Most of my loyal readers know that punishing a cat is wrong. But I would like to explain why, in case anyone happens to ask. And also how to change your perspective to help a cat who is behaving in a way that might be difficult.
What happens when you punish a cat?
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you do anything that involves punishing or disciplining a cat.
- A cat’s survival instinct lies very close to the surface. If your cat feels threatened in any way, they will quickly revert to instinct mode. Any attempts to punish or discipline the cat will be perceived as continued threats, and exacerbate the problem.
- Humans are, on average, over 10 time bigger than the typical cat. They are giants compared to a 10 or 15 pound kitty. Humans may not think about it that much, but it’s always at the forefront of your cat’s mind. A human could easily harm or kill a cat, so any physical aggression on the human’s part is extremely frightening to us.
- Much of what humans perceive as misbehavior are acts caused by a cat’s extreme stress. Whether it’s aggression, not using the litter box, or continued scratching on furniture, something is causing the cat to be stressed out. It could be anything from feeling a threat, to poor health, to basic needs not being met. It’s not the cat that is the real problem. The thing or situation causing the stress is.
- Cats don’t understand rules. When you don’t want a cat doing something, such as walking on the kitchen counter, cats see your disapproval purely as an inconvenience. All those reasons you don’t want them doing something? They don’t get what the big deal is, and to avoid any scenes, they will just do it when you are not around. Or they will do it when you are around if they want your attention.
How to really address the situation
Instead of punishing your cat, think in these terms.
- Diagnose the problem. There is always a reason for a cat’s behavior. Quite often it has to do with their sense of self-preservation, or an unmet need. Make your cat feel safe, or fill that need, and chances are the behavior will go away.
- Aggression on a human’s part will only worsen a cat’s fear and aggression. An aggressive cat is already feeling threatened, and will strike out (or continue to strike out) to protect themselves. The best thing you can do for a frightened, aggressive cat is to confine the cat to a small, darkened area to give them (and you) a chance to calm down and decompress. It’ll also give the human time to search out advice for a solution to the problem. If the cat has clamped down on a body part, slowly and carefully pry yourself away so you can confine the cat. Never make sudden or violent moves around an aggressive cat.
- Saying no is fine, especially if you do it with a firm tone of voice. If you picture what you want while you are saying no, that actually helps you take the right tone, and helps your cat to better understand. Cats are extremely sensitive to your tone of voice, and the clearer your intent is, the clearer it is to your cat. But in addition to “no,” you also need to come up with an alternate activity for your cat. Cat behavior doesn’t live in a vacuum. You must provide something that your cat will prefer doing or using.
While there isn’t room here to deep dive into the many issues humans and cats may have, do think of things such as:
- Does your cat have enough room to coexist with other cats, pets, and humans? Think in terms of vertical space in addition to floor space. Sometimes vertical space is even more important.
- Are there enough litter boxes in the house? What about the type of litter box you have? The litter you are using? Is another cat acting aggressive around the litter box? Could your cat have health issues, such as a UTI, or arthritis?
- Why does your cat like scratching on the thing you don’t want them to scratch? Is it the material? The location? How can you provide a scratching surface that your cat will prefer to this one?
- What is your cat seeing out the windows? Are there other neighborhood cats that could be upsetting your cat? Is there construction? Loud noises? Is there anything happening around your house that could be stressing out your cat?
These are just a few things to ponder, but I hope it gets your mind working!
As a loved family member, your cat should be able to trust you and love you as freely as they wish. They should never have a reason to fear you or believe you are the enemy. So never think of a cat’s misbehavior in terms of something that should be punished. It is a problem that needs a solution, one that the two of you are facing together. And since a human’s specialty is (or should be) problem solving, your cat is depending on you to find an answer to help!
I hope some of this has struck a chord with you. If it did, let me know in the comments.
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