Tag Archives: aggression

Why You Should Never Punish a Cat

I’ve seen so many people talk about punishing their cats, and I am shocked every time. Even yelling at a cat is detrimental—they will think you are insane, and they will lose some trust in you—they don’t understand it, it means nothing to them, so you’re making your cat feel less safe without doing anything to change the behavior.

Every time you yell at or punish a cat, you are putting your relationship with the cat in jeopardy. They do not perceive their own activities as “bad” or destructive. That’s a human concept. When you punish your cat, your cat will associate the punishment with YOU—not with his/her own behavior. Often this leads to him/her avoiding you or being more confrontational. The people the kitties originally loved and trusted are now perceived as scary and hurtful. They are not friends anymore, they are now antagonists.

Punishing a cat does not tell the cat what to do. It does not aid in correcting the problem. And most often, the side effects will be extremely negative, both for you and the cat. Punishing and yelling at a cat often leads to an increase in “bad” behaviors because they feel threatened (you were a trusted ally, and now you have turned on the cat, and it may start to see you as an adversary).

Cats will also often avoid places where they were punished. This can be catastrophic, especially if the issue is related to the litter box. They won’t want to go anywhere near the litter box after being punished there.

And studies show that people who yell at others (people and pets) start getting a sense of satisfaction, and thus reward for this behavior. It can quickly become a very bad habit, and one that the person escalates as time goes on. No one wants to hang out with a person who gets high off their own rage. It can only lead to trouble.

Cats don’t do things for no reason. There is always a reason. Sometimes it’s a natural behavior for the cat, and thus you must offer alternatives. If the cat is climbing on the counter, and that’s a no-no, simply pick up the cat (gently) and move it to a cat tree, or another place it can climb. Then praise the kitty like it was his/her idea all along. Always praise and treat when they use those alternatives.

Cats like to have a good vantage point to watch what’s going on. This is especially true in the kitchen. If the counters are off limits, put a cat tree in the kitchen (counter height is fine) so that they can observe at a safe distance.

Make sure you’re playing with your cat enough: 2 sessions of at least 15 minutes of play for adults over 3, 3-4 15-minute sessions a day for 18 months to 3 years, at least 5 sessions of 10-15 minutes of play for 6 months to 18 months. For kittens who are just starting to play up to 6 months, they really need to be playing or being mentally stimulated any time they aren’t sleeping or eating. They have this very short window where they must learn to hunt through play. They are evolution’s finest predator, and this means that play is absolutely essential to kittens and young cats in particular. Cats should never lose their drive to play. If they do, it could be a sign of illness, depression, or they might just need a new toy to get them excited again.

Redirect, guide, offer alternatives, and use positive reinforcement to show your cat that s/he is doing a great job. Praise, praise, treats, affection, play, praise. You will both be happier in the long run, as well as healthier because you avoided all that stress caused by yelling and punishment.

Wacky Wednesday! If My Cat Were Bigger, Would He Kill Me?

Q: If my cat, who is a gentle house cat, suddenly became as big as a lion, would he kill me?

A: That depends on a lot of factors like age, activity level, if he’s neutered, how he plays with you, his personality, and your bond.

If he’s young, and very exuberant about play, and is serious about his aggression toward toys, then it’s a possibility. If he was taught (or not corrected—gently and positively—when he has attacked your leg or something) when young that human hands or other body parts are toys, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

I actually use this example as a thought experiment a lot when I’m talking about why big cats do not make good pets. Think about a young cat, maybe a year old. At that age, you can see how intent the kitty is about attacking and “killing” a toy, which is a thing it just perceives as being something fun to maul, not even real prey. Then imagine that he was the size of a medium-sized dog, and ask yourself what kinds of things he might think look like fun things to attack. A little kid would be fun sized then. Then imagine the kitty is the size of a tiger, and you should get it right away. It would be a disaster for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are fundamental differences (at the genetic level) between domestic cats and wild cats (big and smallish). Domestic cats have changes on genes dealing with aggression and learning. They are less aggressive and are able to learn more and learn faster than their wild cousins.

However, older cats, especially neutered cats over the age of 7 or 8, wouldn’t necessarily pose a deadly risk if you magically scaled them up. By that time, they don’t see you as a plaything (again, unless you have encouraged them to play with your hand or not corrected them—gently and positively—when they have attacked you), and are usually more interested in naps, food, watching Cat TV (AKA the window), and other things.

Q&A Does Catnip Have Health Benefits?

QDoes catnip do anything for a cats’ health or is it just a recreational drug for them?

A: It depends on the kitty. If your cat has the gene that makes it sensitive to catnip, it can have some health effects.

If your cat consumes it rather than just smelling and rolling in it, it can have a calming effect. Our little guy, Stiles, has feline insomnia. He gets enough REM sleep, but not enough NREM sleep. Kitties usually grow out of it by the age of 3, but he’s just about to turn 2. He licks it instead of rolling in it. It mellows him out, and it helps him catch up on sleep. So that’s a definite benefit.

Our 2 older kitties who have the gene, Kiki and Kagetora, tend to roll in it and sniff it, and it makes them playful, which is good, especially in the winter months when they nap a little more than usual. This helps them get some much needed exercise. Our oldest, Kagome (19 years old), doesn’t have the gene.

But we can’t give it to the 2 older cats and Stiles at the same time because they get a little aggressive, and he gets really chill, and will just let them bite him if we don’t direct that aggression toward play.

It can also be a powerful training aid. If your cat is scratching the furniture, carpet, or walls, then using catnip on scratching posts (try to get ones made of the materials they like to scratch). If you want them to use the new kitty bed you got them instead of your laundry basket, catnip can also help with that.

