Don’t Punish Your Cat

This Christmas (2009) would you punish your cat for doing this? Please leave a comment - Photo by collinj

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

This Christmas (2009) would you punish your cat for doing this? Please leave a comment - Photo by collinj

If I saw a cat owner punishing their cat to try and stop the cat doing something that they simply didn’t like, who should I decide deserves to be punished? The person or the cat? The thought turns the idea of cat punishment on its head. I would like to talk about that. Quite a lot of people think that it is acceptable, indeed sensible, to punish their cat to alter behaviour. There are quite a number of so called cat experts or animal behaviorists who advocate it. Cat trainers sometimes talk about how to punish your cat.

Lets start with a definition of the word “punishment”.

A penalty imposed for wrongdoing

This is a human definition that we are applying to a cat. Can we do that? No, because the cat doesn’t understand the concept of “punishment” and is not doing anything wrong in the first place (as far as the cat is concerned). The cat is behaving naturally when he or she scratches furniture or jumps onto the kitchen counter etc. and simply doing something that we might not like.

So when you punish a cat it won’t understand. It is not, in fact cat punishment but a crude method of training a cat to behave in an unnatural manner, which we find acceptable. The training is to create associations of something unpleasant with an action that the cat makes, thereby deterring the cat. Examples are squirting water or more unpleasant liquids over the cat, or placing nasty smells (for the cat) around objects, or banging the cat on the nose or locking them in a room, anything that the cat finds unpleasant or perhaps painful. I can remember a cat breeder or two talking on a Yahoo Group about how firmly tapping a cat on the nose while reprimanding it was an effective way to punish your cat. I instinctively feel that this is completely the wrong thing to do.

I would prefer to call cat punishment, “unpleasant cat training”. This is because there are better ways to train a cat such as positive reinforcement. In other words rather than associating a natural behavioural trait with an unpleasant experience (a negative form of training) I would rather that the cat was rewarded for behaviour that humans find acceptable. So, in the case of cat scratching rewarding your cat for scratching a scratching post is preferable.

One can go further by teasing (with a toy or cat tease), distracting (also with play) and gently out thinking a cat to do things that we find more acceptable. Or better still, accept all your cat’s behaviour, even the behaviour that we might find a bit annoying sometimes and work with it and around it. After all, we all know that we must learn to accept the behavioral traits of our human companion so why can’t we give the same respect to our cat companions? We are all animals on this planet.

Returning to the question at the top of the page; the answer is the person (if we are to punish anyone). The person is punishing an animal that is behaving naturally. That is immoral and wrong. And 99% of the time it will be counter productive resulting in a confused, nervous cat that is rightly scared of the owner thereby creating the potential to make the cat defensive and aggressive.

Don’t punish your cat – ever. Please accept your cat for what she or he is. To train out natural behaviour is to try and create a modified cat. If you can’t accept a cat in its entirety please don’t keep a cat. Buy a cuddly toy instead.

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Don’t Punish Your Cat

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Mar 10, 2012 Inherent illogic in your methodology NEW
by: Mike

Why do you propose a cat associates positive reinforcement with behavior but negative reinforcement with the person who administers it? Positive reinforcement encourages behavior. Negative reinforcement extinguishes behavior. Using positive reinforcement to extinguish behavior is like using gasoline to put out a fire.

Mar 10, 2012 Inherent inconsistency in your methodology NEW
by: Mike

Why do you propose a cat associates positive reinforcement with behavior but negative reinforcement with the person who administers it? Positive reinforcement encourages behavior. Negative reinforcement extinguishes behavior. Using positive reinforcement to extinguish behavior is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

Sep 22, 2011 I call it "Time Out", Not "Punishment"
by: Linda

My cat is a wonderful pet, yet she is 6 years old and occasionally forgets that the house rule is "no going on tables". When she does this, I scold her and if done again I put her in her cat box (carrier) for a "time out". When she comes out, I remind her what I do not want her to do and she is a good girl .... at least, for the next week, or sometimes month, before she forgets and tries it again.

I feel this is not harmful to her but rather is a good communication tool and it seems to work. I don't leave her in her box for unreasonable lengths of time, yet, like children, I feel pets need to know there are negative results for disobedience. I also reward her with her favourite treat when she is good to reinforce positive behaviour. As a result, she is well behaved and happy.

Therefore, I don't feel there is any negative impact on my cat using this method of teaching her the house rule.

Apr 19, 2011 Response to Jman
by: Michael

Hi Jman, I won't respond to all you say because I don't have the time but will respond to what you start with as it sets the tone it seems to me.

You say:

"A cat may not understand punishment as we define it, but they can certainly connect unpleasant or painful consequences that consistently occur when they perform an action."

I agree but this is not exercising punishment. It is simple negative reinforcement. Punishment requires and understanding by the animal that he or she has done wrong. If a cat has done something natural and is hurt for that action he won't understand but will stop eventually. This as I said is not punishment by our definition and that is the point I make. A person committing rape knows it is wrong and may learn by being punished. It is a fair process.

