Cats have reputations (mostly with non-cat people) for indifference. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with. Ask a cat person, though, and they’ll assure you cat discipline exists. You just need to know how to punish your cat — safely and properly — for that discipline and training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, you’ll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.
Check with the vet
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litterbox, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places — all from changes inside their body. So before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you’ll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.
Cats are not dogs
Training a cat away from unwanted behaviors requires different methods than training a dog. Dogs learn to recognize vocal commands and hand signals. Cats? They’re not the biggest fans of those methods.
That isn’t to say you can’t clicker train cats because you can. However, your cat isn’t likely to care for changes in your tone of voice. They also aren’t impressed with your use of their full name the way a dog is. Cat discipline is a little trickier — and it requires a deeper level of patience.
Review the household
People get frustrated with scratched furniture, cats climbing the curtains, and accidents outside of the litterbox. They clamor to know how to punish the cat. The real secret behind most cat misbehavior, though? It’s problems in the house:
- Does the litterbox get cleaned regularly?
- Is the litter — or box — the type your cat prefers?
- Are there enough scratching posts?
- Do you have cat trees to provide elevated climbing places?
- Are you playing with your cat frequently enough?
Cat discipline goes out the window if the house isn’t set up to cater to feline needs.
Withdraw and redirect
One of the simplest ways to punish your cat is to withdraw or redirect their attention.
When playing with your kitten, do they latch on with their claws or bite? Young kittens mock-attack their mothers. But Mom corrects them with a hiss and nip. You can’t do the same, so you mimic that cat discipline by stopping and walking away. Your kitten’s brain will realize something went wrong, and they’ll start to get the message.
Do you have a cat that thinks the couch makes an excellent scratching post? Instead of yelling (something that never works), gently move them to their approved scratcher. Sprinkling catnip over the scratcher will increase their interest. That kitty brain will get the idea pretty quick.
Praise and treat
No one likes to punish their cat. Inappropriate punishment can lead to anxiety, fear, avoidance of you, or worse behaviors. Instead of focusing on cat discipline, aim to reward your cat’s good behaviors. Keep cat treats on hand for when you see your feline family member doing the things you want:
- Playing nicely with their toys
- Using the litterbox
- Scratching their cardboard scratcher
- Napping on the cat tree
As your cat realizes those “normal” activities yield praise and treats, they’ll repeat them. (After all, who doesn’t like snacks and cheers?)
Outsmarting the feline brain
Sometimes, you need to think smarter than your cat. It’s a subtle way to punish your cat and encourage them away from destructive behavior.
For instance, for that cat who believes the couch is a scratching post? Drape a loose blanket over the arm of the sofa. The fabric will fall each time they try to sharpen their claws, creating a subtle form of cat discipline. Foiling the behavior will drive them to the sturdy, reliable scratching post.
Is your cat a counter-jumper? Place double-sided tape on the counter where your cat’s feet land. The tape’s harmless, but cats hate the sticky sensation on their paws. Your cat learns to avoid the area — especially if you provide a cat-safe place for them to climb as an alternative.
Admit when you need help
There’s no shame in admitting you’re in over your head. If you’ve checked every other box in setting up cat discipline and nothing’s working, it’s time to seek outside assistance. Professional cat trainers do exist. They excel at unraveling the underlying cause of your cat’s behavior, and they can guide you in establishing a proper program of safe training.
Never give up and accept bad behavior. It’s unfair to you and your cat. If you’re struggling to find a safe way to punish your cat, turn to the experts.
There are no bad cats
No one likes putting up with bad behavior. Luckily, most of the time, those unwanted discipline problems clear up with a little work. Take a quick look through the house and make sure you are not part of the problem. Then, focus on the good things your cat’s doing. Slowly, over time, your cat will fall in line.
And don’t forget to ask for the vet’s or other expert’s assistance when it’s needed!
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