Spraying Water To Punish Cats is WRONG

By Ruth aka Kattaddorra

This article was inspired by the ever constant debate as to whether spraying water at cats is cruel or not. Some people swear by it but I make no secret of the fact that yes I do think it is cruel because I hate any punishing of cats at all.

Cats don’t understand punishment, it doesn’t work and they eventually become nervous around the person punishing them.

don't punish your cat with water spray

Poster by Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Pro squirters say you need to squirt from a place where the cat can’t see you doing it, so he doesn’t associate it with you. So that means lying in wait with a squirty bottle and watching for the cat to ‘misbehave’ and then using it.

Some people recommend saying NO at the same time as squirting, so how they think the cat doesn’t associate the wetting of them with the person’s voice puzzles me?

Yes it stops the cat there and then from doing what you don’t want him to do, but for it to really work you’d have to watch him 24 hours a day, who is to say he doesn’t do what you are trying to stop him doing, when no one can see him?

Some say but it does work eventually, now I only have to show him the squirt bottle or say NO and he runs from the place he shouldn’t be. I’d say in that case that it hasn’t worked, if it had he wouldn’t keep on wanting to do what he shouldn’t.

There is also the risk of when the cat suddenly bolts in fear, the water although not aimed at his face, may go into his eyes, mouth or ears. In particular water in a cat’s ear can set up a middle ear infection. Why risk that?

Far better the kind, gentle, distraction method which alters the cat’s thinking. The trick is not to say one word, just silently and gently lift the cat from where he shouldn’t be scratching, to his scratching post or board and when he uses it praise him, saying his name a lot.

‘Good boy Smokey, well done Smokey, clever Smokey’ whatever words you want to use it’s important you say his name. Give him a treat if you like too.

You will find after a few times of this he will go to his scratching post to scratch, not to your couch. It’s just like humans having CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to alter their thinking, cats brains are very similar to our brains, so it works for cats too.

The cat will soon connect the need to scratch with the correct place to do so, that being his own furniture. The method can be used with any of the cat’s behaviour which isn’t acceptable to his caretaker. Such as him jumping onto surfaces you don’t want him on or if it’s not safe for him.

Simply silently and gently lift him off and distract him with a cat toy or a ball, when he plays praise him, using his name, he will soon learn where not to jump onto.

What cats do isn’t bad behaviour, scratching is necessary behaviour and jumping up heights is natural behaviour, to a cat,

Put it this way, we humans are far from perfect ourselves and we all have habits which aggravate others. Just supposing every time we did something to annoy someone else in our family, they turned a hosepipe on us? How would we feel?

Threatened in our own home, that’s how!

No, it wouldn’t cure us, we are only human and we would live our lives on edge just like cats being punished do, simply for doing what cats do.


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Spraying Water To Punish Cats is WRONG — 20 Comments

  1. It sounds like your saying dogs are smarter than cats because they do learn. Like walking on a leash, how to not jump on people. Training them to use bathroom outside. Making sure they don’t put their teeth on people.

    • Hi Jacen, thanks for visiting and commenting. If you are referring the author of the article, I know her well enough to speak on her behalf. She is not saying that dogs are smarter than cats but that training cats through negative reinforcement (punishment) is unsuitable in many ways one of which is that it alienates the cat from the owner. The only way to train a cat is through positive reinforcement (reward).

      • If cats aren’t smart enough to associate negative reinforce with the thing they were doing wrong, and can only focus on the water itself, then there is no way that they are smart enough to associate the positive reinforcement to the good act they were doing as well. Again, they would only be focusing on the treat itself, and not the good act that got them that treat.

        • Hi Theo. I think you have misunderstood the message. Cats will associate punishment (the delivery or pain) with what they’ve done provided it takes place as soon as possible after their “bad behaviour”. However, the cat has done nothing wrong. They don’t know that they have done something wrong. They behave naturally. We can only deliver punishment for doing something wrong. If a cat does something naturally (instinctively) then it cannot be wrong with respect to the world of cats and their mentality and therefore punishment cannot be justified. Under these circumstances if the cat is punished the cat will simply become confused and fearful of the person delivering the punishment hurting the relationship. Therefore punishment is wrong and the only course of action is positive reinforcement. Punishment is a human concept and should be confined to interactions between humans.

          Please note that the person who wrote this article is or was a colleague of mine. If you search for “punishment” in the custom search facility you will find other articles on this topic some of which are written by me and in which I going to more detail.