Perhaps you misunderstood me. You seem to keep referring to human behavior and equating that with a cat's behavior. This does not work as an argument.

Negative reinforcement is far less good than positive reinforcement as it may also force the cat to connect the person delivering the hurt to that person, making the cat fearful and anxious around that person.

If you advocate negative reinforcement why not go one better and practice the better way: positive reinforcement and reward. Your cat will appreciate it.

Michael Avatar

Apr 15, 2011 Last posts... I promise
by: Jman

(...cont from previous post) ... Now, when I say "No," he will stop what he is doing and either walk elsewhere or come to me. Sometimes he will stop and meow, as if asking, "But please?" Once I stand up, he knows I'm serious and will immediately cease and desist.

Sadly, unlike dogs, cats are selfishly motivated and do not seek approval from their "pack leader" but rather their own comfort and well-being. For this reason, my cat will still try to get away with things if he thinks there is no teeth behind my warnings. Also, he walks all over my girlfriend due to her inability to displease him. While he knows crawling on me in the middle of the night means he is going airborne out of the bed, he proceeds to pester and wake my girlfriend all the time.

Now, I have people tell me all the time about how my cat will resent me. Personally, I haven't seen this. He's actually far more affectionate to me than my girlfriend, who lets him do whatever he'll temporarily pout and act offended after being punished, but this never lasts long and, soon, he's back to the same ol' cat that crawls in my lap, purring, and begs for attention.

TLDR: Due to personal experience, I know that cats are fully capable of grasping cause and effect.

Though they may be forgetful and stubborn, if actions consistently come with penalties, cats will eventually decrease or abstain from them. Without this ability, evolution would not have served their species well and we wouldn't be arguing about punishing them, in the first place.

Apr 15, 2011 Last posts... promise
by: Jman

Post 4

I do apologize for blowing up your comment section with multiple posts, but I just noticed and took issue with your following assertion:
"Sometimes people need to be punished but they will have been taught right and wrong beforehand... [C]ats can't be taught in the same logical way. You will be punishing them for behaving naturally. They won't understand. Punishment is cause and effect. For it to be effective the child needs to know and understand why. "

Cats may not understand WHY it is wrong, but they certainly can be made to understand cause and effect. My cat has finally come to understand that "No" means he should stop what he is doing. Also, while he may occasionally give into the temptation to chew shiny, white iPod cables, he knows there will be consequences.

Dull Personal Anecdote Time!

I know this because, normally, I will get up and he will immediately run to me, purring and desiring attention. However, last night, he found a cable, cautiously looked around and started to chew. As soon as I got up and moved towards him, he bolted under the furniture because he knew bad things were going to happen.

Another example is scratching the door. He used to be a terror at night, loudly scratching and meowing on the bedroom door. Originally, I tried a firm "No" and physically removing him from the area. That worked for maybe a minute. Next, I tried the spray bottle tactic. The only alteration in his behavior was to run as soon as he saw the bottle, with still no ceasing in his scratching. It wasn't until I introduced physical pain into the equation that he finally understood the implications of disregarding "No." (Don't freak out; I have never physically harmed or injured my cat, but he has definitely felt some hard swats to the head and nose)... (continued)

Apr 15, 2011 One more thought...
by: Jman

Post 3

Not that I agree with this as moral or just behavior, but it's interesting to note that the reason domestic pets behave compatible to us is because of our ancestors' selective breeding and eugenics to isolate and develop favorable traits the creatures.
That's right; Fluffy tries to eat your hand and gets a club to the skull for his behavior. It looks like Scamper is exhibiting more human-friendly behavior that we misinterpret as animal love while Nibbles sits in the corner and hisses? Scamper gets to reproduce while Nibbles gets offed.

Justified or not, we wouldn't have these pets today had humans not seen fit to bend nature to their will. If we can't even bring ourselves to curb our beasts' undesirable tendencies through simple, harmless discipline, how far we have strayed from OUR nature and the unique, world-shaping potential it enables.

Apr 15, 2011 Natural != Good
by: Jman

Post 2
"The person is punishing an animal that is behaving naturally. That is immoral and wrong."

I accept your premise but thoroughly reject your conclusion. Plenty of "natural" behavior exists that should be punished and deterred. Like rape. In fact, the human race is rife with examples of what "feels natural" yet we tend to find distasteful. (Murder, rape, revenge, conquering others, etc). The appeal to nature is a fallacious logic to stand upon. If a cat is torturing a mouse before killing it, a completely natural behavior, I don't find that right... which brings me to....

"The cat is behaving naturally when he or she scratches furniture or jumps onto the kitchen counter etc. and simply doing something that we might not like."

Exactly. I don't like it when my cat destroys my furniture, chews my cables, attacks my dog, or wakes me in the night. With MY cat, MY rules are law. As master, I provide him with food, shelter, protection, and love. In this mutually beneficial relationship, as the master, I have the right to define and enforce my own "right and wrong" for my pet.
The issue is not with nature; it is, indeed, with "what [I] like." I have no problem admitting that and see little use for the dominant/subordinate role reversal of the master and the dependent.
To me, it seems like a misguided sense of righteous self-sacrifice that would better be spent on human loved ones rather than limited-consciousness-imbued animals that really won't be able to appreciate it... all while you spend your paychecks on new furniture.

