Tag - Cat Behavior

Correcting Bad Cat Behaviors: Do’s and Don’ts

Cat sitting with some toilet paper that he just made a big mess with

Cats will be cats.

Unfortunately, this means that cats will occasionally scratch your arm, wake you up at night, unroll your toilet paper, destroy the corner of your couch, swat your glass off a shelf, and exhibit countless other behaviors that are, from a human viewpoint, problematic. When considering the cat in its natural habitat and not in your living room, it can be a little easier to understand why cats do the things they do.

Cats scratch surfaces as a way of marking their territory and sharpening their claws. They don’t just hate your taste in furniture.

Cats like to be up high so it’s easier to survey their territory and hunt. They aren’t trying to purposefully take down your ceiling fan.

Cats in the wild need to kill small animals to survive. Hunting is pretty important to them. As a result, they practice it all the time. They aren’t trying to ruin your socks or make you bleed.

Breaking cats of some of their most instinctual habits can be difficult. Most people resort to using a spray bottle of water or just yelling at their cat and hoping for the best. But neither of those strategies are good options. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of cat behavior Do’s and Don’ts for some common problematic cat behaviors.

Cat sitting on a laptop

Most Importantly…

These first items are the most important ones on the list. Not to say that there isn’t some great advice on this list. But following these first few pieces of advice is paramount.

DO…
  • Take your cat to the vet if the problem behavior they are expressing may indicate a health problem. Examples of these behaviors include:
    • Excessive meowing
    • High levels of aggression
    • Urinating outside of the litter box frequently
    • Loss of appetite
    • Frequent eating of non-food objects
DON’T…
  • Rely on Google searches to diagnose your cat’s ailments. Always take your cat to a licensed veterinarian if you have a concern that something is wrong.
  • Physically abuse your pet as a means of correcting his behavior. This is the worst thing you can do. Never do this.

General Friskiness (Scratching, Knocking Things Over, etc.)

DO…
  • Make sure your cat has plenty of interesting toys to play with. Otherwise, your cat may start creating “toys” out of your possessions and batting them around the house. Giving your cat plenty of acceptable play options will make it less likely that they will play fight with your shoes or repeatedly knock your glasses off of your nightstand.
  • Provide plenty of acceptable alternatives to unwanted cat behaviors. For example, if your cat is scratching one of your door jambs, make sure your cat has a good vertical scratching post available. Sprinkle it with some catnip to try and entice your cat into finding a new place to scratch. If your cat continues scratching the door jamb, trying moving the scratching post directly in front of the area that is being scratched. If you still catch your cat scratching at the door jamb again, pick up her front paws mid-scratch and move them gently onto the scratching post.
  • Try to get your cat to associate their problematic behaviors with unpleasant sensations that are completely detached from you, the owner. You don’t want your cat to think that an unpleasant condition only occurs when they exhibit the bad behavior around you. You want them to associate the unpleasant condition with the behavior. Examples of ways to create unpleasant conditions include the use of scents and tastes that cats despise as a means of deterring them from specific behaviors. We’ll discuss how to do this effectively further down in the list!

Cat dancing and being frisky

DON’T…
  • Tempt fate by leaving your house full of clutter that your cat may try to play with. If you leave small objects like paper clips, rubber bands, bottlecaps, and food wrappers around your house, your cat may easily confuse these small items with toys and treat them accordingly. Cats seem to have an extra sense that helps them instantly identify tiny objects that they can bat all around your house. Small objects like these pose a choking risk to cats, and you should prevent your cat from playing with them whenever possible.
  • Encourage bad behavior. If you laugh and pet your kitten after she unrolls an entire roll of toilet paper across your bathroom, she’s probably going to do it again. Don’t provide any sort of physical or psychological reward that your cat may link to her bad behavior. This can be especially difficult when very young kittens begin to nibble on our hands and feet. It’s super cute when this happens, and we tend to reward the kitten with pets and cuddles whenever they do this. Encouraging the behavior in this manner will lead to an adult cat that plays with your hands and feet in the same way, but now with adult-sized teeth and claws. Instead, don’t encourage your kitten when she nibbles at you playfully. You don’t have to discipline her or punish the behavior, but instead put your kitten down and withdraw attention for a couple minutes or so.
  • Yell at your cat to try and correct their behavior. Your cat will not understand. Unless you are yelling at the cat as the bad behavior is being performed, your cat will likely not make the connection between the behavior and the “punishment.” Also, to reiterate, your cat will not understand. He may recognize that you’re heart rate goes up when you are angry and you start making louder, more aggressive noises. But he may confuse it for play. At its best, yelling at your cat will just confuse him. To reiterate a third and final time, your cat will not understand.
  • Use a spray bottle or squirt gun filled with water to try and correct your cat’s behavior. Unless the cat is being sprayed as it is in the middle of performing the bad behavior, she will not link the behavior and the punishment, causing confusion. Also, she will associate the punishing spray of water directly with you, decreasing her trust in you and instilling fear. Your cat will identify the fact that she will only get sprayed if you are around while she is performing the behavior, and she will learn to do it when you are not around. Additionally, there is a good amount of evidence that shows that negative reinforcement (i.e. punishment) is an ineffective training tool, not only for cats but also for people. Animals in general respond much better to positive reinforcement than negative.

