Problem behavior in cats. What does it mean?

Bad cat behavior. What does it mean?

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.

What is problematic behaviour in cats? A purist would argue that as cats behave instinctively, from the cat’s perspective, all cat behaviour is not problematic; it’s natural. It is a consequence of something e.g. something happening in the environment or something the owner did etc..

So problem behaviour in cats is always behaviour which people consider to be a problem and as such it can be defined in reference to the desires and objectives of people. The famous “My Cat From Hell” title to Jackson’s show is a misnomer and misleading. I explain why below but these are exclusively my views. I accept differences of opinion.

According to a well-known cat expert, Linda P. Case (The Cat, It’s Behavior Nutrition & Health) problematic cat behaviour occurs (1) when the owner has no control over the cat’s actions (2) the cat’s behaviour ‘is displayed with an intensity or frequency that is incompatible with the owner’s lifestyle’ and (3) the cat’s actions are dangerous to others which I presume means to other animals and people.

I’d like to question these definitions of problem behaviour in cats.

No control over the cat’s actions

Ninety percent of the time cat owners don’t want to have control over their cat’s actions. You could argue that cat owners never have complete control over a cat’s actions. You can train a cat to do things but is this controlling a cat?

When does a cat owner want to have control over their cat’s actions? One instance would be when they take their cat to the vet. They want their cat to obligingly get into the cat carrier. But owners just carry their cat into the carrier. That’s control by force but not relevant to this discussion.

I don’t understand the ‘no control over the cat’s actions’ argument. I suppose it means when the cat has become very aggressive and unmanageable. But on these occasions the answer is to retreat and leave the cat in a calm environment and wait. There is no need to control the cat, in fact the opposite is desirable. The best option is to let the cat control his own emotions by removing the source of the ‘problem’.

Unless I am missing something obvious I don’t understand the idea that a lack of control of your cat presents as a problem cat.

Frequent behaviour is incompatible with the owner’s lifestyle

I don’t understand this concept either. You could argue that if a cat behaves in a problematic way it is because the cat owner’s lifestyle is incompatible with cat behaviour. That’s turning it on its head but I think it is a more realistic appraisal.

For instance, the cat lives in a home where there is lots of noise and arguments between people and strangers coming and going. The cat becomes nervous and anxious and plays up. He growls often and sometimes hisses at strangers. He hides constantly. The cat’s behaviour is incompatible with the owner’s lifestyle but the human’s lifestyle is incompatible with the cat’s preferred lifestyle. Whose at fault? Who is demonstrating problematic behaviour?

I’d argue that the people are because the people are the ones who are in charge. They make the rational decisions and they have the obligation to care for their cat.

Once again I’d argue that to say a cat’s behaviour is problematic because it is incompatible with the owner’s lifestyle is a misguided concept. Although if the cat behaves ‘badly’ in the eyes of the owner even if the reason is the owner’s fault, the cat is a problem cat to that owner (but not to a third party). However, the real and underlying problem is human created. And some of these owners should not have a cat because the cat’s behaviour will always be problematic as it does not match up to expectations due to false human expectations.

The cat’s actions pose a danger to others

This concept is an extension of the one above. If in a multi-cat household there are tensions between two cats leading to fights one cat might pose a danger to another but the cause is the cat owner putting two incompatible cats together. Yes, the cat is a ‘problem cat’ but THE PROBLEM is the owner’s to deal with.

If a domestic cat poses a danger to the owner in terms of being attacked by the cat (and I can recall a problem of this gravity dealt with Jackson Galaxy) there must have been (1) a complete breakdown in the relationship between human and cat and this breakdown will have been caused by the person’s behaviour (i.e. threatening) or (2) the cat is unsocialised to the extent that he/she should not be a domestic cat. Once again the problem is for humans to resolve. Socialising cats (kittens or feral cats) is human work. Placing an unsocialised cat in a home is a human error. The third possibility is that the cat is ill. Cats can have mental health problems although this is rarely discussed and I am unaware of any studies on this. It is not uncommon to drug cats to calm them down. Personally I disagree with this. We don’t know enough about cat mental health to simply chemically cosh them and turn them into semi-zombies.


The point that I am getting at is that unless a health problem is causing the cat to behave in an unacceptable manner, the problem at root will be a human created one. Bad cat behavior can be bad cat caretaking.

Personal Experience

My cat is about 4-years-of-age. I socialised him as a semi-feral kitten. He is domesticated but he occasionally bites because of his early feral life. This would be regarded as problematic behavior in some homes and he’d be relinquished. I can understand that. However, I have more or less trained it out of him. The problem once again is not my cat’s but mine to deal with. I agreed to foster and adopt him. A rescuer rescued him. People took charge of him and must continue to do so.

[weaver_show_posts cats=”” tags=”Bad-Cat-Behavior” author=”” author_id=”” single_post=”” post_type=” orderby=”date” sort=”ASC” number=”2″ show=”full” hide_title=”” hide_top_info=”1″ hide_bottom_info=”1″ show_featured_image=”1″ hide_featured_image=”” show_avatar=”” show_bio=”” excerpt_length=”” style=”background-color:HoneyDew; border:2px dotted darkgrey; padding:12px” class=”” header=”Associated pages (this is a selection. Please search for more):” header_style=”color:Indigo; font-size:130%;” header_class=”” more_msg=”” left=0 right=0 clear=0]

2 thoughts on “Problem behavior in cats. What does it mean?”

  1. If Jet had landed in another home after the rescue either didn’t bother carrying out a behavioural assessment, or just blatantly lied about Jet’s fear aggression with cats and people, I have no doubt he would have been sent back pronto to the stinking cage he was in at the rescue or been shunted to the vet for killing. Worse, the new guardian may have retaliated and injured one very badly traumatised little cat.

    Jet has bitten us all (quite deeply often) scratched us all and not once have we got cross about it, each time it has been our failure to notice a fear signal from him. It has been “bad” or the “wrong” behaviour from us, his humans.

    No such thing as bad cat behaviour, just humans who do not understand what particular behaviour means and don’t provide the environment the cat needs to flourish.

    Given time, space, love Jet is still learning that he is safe here. It may take forever, but we won’t give up on him.

  2. The only problem I have with my cats is the occasional spat over a bed or a spot on the carpet. Since 6 of my cats are feral and 2 badly abused, they come to me and holler if breakfast or dinner is very late, somebody stepped on sombody’s toes regarding territory, they hear (or feel) the approach of a strange vehicle, or someone is trespassing (human or a creature w/ 4legs).


Leave a Comment

follow it link and logo