Our cats do all sorts of weird things that make us stop and wonder just what’s going on in their feline minds. There are a lot of questions and answers out there about cats and their behavioural health. To help you get to the bottom of your cat’s issues and how they are related to their health, here are 5 of the most frequently asked questions specifically about cats’ behavioural health!
What are the most common cat behavioural issues?
There are quite a few common behavioural issues for cats of all kinds and of all ages. Ranked in order of popularity, the most common concerns that frustrated cat parents deal with are:
- Urine marking: This is normal with both male and female cats, but it is more noticeable in un-neutered males. Urine marking happens when a cat wants to leave a message for other animals in the household and let them know that this is their territory.. Cats don’t have the same hierarchy that dogs do and always assume that they are at the top of the food chain. If your cat feels threatened, is stressed, or is dealing with a new addition or change to the household, urine marking is a way to both deal with the anxiety and also make sure the newcomers understand who is in charge.
- Aggression: Aggression can come out between pets or between cats and their human household members. Some cats are aggressive from the beginning due to breeding or an uncertain, aggressive past. Cats that are aggressive for no obvious reasons are most likely reacting to a perceived threat. It could be a new pet or a pet that just looks new (change in appearance, or returning after a period of absence). It could be misinterpreting behavior from humans, a change in the household, etc.
- Scratching: Cats are biologically wired to scratch (and should scratch to help with their health). However, some cats will destructively scratch chairs, carpets, walls, shoes, and even humans or other pets. This behaviour is common for cats and can be either healthy or unhealthy. It can be retrained or redirected with patience and an understanding of what’s causing it. To deal with this issue, provide your cat various types of appropriate scratching material, both vertical and horizontal to find your cat’s preference, and train with positive reinforcement.
- Yowling and/or zoomies: Cats yowl at each other but also yowl at humans or just nothing in particular. Many cats will yowl when they get the zoomies — most common at night. Zoomies, also called Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAPs), are periods of hyperactivity that can include frenzied running, pouncing, and even excessive meowing—seemingly out of nowhere. The combination of yowling and the zoomies (or just yowling or zoomies on their own) is not a destructive behaviour but rather a sign that your cat needs some stimulation or attention. While it can be annoying, it’s harmless! In rare cases, yowling can be a sign of a health problem.
What do cats’ behavioural health issues mean?
If your cat has any of these issues, you should take some time to determine what might be behind them. Understanding them can help you calm some of your cats’ behaviours and also address their health needs.
- Anxiety: When cats get anxious, they do many of the most common destructive behaviours. Anxiety can stem from seemingly small things (like replacing an old cat bed with a new one) or large things (a cross-country move).
- Boredom: Since cats are often home all day and spend it sleeping, they are bored out of their minds when their humans get home! They want to play and interact and socialize even though humans have things to do. Yowling, the zoomies, and even scratching can be signs of boredom.
- Pain: Any of the most common behavioural issues can be a pain indicator. If your cat is showing any of these behaviours out of the blue, or they are showing other possible signs of pain (no appetite, being persistent in getting your attention or entirely disappearing, etc.), it’s a good idea to take them to the vet to see if there is any health problem.
- Biology: All of these can be connected to your cat’s biology, which is why they’re common behaviours. Understanding the connection and how you can work with it will help you get to the bottom of the behavioural issue!
How do I address my cat’s behavioural issues?
The best way to start understanding what’s happening with your cat is to rule out something medical. A quick trip to the vet can ensure your cat isn’t sick, in pain, or injured.
From there, you’ll want to consider the above common causes, such as anxiety, boredom, etc., to try different measures to help your cat feel better!
Can I stop my cat from having behavioural issues?
Since these behaviour issues arise from your cat’s biology, it’s not reasonable to expect that you can stop your cat from having issues like this. However, you can prevent or reduce these issues by focusing on understanding where they come from and pre-emptively caring for your cat’s needs.
For example, getting your cat neutered helps prevent urine marking. Playing with your cat regularly helps minimize the zoomies and destructive scratching. Introducing new changes slowly helps your cat adjust slowly and prevents aggression, etc.
Is it normal for cats to have behavioural issues?
This really depends on your cat! Some cats never have any behavioural issues at all and are wonderfully behaved from day 1. Others have behavioural issues from day 1, and it takes a lot of effort to address each concern over time.
Most cats will fall somewhere in between. Cat behavioural issues aren’t a reason to assume you have a “bad” cat, though. It’s just that your cat needs some attention to address what’s causing their behaviour. Remember, to people it may seem to be an issue, but to a cat it may be a natural response. If you meet the cat’s physical and mental needs, and provide appropriate outlets there should not be behavioural ‘issues’. For example, give them their preferred scratching material and location, litter box/litter type and location, reduce anxiety by keeping a relatively regular routine with gentle handling at their own comfort level, et cetera.
The biggest thing to remember is that any sudden change in their behaviour is a reason to take them to a vet. Sudden aggression or urine marking from an otherwise well-behaved cat could mean there is an underlying issue.
Cats are fascinating creatures that certainly offer a lot to our homes and lives as companions. If you are dealing with some not-so-fun cat behavioral issues, understanding what might be behind those issues will help you get to the bottom of the problem. The more you know about why your cat does what it does, the better you can address it!