Apr 15, 2011 As the master of my animal, my definition DOES matter
by: Jman

Post 1
"This is a human definition that we are applying to a cat. Can we do that? No, because the cat doesn’t understand the concept of “punishment” and is not doing anything wrong in the first place (as far as the cat is concerned)."

Of course, as humans, we can apply human definitions to cats or any other animal in our possession that we have both responsibility for and control over.
A cat may not understand punishment as we define it, but they can certainly connect unpleasant or painful consequences that consistently occur when they perform an action. Right or wrong may have no meaning to them, but they will act in their own self-interest and if the consequence causes more displeasure than the action causes pleasure, we, as masters, can successfully modify their behavior to suit our liking.

Apr 10, 2011 Not gettting the point I made
by: Michael

Some people are still not getting the point that I made.

One lady says that if a child smears feces on something we should punish the child and that idea allows us to punish a cat for doing bad things.

Well if a child was doing that he or she would be mentally disturbed and require counselling not punishment.

Sometimes people need to be punished but they will have been taught right and wrong beforehand. In other words the child will know the right thing to do and then ignore it. That action may demand punishment.

But cats can't be taught in the same logical way. You will be punishing them for behaving naturally. They won't understand. Punishment is cause and effect. For it to be effective the child needs to know and understand why.

Positive reinforcement is far better and more humane but more difficult. People who punish cats for doing things that they (the human) don't like are being lazy and reactive.

One person said that if a cat draws blood from a person the cat should be punished. This is rubbish and idiotic! If a cat scratches the owner it is the owner's fault and the owner should be criticised for being stupid. A cat is responding either defensively or in play. In either case the person controls the situation.

I am disappointed in some of these comments as they are not thought through in my opinion.

Apr 09, 2011 new to this site...
by: Anonymous

i came across this site by coincidence, and just read this article about cat punishment.
we live in germany in a large apartment together with 6 cats. the oldest is 19 years old, the youngest 11 months.
i know some things cats do can really piss you off sometimes.or annoy you. but the older i get, and the longer i have been living with cats, the more i think that michael is actually right. things that really got me angry some years ago, do not really bother me anymore today. i came to accept that every one of our cats has his or her own behaviour, and his or her own ...limitations when it comes to adapt to what I think is "good behaviour".Some will stop scratching on a chair after you took them to a scratching post a couple of times, some won't. in the end, i came to learn that it is mostly my own mood or my own vibes that influence my cats' behaviour. the more stressed i am or the less nerve i have, the more they seem to be stressed, too. punishing a cat never led to a change of "bad" behaviour. i try to stay calm, and distract them, which works quite well. some things which they do (repeatedly) still drives me nuts, but again- they all have their own character.instead of yelling at them, we started to snap our fingers whenever they jumped onto the kitchen table or wherever we did NOT want them to jump upon. some of them learned , some didn't really. but shouting would never keep them from doing it(and yes, is still find myself yelling at them on a bad day).
i think for me it works best to treat them with love, but to let them know by the sound (not loudness) of my voice if i like what they do or don't. and they do doesn't always KEEP them from jumping into the kitchen sink and lick off some food remains off the dishes, but some actually come to us and "excuse" themselves when we discover what they were doing by making some funny guttural noises.
i think people tend to forget that their cats are animals, not human beings. and as long as they use their litter box, ...hey..really...what do i care for those two chairs that they chose to scratch upon?

Mar 19, 2011 Have some Balance
by: Anonymous

Have some balance. I dont believe in punishing either, but they should know that their behavior is unacceptable. Your comments just accept them as the cat they are doesnt work when it keeps on going on the counters rummaging through things. Not acceptable. Unfortunatly it only does it when im not there and knows when im coming even sneaking up on it.

Feb 24, 2011 cats
by: tobacco

But you still have to let the cat know that it is doing wrong. I disagree with the fact that when you punish a cat it won't understand. The cat won't know that it is doing wrong, but it knows that what it is doing is not allowed. People tend to get mixed up with them.

Feb 23, 2011 Really?
by: Anonymous

This is absolutely ridiculous. Yes, you shouldn't punish a cat for doing innocuous things that seem odd or strange but are otherwise harmless. But if a cat thinks it's okay to draw blood - and I mean a lot of blood - by "playing" with humans, that cat needs to be punished.

By your "logic," we should never punish anyone ever. If our children smear feces all over the house, well, we shouldn't try to change that, right?

Feb 10, 2011 Response to last comment
by: Michael

Hi, thanks for taking the time to comment. I am a little surprised though. How is it that your house would stink of cat feces and urine. Doesn't your cat use a litter box? Isn't your fish in the fridge? And why is your cat making love to a blanket? You have a strange set up.

Buy a litter box. Put the fish in the fridge or freezer and play with and love your cat more. Also have your cat neutered as he or she seems not to be.