Kitten climbing on cat tree

Litter Training

DO
  • Make sure to check with your vet if your cat is frequently going to the bathroom outside of the litter box. There are several medical conditions that can lead to a cat exhibiting this behavior.
  • Have a spare litter box handy. Cats are reluctant to use a litter box that another cat has recently used. To prevent accidents, make sure your cat always has a fresh litter box available. This typically means having at least one more litter box than the number of cats in your household.  
  • See if there’s a specific spot your cat likes to go to the bathroom. If so, try moving his litter box that exact location.
  • Make sure the box is the right size for your cat. A kitten needs a box that is small and easy for them to climb into, while a larger adult cat may need a larger than average litter box to avoid going over the edge by accident.
Cat lying in a litter box

Photo courtesy of Laura LaRose.

DON’T 
  • Get lazy when it comes to scooping your cat’s litter box. Cats hate when their litter box is full. They’re more likely to go off and do their business outside of the box if their litter box is not well maintained. In fact, some cats won’t go in a litter box if there is any waste present at all. Keeping the litter box clean by scooping frequently will ensure that your cats always have a pleasant place to poop.
  • Rely on soap and water when cleaning up cat urine following an accident. Cleaning up cat urine with soap and water may mask the odor of the urine enough for you to find acceptable, but your cat cat smell a lot better than you can. The odor will linger, and since cats like to revisit the same locations when going to the bathroom, you are likely going to have repeat accidents. Instead, use a cleaning product that has been specifically designed for removal of pet odors to neutralize cat urine stains. Make sure to act quickly after observing an accident to prevent any repetition of the behavior. If repeated cleaning is unsuccessful, you may need restrict your cat’s access to the area where accidents keep happening to prevent them in the future. Check out this article for more information about cleaning up cat urine stains.
  • Use a covered litter box. Covered litter boxes are appealing since they (ideally) trap odor, preventing it from spreading around your house. In reality, adding a cover to a litter box introduces a series of other issues. Litter in covered boxes does not dry as quickly as it does in an uncovered box. As a result, it may not clump properly. Your cat will likely find the odor inside the box to be distasteful since covered boxes are typically not ventilated very well. Also, the space provided by a covered litter box puts a cat in a very vulnerable position. Cats like an open litter box since they can see in all directions. In nature, cats are very aware of their vulnerability while going to the bathroom and prefer a location where they can keep an eye on things. Going inside of a box with only one entrance and exit may make your cat nervous, leading to a failure to bury its waste or avoidance of the box altogether.
Cat sitting and looking into a spherical robotic automatic litter box

Photo courtesy of Your Best Digs

Restricting Access:  Keeping Cats Away From Places and Things

DO…
  • Use odors that cats hate to keep them out of certain areas. There are several sprays you can buy that can be applied to furniture and other objects as cat repellants, but these may contain harsh artificial chemicals. There are a number of natural alternatives you may already have around the house that may be worth a try. Here’s a list of smells that cats can’t stand:
    • Citrus – citrus is actually poisonous to cats, but they would need to eat a lot of it in order to have any negative effects. And this is no problem for most cats, since they really hate the smell of citrus.
    • Spicy smells, such as mustard, cloves, cayenne pepper, etc.
    • Eucalyptus oil
    • Wintergreen oil
    • Citronella
  • Take advantage of objects that cats don’t like the feel of, such as aluminum foil, plastic, or sticky surfaces. Placing these materials on or around areas you would like to keep cat-free will discourage your cat from walking there. Cats hate walking on these kinds of materials and will avoid them at all costs.

Cat sitting on a shelf

DON’T…
  • Use mothballs as a cat repellant. Mothballs are highly toxic to cats. They are used for pest control since they act as a pesticide. As a result, you should keep them far away from your cat.
  • Use aloe gel as a way of repelling your cat from places you want them to stay away from. Aloe is poisonous to cats and can cause serious medical problems if even a small amount is ingested. Aloe is one of over 400 plants that are toxic to cats. You can find a complete list of those plants from the ASPCA here.

Cat sitting half in a window, half inside, half outside

The Definitive Guide to Getting Rid of Cat Urine Odors

Blue spray bottle spraying cleaning solution

Every cat owner dreads the smell of cat pee outside of the litter box. When a cat urinates in a litter box, the litter and any odor-absorbing chemicals in the litter help neutralize the smell. Plus, your cat will bury his waste after he’s done going, masking the odor even more. But when a cat goes outside of the litter box and onto something soft and absorbent, the resulting smell can be overpowering.

Why Does Cat Urine Smell So Bad?

Cat urine smells terrible, but in a very specific way. It produces a pungent ammonia odor that worsens as it ages if it is not cleaned up or removed. But why does cat urine smell so much worse than other types of urine?

Diet & Metabolism

Cats eat a lot of protein. In fact, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that food for adult cats contain at least 26% protein, and that food for kittens contain at least 30%. Some veterinarians recommend even higher protein intake.

The feline digestive system breaks down proteins into a compound called urea. When bacteria break urea down even further, one of the substances that is released is ammonia, the signature aroma of cat urine. As cat urine sits and ages, bacteria break down its constituent compounds even further, releasing mercaptans. Mercaptans are the same compounds that are found in the spray from a skunk. The resulting odor is very, very bad.

Brown tabby cat eating out of a bowl
Hormones

But cat urine doesn’t just contain urea. It also may include hormones. Each cat produces his own unique hormone “cocktail,” and cats use these hormones as a way of marking their territory and signaling to potential mates. The presence of hormones adds an additional (terrible) characteristic to the overall aroma of cat urine,.

