Stopping A Cat's Problem Behaviors

At their core, cats are primal, instinctive creatures. In order to prevent showing their weaknesses to predators, felines will intuitively hide their vulnerabilities. This makes cats enigmatic and hard-to-read, behaviors that are only amplified when they are faced with boredom, stress and/or anxiety. They might engage in puzzling, even destructive, behaviors and keep their owners guessing.

The first step to addressing these behaviors is to figure out why they’re occurring—a difficult task that can often lead to misinterpretation. While some cat owners just seem to know what’s bothering their pet, others have to put in a little detective work.

"Consumers often believe the unwanted behaviors a cat displays are due to a personality trait or bad training rather than anxiety, stress or fear," says Jules Smith, assistant brand manager for H&C Animal Health in Parker, Colo. "For example, a pet parent may think their cat has suddenly started urinating outside the litter box because they don’t like their litter. However, that behavior is often the result of the cat feeling stressed, anxious or uncomfortable in the home."

Cats can feel stress due to a change, explains Ericka Basile, vice president and general manager of the pet division of Green Roads. This can be attributed to changes in the human’s work schedule, the home itself or the introduction of a new cat.

It’s becoming more common to modify the environment around a cat’s natural instincts, as many behaviors can be solved by enriching the cat’s surroundings and engaging them in active play, explains Kate Benjamin, founder of Hauspanther.

Contrary to popular belief, cats can actually live happily with a purely indoor lifestyle as long as they’re provided with plenty of enrichment toys, play and feeding that brings them back to their wild roots, explains Paul DiBrito, president of Paw CBD, part of cbdMD in Charlotte, N.C.

For example, to alleviate behavior problems related to food, cat owners should consider a no-bowl feeding system or hunt-simulating toys, so that cats can pounce, prowl and hunt for their food.

They should also have access to proper scratching surfaces, Benjamin explains, because when cats scratch, they are grooming their nails, exercising their muscles and marking their territory. Their claws leave a visual and scent mark from the glands located in their paws.

"This marking gives the cats a sense of territorial ownership, something that is important for making a cat feel comfortable in his or her environment," she continues. "If cats have appropriate scratching surfaces they will not scratch in unwanted places, like on furniture or walls."

Also, DiBrito adds, cats benefit from having a window perch, or "catio," where they can safely watch the outside world.

Consumers should try different options, such as vertical or horizontal surfaces and different materials, including sisal or jute rope and cardboard or carpet. Several cat scratchers should be scattered throughout the home, and humans should spend time playing with their feline friends of all ages, not just kittens.

"Everything from improper elimination to aggressive behavior can be attributed to a bored cat with no way to express its natural instincts," says DiBrito."Cats need to scratch. Cats are hunters. Cats are curious and want to play."


Education is Key 

More pet parents are making an effort to educate themselves about their cats’ needs, Smith says, because they see their pets as an extension of the family. This shift is making shoppers look for products that feature CBD, hemp or pheromones.

CBD, in particular, has been getting a lot of attention lately, but there has not been much research supporting its efficacy for mitigating behavior problems or other issues. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes on its website that it is actively working to learn more about the safety of CBD products, including for pets. The FDA also notes that it has not approved CBD for use in pet products, and recommends pet owners do some research and consult with professionals before introducing a new treatment plan for their cats.

"Cats are extremely finicky, which is why it’s important to do regular check-ups and consult with your professional if you sense something might not be going well," says Chelsea Gennings, vice president and co-founder of Pet Releaf in Littleton, Colo.

She notes that retailers have an opportunity to educate pet owners about CBD and natural products, but, in doing so, retailers should let consumers know that CBD is not a magic potion or a cure-all, as "transparency—not just education—is key."

"Cats are not small dogs," says DiBrito. "Once this really sunk into the collective consciousness, supported by cat behavior research and specialists, feline-friendly products have really started to take off."  PB