(Dr. Iulia Mihai, DVM) No matter how good our cats behave, there is usually something naughty that they do from time to time. Some of these behaviors are normal as long as they do not overdo them, endanger their health, or destroy our homes.
Behavioral problems in cats can manifest in a variety of ways, from aggression to eliminating outside their litter box.
Every cat is unique. Although there are some general traits, it is important to know your little feline and recognize when you are dealing with a behavioral problem.
Cats are solitary animals. They do not hunt in groups and often look for food on their own. They fight and mark their territory and look for company only to mate.
Cats are independent animals. Cats do not always want to communicate and interact with the owner, except when they have certain needs.
Cats are curious animals. Any object can stimulate the interest of our little felines. Some cats will try to widen their horizons when they feel the world in which they live no longer provides them with enough stimuli. It is good to keep this in mind to prevent stress and potential accidents.
As studies describe, there are 5 personalities in cats: neuroticism, extraversion, dominance, impulsiveness, and agreeableness. 
- Neuroticism - insecure, anxious, fearful of people, suspicious, and shy cats.
- Dominance – bully, dominant, and aggressive toward other cats.
- Impulsiveness – erratic and reckless cats.
- Agreeableness – affectionate, friendly to people, and gentle cats.
- Extraversion – active, vigilant, curious, inquisitive, inventive, and smart cats.
Depending on these personalities, you can tell if your cat has a behavioral disorder or if that is your pet's personality.
6 Most Common Behavioral Disorders in Cats and How to Fix Them
All cat owners have had "minor accidents" with their pets at least once in their lives. If you inspect closely, you will find that there is always a reason for this behavior.
Doing their business outside the litter box (urination, defecation) can happen for several reasons:
- The litter box is dirty and smells bad - cats have a very developed smell, and a dirty litter box will be a no-no for them, especially if you have several cats in the house.
- The litter box is in a place that stresses your cat, with a lot of noise and without privacy.
- Your cat doesn’t like the substrate.
- Territory marking (spraying) - this behavior is more common in unneutered males and is triggered when their space has been invaded by either man or another animal. It can also be triggered when stimulated by certain strong odors.
- Health problems - your cat may have this behavior due to health problems such as pain, gastrointestinal, or kidney problems. The amount of urine, its color, or the shape and/or consistency of the stool are signs that need to be considered when your cat begins to urinate and defecate outside the litter box.
What you can do:
- Clean your cat's litter box consistently - at least once a day.
- If you have more than one cat, the number of litter boxes in the house should be the number of cats + 1.
- Move the litter box to a place without stressors, where your cat can feel unexposed and relaxed.
- Change the litter box substrate – make sure you choose a substrate that is not dusty and fragrant.
- Neuter your cat, or use diffusers with pheromones for spayed cats that keep marking their territory. Clean the places they marked with neutralizing solutions.
- Go to the vet with your cat if you notice changes in its behavior when it urinates (meowing, adopting unnatural positions, urinating little and often) and if the color/consistency is changed (dark urine, bloody urine, colorless urine, diarrhea).
Aggression is considered a major behavioral problem. Cats can become aggressive towards other pets or people, and they manifest through: attacking, biting, scratching, growling, or hissing.
Isolated aggressive behavior should not be confused with behavioral disorder. Cats can occasionally become aggressive when their territory is invaded or when they encounter negative stimuli.
The causes of aggression can be:
- Stress – stressed cats are always on alert, and this can make them aggressive.
- Hormonal changes
What you can do:
- Observe your cat carefully to see what triggers this behavior.
- You can use pheromone diffusers, supplements, medications, or special diets to help your cat relax. Seek the help of a veterinarian.
- Go with your cat to the vet as it may suffer from internal pain that can trigger this behavior. For example, if your cat has a sore back and you pet that spot, your pet may react aggressively towards you.
- Neuter or spay your cat if you haven’t done so.
- If your cat becomes aggressive when you play, distract it with toys.
Abnormal feeding habits
Lack of appetite or overeating can be a sign of a behavioral disorder. It is important to consider the environmental conditions in which your cat feeds, such as temperature or the presence of other animals.
The causes of abnormal feeding can be:
- Stress - temperature or the presence of other pets can cause a cat to adopt this behavior.
- Pain or diseases - when cats are in pain, they tend to stop eating. In diseases such as diabetes, cats tend to overeat.
- Food quantity or quality - your cat does not like the food, or you feed it too much at once.
What you can do:
- Make sure it is not too hot or too cold when feeding your cat.
- Feed your cat separately if you have other (greedy) pets.
- Go with your cat to the vet if it does not consume food for more than two days or shows signs of pain or disease.
- Buy quality food and serve the right amount for your cat's weight (it is usually written on the package). Divide that amount into several meals per day (at least 3).
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All cats groom themselves. If this behavior becomes obsessive, then it is a problem and should be addressed without delay. A cat that licks compulsively can end up losing hair and having open wounds in certain areas.
Compulsive licking in cats may be due to:
What you can do:
- Find out what are the factors that make your cat stressed or anxious and lick compulsively.
- Use pheromone diffusers to help it relax.
- Play with your cat often to distract it from this behavior.
- Go to the vet for a consultation.
Some cat breeds are more vocal than others, such as the Siamese. Others may meow only when they want certain things, such as food or to be left outside. This behavior becomes a problem when the cat constantly meows at any time of day or night.
The causes of excessive meowing include:
- Senility - this condition occurs in senior cats. In addition to meowing, you may notice the following: staring, disorientation, confusion, irascibility, overgrooming or lack of self-grooming, and others.
- Intact cats - unneutered males yowl, being similar to a mating call.
- Heat – cats in heat can meow all day.
- Boredom - sometimes cats meow out of boredom.
- Pain - cats that meow while urinating or defecating experience discomfort or pain.
- Attention seeking - in this case, meowing could appear at any time of the day.
What you can do:
- If you have a senior cat, there is not much you can do about its excessive meowing.
- Neuter or spay your cat.
- Play and spend more time with your cat to help it get rid of boredom or attention seeking.
- Go to the vet with your cat if it meows when using the litter box, jumps, etc.
Cats are not known to be voracious chewers like dogs. However, some cats manage to damage their teeth due to this behavior; they chew all kinds of materials that are too hard for their teeth.
Causes of excessive chewing:
- Nutritional Deficiency - Pica Syndrome
- Medical condition (nausea or dental issue)
- Your cat was weaned too early
What you can do:
- Enrich your cat’s environment and play with it as much as possible. It is recommended to play with your cat for at least 15 minutes a day.
- Stressed and anxious cats tend to be more aggressive than others. Buy products that help relieve stress and anxiety in cats, such as pheromones and supplements.
- Go with your pet to the vet to find out if it suffers from any condition.
- Chewing in kittens that change their teeth stimulates their gums. You can buy special chew toys to keep them from damaging their mouths.
- For cats that persistently bite things they should not bite, you can try a bitter spray as a deterrent. But beware that it could cause even more stress to your cat.
- You can also cover small, dangerous objects, such as electrical cords.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic in her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.