Cat urine smells are extremely difficult to remove from fabrics, especially those scents produced by hormones. The scents may be present at  low enough levels that we can’t smell them anymore. But our cat sure can.

When a cat marks a space by urinating on it, he is likely to return to that spot to mark it again in the future. As long as he can still smell the traces of the unique hormone blend that was present in his urine, he will keep returning and attempting to make the smell of his hormones even stronger.

Concentration

Cat urine is highly concentrated compared to human urine or the urine of other species of animals. Having developed in regions with arid climates, cats drink low amounts of water relative to their body size when compared to other mammals. Their bodies are designed to use the water they drink as efficiently as possible. The upside to this is that cats produce a much lower volume of urine relative to their size than other animals, including dogs and humans. The downside to this is that even a small volume of cat urine packs a powerful wallop of smells since it is highly concentrated.

Identifying Cat Urine Stains

Cat urine stains are identifiable by their odor, yellow discoloration, and dampness. If you look at a space and think to yourself, “hey, it looks/smells like a cat peed there,” then he probably did. However, the precise location of a cat urine stain may be difficult to identify if the urine has already dried or if the color of the surface effectively masks any potential discoloration.

One way to locate a cat urine stain that cannot be seen with the naked eye is to use a blacklight or UV light. Cat urine stains will glow white under these types of lights, as will several other types of stains. This may be the only way to identify a stain that has dried or is on a surface that may mask the stain’s appearance.

Cat urine stain on carpet

Getting Rid of Cat Urine Odors

Getting rid of the combination of concentrated ammonia and hormones present in cat urine is challenging. Most normal cleaning products are not powerful enough to fully remove the cat urine odor. After cleaning, your cat, who has a much better smell that you, will still be able to smell his hormones if the site has not been cleaned thoroughly enough or with the right materials. And you’d better believe he’s going to mark it again if he can still smell himself.

You should avoid using any cleaning products that contain ammonia when trying to clean up cat urine. Since the urea in the urine has broken down into ammonia, using an ammonia-based cleaning product is not going to solve your ammonia problem. It will make things worse.

Also, avoid using cleaning products that contain bleach. When bleach and ammonia mix, they release chloramine gas. Chloramine gas is toxic. You should immediately vacate an area where these two chemicals have been mixed and ventilate it to allow the gas to dissipate.

Homemade Cleaning Solutions
White Vinegar & Water

Vinegar is weakly acidic. When it is combined with cat urine, it reacts with the basic salts contained in dried cat urine, neutralizing them.  

Create a solution of white vinegar and water, using one part vinegar for every one part water (50/50 solution). This solution can be rubbed into the cat urine stain using a scrub brush or cloth. Vinegar naturally reacts with ammonia, and using a vinegar cleaning solution will help  to neutralize the painful ammonia smell associated with cat urine. 

The smell of vinegar may remain at the location or on the fabric temporarily after cleaning. It will fade shortly, and the cat urine odor should also be gone by the time the vinegar smell has disappeared.

Apple Cider Vinegar & Water

If the smell of white vinegar is a bit too much for you, you can substitute apple cider vinegar instead.

Apple cider vinegar and white vinegar are produced using the same process and work almost identically to one another as a cleaning agent. Apple cider vinegar tends to be a bit more expensive since it is often sold for consumption in addition to its use as a cleaning agent.

Adding apple cider vinegar to your laundry can help neutralize cat urine odors and remove stains from clothing without add too much of an astringent vinegar smell.

Club Soda and Baking Soda

Using a combination of club soda and baking soda may also help remove cat urine odors.

At least, according to the folks at Arm & Hammer.

Try scrubbing stained carpets and other linens with club soda and allowing it to dry. Then, dust the stain with baking soda and lightly scrub it into the area. Allow the baking soda to react with any of the remaining odors, then vacuum it up.

Baking Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide + Dish Soap

After cleaning a stain with vinegar but before it has fully dried, sprinkle baking soda across the stain. Combine ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide with 1 tsp. of liquid dish soap and apply to the stain. Scrub the mixture into the stained area, then blot dry.

Make sure you test this stain remedy on a small portion of the carpet before applying it across the entire stain. This will help you make sure that the mixture is not going to cause any discoloration.

Commercial Cleaning Aids

There are a number of enzymatic cleaners on the market that can be used to break down the proteins and other molecules contained in cat urine. Enzymatic cleaners can cause staining or discoloration on some fabrics, so always test the cleaner in a small area before applying it across the entire stain. 

Here are some of the most popular enzymatic cleaners on the market:

 

 

Material-Specific Cleaning Instructions

Carpet

Try to blot up as much of the urine as possible if the stain is still wet. Use a clean cloth and cold water. Do not rub the urine into the carpet, but instead use a blotting motion. Avoid applying heat to the stain.

Next, apply your cleaning solution of choice to the stain. Work the solution into the stain with a scrub brush. The solution should not just sit on top of the carpet. You need to make sure that it is pushed deep into the carpet so it can contact as much cat urine as possible.

Let your cleaning solution soak into the stain for at least 10 minutes. Scrub the stain using a scrub brush, then blot the stain dry using a clean cloth. Try to remove as much cleaning solution as possible through absorption. This will allow the cleaned stain to dry faster.

Avoid using bleach or other harsh cleansers that may discolor the affected area.