I think you need to think about a more subtle and sensible way of caring for your cat one that promotes calm and companionship not fear of punishment.

Michael Avatar

Jan 19, 2011 Teaching, not punishing
by: DiexGaaf

While I understand what you're saying, I have to disagree to a point.

If I was 'accept my cat as he was' all my fish would be missing, the house would reek of cat urine and faeces, and all our food would be half eaten by him. Oh, and there's also the problem of him 'making love' to our blankets and rugs. Now, I don't know about you, but if I had friends around and my cat started making love to a rug, I'd be wuite embarrassed.

I don't spray my cat for natural things like going to the toilet and trying to reproduce, but by spraying him when he goes onto the bench and starts to eat our food teaches him that he's not to be up on the bench, just like us humans aren't. Spraying him when he tries to eat my fish teaches him that they aren't his food to eat.

Basically, we aren't "punishing" our cats, we're teaching them what they should be doing, and what they shouldn't be doing.

Jan 03, 2011 I have thought it through
by: Michael

Consequences for actions in nature is a natural event and it is not "punishment", it is simply what follows a certain action, good or bad.

I don't think you can equate "punishment" with natural consequences. Punishment is a form of deliberate training using negative reinforcement by a human on a cat (in this instance). Whereas consequences for actions is a form of self-training or learning.

What I am saying is that if we wish to train a cat we should use positive reinforcement.

And I am also saying that we should respect the cat's behavior as it is and if we can't we shouldn't keep a cat. What right have we got to modify normal cat behavior?

If a cat is behaving abnormally for whatever reason then training may be required but it should be positive not punishment.

As you can see, I have thought it through but I don't think that you have.

Michael Avatar

Dec 28, 2010 use your intelligence and rethink what your saying here
by: Anonymous

I don't really understand how you can say cat's don't understand punishment it is a human concept. Sure the word "punishment" is human, however punishments happen in nature all the time in the form of CONSEQUENCES. If a cat picks a fight with a larger cat the punishment is he will lose the fight, if he eats something he should the punishment is an upset stomach. Punishment AFTER THE FACT would not be effective, but immediate "punishments" are CONSEQUENCES. For example, your cat's on your counter, spray him with water, he gets down. How does that not work?

Dec 12, 2010 Cats are pets, not wild tigers.
by: Miranda

/This is a human definition that we are applying to a cat. Can we do that? No, because the cat doesn’t understand the concept of “punishment” and is not doing anything wrong in the first place (as far as the cat is concerned). The cat is behaving naturally when he or she scratches furniture or jumps onto the kitchen counter etc. and simply doing something that we might not like./
Spraying a cat with a mild amount of water when he acts in a way that is unacceptable is not really a form of punishment. It is showing the cat the act he just committed was something you don't like. It “is” important that you show “pets” how to act when in your house. Most “pet” cats are domesticated animals. You don't go to a shelter and adopt a wild cat. Feral cats should also not be confused with a wild cat. A harmless spray of water, is merely negative reinforcement that you, the person who provides food and shelter, do not like the way it is behaving.
/So when you punish a cat it won’t understand. It is not, in fact cat punishment but a crude method of training a cat to behave in an unnatural manner, which we find acceptable. The training is to create associations of something unpleasant with an action that the cat makes, thereby deterring the cat./
Exactly, and it works. Let us assume for a moment that you have a cat who no matter what you do, how much attention you give it always wants to go outside? Will you let them? No of course not. There are dangers outside that your cat does not and will not completely understand. Including other cats, other animals, and other humans. So you spray the cat with a mild stream of water every time he or she bolts for your garage door to get outside. Eventually the cat will stop. If your cat jumps onto your kitchen counter regularly they can track germs and bacteria onto your food preparation area. House cats are NOT wild animals. After you negatively reinforce a behavior you give your cat love and a reward. I'm not advocating beating and cruel treatments of cats, but I do believe that socially modifying your cat is just the natural course of action to take if you plan on sharing a space. They are PETS, not wild animals. I'm assuming that the write of this article is also vegan, because the treatment animals raised for food and dairy receive is far worse than a mild spray of water anytime they do something that their owners may not approve of.
And in regards to your picture. Lets see how you feel when that cat jumps into the tree, knocking it over onto your toddler. The difference between abuse and negative reinforcement is black and white.

Nov 18, 2010 Pottying all over ther house
by: Anonymous

I have a cat that is 12 yrs. of age. In the past couple of years. When I started to get other cats. She started to pee all over the house. Even on my counter tops & table. Most people would have thrown her out or put her to sleep. I don't like what she is doing by any means, but I know that it is her way of communicating with me that she is not happy about something. Now it is my responsibility to figure out what is going on with her. Come to find out she was being bullied by the other cats so they had to go outside more ofter to give her the day to have her freedom back. Then she stops potting all over. When they are in the house too much. She starts up again. Why would I punish her when it is not her fault I got other cats after her.

