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Kitty Stress and Bad Behavior

Bad behavior is a leading cause of pets being surrendered or euthanized. With cats it is usually inappropriate elimination; Fluffy pees on the comforter and poops in the closet.

These behaviors can occur because of health problems – is Fluffy trying to tell you it hurts when he pees? It could be a urinary tract infection, so please take your cat to the vet to make sure he is healthy. Once you have ruled-out a medical cause, consider your cat’s needs have not been fully met or there are stressors in the house that discourages your cat from using her box.

First off, it is important to realize your cat is not doing this “on purpose” to make you mad or to pay you back for ignoring him. There are no “bad” cats. Please don’t yell at your cat in anger (it is difficult, I know) but try to figure out why he is urinating on your shoes or spraying near the back door. In addition, creating an environment that enhances your cat’s health and well-being will do much to prevent bad behavior.

Cats are solitary hunters and spend much of their day searching for hunting opportunities. Providing them “hunting” opportunities enriches their lives; check out the great treat balls, interactive feeders, automated toys and chasers available now. These are good ways to make treats fun and active.

Cats are territorial animals. They feel threatened when their territory is disturbed, either by another animal or physically. Cats use scent, posturing, and vocalizations to communicate their unhappiness if they feel threatened. Cats have a superior sense of smell and of hearing. Strong or strange smells or sounds which are undetectable or insignificant to us can cause stress. You might not notice the stray tomcat roaming the yard at night and spraying under the open bedroom window, but I guarantee your Oscar does. He smells him, hears him and marks to make sure that tom knows this is HIS house, HIS bed, HIS humans and HIS room.

Cats need to protect themselves from perceived dangers, which include unfamiliar individuals or other animals. There are products that mimic a cat’s pheromones, natural substances that calm a cat. Feliway can work wonders. It is so good we use it in the clinic to help calm your cat. It comes in sprays and diffusers. That brown marking on the door jamb is your cat marking her territory by rubbing her face and depositing her pheromones. As unsightly as these marks are, don’t clean them off.

Every cat needs a safe and secure place where it can retreat so it feels protected. Good examples of safe places are a cardboard box, a cat carrier, and a tall cat tree. Safe places should be located away from each other, so that cats can choose to be on their own in multiple cat households.Cats need a safe place. Click To Tweet

The rule of thumb for litter boxes is the number of cats + one. If your house has multiple floors, I suggest at least one box per floor. Please don’t put the box right next to the furnace – when it turns on it scares the cat. Make sure litter boxes are placed in a quiet place that the cat can escape from if challenged. This is particularly important in multiple-cat households – don’t put all the boxes in the same place. Some cats like covered boxes, some cats don’t. Some cats are vertical pee-ers – they pee standing up, preferable against a “wall.” For those cats, large high-sided boxes are essential. For older cats, high-sided boxes might aggravate their arthritis – try low-sided boxes or ones with a step in. Try different litters and different boxes. I personally don’t like the wheat- or corn-based litters; they tend to be dusty, have poor odor control and grow mold easily.

Be aware that any cedar product is toxic and pine-based litter or pellets can aggravate sensitive cats’ upper respiratory tracts. My favorite litters include Dr. Elsey and Arm & Hammer Clump and Fresh or Slide. Unscented products are typically more attractive to cats than scented ones. Keeping them clean goes without saying.

Defecating just outside the box typically means the cat is either scared of being ambushed or it is uncomfortable to crouch while standing in the litter. Check location and add boxes if necessary. Arthritic cats may be uncomfortable if the litter is too deep or the walls too high – it doesn’t provide a good base.

Try a thinner layer of litter or use wee-wee pads in the box. Declawed cats can have pain in their feet and certain litters hurt their toes – try softer litter (Clump & Fresh is sand-like and soft) or wee-wee pads.

Resources that can help enrich your cat’s environment:






After a long career in finance, Dr. Carnohan returned to school and graduated from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine at the tender age of 50. She bought the Cat Care Clinic of Asheville in August 2013.


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