Make sure you remember to vacuum the stain area after it has dried. This will remove any remaining dry particles of cat urine or cleaning solution that may still be in the carpet.

You may need to repeat this process a few times to fully remove the cat urine smell. In the event that the urine soaked all the way through your carpet and into the materials below, you may have a difficult time ever getting the space clean. Consider putting something on top of the spot if convenient, like a piece of furniture, to keep your cat away from it.

Black cat lying on a brown carpet

Clothing, Towels, and Linens (Machine Washable)

Rinse the stained area with cold water. Place the stained items in the washing machine and add your normal laundry detergent. Next, add 1 cup of baking soda and ¼ cup of vinegar (apple cider or white) to the washing machine. Run the machine. You may need to repeat the process a few times to fully remove the odor. If baking soda and vinegar aren’t cutting it, consider trying an enzymatic cleaner.

Do not put your clothes in the dryer after you’ve cleaned the stains out of them. The heat from the dryer can permanently trap any remaining odor in the fabric. Allow your clothes to air dry, then check to see if you can still smell the cat urine. Repeat as necessary.

Couches, Chairs, Pillows, Mattresses, etc.

Just like cleaning a carpet, blot up as much of the liquid as you using a clean cloth. Using a cloth dampened with cold water, wet the stained area. Then repeat the blotting process.

Next, apply your cleaning solution across the entire stain. Gently scrub the cleaning solution into the stain using a soft scrub brush. Allow the solution to soak into the stain for at least 10 minutes.

After allowing the stain to soak, use a scrub brush to scrub the stain. Then, blot up the remaining cleaning solution using a clean cloth. Once the area has been dried, you will need to keep the area covered with a cloth until the cleaning process has been repeated enough times to permanently remove the cat urine odor. Make sure to replace the towels regularly, and repeat the cleaning process as many times as needed to get rid of the smell.

Hard Surfaces

Hard surfaces may be cleaned using stronger cleaning products than carpets, upholstery, mattresses, or clothing. Make sure the cleaning solution you use does not contain ammonia or bleach.

Depending on the type of surface, you may not be able to use an acidic cleaner. Fortunately, cat urine smells are easier to remove from hard surfaces than from fabrics. Make sure to clean the spot several time until the odor is no longer detectable.

Cleaner being sprayed onto a wood surface by gloved hands holding a sponge.

Tips for Avoiding Future Accidents

  • Keep the litter box clean
  • If your cat urinates somewhere, you may need to repeat the cleaning procedures above several times before your cat loses interest in urinating there again.
  • Place your cat’s food near the location where he previously urinated. Cats are less likely to go to the bathroom in the same place that they eat.

If your cat continues having accidents outside of the litter box, bring him to your vet immediately for an evaluation. Several medical conditions may cause an adult cat to stop using his litter box. For example, when older cats develop arthritis, they may avoid the litter box because it is painful to enter and exit. The sooner you get your cat checked out, the sooner the problem can be diagnosed accurately.

10 Ways to Keep Your Cat Off of the Kitchen Counter

Cat standing on a kitchen counter, looking especially guilty.

It’s 6:30 PM. You’re grating some cheese to top off a nice fish stew that you’ve been working on for the past three hours. Your turn your back on your cooking for a second to check your recipe. When you get back, behold!

Your cat is up in your business, eating your fish and cheese! Drat!

But what do you do? How do you stop your cat from constantly ruining your fish and cheese dinners by jumping up onto your kitchen counters?

It may not hurt to consider just why it is your cat feels compelled to get onto your counter. Maybe your tasty-smelling chow was enough to entice him up there in this case. But there may be other times when you’ve found him on the counter, sunning himself or knocking around a salt shaker, seemingly with no motivation other than to get on your nerves.

Why Do Cats Jump on Counters?

Cats keep a short list of reasons for jumping up on kitchen counters written on a small piece of paper folded nicely and placed in their vest pocket. Unfortunately, most cats forget to wear their vest on a daily basis. The ones who remember to wear their vest typically have butlers that dry clean their clothing for them, so their owners never think to check the pocket for any secret lists. But we’ve managed to intercept a copy, and here it is.

Instinctual Love of Heights

By their very nature, cats are attracted to heights. They are natural born climbers, and if there’s something in your house that looks like it can be scaled, your cat is probably going to give it a shot. There’s not much you can do to stop them either.

A cat’s love of heights comes from the fact that he typically hunts for his food. A cat can survey a larger area if he’s perched up high than he can when he’s crouching in the tall grass. A high lookout post also prevents predators from attacking or sneaking up on a cat, keeping them safe. As a result, cats tend to seek out high spaces for the associated feeling of security they provide. Also, cats probably just like to feel superior to their human owners. 

Interesting / Delicious Stuff

There are a lot of interesting items on your countertop, including food and small items that your cat would love to bat around. Delicious foods may be enough to tempt even the most well-behaved cat into jumping up onto your kitchen counter. There may be other items up there that are especially interesting to cats, including spice bottle, utensils, and other small things that a cat would love to bat around like an artificial mouse.

Access to Fresh Water

Cats love running water. In the wild, a cat would never drink out of a stagnant puddle formed in the mud. They would find a stream or spring, drinking from a source of running water.

While this may be simply because running water tastes better, it also serves to protect a cat’s health, as stagnant water is much more likely to contain bacteria or insects that may cause illness. This is why it’s so important to keep your cat’s water dish clean and to change the water regularly.