Oct 27, 2010 What a load of crap.
by: Anonymous

Wow, so you are saying cat owners that are woken up 5 times a night by a meowing cat that wants attention or get their furniture clawed constantly even though they provided the cat with perfectly good clawing posts etc should not punish their cats but just endure the behaviour?
And you solution is to simply not get a cat if they don't like the behaviour?
Excuse me, I love cats. I take care of homeless cats from shelters because I believe in giving cats a loving home rather them letting them stay homeless and pretty soon also dead.
But I will not put up with a cat keeping me awake all night or chewing all my cables or knocking down and destroying all of my things.

Disciplining cats work and they are not traumatized by it. In fact I think any cat would be better of in a loving but disciplined home than out on the streets.

Sep 04, 2010 No need to punish
by: Ruth (Monty's Mom)

I used to teach school and I found that once I had a good relationship with the kids, I seldom if ever, needed to punish them. Once they knew what was expected and knew that I cared about them, I seldom had problems. I think it's like that with Monty. When he was young I would sometimes just put him in his room when he got too bitey and I would praise him when he played appropriately. Now it seems like he understands me and if I say no, he stops doing whatever. Sometimes he's out with me and climbs trees both on and sometimes off leash. When he gets as high as I want him to go I tell him to stop and he always does. I tell him to come down and he does. He trusts me.
The other day I wasn't feeling well and didn't take him outside even though he really wanted to go out. He spent the day meowing in frustration and I finally put him in the basement, which he also enjoys. Later, I stepped in kitty poop in the hallway and I figured Monty had done it in retaliation for my not taking him outside. I knew someone who had a cat who would do that kind of thing, but it seemed weird because Monty's never been a vindictive cat. While I was cleaning it up Monty came and sat by me and purred and made digging motions like he was trying to help clean it up. I think he was having so much fun in the basement that he ran up at the last minute and just didn't make it to the box in time. ( I put a box down there but he only uses the one upstairs). If I had yelled at him or punished him I would have felt really bad when I figured it out. And I would have destroyed some of that trust he has in me.

Aug 15, 2010 Hippy cat training needs to stay in the '70s
by: Anonymous

Wow this is the most bleeding heart hippy crap I have ever read. Positive punishment is a completely acceptable form of training for all animals. It is particularly effective in quickly combatting offensive behaviors such as scratching or biting. It's a cat, not a person.

Mar 22, 2010 don't punish.. but learn to scruff
by: Anonymous

I agree, this type of "punishment" is typically ineffective due to cats not understanding. Spray bottles just piss the cat off and they'll associate it with you, and continue the behavior in your absence. However, scruffing has its place when you have to control or otherwise subdue a cat that's out of control. It doesn't hurt them, vets do it to protect themselves, and it works even on feral cats.

It's debatable whether scruffing works like punishment, but I sure as hell use the scruff to pick up or subdue a cat. I learned the hard way, have had my face hacked up by more than one of my cats simply holding them when a stranger walks by, dog barks, running water sound, etc. they feel out of control and will go feral on you until they can get away from the situation. If you hold their scruff lightly they will know you are in control and you won't get hacked up or even get hooked in the eyelid like I once did.

Mar 14, 2010 Boundaries good, punishment bad...
by: 0colet

Great post and thread!

To keep my cat Bibi off the kitchen table and benches, I used to hiss at her, but now I clap my hands in a particular way, accompanied by "off!" and she jumps off. In her own time. Pretending what I said didn't affect her at all, of course. I'm not sure if you would define the hissing as abuse, but it didn't seem to bother her. Just a way of me letting me know that her behaviour wasn't cool. She knows I don't want her on the tables or benches, but sometimes goes there while I'm in the room - just to play "chicken", I think. The clapping is better, however.

Another cat I had as a kid, Spicy, was a little too scratchy and bitey as a kitten, so I trained her just to "play" bite and to touch me with her claws sheathed only, by saying "velvet paws, velvet paws" in a particular way. If she started getting scratchy (while being affectionate - not because she was annoyed - in that case I'd leave her alone), I'd look her in the eye and gently tap her claws and stroke them "back" into her paw. She quite liked it and it was a great success. Not sure if it would work for anyone else, though.

It didn't work for another kitten that I had. He showed his affection for me by scratching me - so much that I had a severe allergic reaction and was in hospital for several days. Luckily he'd bonded with the family next door and went to live with them instead. Punishing him wouldn't change things. But training - with someone patient and not allergic to cat scratches - will, over time, make the difference.

Dec 18, 2009 To Kathy

I am glad you found this forum. It will be helpful. It seems to me that if the cat comes to you on its own to play, take advantage of that time to socialize with the cat, but on her terms. If that is a happy time for her, go with that for as long as it takes. If she head butts your leg, it's a great time to stroke her, but only as much as she wants. It will take time, but if she trusts that you aren't going to pick her up unexpectedly, or make her do things she doesn't want to do, or punish her, she will come to you more and more.

It is a waiting game of patience and trust building. I hope you keep her forever.

