Common cat behaviour problems

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Cat behaviour is an interesting but complex topic. Every cat is an individual, and each has their own quirks, but even normal cat behaviour can seem odd to us humans! However, if you want to live in harmony with your furry friend, understanding cat behaviour will help. Learning about your cat’s behaviour will allow you to read their signals, giving them space when they need it and affection when they want it. Not only will it save you a few scratched and bitten fingers, but it will also help your bond to grow and ensure you know when things aren’t quite right with them, physically or mentally.

What is normal cat behaviour?

There is a wide variety of normal cat behaviour, from headbutting (also called bunting) and rubbing against things to spraying urine, growling and hissing. In fact, sometimes, what makes a behaviour abnormal is the situation in which it is displayed. For instance, some cats love nothing more than a cuddle on your lap and will purr, show their bellies and allow you to stroke them. Other cats would try to take your arm off if you dared go near their undercarriage!

So, if your usually laid-back puss starts growling or swipes at you when you try to give them their favourite tummy rub, you might click that something is wrong!

Getting to know your cat’s behaviour will allow you to make a judgement about whether their behaviour is out of character or out of context.

Affectionate cat behaviour

Affectionate cat getting head rubs

When cats are feeling affectionate, they do some unusual things! A lot of their weird behaviours are actually a way of marking you with their scent. Cats have scent glands dotted around their bodies, with large numbers of glands around their face, ears and the base of their tail. By headbutting you, rubbing their bodies against you and encouraging you to stroke around their back end, they are transferring their scent to you. This scent allows them to mark you as safe and trusted, which reassures them and makes them feel more secure. Cats also make an array of noises when they are feeling affectionate, including chirruping and purring. So, although the human world doesn’t share these behaviours, they’re a huge compliment and are your cat’s way of showing love.

Cat behaviour in heat

If your cat is in heat (also called ‘in season’), their behaviour can change dramatically. In fact, if it’s not something you’ve witnessed before, you might think that your cat is in pain or very unwell. Their act is so convincing that every year each veterinarian will receive a few phone calls from frantic pet parents concerned about their cat companion who, it turns out, is just in heat! When they’re in heat, cats will vocalise loudly, known as yowling. They will also adopt some strange postures, keeping their head and body low to the ground, raising their back end and straightening their tail. Sometimes, they even flop onto the floor and vocalise, which can seem concerning if you’ve not seen the behaviour of a cat in heat before.

Can cats have behavioural problems?

Sleepy anxious cat

While there are a huge array of behaviours that might be accepted as normal for an individual cat, some cats do have behavioural problems. These behavioural problems often come about due to a change in the cat’s routine or environment, including new cats or new babies in the home, new cats in the local area, or even building work going on in the neighbourhood. You might also notice your cat’s behaviour becoming an issue when you move home, get a new flatmate, or even bring home a new item of furniture!

If your cat’s behaviour has always been a problem from a young age, it could be that they were not socialised well as kittens. It could also mean that they were not handled much when they were young or that they were born to a feral or semi-feral mum.

What is abnormal cat behaviour?

It’s important to remember that all normal behaviours become abnormal cat behaviours in the wrong context.

If your cat is usually confident, outgoing and enjoys a fuss, it would be abnormal for them to be cowering, hiding, or flinching when you try to touch them. On the other hand, if your cat is usually quite independent and doesn’t enjoy a cuddle, you might be concerned if they were suddenly clingy and curled up on your lap, purring.

Other abnormal cat behaviours include passing urine or faeces around the house, often in the bath or sink, but sometimes on the floor near their litter tray. Cats might also overgroom, effectively tearing their hair out, leading to a bristly coat or bald patches. These are common behaviours in timid or anxious cats, but any cat can develop these behaviours if triggered.

Can a cat suddenly change behaviour?

Sometimes, your cat’s behaviour might change very suddenly. In some cases, it’s possible to identify the reason, but it’s not so clear in others. For example, if there’s a new cat in the area and you think your cat is getting bullied, you might not be too surprised if they start spending more time indoors. Equally, if you bring home a bonny but noisy newborn baby, you might expect your cat to spend more time outside and less time lounging in the baby’s room! Whether or not the cause is clear, your cat might still need to see a veterinarian who will try to get them back to their usual self.

