Problem Behaviors


For a printer-friendly version, download our “Bringing Your New Cat Home” or “Bringing Your New Dog Home” instructional packet. They cover everything from introducing your new cat to other pets, nutrition and behavoiral problems.

Things to keep in mind about your new cat

  • You cannot discipline cats as you would dogs.
  • Do not ever hit a cat or use any sort of physical punishment.  You will only teach your cat to fear you.
  • Since cats hate to be surprised, you can use water bottles, clapping, hissing, and other sudden noises to stop unwanted behavior.  Immediacy is key – you must do it as soon as the cat starts the behavior.
  • If is best to train your cat away from undesirable behavior as soon as possible, as young as possible.


  • For chewing on house plants – try spraying Bitter Apple or Bitter Orange (there are formulations for use on plants) on the leaves.  Dusting cayenne pepper on them may also help.
  • You may wish to grow some grass or catnip for them as an alternative; plants do provide them with needed nutrients, the absence of which may be causing their grazing.
  • For digging or urinating in the dirt of house plants – cover the dirt with aluminum foil or gravel.  If the plant needs it, add some vinegar to the soil to counteract the ammonia in the urine.

Litter Box Usage

  • Sometimes it is useful to distinguish between spraying (which winds up on walls) and urinating (which is generally on the floor). Spraying is more often a behavior problem and urination is more often a medical problem. It is best to check with a vet first. If the problem is medical, then you will need to simply clean up the odor after the problem is treated, otherwise you will need to try some of the behavior modification outlined below (and you’ll still need to clean up the odor).
  • You must remove the odor from items that the cat sprayed on to prevent the cat from using the same spot again later. The ammonia smell tells the cat that this is an elimination spot, so never use ammonia to try and “remove” the odor.
  • Cats sometimes spray to mark their territory so sometimes an area for your cat that other animals cannot go to will help. Keeping the litter box immaculate will help in other cases.
  • Sometimes cats pick small throw rugs with non-skid backing to urinate on. This is caused by an odor from the backing that somehow tells the cat to urinate there (probably an ammonia-like smell.  Cat-repellent sprays or washing the rug may help; you might just have to get rid of that rug.
  • You may wish to keep your cat off of the furniture or off of a particular piece of furniture or to keep them off the counters and or tables.  Because of a cat’s ability to climb and jump, this isn’t always a practical thing to do – but you can sometimes train them to stay off very specific pieces of furniture or locations by covering it with aluminum foil. In most cases, a month of leaving the foil on when you leave the house will be effective.
  • Do NOT ever try to discourage a cat’s mistakes by rubbing its nose in it. It never worked for dogs and most certainly will not work for cats. In fact, you wind up reminding the cat of where a good place to eliminate is.
  • There are several potential reasons a cat will stop using their litter box.  These include medical problems, territorial marking, psychological stress, chemical attraction of previous “accidents” and general problems with the location, cleanliness, or type of litter used in the litter box.
  • Rule out medical problems first.  Make sure each cat has constant access to a litter box.  If there is more than one cat in the household, one may have claimed the box as his/her territory and is not letting the other use it.  Try having a litter box per cat.  Clean the box every day.  Move food and water away from the box.  Make sure the litter box is in a quiet and private place.

Keeping your Cat Inside

  • The best way to discourage running to the door is never to let the cat succeed! After a history of unsuccessful attempts, the cat will stop trying. After even one success, the cat will try hard and for a long time.
  • Don’t arrive at the door with three bags of groceries in hand and expect you’ll be able to keep the cat in. Instead, put down all but one bag and use that bag to block the floor level when you come in. After you’re in, bring in the rest. In general, spend the time to be in control whenever the outside door is opened.
  • To turn a formerly outdoor cat into an indoor one (or to discourage a persistent one), you might try this, recommended by the San Francisco SPCA: Enlist the help of a friend to hide outside the door with a hose and spray attachment and have her or him spray the cat when you let it out. This may take several applications, over several days.

Curtains and Cords

  • If possible, use tension rods instead of drilled into the wall rods. The tension rods will simply fall down on top of the cat if it tries to climb them. Otherwise, take the drapes off the hooks and thread them back up with thread just barely strong enough to hold them up. When the cat climbs up, the drapes will fall down on it (be sure that the hooks aren’t around to potentially injure the cat). After the drapes have remained up for some time, re-hook them. These methods have the advantage of working whether you’re home or not.
  • Put something distasteful on the cord to discourage chewing. Substances to try: Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, Bitter Apple/orange, nail biting nail polish, orange/lemon peel.

