For all our attitude, we cats are very forgiving creatures. Sure, if you take your cat to the vet, go on vacation for a week, or rearrange our favorite furniture, we may sulk for a while. But it won’t take very long for us to return to our normal selves, and everything is fine again. But there is one thing that risks doing permanent damage to your bond with your cat. It’s absolutely toxic to a cat’s sense of wellbeing and safety. Here it is:
Punishing or disciplining your cat is the worst thing you can do.
Why is punishing your cat the wrong thing to do and what should you do instead? Let me explain.
Cats Don’t Think They’re Doing Anything Wrong
And the truth is, in the cat’s world, they’re not. It’s in your human world that your cat is misbehaving. Your cat doesn’t see why scratching the couch, jumping on the counter, or knocking things over is wrong — other than it makes you mad. But beyond that, they don’t see why they shouldn’t mark your sofa, go where ever they want, and if something falls over and crashes, so what?
Since cats don’t understand your motivations for thinking they are misbehaving, they also don’t understand the idea of punishment. They just think you — a person they are supposed to love and trust — is suddenly being cruel and scary. And that can instill insecurity and make them afraid of you.
You Are a Monster!
Don’t worry, I know you aren’t actually a monster, but think about how you appear to a cat physically. If you are a normal sized person, you are maybe 5 or 6 times as tall as your cat and weigh anywhere from 7 to 15 times their weight. You are a giant compared to your cat. And even if your cat does trust you, they still realize that you could very easily harm them, intentionally or unintentionally.
So if you are running around, acting angry and screaming at your cat, or brandishing a spray bottle, or looming over them threateningly, you do look pretty monstrous! Even if you really would never lay a mean finger on your cat, they don’t know that when you’re acting that way.
Punishing a cat, or losing your temper around them, can breed insecurity, destroy trust, and damage any bond you have with your cat. Plus it doesn’t resolve the behavior. They will either do it when you’re not around to see it, or find another, possibly worse way to act out.
Solving Cat Behavior Problems Without Punishment
Okay, so you resolve to hold in your temper when your cat’s misbehaving. And you swear not to use any mean tactics such as using a squirt bottle. But you still need to change something your cat is doing. Here are some suggestions.
- Create alternatives
Is your cat is doing something like jumping on high surfaces or scratching furniture? They’re just exhibiting basic cat behavior, and this is the only way they can find to do it. So figure out better solutions for them. Give them safe elevated places to jump on and hang out. Figure out a scratching area that they may like even better than your furniture. If you have a specific problem like this, trust me, Google is your friend.
- Distract them
Sometimes a cat is doing something that is annoying you. Getting in the way while you’re trying to make the bed and get ready in the morning. Or pawing endlessly at a doorstop. Distract them! Toss their favorite toy away from the area you want them to leave. Or throw treats. Or find another distraction. You know your cat and what they like. Give them some of that to distract them from whatever it is they were doing.
- Put them in another room for a while
Is your cat is getting in the way of a chore or project you are working on? If you really need to focus, the best thing you can do is just put them in another room. Do not grab them in a huff, march them off to another room and slam the door shut! Just calmly and unceremoniously pick them up and carry them to the other room. Place them down gently, maybe with some treats or a toy to keep them occupied, and go finish your task. When you let them back out, don’t make a big deal out of it either. It’s just a part of life, keeping your cat out of the way while you’re busy.
- Ignore them
If your cat thinks you don’t pay them enough attention, they might act out in an attempt to get some of your time, even if it is negative. If this is your cat, the worst thing you can do is instantly stop what you were doing to chase after them. Completely ignore their behavior. Don’t give their behavior negative reinforcement.
- Don’t ignore them
To continue the above problem, if you aren’t paying enough attention to your cat, you need to make time for them. So don’t ignore them when they’re behaving. Set up play sessions, or cat-and-human time together. Make sure your cat is a part of your life, and you are spending enough time with them.
- Reward good behavior
When your cat is doing something you actually want them to do, make sure they get lots of praise, and maybe a treat. Cats respond well to rewards. Figure out what your cat likes best, and make sure they get some of that when you like what they’re doing. They will give you more of it.
I hope these suggestions help, even if you already know not to punish your cat. Because I get it, we frustrate humans sometimes. But patience, problem solving, and positive reinforcement will build a better bond with your cat. And if you’ve got a cat (or several) in your life, I know you want that.
Have anything to add? Let me know in the comments!
Want to know more dos and don’ts for bonding with your cat? Check these out: