any health problems in their early stages, when treatment is generally more effective and your cat has a better chance of recovery.

In addition to wellness visits, take your cat to the vet any time they develop signs of a health problem, such as vomitingweight loss, or an eye issue. Provide your veterinarian with as much information about your cat as possible so they can diagnose and treat them correctly.

If your cat tends to get anxious during vet visits, you might consider using a calming spray in their carrier.

6. Declaw Your Cat

Cats use their claws to climb, stretch, and defend themselves. Scratching is a natural behavior that keeps your cat’s claws healthy and trimmed.

Declawing is unnecessary and painful, and physical and psychological issues, such as chronic pain or behavioral problems, may arise.

Instead of declawing your cat or being forced to replace furniture and rugs more frequently than you’d like, you can provide appropriate scratching outlets, such as scratching posts or boards. Regular nail trimming with cat-specific nail clippers can also prevent inappropriate scratching.

7. Skip Flea and Tick Treatment

Fleas and ticks are not just annoying; they may also pose health risks to your cat. Fleas and ticks can transmit disease, and both can also cause allergic reactions.

To prevent these parasites, ensure your cat receives regular flea and tick prevention recommended by your veterinarian. Various options are available, including topical preventives, oral medications, and collars.

Consider your cat's lifestyle and individual needs when deciding which preventive option is best. Early detection of fleas and ticks can also be achieved through regular grooming and  thorough inspections.

8. Leave Them Alone for Long Periods

Companionship is important to cats, and extended periods of alone time can cause loneliness, stress, and depression. Spending quality time with your cat provides them much-needed attention, affection, and mental stimulation.

If you have a busy schedule, you might consider adding another cat to your household. Alternatively, a trusted family member or friend can provide interaction and playtime while you’re away.

It’s also essential to provide food, water, and a clean litter box while you are away from your cat. Automatic feeders, litter boxes, and water fountains can help meet these needs when you’re not home.

9. Provide Them With a Poor Diet

Proper nutrition is vital for your cat's overall health and well-being. Diets should be balanced and species-appropriate, as an inadequate diet can result in nutritional deficiencies, obesity, and dental problems.

Feed your cat regularly and measure out appropriate portions based on their age, weight, and activity level. Although you may be tempted to simply keep your cat’s bowl filled, free feeding can lead to overeating and weight gain. You can feed your cat an all-wet diet with your veterinarian’s guidance.

It's also important to give treats in moderation and select nutritious options. Choose treats designed specifically for cats and avoid feeding your cat human food, since certain ingredients can be toxic.

10. Get Upset With Them If They Have An Accident

There are various reasons why cats may have accidents outside the litter box, including underlying health issues, anxiety, stress, and changes in the home environment. Never punish your cat or get upset with them for these accidents. Instead, react calmly and address the underlying cause.

Cats are picky about their litter box hygiene, so always maintain a clean and accessible litter box. Multi-cat households should have multiple litter boxes—a good rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus one additional box.

Additionally, your cat’s home environment should be safe and stress-free.

Provide safe spaces and hiding spots your cat can retreat to when they feel anxious or overwhelmed, and minimize changes in their routine or environment. If the issue persists, consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions and for guidance on behavior modification.

11. Expose Your Cat to Secondhand Smoke

Like humans, cats can develop health issues—including respiratory problems, allergies, and cancer—from breathing secondhand smoke. A cat's grooming habits and proximity to the ground increase their exposure to smoke, so never allow anyone to smoke inside your home.

Understanding and meeting your feline companion’s needs is an essential part of caring for your cat. The first step in providing a safe, happy home is avoiding behaviors and situations that cause your cat harm. By knowing what you should never do to your cat, you can ensure a comfortable and loving feline-friendly environment.

Nicole LaForest, LVT, BSc, MPH


Nicole LaForest, LVT, BSc, MPH

Veterinarian Technician

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