Dec 18, 2009 To Kathy
by: Ruth

Aggression breeds aggression and eventually a cat is always on the defensive incase you attack. It becomes that they need to attack first as they see you as the enemy and they are frightened of your power.
Biting and scratching is not wrong in a cat's eyes, because it's natural behaviour to them, so they wonder why they are being punished.I'm glad you've stopped tapping your kitten's nose. Putting cats in cages is very wrong as they are free spirits and being caged makes them feel vulnerable and on the defensive.
Many people are given bad advice by people who seem to know a lot about cats, but are probably passing on the bad advice they received from someone else.They follow it and then wonder why the cat becomes even worse 'behaved' It's so sad. Eventually the cat is often 'got rid of' as a bad cat, then they get another and it starts all over again.
Persist in gentleness and kindness with your cat,maybe you could get an emery scratcher for her instead of clipping her claws ? It does sound as if she had a bad start with that breeder, only running around for 2 hours , that means shut in a cage for the other 22 hours !!
Cats have definately missed out on life, as over the generations they have less and less freedom,they were never meant to be caged.
It breaks my heart to think of all the cats living frustrated lives and being misunderstood right now.

Dec 18, 2009 Dry humour
by: Michael

Kathy, I like what I think is your dry humour. But about your F6 Savannah. The behavior almost seems that of a semi-feral cat and that it seems to me is down to the breeder as you state.

I remember being at A1 Savannahs and picking up an adult male Serval and he was like a domestic cat. And you can see videos of the Stucki's children with MAGIC an F1 Savannah who is the picture of passivity. NOt sure you have seen this video. It shows the great socialisation of A1 Savannahs:

Dec 17, 2009 Great advice
by: kathy

I'm glad I came to the library today to get caught up on this web site, I still have about 170 to go. I'm training my new Savannah kitten and she is very aggressive when she is handled or picked up. At first I took the advice of several cat people and tapped her on the nose for trying to bite and even put her back in the cage for punishment when she lunged at my hand to try to bite.

I have since then quit these training techniques because I don't want her to dislike me. I also don't want her to look at being put back in her cage as punishment.

She is very food aggressive and its mostly for her own and our other cats protection. I want to make sure she is eating and when she's loose she has no other interests except to play or sleep.

Its a regular cat cage with shelves and she has her own bed in there and dishes attached so I can make sure shes eating and drinking. She is getting better even though I don't think she will ever relish the idea of being handled.

The breeder told me its the breed and that they are not lap cats. That I already knew and expected but her aggression at being handled came as quite a surprise. After several bad scratches and bloody cat bites I just am keeping up my insistence at handling her.

WE have clipped her claws which was like handling a lion. WE eventually had to put a towel over her head but I praised her when we were done. I have stopped the nose tapping and putting her back in the cage for being bad. Now I just keep making her be held and tell her she's a good girl even though she snarls and growls the whole time.

I try not to hold her for very long because I know the only thing on her mind when she's out of her cage is play play play. She has no problem coming up to us to snuggle or to play with us. I realize a lot of this probably has to do with the breed even though she is an f-6.

I believe a lot of it has to do with the breeders failure to handle her when she was small and handle-able. He told me they allowed her to run around for about 2 hours every day. When I had my Bengal kittens I handled them from the day they were born.

So now I'm just going to keep being insistent and hold her when I can and keep telling her she's a good girl and we havent received any scratches or bites in a while. Of course I can't resist the urge to kiss her when I hold her and she hates it but I do it any way.

She has never tried to bite my face and she's not mean, she just doesn't know what is expected of her. I'm glad we got her and not someone else because I can see where she'd be the perfect candidate for cat abuse with her snarling and growling.

I'm glad for your article it came right at the right time. The other 170 stories may have to wait, I need to get home to my Baby.

Dec 10, 2009 Skinner still rules!
by: Everycat

Very good and timely article Michael. I am constantly disgusted by the number of people who suggest that punishment is a valid tool in animal training.

So few understand that punishment teaches nothing but fear of more punishment and that the fear state stops any mammal learning anything. That includes we humans too.

Many is the time I have heard people state that getting hit by adults as a child never did them any harm. They don't understand that the harm it did them was to teach them that violence is acceptable.

The humanist (motivational) school of learning is the only way to go in training animals (and humans) - setting up the animal for success removes any need to correct behaviour. It's about guidance, not dominance and abuse.

Many humans do not understand that dominance for animals is simply the ability to make another animal move out of the way. This is as true for prey animals as it is for predators. Humans have imbued the concept of dominance (and discipline) with their own insecurities and inability to truely see animal behaviour for what it is - natural behaviour. I see this all the time in my work with equines - hit first, then when that doesn't work, hit again. It sickens me and it's the hardest job to help these bludgeoning fools understand the damage they have done.

I'll argue that punishing the person who punishes the cat is as wrong as punishing the cat - because it perpetuates the cycle of abuse and ignorance. As much as I'd be happy to mete out some harsh consequences for those who psychologically or physically abuse animals in any way, I know that punishment never works for the good of any living being. Ever.

Dec 08, 2009 Good blog
by: Edward

A really good blog man and amazing comments.
This is one I'll be using to put the numbskulls who abuse cats to rights.
Thanks man.

