Misunderstood Cats: Insecurity, Not Pettiness, Drives Their Actions

Misunderstood Cats: Insecurity, Not Pettiness, Drives Their Actions

When cats misbehave, they’re not acting out of spite, but rather expressing their insecurities, says a pet psychologist.

Cat owners often feel like their pets are acting like petty roommates when they find surprises outside the litter box or claw marks on their favorite furniture.

It might seem like your cat is out for revenge, but experts suggest otherwise.

According to Kristyn Vitale, a professor of animal health and behavior at Unity Environmental University in Maine, cats are not being vindictive.

Instead, these behaviors are likely signs of insecurity and anxiety.

If your cat does something to get your attention, it’s not because they’re angry, but because they’re feeling lonely or stressed.

“The cat may not realize it, but they are sending a message,” Vitale explains. That message is not “I’m mad at you.”

So, when your cat acts out, it’s often because they’re feeling insecure, not because they’re trying to be difficult.

Rule Out Health Issues and Stress Factors

Sometimes, what we perceive as petty acts are actually signs of anxiety or illness.

If your cat‘s behavior changes suddenly, it might be a sign of a health problem.

For example, peeing outside the litter box once might not be a big deal, but if it happens repeatedly, it’s time to see the vet. Similarly, occasional vomiting might be harmless, but frequent vomiting is a concern.

Changes in your cat’s mood and eating habits can also indicate illness.

If your cat is healthy, consider whether they might be stressed.

Changes in their environment, such as a new person in the house, nearby construction, or another animal outside, can cause stress.

Vitale notes that cats often display unwanted behaviors as a way to cope with anxiety.

For instance, if their owner is away for a long time, they might develop social anxiety and exhibit behaviors like vomiting.

Addressing the Behavior with Positive Reinforcement

Once you’ve ruled out health issues, Vitale recommends evaluating the placement of resources like the litter box.

If the litter box is in a secluded area, your cat might pee outside it to mark a more prominent location, like the living room.

Adding a scratching post or moving the litter box to a more central area can help address this issue.

Vitale advises against using negative reinforcement, such as punishment, to stop unwanted behaviors.

Punishing your cat can harm your relationship and increase their stress.

Instead, she suggests using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.

Reward your cat for using the scratching post or peeing in the litter box, rather than punishing them for misbehavior.

“The goal is not to stop the behavior entirely but to redirect it to a more appropriate place,” Vitale says.

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