  2. Sorry but I still think “negative reinforcement” is bad in any situation at all,these people promoting water spraying don’t seem to grasp that if it worked they wouldn’t need to keep doing it.
    I read somewhere somebody saying it’s like putting a sticking plaster over a spelk,it doesn’t get rid of the spelk,it only covers it up.
    So to me spraying water at cats only covers up the problem.
    We in the UK are much more tolerant of cats,we don’t live in fear of their claws or think about our cats causing harm to each other and us,for God’s sake they are tiny furry creatures not big wild ones.

    • Thanks for your opinion Rose, we think alike.
      So spraying water at fighting cats who live together is acceptable some say, but to me that means always having the sprayer full and ready at hand. A sort of pre meditated waiting for it to happen situation. My thoughts are that if they can watch for their cats to start fighting and reach for that, why not simply clap their hands to distract the cats before the fight gets serious.
      Cats usually give warning, by ‘singing’ and ears flattening, tails swishing, the instigator creeping nearer or the other one creeping further away. If our boyz ever do that, simply clapping takes their attention from each other. No spraying water, no one hurt, it seems to me that some USA people have an exaggerated sense of cats claws and teeth, that they live in fear of them.
      Do cats living in the same house badly hurt each other anyway?
      Ours never do.

  3. This is a comment from The American Veterinary Workers against Declawing facebook group which I have been given permission to copy, I have my own thoughts on what she says but I’ll hang back to give anyone else a chance to write their thoughts if they want to. We have agreed to disagree over this because our main aim is to educate people about declawing and ultimately get it banned, so we don’t want to fall out over another subject.
    This is what she says:
    ‘While we do not recommend the use of spray bottles to discourage or redirect natural scratching behavior (we agree there are better and more effective ways to deal with scratching on inappropriate items), it has been my experience that in *some* situations and with *some* cats, a squirt of water can be effective where other methods fail. I have, for example, used a spray bottle to end fights between my cats before- saving injury to all *three* of us in the process. The debate is really about whether or not any kind of negative reinforcement whatsoever should be used in training cats. While we respect the opinions of those who say that ONLY positive reinforcement techniques should be used and agree that this would be the ideal, we also recognize that every cat is an individual, and as such, what works with one cat might not work with another. Negative reinforcement, if used, should be used very sparingly and never with anger, and should never physically harm the cat. In my opinion, it should only be used when the cat’s behavior, if unchecked, can cause harm to him/herself or another member of the household, (whether human or animal)’

  4. Do these people expect us cats to behave like them? No thanks, we cats are far more dignified than humans and we are cleaner than some. Who says they are the boss anyway?
    We feel sorry for any cat who gets water squirted at them, what a thing to do!
    If you don’t like something we do you only have to kindly show us what you want us to do instead else how do we know you don’t like it, punishing is for you lot who know full well when you are doing something wrong, not for us cats who only do what cats do.

    • Great article Ruth – I totally agree with your way of thinking and it anyway come naturally to me. I couldn’t punish a cat if I tried. It already feels wrong. Punishment and purposeful negative sentiment is an entirely human invention and practice. I am against anything like that towards cats. Since a cat is not a human it does not live within the same parameters of good and bad or right and wrong – for me anyway – and all it comes down to me is safe or not safe and if it’s not safe I will do what has to be done as best I can.

      I’ve had to raise my voice to Lilly if I am on the other side of the room and I see her about to put her paw in hot water that will hurt her and it’s rare and she understands me. She’s constantly investigating so I am only talking about the few moments where I am about to see disaster strike in terms of safety. The thing is I would never have a spray bottle or water pistol ready in the first place. It’s so premeditated I can’t get me head around it. You would already have to be holding it to be ready if something happened. And the question then begs: if what happened? FOr me it’s just about safety and not furniture or my things.

      I have some 70 and 80 year old bicycles and saw they liked to sharpen their claws on the tyres – a total disaster – but I just found a simple way to stop them but covering the tires with plastic at the point where they claw. Problem solved. I think if its your intention to do the right thing you can problem solve any issue and find an ideal friendly and above all, constructive solution. Intention really comes out when you see the punishers- the punishers obviously see no possible solution of understanding they might otherwise have with their cat through solving the problem. Instead they punish which causes nothing but confusion and fear and kills the trust bond.

      The most wonderful and beautiful thing is when a creature gives you their openness and trust. To betray it is horrible.

      • Yes, there is a really beauty in getting psychologically close to your cat. It really is like having a friend. You start to see a friend and not a cat or a human. You see the mind not the physical presence. To punish a cat would destroy that intimate closeness.

