I’m speculating, of course I am. I guess by now most cat owners understand that punishing a domestic cat for “bad behaviour” (natural behaviour, in reality, under the circumstances) is a bad idea. I’m going to propose that it is possible that cats can develop mental health issues of various kinds if they are punished when young. This must particularly apply to the first 10 weeks of life. I could almost guarantee (without any scientific knowledge on this) that a domestic cat punished when a kitten will be more liable to have poor mental health including poor socialisation. Therefore there will be less likely to be good companion animals. Punishing cats is counter-productive.
I’m taking my lead from an interesting study about children. I know children are not kittens or cats but we do treat them as children and in many respects there is a parallel. The physiology of domestic cats is very similar to that of humans. The study found that children who are smacked at a young age are more likely to suffer from poor mental health leading to behavioural problems in their teen years and when adults.
It is suggested that the research should encourage governments to provide legal protection to children from their parents in respect of smacking and physical punishment of any kind. At the moment, in the UK, parents can use “reasonable punishment” to discipline which includes a physical assault. Interestingly this form of punishment would qualify as a criminal assault if it was delivered by an adult to another adult.
The study, which was led by University College London found that children who endure adverse childhood experiences, described as ACEs such as smacking, had poor outcomes relative to those who had not been punished in this way.
Dr Leonardo Bevilacqua of the UCL Institute of education, said: “Our findings around the link between harsh parenting and poor mental health through childhood provide a clear message to policymakers on the need to protect children and educate parents.”
I believe the same or something similar can be said about the relationship between people and their pets. A lot of people adopt kittens and perhaps many of people really don’t have a good grasp on how to relate to their newly adopted companion animal. They may feel that punishment is the correct way to go. There is still a lot of misapprehension about how to manage the “bad behaviour” of domestic cat in the home.
In respect of cats, punishment is not going to take the form of a smack although it might do on occasions. It is more likely to take the form of harsh words, shouting, spraying water, kicking the cat, and may include pushing a cat physically; both vigourously and harshly. In all, in these homes there will be an overriding atmosphere of intermittent hostility experienced by a vulnerable cat. This is the opposite to what should be the goal of all cat owners. How does this affect the mentality of a cat?
I’m reminded of the notorious case of Lux, a cat diagnosed by Jackson Galaxy with mental health issues. She attacked her owners and Jackson Galaxy couldn’t fix the problem. He considered tranquillizers; a last resort. She was rehomed and for a while all look good but then she attacked again. I wonder whether this famous cat had a particularly unpleasant “childhood”?
If you are interested in this sort of research you may be able to read it online in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
Below are some articles on Lux: