Why does my cat sulk when I scold her?

This is not an unusual question from cat owners. This might be the scenario in full:

My cat Annie, jumped up on the kitchen counter. I shouted at her “No”, she turned and looked at me and then I pushed her off the counter forcefully. She slinked away, sulking. When I called her afterwards her ears turned to me but she continued to look away. Am I doing the wrong things?…..(from Miss D)

Punished Cat

Punished Cat. Photo by stanguy

Response

A lot of people don’t like their cat walking along the kitchen counter top. They think it brings disease etc. to the food. Personally I don’t believe the cat brings any more disease to the kitchen than the person working in it. Why should they? There are other cat behaviors that upset some people.

We each have our own ideas. I respect that. If a person scolds a cat verbally and dominants their cat with a loud voice while staring at them the cat will naturally feel very submissive and behave in a submissive manner; the behavior that you have described.

People turn their backs on people when they are annoyed and fed up with the other person. When cats do the same thing it is because they are being submissive and acknowledging that fact. This is to be expected because people are much bigger than domestic cats.

However, despite the size difference, some confident alpha type cats will stand their ground. They will interpret the human stare as hostile and defend themselves and fight. This probably won’t occur in the typical household but it may happen when a stray cat comes into the house and you try and get him out. He may stand his ground and fight. Feral cats might do this too.  Cats are highly tuned predators and fighters. They are not always intimidated by animals that are much larger than them.

Scolding a cat (meaning shouting at a cat and perhaps smacking the cat or squirting water) is a form of punishment. Quite a few cat experts advocate this to train cats to stop doing unwelcome things in the house.

Personally, I don’t advocate cat punishment in any shape or form. Over time it is liable to damage the cat-human relationship. Cats won’t normally get the connection between pain/discomfort (the punishment) and their actions.

If you are really concerned about your cat doing things such as walking along kitchen counter top, the better route is to try and use positive reinforcement (cat training) to modify behavior. The simpler alternative is to accept all forms of natural cat behavior and rejoice in it. After all you have a cat for a companion. Accept him totally.

Finally if a cat behaves in a way that you find unwelcome the first question is, “Am I doing something that is causing this?”.


Comments

Why does my cat sulk when I scold her? — 10 Comments

  1. Well said Michael. We often viewing the situation from a human, rather than a feline point-of-view. Cats don’t get yelling. We anthropomorphize what we think are their emotions on to them when we really should be looking at things from their point of view. As Michael said, behavior modification is the best way to handle these types of problems with optimum effect. I suggest two sided tape. Cover the counter with it and she will learn quickly to avoid the area. Plus it’s really funny watching them walk around with it on their feet. Make sure to come to the rescue, remove the tape and give her lots of attention so she knows it’s the counter and not you. ;)

  2. “Am I doing the wrong things?” says Miss D, well I say yes indeed. If Miss D is so against Annie walking on the kitchen counter the easiest thing in the world is to stop what she’s doing and lift her to the ground and give her a few minutes attention, a toy to play with or a juicy treat. Shouting at her cat when she has jumped on the counter to be with her is saying “get away from me” and then adding rough treament in the form of a “forceful push” underlines the message. But later when the time is right for Miss D to want Annie’s company she is then surprised that Annie doesn’t feel the same. Well Miss D cats are not dogs who forgive and forget anything, if you lose the trust of a cat it’s gone for good.
    My advice to this person would be stop the shouting and pushing and consider Annie as another living being just as deserving of kind and respectful treatment as you consider yourself to be.
    I hate “punishment” for cats, in effect you are punishing them for being cats acting as cats. So what if they get on the counter? (and incidentally we have had 9 cats in 38 years and not one of them has ever wanted to jump up on a worktop which makes me wonder were these cats who jump up lifted up there and made a fuss of as tiny cute kittens?)There are plenty of antibacterial sprays or just soap and water to wash them afterwards.
    I also think, as Michael mentioned,that cats are no more likely to fill the house with nasty germs than the human or canine occupants.

    In short if you don’t like the things cats do, maybe you’re the wrong person to share your home with cats.

  3. Good comments, thank you. The regulars (I include myself in that group) have similar opinions on cat welfare and caretaking.

    That said a lot of people think that scolding a cat is necessary.

  4. I let my cats do just about anything. I only get worried if it is not safe. Lilly sometimes insists on jumping onto something unstable or too high and above a dangerous surface if she is to miss and land on it. I am not always right next to her when she does this. In such a case I speak to her very loud and serious. Sometimes she slows down but then carries on so I again verbally warn her its not safe, but in a loud and serious voice akin ro shouting but not exactly that, just very loud and stern. She knows this means no go. She backs down and usually it works. If it doesn’t she ends up in a situation that is dangerous and I remove her when she gets scared. The thing is, I don’t care if she goes on the counter or window sills. The situation is never that I am talkig to her loud after something has happened. Its only ever to warn her as and when it is happening. So its not about punishment. To conclude I will say this: In certain situations involving the here and now if you have a loud voice with a serious warning tone it can be very effective in keeping your cat out of danger. Lilly knows when I takk like this that it is for a reason. She probably knows I am saying it for her sake not mine. She probably associates this voice with sticky and scary situations she has gottenin before so the rare moments when I speak like that to her she gets quite nervous and backs down pretty quick. More now than before. Before she’d ignore me but now she listens pretty much the first or second time. It’s never after. This would make no sense to a cat. Punishment is nonsensical and pointless. They dont know why you are shouting. If Lilly is again trying to go somewhere not safe the simple answer is to block it from her. I don’t have xmas decorations in reach of my cats because they will pull them down. Not a problem, I accept that. People who want it to be all set up for humans and for cats to comply and then who shout at the cats for clawing the couch or yanking on the xmas lights dont understand what it is to have cats. To have cats you must adapt to them so that they can be safe and you can keep your things you care about safe from them. You cant have it both ways. I dont mind this really. I pretty much accept that even with 5 cat trees they will still claw the couch. I didnt spend 2 grandon a couch – because I have cats. That is how it works. It is quite simple really. Having a cat is so much nicer than having an expensive couch and fragile objects within reach. If this is a hard decision for you, if you really find it hard to let go of having a perfect couch and nice curtains and delicate objects on the mantle piece then I would strongly suggest you dont get a cat. Sure you can work on positive reinforcement and all that but I would bet my bottom dollar that the person who has these doubts also doesnt appreciate a cat enough to spend the time teaching the positive reinforcement. Either make it inaccessible or dont have it – and enjoy having cats who are free and run around and behave as cats should. I’d hate to make my cats feel like they can’t touch this and they can’t touch that etc etc. They need to let their curiosity take them wherever they damn well please and if it means they climb all the way up the curtains then I suggest you make sure they are strong curtain so they dont get hurt, otherwise take the curtains down completely :)

  5. Poor Annie! Miss D’s shouting at and pushing her cat was very unkind, no wonder Annie slinked away, she wasn’t sulking she was bewildered and upset wondering what she had done wrong.
    Cats don’t understand punishment, shouting, pushing, squirting water or any other punishment is pointless and only makes the cat afraid of the person doing it.
    A good cat caretaker never has to reprimand their cat, simply diverting the cat’s attention patiently and gently is enough, cats learn this way what pleases their person.
    Cats like to be up heights, Miss D could easily provide a high stool in the kitchen, some cats like to be around their caretaker all the time and that to me is an honour.
    Pushing a cat can have terrible consequences too, a cat pushed off a table by her idiot owner I once knew (NOT caretaker as she didn’t care) landed awkwardly and broke her leg!

    • Ruth, I agree with you, being cat lovers/rescuers/helpers for more than 50 yrs we have never scolded/punished a cat for doing what’s natural. A simply method we found that works great is firmly lift cat from countertop & say no while cat is being removed, then praise for being such a good kitty. Our last rescue Scarlett O’Hair just takes a look at me & stops doing the improper. Never had an accident in house.
      Accomplish 2 things: a)cat is removed from unsafe/undesirable place
      b)cats trust is not lost, above all relationship between cat/owner remains as a mutually loving/caring one.
      keenpetite
      Southeast arizona (USA)

  6. Hi Michael,

    Shouting is one thing I never do to my cats. I did many years ago when I got my first cat. I learned very quickly that they aren’t like dogs or like people. Shouting only scares them, confuses them, and makes them feel bad. Shouting is a bad idea and only makes things worse.

    Marc – Like you, I might say “no” in a louder and firmer voice, but I never shout. I also allow my cats on the counter. They can wander any where they want in my house. In fact, I open drawers and cupboards for them to investigate. The only exception is for the same reason you gave – if they might be in danger. Then I worry.

    There’s no reason to punish or be aggressive with a cat. It doesn’t work and it just backfires.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

  7. I have kids,cats and dogs and never ever raise my voice to any of them or act stern,anyone can come to our house and see how happy, relaxed yet well behaved we all are.
    Yes I say we,I include myself because I know I have faults too as I’m only human,but its my job to keep them all happy,healthy,loved and out of danger,not to order them around and make their lives miserable or for them to be nervous of me.They learn by example and I’d be mortified if my kids grew up bullying animals or my pets were avoiding me through me being unkind to them like Miss D is to Annie.
    She and others like her should try a little respect,she can’t be so perfect herself I’m sure.

  8. Im a first time cat owner. Ive always had dogs and puppies, so im more familiar with the canine species. Last night I was trying to see if my kitty could fit in this carrier that someone had given me. But she was scared and she fought back by pulling and scratching and hissing. I became angry and I struck her. Pls dont burn me at the stake, im only being honest. I feel terribly bad becos now she’s sulking and she seems scared of me. I feel so very bad. Is there any way to fix our relationship or is it ruined???

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