Pet Tips

Tip 54 – Punishing or disciplining your cat – stopping bad behaviour

Sometimes cats engage in behaviour that we the owners don’t appreciate. In order to make our cats behave in the way we want them to, we may try to punish them for their bad behaviour. Common reasons for wanting to punish a cat include marking behaviours (spraying), urination/defecation problems and scratching issues.

The number one rule of cat punishment or discipline is;
You can only punish a cat if you catch it in the act.

Let’s say you want to punish your cat for scratching furniture. You come home and find your new couch scratched up. It’s too late to punish your cat and punishment is COMPLETELY ineffective because the cat doesn’t know why it’s being punished. Putting a cats nose in its urine is a sure way to get the cat to think that YOU are the bad one. Using any means of punishment after the fact, will only confuse the cat and might well damage the relationship you have with it.

Rule two of cat punishment or discipline is;
Never hit your cat (or dog for that matter)

Cats do not respond well to hitting and doing so can damage the bond between you and your cat. First off, hitting a cat can hurt a cat and it may well bite you back in self defense if you attempt to hit it. Very quickly, the cat may learn to fear you. It is an old school approach that is outdated because better methods are available.

Dealing with problems:

When we talk about punishing, ultimately what we are trying to do is reduce or eliminate an undesirable behaviour. We accomplish this by getting the cat to associate a particular behaviour with something unpleasant. Make sure the cat also thinks it’s unpleasant. The first thing that we ┬ámay think of is a squirt gun. If we catch the cat scratching the sofa, a blast of water will make it run away. If kept up regularly it won’t take long until the cat stops scratching the sofa. Keep in mind that this technique is effective only when the cat doesn’t see that you are the squirter. If kitty sees you, it will continue the behaviour when you aren’t there.

In order to avoid possible offending behaviours we must give our cats outlets to act like a cats! For example they need to scratch. Punishing them for scratching in a particular area means providing them with good places where they ARE allowed to scratch. Sometimes cats will act or play rough with their owners and this is partly due to their predatory natures. Therefore cats should have appropriate toys to play with, toys they can chase and hunt. You need to play with them as well.

Other methods of reducing unwanted behaviours include placing certain smells that the cat doesn’t like in areas that you want it to avoid. Cat’s aren’t big fans of orange peel smell and many commercially available types of pet repellents. You can also try using double sided tape. Cats don’t like sticky sensations on their paws and will avoid this type of booby trap. Tin cans, plastic cups and other noise making items are good for convincing your cat that a jump on that counter is a bad idea. There are also motion detecting aerosol cans (one brand name is ssscat) that shoot a blast of air at the cat when the cat passes the can. This works very well for some cats.

Urination and defecation issues require that you try to figure out WHY the cat is doing this. Is the litter box too dirty? Is the cat spayed/neutered? Is it a multi-cat household? Can the cat see other cats from a window? Can the cat have some type of urinary infection? Is this a new behaviour? You may well need the advice of your vet to help you answer your particular dilemma.

21 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Avatar William Diehl says:

    Here is an effective way to ‘punish’ you cat. IF you catch it in an act that needs to be corrected, quickly say no to express displeasure and give the cat a ‘kitty time-out.’ With my kitten, that was simply 15 minutes in the small downstairs bathroom with the lights turned off. No hitting please. Also, if the cat does not come when called after 2 times, give the command a third time and do the same thing. I did not have to give a kitty timeout more than once for ANY infraction. On the other hand, positive reinforcement works great! Carry a clicker and some treats in you pocket. When the cat does something you approve of (like scratching its post), click and give a treat. Before you know it, the cat when start to put strings of behaviors together to communicate and get you to click and treat. Within a month, my kitten came when called, walked on a leash, scratched only his post or ‘tower’, sat, begged, followed a marker, and is learning to play the first 3 notes of Three Blind Mice.

  2. Avatar Mike says:

    I still say give them a smack. I have tried all these tricks and a smack on the behind seems to work like magic.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      I’m afraid i must disagree Mike – that’s just bad advice. Hitting a cat or a dog is SO old school and destroys bonds and trust between you and your pet. Also they may instinctively try to bite you when you hit them.

