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Cat Behavior


Common Behavior Issues

Feline House Soiling

House soiling is one of the main reasons cats are relinquished or euthanized and is the most common behavioral complaint of kitty owners. Cats do not house soil as “revenge” or because they are “angry”. It can be a complex, multifactorial problem with both medical and behavioral causes.

The first step in addressing any house-soiling issue is to make sure that your cat has several clean litterboxes to choose from in quiet, private locations where they will not be scared by loud noises or interrupted by other pets or people. The general rule of thumb is to have one litterbox per cat + one extra, in different locations throughout the house. Most cats prefer a large litterbox with an unscented, clumping cat litter and like their box to be scooped at least once daily. If the problem persists beyond simple litterbox management, a trip to the veterinarian will be necessary.

If your cat is urinating on a flat surface (ie not spraying), it can be due to a medical or behavioral concern.

It is vital to rule out any underlying medical conditions before addressing possible behavioral concerns. Cats can urinate outside the litterbox for a variety of medical reasons including urinary tract infection, cystitis, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, cystitis, and arthritis.

Cats can also urinate outside the litterbox due to stress. This stress can also have a wide variety of causes including other cats inside or outside the home, separation distress, family changes, moving, etc.

You can tell if your cat is spraying because it will be on a vertical surface. As long as it is not accompanied by urination (see above), it is most commonly a behavioral problem. It can be due to anxiety, new pets or people in the home, or stray/neighborhood cats outside the home. A cat will perceive anything it can see through the window as its territory, so cats outside the home can be stressful even if they never interact. Feliway sprayed or diffused in your home can help with inappropriate marking, and a trip to the veterinarian will likely be necessary to discuss further management of this issue and the removal of triggers.

Unless litterbox management is the underlying concern for house soiling, defecation outside the litterbox is most commonly a medical rather than a behavioral issue. Please schedule a trip to the veterinarian to rule out any gastrointestinal tract diseases, allergies, or arthritic pain.

Scratching the Furniture

Scratching is a normal cat behavior. It keeps their claws healthy, allows them to “mark” their territory, and relieves stress. Allowing your cat to scratch is an important part of their mental and physical health.

If your cat is scratching your furniture or other objects that you would prefer them not to scratch, it is important to provide them with appropriate scratching posts and areas to climb, such as a cat tree. Encourage them to use these areas and discourage them from scratching other furniture. Feliway sprayed or diffused in your home can help with inappropriate marking, and you can tempt your cat to the scratching post using their favorite toys or catnip. If you catch your cat scratching something you would prefer them not scratch, then you can move them onto the appropriate post. You can also help by keeping your cats nails trimmed.


Behavioral over-grooming, otherwise known as “psychogenic alopecia,” is a form of stress-relief for many cats. This is a diagnosis of exclusion after all potential underlying medical causes have been ruled out. Medical causes include skin disease, allergies, and a response to physiologic stress. Behavioral causes can be anything that causes your cat stress. If you notice thinning hair/overgrooming, please book an appointment for a full work-up.

Inter-cat Issues

Aggression between cats, or one cat bullying another, can be a very complex issue. Cats can form deep bonds with other cats, and there are many cats who prefer to have company. However, cats are also very territorial by nature and issues can develop between cats who share territory, especially indoor territory. Aggressive behaviors can look as overt as yowling, hissing, and fighting; and as subtle as staring or even laying in areas that block another cat from resources such as the food bowl, litterbox, or preferred sleeping areas.
Inter-cat issues most commonly occur when a new cat is introduced to the home, and introduced to the resident cat(s) without proper introduction time. To help prevent this issue, introduce your new cat very gradually. Set your new cat up in a private room with a complete set of its own resources (food, water, litter, scratching post, cat tree, toys). Allow the resident cats to sniff through the closed door for a few days, and switch a few toys or blankets to allow them to acclimate to the scent of the other cat. The next step is to allow them to see each other through a baby gate or at opposite sides of a large room. They should be allowed to see and sniff each other, but not be left loose to escalate to hissing or fighting. The final stage of introduction is to allow them to meet. Reinforce and allow curious or friendly greetings, such as nose touches, rear end sniffing, or playing. Increase distance between the cats if you notice intense staring, hissing, or swatting.

Even when the cats are allowed to interact freely, it is important to have multiple sets of resources throughout your home. Most points of tension occur around food bowls or litterboxes. Make sure you have multiple feeding stations and areas where litterboxes are placed in your home.
It can also help reduce tension between cats to diffuse Feliway throughout your home. This is a synthetic pheromone that helps create harmony and reduce stress in a multiple-cat home.

If aggression suddenly develops between two cats that have previously been living in harmony, please book an appointment with your veterinarian as this may be a sign of health issues.

How cat behavior appointments work at Latah Creek Animal Hospital

Step One: Consultation with the doctor at Latah Creek Animal Hospital:

Dr. Megan Bauer has a special interest in behavioral medicine. We offer behavior consultations to clients whose pets have mild to moderate behavioral issues. This visit comprises a 1-hour initial behavioral visit to discuss behavioral concerns. Cat behavior focuses largely on environmental management and understanding natural cat behaviors to work with, rather than against, your cat. 

Medication options will be discussed and prescribed if appropriate. You will be asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire on your cat’s behavior before the appointment. You may also be asked to take pictures or videos of the behavior and environment.

Latah Creek Anmal hospital - pet behavior training

Step Two: Follow-up phone consultation

Your visit includes a 30-minute follow up phone consult to discuss your cat’s progress and determine if next steps are needed. The timing of this phone consult will be personalized to your situation, but is usually around 6-8 weeks after your initial appointment.

Consultation with Veterinary Behaviorists: Severe or refractory behavioral issues may need to be referred to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. The closest board-certified veterinary behaviorist is Dr. Chris Pachel at Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon. Please contact them to find out if teleconsultation is an option for your pet.