Dec 08, 2009 Thanks
by: Michael

Hi Jane Ann, thanks for the comment. Please spread the word.

Dec 07, 2009 Punishing cats
by: Jane Ann

I just saw the link to this while browsing on Yahoo Answers and I am so pleased that someone has written about this subject and people are agreeing.
I got a shock how cruel some people are to tell you the truth.On that question about a cat jumping on kitchen counters a few people said spank the cat.One said push its face.One said balance pans on the edge so they fall off when the cat jumps on.
I would never frighten or hurt my cat that way.
I will be passing this article on in the hopes word gets further.

Dec 07, 2009 To Dorothy
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Hi Dorothy and thank you, yes this is a wonderful site and I use links to it a lot when trying to help wipe out the ignorance which is so rife about cats.
You want to be a better writer ? You couldn't as you write from the heart and people like you are by far the best writers !
Big foot was very lucky to find you.Letting you scratch his tummy is the greatest honour he can bestow on you ! So he obviously loves and trusts you very much.
A bat from a mother cat's paw to discipline an unruly kitten is very different to a smack from a huge hand but some people do use that as an excuse for hitting their cats.Cats definately never forget as one of our boyz,Walter, we rescued him from the most horrible home,even though he's now 8 years old, to show his love he butts a foot, whereas Jozef who came from a happy home butts our faces and heads.Apparently that is because a person's foot is nearer the size of the cat's head than our much bigger heads are.So even though he's loved to bits and he loves and trusts us and knows we'd never hurt him, something in his memory must warn him not to get to close to a human's face.I risk a kiss of his tummy sometimes when he shows it off ha ha and he allows that.
Cats are fascinating and they know much more than we realise, I'm sure !!

Dec 06, 2009 Jo
by: Michael

Thanks Jo for stopping by and leaving a nice comment -- appreciated.

Dec 06, 2009 Excellent Article: Well Needed (kneading it)
by: Jo Singer

This was excellent, Michael and an article which is crucial to folks who think that punishment is the answer to behavioral problems, when this is so far from the truth.

Your blog item should be given to everyone who adopts a cat.

Thanks for posting it.


Dec 06, 2009 Beautifully written both Ruth and Michael
by: Dorothy

Thank you for writing this, and I hope it spreads to the masses. Your suggestion of "out thinking your cat" is the best. And it works. If you spend time just watching, it doesn't take long to figure out the cat's pattern of behavior. They are easily distracted, and they have fun with distractions. And they learn fast.

I wish I were a better writer. I want to tell you the story of watching my adopted cat, Big foot change before my eyes. I can actually see him thinking twice now and has even turned would-be bites on my hand into licks. He was a stray cat that chose my house, even with Daisy the 85 pound dog hanging around. As much as he was happy to be brought in, he was a grouchy old dude the first few months he was here. I was scratched and bitten while he taught me the right way to pet him. To help build his trust, I bought a giant mitten (designed for kittens) and gently stroked him on his back, he could bite hard if he wanted, and I didn't react, I just stopped and moved to another part of his back, and gently stroked. Together, we learned what worked, and what didn't. From the beginning he curled up next to me at night, or curled around my head. Today, I can even scratch his tummy. I never thought I'd be able to do that. I finally counted his toes too. Seven on one paw, six on the other.

He is now a house cat, with outdoor privileges as he pleases. He likes to venture into the very safe backyard, and is never further than 10 yards from the house. We live in a rural area so there is little danger except foxes or coyotes. He only spends 20 minutes at a time (I'm watching the whole time) and then he wants to come back in. He makes his way back upstairs cautiously to avoid the scary dog (who never does anything but lie around)and the scary husband (who is jealous of the cats affection)and continues his happy life of two rooms and a hallway. He actually calls me when he's had enough of being alone. Ahhh, the life of a cat.

I haven't had a cat in more than 25 years, and this website has been a wonderful treat for this great new adventure of having a cat. It is a great education and entertaining as well. Thank you!

Punish a cat? Unthinkable! How do mama cats discipline their babies?


Dec 06, 2009 Well said
by: Michael

Well said Michele. Somehow we (people) have become distanced from the fact that we are another animal on the planet and as a consequence are disconnected from nature and our arrogance lets us try and dominate all around us, both the landscape and the animals that live in it. We can't or don't want to fit in with nature. We want to control it and use it and in doing so destroy it.

Dec 06, 2009 Natural behaviour needs understanding not punishment
by: Anonymous

What a brilliant article and you echo my sentiments entirely.

Far too many people wrongly seem to think that the term "domesticated" means that a cat has lost all of it's natural insincts and behaviours. Instead of learning about a cat's natural behaviours and poviding alternative outlets for those activities, they try to stop the cat from doing what comes naturally by using physical punishment or intimidation.

We are giants compared to cats and hitting or smacking them is not only physically harmful to them, but destroys any trust they may have developed in us. In her comment Ruth mentions the other loathsome methods of "discipline" that so-called cat lovers suggest, and I agree with her that all of them are cruel and based on the ignorance of the person involved. I want a mutually rewarding relationship with my cats, not one that is based on their fear or mistrust of me.