  3. Avatar Basil says:

    Good advice. I did give a light smack on my cat once or twice, but I think ill try these methods :D

  4. Avatar Abi says:

    Tried all of these with my kitten-soon to be full grown cat. Nothing has worked. I tried unpleasant smells, she’s impervious; I’ve seen her licking straight horseradish sauce before. She sees the squirt bottle as a challenge, like do something bad and see if you can get away quick enough not to get squirted. I’ve tried time outs, she feels remorse for about 5 mins and then turns into hell spawn again. Or sleeps the whole time and wakes up and remembers nothing, runs out and does it again immediately. She enjoys the load noises and makes them into new, and very annoying toys. Only tape she has reacted is after being hogtied to have her teeth cleaned.
    Cycle has repeated for months now, we’re at our wits ends. Even taken to gently smacking her on the rump to make her stop. She has toys, places to climb, scratching posts, beds to nap in, never had a cat this bad before.

  5. Avatar Matt says:

    I have a cat that gets aggressive when I come home after a long shift at work. She gets angry when I’m gone for a while and will scratch and bite me. It gets very irritating and I’ve been trying to find ways to punish her. She’s such a nice and loving cat when you are around to show it affection. I really need to find an effective way to get her to stop biting.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      This is a problem that requires a better back and forth than a blog posting can handle. I recommend that you post this on our forum.
      Good luck.

  6. Avatar Tyler says:

    My cat scratched my foot and its bleeding like crazy! Im kind of mad at it but each of these seem to extreme for a one time infraction.

  7. Avatar bekki says:

    I tried everything with my kitten.. EVERYTHING.. She’s just naughty by nature.. I found clicking loudly at her makes her get away from places she isn’t supposed to be but for everything else I started smacking her. Now all i do is raise my hand and she stops. She still comes to give me love and purrs and pads me.. so smacking does work..Cats don’t dwell on bad things like humans do.

  8. Avatar Goonz says:

    My kitten soon to be a full grown cat is getting a little naughtier as she gets older, nothing too bad and sometimes she nips me and my wife but its not a full blown bite. Its more a nip to let us know she is there or does not like something.

    All I can say is never hit a cat or treat it forcefully. It can be extremely detrimental for your relationship with the cat.

    She has got very playful before and bitten me in her play hunting game time for which I got rather angry and grabbed her by the scruff and said NO loudly at her. I then put her in her carry bed for a while to let her cool down but I instantly regretted it.

    I do not want to ruin the relationship with her as she absolutely adores me right now.

  9. Avatar Jeannie says:

    I need help, FAST! I have an 18 year old female spayed cat that I’ve had since she was 5-1/2 weeks old. I adopted her and her sister together and had to have her sister put to sleep a little over a year ago. I brought home two female spayed kittens, 4 months and 11 months, almost 2 weeks ago. At first the 18 year old would come out into the condo and just watch the kittens and hiss if they came too close. The past week or so she’s been on top of a dresser in the bedroom and has peed and pooped up there, and peed under my bed a few times. There’s a litter box IN there with her but she chooses not to use it. I HAD food and water on top of the dresser for her but I took it out today and put it right outside the bedroom door so she’ll have to come OUT to eat or drink. When I try to carry her back out to the main part of my condo, she flails all over and ends up back on the dresser. Before she parked herself ON the dresser, she was BEHIND it, and peeing THERE. I moved the dressers flush against the wall so she can’t get in there any more but now goes on top of them instead. I’ve cleaned up the pee and then sprayed the area(s) with Nature’s Miracle (Just for Cats) but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Thanks to anyone with suggestions! I was told I could return the two adopted kittens if it doesn’t work out, but I’m already attached to them too.

  10. Avatar Michel says:

    Hi. In my experience what really works great to correct bad behavior are those electronic motion detectors that spray air. My cat is absolutly horrified of the darn things and as a consequence has completly stopped marking. Now on the subject of hitting a cat. I completly agree that hitting a cat to correct bad behavior is futile in most cases but there is one glaring exception. This one time my lovely furball decided it would be fun to hunt my feet and scratch my ankles as I walked passed him. Understand he did not do this out of spite, I did not provoke him at all, this was just fun for him. I`m sorry but there is no way I`m getting bullied by a cat no matter how small or cute he is. Now some people would have had the poor guy declawed but I tell you a couple smacks across the head later and he was completly cured. This goes both ways by the way. If I for example do something he dislikes like grab his hind paws there is still a real possibility he can scratch me. I would never hit him for that because he is after all simply showing me his own boundaries, the same way I did. When he does that I just yelp and walk away, after a while he learned to give me more gentle warnings and our relationship was further improved but that was up to him. He is now three years old and he has become the most gentle and trusting animal i have ever seen. We have a great relationship him and I and he still has his awesome claws.