Why has my cat’s behaviour changed?

If your cat’s behaviour changes, it could be a sign that they are unwell, in pain, or stressed. Being unwell might cause your cat to be more withdrawn and hide away. They may not eat, drink, or toilet as they normally would, and their indoor and outdoor habits might change. You might find that they are clingier and cuddlier and want to be close to you, or you might find that they don’t want to be anywhere near you. Both can be a normal behavioural response to feeling unwell. So, it’s essential to take them to the veterinarian if they are not back to their usual self within 24 hours.

Pain tends to cause cats to be more grouchy and even aggressive. If your cat is in pain, they probably won’t want to be touched, and if you try to, they might let you know in no uncertain terms! They may hide or rest in unusual places to avoid contact, and their eating and drinking habits might also be affected. If your cat is acting strangely and you think they might be in pain, you should make an urgent appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can check whether they are in pain and give them medication if needed.

Stressed cats will often overgroom, and you might notice thinning fur, bald patches, or even raw skin where they have continued to lick excessively. Stress can also lead to problems urinating, and you might notice your cat passing urine in strange places. Sometimes, stressed cats develop inflammation of the bladder, and they can also suffer from urethral spasms. These conditions can lead to blood in the urine, and you might also notice your cat straining or struggling to pass urine at all. If your cat isn’t passing any urine despite their efforts, you must make an emergency appointment with the veterinarian. A blocked bladder is reasonably common in male cats, and without prompt treatment, it can be fatal.

Does cat behaviour change after spaying?

Cat wearing cone after being spayed

Neutering your male cat tends to stop them from wandering so far and reduces the chance of them spraying urine and fighting. It, therefore, reduces the spread of certain feline viruses like the Feline Leukaemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. On the other hand, spaying your female cat doesn’t have such a drastic impact on their behaviour. Of course, they won’t come into season anymore, which means you can say a happy goodbye to their yowling and flirting! However, other aspects of their behaviour and personality are unlikely to change much.

Can fleas change a cat’s behaviour?

Itchy cat outdoors

When some cats get fleas, you don’t notice until your ankles are covered in flea bites. Other cats are allergic to flea saliva, and they may let you know very quickly that they have some extra visitors! Cats who are allergic to fleas or those with a heavy burden of fleas can show signs that they are irritated. They might suddenly whip their heads around to lick and nibble their fur, or they might seem on ‘high alert’ as if being chased by something. If your cat is acting irritated or on edge, it’s worth taking them to the veterinarian even if you can’t see any fleas in their coat.

Can cats have behavioural problems as they get older?

Old cat sleeping

Just like some people, as they get older, cats may choose to live a quieter, more relaxing life. This can make them less resilient to stress. Cats are often creatures of habit, and the older they get, the more they get used to their daily routine. So, a new neighbour, a new cat, or even a new refrigerator might cause them to show signs of stress.

Your cat’s behaviour may also change as they get older if they have arthritis or other causes of chronic discomfort. So, if your cat used to be a well-mannered, pleasant and amenable companion but seems to have become bad-tempered with age, it could be a sign that they have sore joints. Find out how to adapt your home for a senior cat here. It could also be a sign that your feline friend isn’t feeling very well. A check-up with your veterinarian should help to get to the bottom of their personality change. Hopefully, you’ll find that you get your loyal, loving feline friend back with the proper treatment.

So, what should I do if my cat has a behaviour problem?

No one knows a cat better than their pet parent, so no one is better qualified than you to notice when things aren’t right. If your cat’s behaviour changes, or if they have always had bad behaviour but it is getting worse, it’s best to get help. A veterinarian will be able to check for signs of pain or illness, and together you’ll be able to discuss whether they might be feeling stressed. If your veterinarian can’t find a reason for your cat’s behaviour, or if they think their issue is a bit complex, they might offer a referral to a specialist. With the right help, your furry friend should soon be back to their normal self, whatever ‘normal’ is for them!


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