  5. It’s just more of the human domination thing, people come up with rules and regulations about acceptable behaviour from cats never pausing to think that they aren’t being naughty, acting up or doing anything other than being cats, the perception of bad behaviour is all in the caretaker’s own mind and so they mete out “punishment” like this water spraying business which although not high on the scale of man’s inhumanity to animals is still unpleasant and probably confusing for the cat. Would you trust someone who suddenly turned on you and shouted NO and sprayed you with water when you were just doing something that your body tells you to do? I wouldn’t, I’d feel uncomfortable and suspicious of them I’d be scared of their sudden movements and raised voice, people say they only have to pick up the spray bottle and the cats runs away, hmmm a bit like a man picking up his belt and the child runs away, it’s not the belt that is scary it’s the man holding it. So what if your cat gets on the worktop? if you don’t like it lift him/her down and get the cleanser out and rub it down, it’s not going to kill you. I wish people would get their priorities right and appreciate cats for what they are, incredibly special little creatures that do us the honour of sharing our homes, they are not furry kids, they do not understand human rules and if they did they wouldn’t give a hoot anyway.

    • Yes it’s just the same as the man with the belt, he’s the scary one, not the belt.
      I don’t see how anyone can squirt water at a cat without the cat knowing their person is holding the squirter, unless they hide round corners, behind doors maybe, watching the cat, waiting for him to ‘misbehave’ Maybe it gives them a thrill to catch him at it, to see him run, but it certainly doesn’t work like teaching by kindness does.
      Yes why should cats give a hoot about human rules, we choose to share our homes with them, they have no choice as to what sort of home they end up in.

  6. Monty wouldn’t care. He plays out in the rain getting positively drenched. He just shakes himself like a dog and keeps playing. Of course, then it is his idea. He doesn’t like baths– not his idea. I think people forget cats aren’t kids. Human children require correction, and though positives work best, there are things for which there must be negative consequences. But a cat isn’t a human. A cat can’t do anything wrong, he can only behave naturally as a cat should. My mom says she doesn’t believe in punishing children for bed wetting or mistakes made during potty training because you would be punishing the child for doing a natural body function. Punishing a cat for missing the litter box, climbing on the counter or exercising his claws is the same. You can’t punish the animal for doing what are natural instincts and bodily functions.

    • You are so right Ruth, a cat shouldn’t be punished for his natural instincts.
      Monty doesn’t mind the rain, that’s his choice to play out in it, but supposing (although I know you never would) you started spraying him with water when he asked you to let him out and you didn’t want him to go. Yes some people do, they squirt their cats off the furniture, away from doors, for doing anything they think is misbehaviour. Imagine how nervous those cats are, never able to relax in their own homes. Monty would become nervous around you just as our Walter and Jozef would if we squirted water at them.
      It’s not love, punishing cats, it’s a power trip!
      Worse some people recommend other liquids like vinegar in the water.
      Why can’t everyone be like us and accept cats are cats, they are not humans, they are not children, they are CATS and surely should never be punished for being cats and doing what cats do!

  7. Another truly great poster Ruth and the write up too.
    Yes you are right Micheal,spraying water at cats is fear training and just imagine boasting about having a water spray ready at all times,if it was such a wonderful solution the spray wouldn’t be needed.
    I had a look at your article you linked to here,which you wrote four years ago,I hadn’t seen it before and was shocked to see people there justifying their cruelty to their cats!

  8. I have never heard of someone doing that to a cat! Of course it wouldn’t work! The poor cat could not relate the thing they were doing to something like that! The water would be their only focus along with who it came from! Whatever they HAD been doing would be the farthest thing from their mind after being threatened by a spray of water! Maybe I am too much of a feline by nature, but I know how to train a cat very well! You have to give them an efficient, acceptable way to accomplish what they, by their nature, need to have or do! Then give them something to play with & or chase, for their entertainment or physical exercise. If you take care of their needs & love them when they are willing to be touched & feed them well, a cat will be a contented part of your family, most willing to not do things that you are clearly displeased by. A simple “No” will educate any cat if you give an acceptable alternative.

    • Thanks for the support Lora. There are in fact quite a lot of people who think that punishing a cat is the right thing to do. Some of these people are experts and cat behaviorists. I can even remember a device that produced a blast of air. Cats get very frightened by the sound of air hissing through an opening. A horrible idea to “train” a cat through fear. The only way to train is by positive reinforcement (reward based training). Spraying water is fear training.

      Humans can be punished sometimes because they can understand it.

  9. Great article as usual. I think the people who think spraying cats with water to punish them for being “naughty” are treating cats as people. You can’t because cats don’t understand the human concept of punishment. It only damages the relationship and makes cats wary of their human companion. Positive reinforcement is the only way and it is far more decent and moral as well.

    This was my attempt about 4 years ago:


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