If your kitchen counter is connected to a sink, your cat is probably going to want to check that sink out. Whether he’s lapping up the remaining drops on the sink basin floor after you’ve just rinsed the dishes or drinking greedily from a leaking faucet, your cat is probably going to show your kitchen sink more interest than an ordinary bowl of stagnant water. And he’s going to need to hop up onto your kitchen counter to do it.

Boredom / Attention

Maybe your cat is just bored, so he’s jumping up onto the counter looking for excitement. This may be excitement in the form of exploring the countertop surfaces, or it may be excitement derived in the frantic response the jump elicits in you, the owner.

Cats can very easily confuse our responses to their unwanted behavior as invitations to play. Cats regularly play fight with one another, so for you to quickly pick a cat up and set them on the ground after they’ve jumped up onto the kitchen counter may be construed as a play fight initiation. Your cat may be jumping up on the counter to get you to pay attention to them or to play with them.

How Do I Keep My Cat off of the Counter?

Try the methods listed below the next time your cat gets in the way while you’re chopping up some salmon:

1. Start Early

Don’t let your cat get into the habit of getting onto the counter before working to correct the behavior. The sooner you choose to confront your cat about the situation, the easier it will be to correct the behavior. This means refusing to pet your cat or award them with affection whenever they jump onto the kitchen counter, no matter how difficult that may seem. 

2. Keep Your Counters Clean

Don’t leave any spare food out on the counter. Make sure to put away any small objects, especially sharp knives that may potentially hurt your cat. If your counters are full of little trinkets and scraps of food, your cat may confuse these items for toys and snacks. But if your counters are empty, your cat will probably get bored with them pretty quickly.

3. Give Your Cat Climbing Alternatives

Cats are gonna climb, and there’s not much you can do to stop them. Why not give them something that they’re allowed to climb all over? Provide your cat with climbing alternatives such as cat trees and other types of cat furniture and he will be less interested in climbing onto your kitchen counters.

4. Use Commercial Repellants

There are a number of commercial repellents available that can be used to keep your cat out of areas where you don’t want him to be. These repellents can be useful if you have a particularly determined cat who is unfazed by some of the other methods proposed on this list.

Here are a couple of commercial repellents that work well for keeping cats off of kitchen counters:

 SENTRY Stop That! For Cats

 

PetSafe SSSCAT Spray Pet Deterrent

5. Evaluate Your Cat’s Feeding Schedule

Hungry cats are much more likely to show interest in the food on your counters, especially during meal preparation. If your cat tends to jump up on your counter while you’re preparing dinner, consider feeding your cat right before you start cooking. Your cat will be too distracted with his own meal to bother you while you prepare yours.

Once your cat finishes eating, he’ll probably groom himself and take a nap. This gives you plenty of time to finish fixing your meal without any interruptions from your cat.

6. Provide Sufficient Entertainment

Make sure your cat has plenty of toys and other things to keep him busy. Also, make sure you’re spending plenty of time playing with him. A cat that jumps up onto counters may just be looking for attention from you, or trying to get you to play with him. Try to beat him to the counter jump, playing with him beforehand and tiring him out so he’s less inclined to get onto your counters.

If your cat is not particularly interested in toys, consider getting him a food puzzle. If your cat is still interested in food that may be stored on your kitchen counter, a food puzzle may be enough to keep him entertained while resting on an acceptable surface, such as the floor.

7. Restrict Access

If your cat simply cannot resist the smell of food while you’re cooking, you may need keep him out of the kitchen during meal preparation. This may mean shutting the doors, or enclosing your cat in another room temporarily.

Once you have finished your work in the kitchen and cleaned off your counters, you can let your cat back in. If your cat is only interested in your food, then he should have lost interest in the kitchen counters once the food has been put away.

8. Use Positive Reinforcement

Reward your cat whenever you observe him jumping up onto cat furniture in lieu of the kitchen counters. Use treats and affection, giving your cat plenty of pets. Your cat will begin to associate his behavior with treats and will do it automatically, abandoning his previous fascination with your countertops.

Orange cat sitting on a kitchen counter

White kitchen sink interior

9. Modify the Counter Surface

Modify the surface of the counter using a material that your cat hates to walk on. Examples including aluminum foil, double-sided tape, or plastic matting. Ideally, the surface should be modified as close to the counter edge as possible. This way the modified surface is the first thing your cat comes into contact with when he tries to jump onto the counter. If he dislikes the surface, he will jump down immediately.

Aluminum foil is a good option since it is cheap and accessible, but it doesn’t look very nice. Plastic mats work well since they are easily cleanable and are less ugly than aluminum foil. Double-sided tape placed on the outer perimeter of the counter also works well, but make sure to choose a brand that won’t leave a residue and won’t tear off part of your counter. You may want to test out the tape on a part of the counter that is not usually visible before using the tape across the entire countertop.

10. Don’t Resort to Punishment

Don’t try to punish your cat. Negative reinforcement is not an effective training method. Avoid using a spray bottle, yelling at your cat, or tossing your cat off the counter angrily. All of these things will just scare and confuse your cat, and they will not address the behavior effectively. 

Deep Cat Questions – Why Do Cats Meow?

Cat meowing loudly

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a cat’s meow. With just one seemingly simple vocalization, cats are able to convey a whole range of emotions to their owners, including hunger, fear, or just a simple desire to be noticed. But where did this behavior come from, and why do cats do it?