If you don’t have a plant, then try to buy it as fresh as possible, and store excess in the freezer. Also, don’t give it to them too often because they can lose their sensitivity to it.

How Are Domestic Cats Different From & the Same As Big Cats

Cats of all sizes are remarkably similar. They are all obligate carnivores, they like cardboard boxes, enjoy chasing the evil little red dot, enjoy catnip, and all sorts of other things.

The main thing that makes them different is that domestic cats like hanging out with people. Big cats don’t. But in almost all other ways, cats of all sizes are extremely similar. They like catnip, they like boxes, they sleep a lot, they like unrolling toilet paper, they are obligate carnivores, they have better sight than other carnivores, a great sense of smell, and some big cats even knead (making biscuits), etc.

Domestic cats are social, and (females especially) live in colonies when they are feral. But lions are also very social, and live in groups.

The biggest differences are that domestic cats have more mutations on genes involved in mediating aggressive behavior, forming memories, and controlling the ability to learn from either fear or reward-based stimuli. This means they have longer memories, more capacity to learn, and are far less aggressive than their wild relatives.

Further Reading:

Cat Genome Reveals Genetic Signatures Underlying Feline Biology and Domestication

Q&A: When Your Cats Don’t Get Along

Q: I have 2 cats that used to get along, but now they fight all the time. Both cats are under 2, and they are related (the older cat sired the younger). The younger cat is not neutered. When the older cat reached puberty, he started being aggressive with the younger cat. I got the older one (21 months) neutered, but it hasn’t helped. What can I do?

A:  Are you sure they’re fighting and not playing? It can be hard to tell the difference if you aren’t used to doing so.

The main way you tell is with one question: is there blood?

If not, they’re likely playing rough, which is common, especially in young males.

Males usually reach sexual maturity between 5 and 8 months (but it can be as early as 4 months and as late as 10 months). Males should be neutered between 4 and 6 months of age.

Make sure that you do the following:

  • You need to get the younger cat neutered as well. Since the younger cat is still intact, he still poses a territorial threat to his elder. This is absolutely crucial, so get it done ASAP.
  • Play with both of them (together if that works, or separately) 15 minutes 2 times a day. This will significantly lower aggression.
  • Make sure your cats are able to climb and explore SmartCat Multi-Level Cat Climber and/or Premier Kitty Pad Cat Tree If you have high spots, like the tops of bookshelves and things, you can get some wide shelves or a tall kitty tree to give them access. I turned a cheap cat tree into a ladder. I bolted the cat tree to the bookshelves and the wall, and anchored the bookshelf to the wall as well. Then I stuck the cat bed to the top with velcro so I can remove it to wash, but it won’t slide around. Like this:

  • Have nice window spots to watch what’s going on outside. Get a window perch or 2 if your windows don’t have a place for the cats to sit. Window Perches

Add a little oasis in one corner somewhere. This has been shown to lower aggression and to fight obesity, as well as other benefits. I read a few studies, and was dubious that it would help, but it really, really has. My cats are calmer, healthier, and generally happier since I created the oasis.

If none of this solves the problem (it will improve the situation, but may not solve the underlying issue), then it’s time to reset the relationship. Basically, turn it off and back on again. That just means re-introducing your cats.

You should read this in its entirety: Aggression Between Cats in Your Household Dealing with aggression can be hard, but you can usually make it work if you’re willing to put in the effort. Specifics on re-introduction:

If the Aggression Is Mild or Between Two Cats Who Used to Get Along

  • Put your cats in different rooms for several days (up to 2 weeks), with separate bedding, litter, and water. This way they can hear and smell each other, but don’t have to interact.
  • Put the cats’ food bowls on opposite sides of a closed door. This will encourage them to be close together while they’re doing something that makes them feel good.
  • Each day, have the cats switch rooms so that they both experience some variation and get access to each other’s scents.
  • After a few days of eating on either side of a closed door, if both of your cats appear relaxed, crack the door open one inch. If they remain calm, open the door a bit more, then a bit more. If the cats remain relaxed, they may be ready to begin eating together without the door, but with supervision. If they react with any signs of aggressive behavior: growling, spitting, hissing, swatting, etc., separate them again and follow the more gradual reintroduction instructions below.
  • Some people have had success with rubbing a bit of tuna juice on their cats’ bodies and heads. Grooming is a very zen exercise for them. If things go really well, the cats may actually groom each other because they can’t reach the juice on their own heads.
  • You can also play the sound of a purring cat to your older cat before, during, and after a meet with the younger cat to help him chill.

If the Aggression Is Severe or Occurs Between Cats Who Have Never Gotten Along

  • Separate your cats as described above but for a longer period of time, and reintroduce them at a much slower pace, like several days to a few weeks.
  • Instead of simply opening the door to reintroduce the cats, provide daily reintroduction sessions that very gradually move the cats closer and closer together under supervision.
  • During the sessions, you might find it easier to control your cats with harnesses and leashes, or by confining one or both of your cats in crates.
  • During the sessions, keep both cats distracted with food or play. Start out with them far apart. Keep the sessions short. Make it easy for them to succeed.
  • Separate your cats between reintroduction sessions to prevent a relapse.
  • Only when your cats can peacefully eat and play within a couple feet of each other should they be left alone together unsupervised. Trust them only for short periods together at first and increase their times together gradually.
  • Behavioral medication may be helpful in reducing a domineering cat’s aggression and a skittish cat’s fear, making the reintroduction go more smoothly and quickly.

Finally, if none of this works, take the older cat back to the vet for a full check-up. He may be lashing out because he is in pain, or has some other issue.

Further reading:

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats