A Word or Two against Punishing Cats

03/16/12 - by TheCatCoach

Rubbing a cat’s nose in his excrement will not stop the cat from eliminating outside the litter box. Tapping a cat on his nose will not stop him from biting. These are examples of a couple of punishments that people sometimes resort to in their efforts to stop cats from engaging in a frustrating behavior. These types of solutions do not solve behavior problems—but they can escalate the behaviors and/or cause new ones.

Cats are not bad when they do behaviors that people do not like. They are resorting to unwanted behaviors because of stressers in their environment, a medical problem or a situation. It is normal for cats who are stressed to resort to instinctual behaviors. They are not bad cats—but they are stressed cats. The cat who is eliminating outside the litter box has a reason for not using the litter box. Rubbing his nose in the urine will not stop the behavior but it will cause him to be more stressed and insecure in his environment. Also, cats typically associate the punishment with the punisher. Often the punisher is one or more of their favorite people, people the cats are bonded to, who provide them with food, love and shelter.  Punishment, especially inhumane punishment can cause cats stress, severing the bonds between cats and their favorite people. It can become a cycle—the more the cat is punished, the more insecure and stressed he feels—escalating the behavior and causing others.

There is an alternative!
Instead of punishment, figure out the triggers for the behavior and then address those triggers. Because painful medical issues can also cause changes in behaviors, cats should first be examined by their veterinarians. Only after the cat is given a clean bill of health approach the problem as behavioral in nature.

Photo by PJ Hoffmann-

Sometimes it’s easy to identify the triggers—other times it’s more challenging to find the reasons behind the behaviors. There always is a reason though. Cats don’t wake up one morning and decide it would be fun to not use their litter boxes or to bite the people they live with. Put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and play detective, conduct an investigation to find the triggers. If you can’t identify the triggers, find help from a credentialed cat behaviorist or certified cat behavior consultant. He or she can help you identify the triggers and develop a plan for changing the behavior that does not include punishment.

Today’s blog was inspired from recent consultations with a few clients who, in their frustration and efforts to stop unwanted behaviors resorted to punishment. Needless to say—their methods did not work. In one case, the cat took up residence under the bed where she felt safe.

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