The Origin of Meowing

Kittens begin meowing very shortly after birth. They use meowing as a way of getting their mother’s attention, signaling their presence so that the mother can keep tabs on each member of her litter. They also use it to indicate when they are hungry, allowing the mother cat to respond by feeding them.

Interestingly, meowing and similar vocalizations, such as purring, are common among newborns from a variety of wildcat species. However, only domesticated cats (Felis catus) retain this behavior into adulthood. This is an example of a phenomenon known as neoteny. We discussed this phenomenon in our article about kneading, another behavior that wildcats abandon as kittens but that adult domestic cats keep doing over the course of their lives.

While cats meow at people with varying frequency, they don’t usually meow at each other in a friendly manner. Cats use a variety of other vocalizations to communicate with one another, including yowls, hisses, and growls, but they refrain from using the variety of casual meows that we as humans are used to hearing. Cats typically only meow at each other out of immediacy, such as when they are in a confrontation with one another or when they are play fighting and one cat begins biting the other a little bit too hard.

Human Interpretation of Cat Meows

Meowing can seem complex language between cats and humans. Cats use meows to communicate a variety of needs and desires, and it’s up to their human owners to decipher their specific meaning. Fortunately, this process is not as difficult as it sounds, and cats are able to get their message across pretty effectively.

Most cat owners can tell the difference between a “let’s play” meow, an “I’m hungry” meow, and a “well, hello” meow. Cats use meows to let us know when they want us to open a door for them, feed them, play with them, pick them up, give them a treat, scratch them, scoop their litter box, and a litany of other tasks. Or, they may also use meows to let us know that they’ve witnessed a murder. It depends on the situation.

Since cats aren’t learning English anytime soon, this is their most effective way of getting us to pay attention to them and to do what they want. Cats constantly signal their presence by meowing at humans, perhaps as a way of avoiding getting stepped on or kicked by mistake since they sit below a human’s normal eye level.

Cat Conversations

In 2015, researchers from the UK published a study that evaluated how humans respond to cat meows and how well we are able to tell what our cat is trying to indicate based on the meow alone. The study found that cat owners are able to predict the context of their cat’s meows slightly more than chance would predict. However, individuals were not able to predict the context of the meows of other, unidentified cats.

In other words, we can get good at figuring out what our own cat means when she meows, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to other cats. Other cats may meow differently than ours under an identical context. You need to have familiarity with a cat to be able to decipher the intent behind her meows.

Types of Cat Meows and Their Meanings

Cats are able to adjust the tonality of their meow to indicate different things. They can adjust the pitch, volume, and frequency of their meows to match the intensity of their need and their current emotional state. A cat that hasn’t been fed in a while may meow intensely, frequently, and at a high pitch. On the other hand, a cat that would just like a few scratches on the back may meow much more casually at a lower pitch, indicating that the need to be filled is not quite as urgent.

The following list is far from exhaustive, but we’ve tried to assemble some of the most common meows that cats typically make.

Hunger / Feeding Meows

Cat owners are very familiar with the sound of a cat begging for food. Here’s an example of a young cat meowing in anticipation of being fed:

 

As a cat’s hunger and desire to be fed increases, the pitch, volume, and frequency of their meows will increase as well.

Casual Greeting Meows

Many cats will meow when their owner enters a room after a period of absence. They may also meow upon entering a room. As far as we can tell, the purpose of these meows is simply to get a human’s attention and to make them known of the cat’s presence. These meows often blur into other cat vocalizations, including trills and purrs. The common thread behind these meows is that they are delivered with a low frequency, moderate volume, and at a moderate pitch, indicating the lack of a sense of urgency.

Here’s an example of a cat meowing casually as a greeting to their owner:

 

Fear / Anger / Pain Meows

Cats meow aggressively whenever they feel threatened, upset, or hurt. These types of meows are often very easy to identify by their screeching, piercing tone, high volume, and rapid frequency. They’re usually combined with other vocalizations, including growling, hissing, and spitting/snorting.  

Here is a compilation of angry cat sounds (WARNING: Be careful playing the sound from this video over your computer speakers if your cat is around. He may respond as though there’s an angry cat in the room and become angry and defensive himself):

 

Invitation to Play Meows

Cats will also meow at their owners when they are ready to play or when they are craving affection. These meows are similar to those exhibited as a casual greeting or when demanding to be fed. They tend to be lower in tone and can vary in frequency.

Here is an example of a cat meowing as an invitation to give them some scratches:

 

Loneliness/Anxiety Meows

Sometimes, a cat may meow out of loneliness. This is especially true for cats who have been left alone for an extended period of time. These types of meows are common during the middle of the night, especially among younger cats. Since they are still full of energy but their owner is asleep, they may feel as though they are alone and begin meowing for companionship.

Here is an example of a cat meowing out of loneliness:

 

How Much Meowing is Too Much?

Cats are like people: some of them are noisier than others. You may be the owner of a particularly chatty cat, or a very quiet cat that rarely meows audibly. Factors that may impact the frequency and tonality of your cat’s meow include breed, anatomy, environment, andpersonality.

Cat meowing behaviors can change over time as your cat ages or goes through lifestyle changes. I have personally experienced cat meowing behaviors changing with age and environmental conditions. My household cat growing up, Rocket, meowed infrequently until she passed the age of ten. In her old age, she became much more vocal, meowing casually as a greeting and whenever she was hungry and ready to be fed.