Keeping your Cat on the Ground and off Countertops, Tabletops, etc.

  • It’s not a good idea to let your cat on your kitchen counters or tabletops. There are several ways to prevent this. Leave a collection of poorly balanced kitchen utensils or empty (or with a few pennies inside) aluminum cans on the counter near the edge, so the cat will knock them off if it jumps up. Cats hate surprises and loud noises.  Don’t leave things on the counter that will attract the cat.  This will also work on other surfaces like dressers, TV’s, etc.
  • A better way to keep your kitty off the forbidden surface is to cover it with two-sided tape. Cats don’t like it when their paws stick to things, so they will experience something unpleasant every time they jump up, whether or not you’re in the room. Eventually they’ll decide that the counter (or the mantle or the dining room table) is not where they want to be. You can also use aluminum foil or carpet runners turned nubby-side-up to keep your cat down on the ground.
  • Try giving them an even better alternative to the table. If your kitty’s a born climber, you could try getting him a tall cat tree or a cat perch that attaches to a windowsill, which you can find at most pet stores. Again, you can rub it with the oh-so-tempting catnip, and pretty soon the counter won’t be quite so irresistible.

Early Wake-Up Calls

  • The cat may simply be hungry and demanding its food. By feeding it when it wakes you up at an ungodly hour, you are simply reinforcing its behavior. If this is why it’s waking you up, you can handle this either by filling the bowl just before you go to sleep so it will not be empty in the morning or by ignoring the cat’s wakeups and feeding it at the exact same time convenient to you every morning. The cat will adjust fairly quickly to the second.
  • If it is trying to play, there are again several tactics you can try. If you make a practice of tiring it out with play just before bedtime, you can reduce its calls for play at dawn. What works in some cases is to hiss gently at the cat. You can also try shutting it out of the bedroom.  If it pounds on the door, put it in a bathroom until you wake up.
  • In persistent cases, try the vacuum cleaner, eater of noisy kitties. Go to bed, leaving him out in the hall. Position the vacuum cleaner next to the door, inside it. Plug the vacuum in, and arrange things so you can switch the vacuum on from your bed (eg, wire a switch into an extension cord). Wait for the scratching and wailing at the door. Turn the vacuum cleaner on. If cat comes back, turn it on again. The cat will eventually decide to stop bothering you in the morning.

Toilet Paper

  • Hang the roll so that the paper hangs down between the roll and the wall rather than over the top of the roll.
  • If the cat knows how to roll it either way, then you can get a cover that rests on top of the toilet paper and this will work. You can make your own by taking the cardboard core from an empty roll and slitting it lengthwise and fitting it over the roll.
  • You can balance a small paper cup full of water on top of the roll.
  • Instead of a cup of water, try an aluminum can with pennies.
  • If you are unwilling or unable to use the cover, then close the door to the bathroom.

Other Miscellaneous Tips

  • WARNING: For fearful cats, try everything else before trying surprise techniques – especially those using noises!
  • If a cat bites you, give a sharp, plaintive yowl, like the sound a hurt cat will make. Pull your hand back (or if that would score furrows down your hand, let it go completely limp), turn your back on it, and ignore it for a few minutes.  You may try hissing at a cat that persistently attacks you.
  • Many indoor cats do not have the opportunity to display normal cat behaviors such as ambushing, pawing, pouncing, scooping, scratching, shaking, and tossing. If they do display these behaviors indoors, many times they are directed towards inappropriate items.  It is important to provide many things for your cat to do so she doesn’t get bored. Cats enjoy food puzzles, balls and many other types of toys.
  • Cats prefer to sleep in areas where they feel safe because they are most vulnerable while sleeping. Preferred resting areas are usually quiet, comfortable, and away from other members of the household. Many cats prefer to sleep somewhere elevated and warm. A variety of window perches and elevated beds are available at most pet stores.

    Bringing Your New Cat Home   |   Introducing Your New Cat to Your Other Pets   |   Nutrition & Health
    Care/Medical Help   |   Claws 101   |   Problem Behaviors   |   Helpful Websites