  11. Avatar Mary says:

    We have five cats, they have all lived together in our house for several years and have all got along. No problems. Just over nite one male started terrorizing another male. Never had a problem before with these cats. He chases him all the time. Won’t let him come downstairs. Sits and waits. They have never hurt each other, so I think the one causing all the problems thinks it just a game, but the one on the other end is really scared and constantly looking over his shoulder. We would never raise a hand to any of our animals. We have only used a spray bottle and strong words. Don’t know what started this and don’t know what to do about it. It is very upsetting. Pleas help!

    • Avatar Marko says:

      I keep saying this in the comments – but if your problem is complex (as this one is), post it in our forum where it will get better visibility and members can help you on an individual basis.
      Good luck!

  12. Avatar Joey Fecca says:

    Oh just give the cat a spanking on their kitty behinds. It works like a charm! Trust me they’ll get it!

  13. Avatar Kira says:

    The squirt gun has never worked for my cat! I don’t know about scratching because my cat is declawed (I did not choose to, I found him already declawed) but for biting, no. I just lightly smack his head, say no and give him a time out in the kennel. A smack doesn’t hurt badly, it makes the cat know how it feels to you if they bite. My cat is no different than before except he won’t bite, not even in the bath! Now I can just say NO and he stops biting.

  14. Avatar Mikayla says:

    My kitten (just about full grown) is a very sweet and affectionate cat, and she is very lovable. She is also very spoiled, as I come to notice. When she doesn’t get what she wants, she urinates on whatever she feels like. Usually the clean laundry. I’m at my wits end with this cat. I love her to death, but my mom is not going to let me keep her if she keeps this up. Just yesterday she peed on the Christmas wrapping paper that was in the dining room just because I wouldn’t cuddle with her and give her part of my meal like she expects me to do. I honestly didnt know what to do until my boyfriend sent me this link, and I think I’m going to try these methods! Usually if I catch her in the act, a two finger boop on the nose gets her to feel guilty, but it’s obviously not enough. I’m going to try the squirt bottle thing and see how that works. Thank you!

  15. Avatar Stanoooo says:

    My cat just peed on my baby’s rock and play stored in the basement when not in use because I gave him a kitty time out. To retaliate I shoved his nose in it and then brought him to an empty and confined space where I repeatedly threw a dodge ball at him for about 10 minutes until he started meowing like a banshee. (I was careful not to be too forceful to inflict any serious internal injuries). After his punishment he didn’t come near me for about 1day but he NEVER peed on anything except his litter box ever again. He still loves me though. I can just tell. I know my cat.

  16. Avatar anonymous says:

    Consistency is def key! Just as with kids or anything else if you aren’t consistent then you won’t get anywhere. One thing that works for my cat is snapping. Whenever she did anything we didn’t want her to like scratching on the rug we would say hey and snap our fingers then I would pick her up and bring her to the scratching post and she’d scratch on that. She’s pretty good about it! She’s also not allowed in the bedroom and for the most part she stops at the door but won’t step in. I never ever let her walk in. That would only confuse her. I snap and she stays out. She might stretch to reach a toy but won’t come in. I do the same action for everything whenever I want to discipline and she knows snap means no

  17. Avatar stefan says:

    I’ve had many cats over the past 30 years and I can honestly say that I am wholeheartedly against any kind of abuse that animals themselves understand physical admonishment more than any other kind of punsishment.. That being said, you should never physically punish any animal to the point where it causes actual harm. However, when kittens are too rambunctious or just go too far when playing with a sibling or their mother, they get a quick and firm physical reminder that they’ve overstepped what’s allowed. If a cat claws or bites when they shouldn’t, I usually just pin them down with me forefinger and thumb by the neck and hold them for a short time while saying a firm “no!”. They get the picture pretty quickly.

    As far as peeing where they shouldn’t – which happens even with good cats when they are lonely and/or angry with you – I generally grab them by the scruff of their neck and bring them to the scene of the crime while stating a strong “no!”. Many cat experts say that you have to catch them in the act, but I disagreee. While it may take a few times, cats are not stupid and will eventually come to understand what you mean – sooner or later, depending on the cat. I personally have found that all cats will get the picture after a few repetitions – and a harsh scruffing and firm “no!” has always been effective for me – even if it takes a few times.

Leave a Comment

(Additional questions? Ask them for free in our dog - cat - pet forum)