My current cat, Hunter, also experienced something similar. He spent his entire life with another companion cat, Keanu, who was the loudmouth of the pair. Unfortunately, Keanu was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2016 and had to be put to sleep shortly thereafter. After Keanu’s passing, Hunter gradually became more vocal, taking on the role of meowing in anticipation of feeding that Keanu used to fill. He also delivers far more casual greeting meows than he used to when Keanu was around.

Impact of Breed on Frequency of Meowing

Cat “talkativeness” also varies based on breed. As a rule of thumb, short-haired breeds tend to be a bit noisier than long-haired breeds. Of course, breed alone does not determine how often a cat will meow. There are plenty of examples of noisy long-haired breeds and quiet short-haired breeds. Here is a list of cat breeds that are known to be traditionally quiet or talkative:

  • Quiet Cats:  Persians, Blue Chartreux, Russian Blue, Norwegian Forest Cat, Bengals, British Shorthairs
  • Talkative Cats: Siamese, Oriental Shorthairs, Burmese, Tonkinese, Japanese Bobtail, Sphinx
Potential Health Issues That May Result in Frequent Meowing

While some cats may meow frequently just to hear the sounds of their own voices, as a cat owner you should be on the lookout for any changes to your cat’s usual meowing patterns. There are several medical conditions which may cause your cat to meow more frequently than normal, including:

  • Deafness: In the same way that a human who is going deaf will begin speaking more loudly, a cat who is going deaf will begin meowing more loudly
  • Feline Alzheimer’s: Cats may begin meowing if they become confused or disoriented as a result of cognitive impairment.
  • Separation Anxiety: Cats will meow when they are lonely
  • Thyroid, Kidney, or Heart Disorders: Each of these conditions may cause increased vocalizations

Cats may also experience increased hunger or thirst as a result of an ailment, or they may be in physical pain. Each of these symptoms may cause a cat to meow more frequently.

If you are concerned about your cat’s meowing frequency, you should bring them to a vet immediately. This is especially true if you have noticed a recent change in your cat’s typical meowing patterns. Cats can suffer from laryngitis if they meow too frequently, as may be the case if they are in pain or distress. Keep in mind that many cats meow frequently by nature, including healthy, playful kittens and cats that are adapting to new environments or recent changes to their lifestyle. Still, if you have a concern, ask your veterinarian to take a look.

Meowing at Night

Sometimes, cats will engage in frequent midnight meow sessions. Even worse, these “midnight” sessions actually occur closer to 4 AM. There are a number of reasons why cats do this.

Instinct

Cats are instinctually programmed to hunt in the early, pre-dawn morning. It’s cooler, allowing them to expend energy and recover more quickly than they would in the afternoon heat. This is also when they’re typically starting to get pretty hungry if they haven’t eaten for a while. A cat that wants to hunt but can’t may meow in frustration.

Hunger

A hungry cat will meow as a way of getting its owner to feed him. If your cat is meowing for their early morning meal at 4 AM, you may want to consider giving them a later feeding time the evening beforehand.

Recent Change in Lifestyle

If you just moved to a new location, got a new pet, lost a long-time pet, or have instituted some other major lifestyle change, your cat may respond with night meowing.

Should I Meow Back?

Many cat owners talk to their cats. In fact, we tend to adopt certain patterns and types of speech when addressing our cat, similar to the way we may speak to a baby or small child. We tend to speak more musically and with a higher pitch when talking to cats than when speaking with other humans. But little is currently known about the vocal interactions between humans and cats and their associated impact on cat vocalizations.

In 2016, a research team in Sweden received funding to complete a study that focuses entirely on the vocal exchanges that occur between humans and cats. The project, entitled “Meowsic,” aims to evaluate melody in human-cat communication. They plan on observing how cats and humans use prosody, or patterns of rhythm, tone, and sound, when communicating with one another. This study will help us understand the complexities behind human-feline communications.

Other Cat Vocalizations

Meows are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cat vocalizations. It’s difficult to talk about meowing without discussing the other sounds that cats make. This is because meowing often blends into other vocalizations, making it difficult to distinguish between the two.

Chatter

The most common place to hear a cat chatter is on a windowsill. Cats typically only chatter when potential prey is in sight, usually a bird. Chattering resembles the sound a bird makes. There are a number of theories as to why cats chatter, but the prevailing reasons are: anticipation of a hunt, frustration, or excitement.

 

Trill / Chirrup / Murmur

Trilling (or chirruping) is a mix between a purr and a meow. Cats usually do it when they’re in a good mood, and they use it as a casual greet or an invitation to scratch or play. Unlike meowing, cats do not trill to get attention.

 

Growl /  Snarl

Cats growl or snarl if they feel threatened. It is usually a precursor to aggression, and it is used as a warning that a cat is about to attack. Be careful around a growling cat. Cats may growl out of territorial possessiveness, irritation, anger, or fear.

 

Hiss

Like growling, cats hiss when they are feeling upset or threatened. Always observe caution around a hissing cat.

 

Caterwaul

Caterwauling is a sound that resembles howling or wailing. There are a few reasons why a cat may make a caterwaul noise, including a desire to breed (if the cat is not spayed or neutered), pain, or fear. Caterwauling and yowling are very similar, but caterwauling has the distinction of being associated with breeding.

 

Purr

Cats purr whenever they’re feeling happy and content. Purring is another example of neoteny, and it is only rarely observed among wildcats. Purring can also signal that a cat is in extreme pain or distress, so be aware if you notice your cat purring much more than usual. Typically, though, a purring cat is a happy cat.

 

Yowl

Cats yowl when they are feeling lonely or upset. The yowl is another common vocalization among cats that are preparing to be aggressive.

 

 

Deep Cat Questions – Why Do Cats Knead?

A kitten named Milton kneading a blanket

Nothing is quite as soothing as the sight of a kneading cat. Cats like to knead before they go to sleep, and they seem to have a pretty nice time doing it. They’re usually wearing a blissful, half-asleep expression, and sometimes their eyes are fully closed. They may even be drooling a little bit.

But have you ever stopped and wondered why cats knead? It’s a very strange behavior, and it doesn’t seem to have any clear purpose. Maybe they’re trying to soften up a space before they lie in it? Maybe their stretching out their paws before bed? Maybe they just like the feeling of digging their claws into something soft? 

What Does it Look Like When a Cat Kneads?

Before we get started, it’s extremely important that we all know what kneading looks like. I advise that you drop everything you are doing immediately and watch the following, er, educational video to get a solid, academic understanding of what cat kneading looks like:

Feel free to watch that a few times to really let it sink in.

Feel smarter? Good.  I knew the only reason you clicked on this article was in the hope that there would be a 2-minute video of non-stop cat kneading. Now that we’ve cleared that up, we may proceed.

Why Do Cats Knead?

When kittens are first born, their only source of nutrition is their mother’s milk. They are still blind and deaf, and they rely heavily on their other senses to survive. This includes their sense of touch. During nursing, newborn kittens gather around their mother and begin pressing on the mother’s teats to stimulate milk production. They churn their paws back and forth, extending and retracting their claws. This is their first introduction to the kneading process, and they are able to do it before they learn to hear or see. Kittens will continue to knead throughout the weening process. But they don’t stop there. Instead, they continue kneading well into their adult lives.

The theory that kneading is an instinctual behavior related to stimulation of milk production during kittenhood makes sense, but why would cats continue kneading long after they have stopped relying on their mother for food? Why wouldn’t they just grow out of it if it serves no function to an adult cat?

According to researchers, one of the side effects of domestication of cats is the persistence of juvenile, or “kitten-like,” behaviors. Wild cats tend to abandon juvenile behaviors as they mature into adulthood. Domestic cats, however, hang onto them, and many behaviors that domestic cats learn as kittens persist throughout their entire adult lives. The retention of juvenile behaviors into adulthood is known as neoteny, and it’s not just observed in cats. A variety of other domesticated animal species, including dogs and horses, exhibit varying degrees of neoteny as well.

A cat kneading a blanket

Photo courtesy of Rich More on Flickr

Examples of Neoteny in Cats

Examples of other juvenile behaviors that domesticated cats retain into adulthood include:

  • Friendliness towards other species: Kittens can be trained to be friendly with birds, dogs, and even squirrels well into adulthood, even though they would normally become mortal enemies with these species in the wild.
  • Meowing: Wildcats meow as kittens, but rarely meow as adults.
  • Greeting you calmly with a tail facing straight up: This gesture is typically only done by wildcat kittens when greeting their mother. Wildcats drop this behavior as they enter adulthood, but adult domesticated cats continue using it as a friendly greeting.
  • Kitten-like physical features, such as big eyes: In some cases, species of cats have been bred by humans to retain kitten-like features. For example, Scottish Folds have large eyes, and their folded ears are very similar to the ears of a kitten.

In a natural environment, behaviors and characteristics such as these may leave a wildcat vulnerable to attack by an enemy. But in a domesticated environment, your cat can continue to exhibit them without any fear of repercussion.

So, the next time someone asks you why cats knead, you can answer them in one word: neoteny!

What Does it Mean When My Adult Cat Kneads?

Cats tend to knead when they are on very soft surfaces that may resemble a mother cat’s belly. Also, kneading is very often a precursor to sleep. After feeding from their mother, kittens typically go right to sleep. There is a very high probability that cats use kneading as a sort of pre-sleep ritual, and the process itself makes them tired since their sense memory links the motion to the post-feeding sleepiness they experienced as kittens.

Cats seem to use kneading as a means of showing affection towards their owners and other people they like. It’s a behavior they would never do to a person they don’t trust, since it places them in a very vulnerable position. It’s their way of saying, “hey, you remind me of my mother, and that makes me feel good!” So the next time a cat kneads on you, remember that they’re just being friendly and try to ignore their claws digging in to your thigh.

Kneading probably feels pretty good to the cat too. Similar to the way a cat seems to associate purring with a feeling of contentedness, cats seem to associate kneading with a feeling of safety, security, and general well-being. It also gives them a chance to stretch out their muscles, which can help them relax before settling down for a quick (or long) nap.

Some cats may even get a little bit carried away when kneading. Several cats are known to drool during the process. It’s very cute to think about them becoming so blissed out while they’re kneading that they just start to drool in ecstasy, like a kitty-cat version of Homer Simpson.

A cat kneading a blanket

Photo courtesy of Johanna on Flickr.

What Do You Call a Cat Kneading?

No no, that’s not the start of a joke. People have quite a few names for cat kneading. Here’s a list of some of the more common ones:

  • Making Biscuits
  • Making Muffins
  • Making Bread
  • Happy Paws
  • Tenderizing
  • Paw Paddling

Have any other names for cat kneading? Leave them in the comments!