I've learned to ignore or distract behaviour I want to discourage and to reward with food treats the ones I want to encourage. Cats are very smart animals and they quickly learn to adopt behaviours which solicit the desired response from us or benefit themselves in some way.

Our relationship with our cats should be based on acceptance of each other as different species. I feel privileged to share my home with them, and as I'm not perfect I don't expect my cats to be either.

Michele (UK)

Dec 06, 2009 Thanks Ruth
by: Michael

Thanks Ruth for your support. It is very welcome and helps to keep me going. Everything I write is based on a total respect for the cat (and all animals). Only with that can we create the right relationship between us and cats, both domestic and wild.

Dec 06, 2009 Brilliant article !
by: Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Thank you Michael for a very wise and informative blog.I agree with you 100% that cats should never be punished just for being cats.They are not committing any crime, they are just doing what cats do and anyone punishing a cat for that is abusing that animal.
'Advice' from various 'cat lovers' who think they are experts includes, hitting/slapping the cat,bopping him on the nose(I'd love to bop them on the nose so they could see how it feels, and a cat's nose is much more sensitive than ours), lifting him by the scruff and holding him there legs dangling,holding the cat down, rolling the cat over and pinning him down,pushing fingers in his mouth and holding his tongue down,biting him,locking him in a small cat carrier,kicking him outside(this has even been said about declawed cats with behavioural problems caused by the declawing) and then the usual squirt with water, or vinegar water, and as you say, other liquids,some even toxic to cats.
I worked for a very wise vet many years ago who told me cats bruise easily and never forget.I've never forgotten his words, he was rough and ready as vets were in those days (the 1960s)but he would never ever purposefully hurt an animal.
This time of the year is the worst for cats,people get Christmas trees and festoon them with sparkling ornaments and trailing lights and then wonder why kittens and young cats climb the tree, bat the ornaments, chew the wires.
It's so easy to 'think cat' and make sure not to use dangerous things and that the cat has his own 'tree' There are some really great cat trees with platforms to climb with safe toys attached.It's the cats Christmas too, why should he spend it being yelled at or being punished ?
We've had kittens and cats for 35 years and never punished them. Kindness, gentleness and distracting them with cats toys, always works. Cats are very intelligent, if praised when they are 'good' (our concept of good of course) they soon learn what earns that praise and you have a happy home, happy family, and happy cat.

11 thoughts on “Don’t Punish Your Cat”

  1. Great plan – my cat just won’t stop eating anything he can get his paws on. I’ll just let him keep doing that, he’s just being himself after all. Oh and before you say don’t feed him so much blah blah I have two other difficult cats so it’s not that simple.

    • Good luck in getting your cat to eat less. We know that punishing cats is not right. It is doomed to failure and is unkind. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

  2. I had to pull up this article because one of my neighbors called and told me not to worry if I saw their cat, Benjamin, outside yesterday. Benjamin is being punished for urinating/defecating in places other than his box. Today, I went to their house to ask about Benjamin and was told that he would be staying outside another night because “he has to learn”. I have known these people a long time and know that they will never accept that poor Benjamin isn’t going to learn anything from this.

    Benjamin is about 18 months old, neutered, and in excellent health. We all know that there is some reason for Ben’s behavior, but some people just won’t explore the possible reasons. In the meantime, I am keeping my eye on Ben. He is being fed but ostracized.

    My Dad always said, “You can’t fix stupid”. How true.

    • Is Benjamin declawed Dee? If not it sounds like the poor cat is stressed and anxious and no wonder with ‘owners’ like them!

      • Oh, wow. I had forgotten about this.
        Benjamin “did time” both outside and in a cage inside for about 5 days before I convinced them to take him to the vet.
        Benjamin had a UTI that was, possibly, the result of having had a kidney stone that seemed to have, finally, passed. Poor guy, he felt the urgency to pee, would strain, dribble a little, and poo some because of it. My dear old Dr. Kramar was firm with them that they change his food to include WET and that “punishing” him was ridiculous.
        A second issue was the fact that Ben was sharing ONE litterbox with 3 other cats in the house. It’s a guess that not only did he not like it, but he refused to use if it wasn’t kept clean. So, now, there are 2 boxes in the house (I couldn’t get them to go for three).
        In any case, Ben is doing well now.
        And, no, he isn’t declawed.

  3. I’d forgotten about this brilliant article you wrote Michael and was shocked again at the comments from the people who DO think punishing cats is acceptable.
    Four years later their poor cats must be nervous wrecks is all I can say!
    It’s illegal to smack a child now or even shout so I’ve been told by a friend with a naughty son.
    So, if it’s wrong to punish children for doing what children do then surely it’s also wrong to punish cats for doing what cats do.

    • The root of the problem is the human-centric world that humans live in and a lack of sensitivity, education and understanding of animals who are simply fellow creatures on the planet. They are better than us as well. It’s all about human arrogance. Humankind must become more humble and less self-indulgent.


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