Why is My Cat Behaving Badly?

gray cat and black and white dog
By Pet Expert Team
Updated: 5/17/20242-4 minutes
Cat and dog with their owner

Most cats behave badly at some point or another, but sometimes what we determine to be ‘bad’ behavior can be due to a lack of understanding of why cats do what they do.

There are a few different ways to remedy bad behavior in cats, but it really starts with trying to better understand your cat. Keep in mind that some of the training techniques that work for dogs aren't always effective for cats.


Cats may bite when afraid or angry. This makes it especially important never to tease your cat, which can be frustrating and threatening. If your cat has a medical condition, she may bite because of the pain she's feeling. Whatever the reason, a cat often gives warning signs before she bites. If she is hissing, flattens hers ears or emits a low growl, it's time to back away.

If your cat is not acting out because of an injury or illness, it's time for some training. If you've been play-fighting with your cat, stop - it encourages aggressive behavior toward you. Let your cat play rough with a toy she can chase instead. If she nips at you during play or petting, stop and walk away. If you attempt to pet your cat and she rewards your affection with a bite, slowly take your hand away and respect her personal space. If your cat continues to exhibit aggressive behavior, consult with your veterinarian.

Rejecting the Litter Box

If your cat starts to use an area other than the litter box as an indoor bathroom, there are ways to redirect her behavior. Some cats will refuse to use the litter box if it's not up to their cleanliness standards. Remove soiled litter once a day and wash the box each week with mild soap. Avoid using bleach. You can also try providing extra boxes - a good rule to follow is having one more litter box than you have cats. Then make sure the boxes are in an out-of-the-way spot that will ensure your cat's privacy.

If your cat still refuses to use the litter box, don't attempt to punish her, as increasing her stress may make the problem worse. Clean the affected area with a product that uses enzymes to break down the smell and stain. DON'T use an ammonia-based cleaner - it will smell similar to the cat's urine and will encourage her to return to the places it is applied.

It's possible that a health problem might be behind issues with litter box behavior. An older cat may not be physically able to climb into the litter box. Try switching to a pan that is shallower than the one you're currently using. You may need to change it more frequently, but that is a small trade-off for good litter box behavior.

If your cat strains to urinate or urinates more frequently than normal, she may have a urinary tract infection. Cats with kidney, thyroid or liver conditions often produce increased amounts of urine. Refusal to use the litter box could be her way of telling you she doesn't feel well. Consult your veterinarian.

Aggression and Fighting

Sometimes, cats may hide and pounce on anything that moves, including you! Although your cat is only practicing capturing prey, she may become overly exuberant, using teeth and claws. The best way to curb this behavior is to provide a lot of activity that will allow the cat to focus her energy on appropriate objects - like play prey. Never play aggressively with your cat and never physically punish her for this behavior, as it will only serve to reinforce it. Instead, try giving your cat toys that are interactive: hanging toys your cat can bat or jingling balls to chase.

Cat-cat aggression may occur in multi-cats homes. It's important to provide each cat with her own personal space. Provide one-on-one attention with the cats in their particular favorite resting spot in the house. Separate litter pans and feeding areas may also be necessary.

Still, territorial disputes can be common - and can become very aggressive. If they do, the cats may need to be kept in separate rooms with closed doors and then slowly reintroduced to each other. After complete separation for a period of weeks, the door is opened slightly so that the cats can investigate each other. Switch the cats' rooms several times during this period so that each cat can become acclimated to the other's scent. Switch their bedding and food bowls as well. A common toy that is placed beneath the door may help the cats begin to play together. This may need to be a very slow process - give your cats the time they need to learn to live together peacefully.

Scratching Furniture

Scratching is a normal behavior for your cat that helps her keep her claws in good condition. That means that you can't really blame her for clawing the furniture unless you have provided her with an alternative like a scratching post. If your cat has already started scratching something, cover the item with plastic and she will likely turn to the post instead. When you catch your cat scratching furniture, try squirting her with water from a squirt bottle and saying "no" in a firm voice. When she scratches her scratching post, reward her with praise.


Both males and females spray urine to mark their territory, although the behavior is much more common in males. One way to address this is to spay or neuter your cat. Generally cats will exhibit this type of behavior when they feel their territory is threatened, such as when a new cat is introduced to the household. Consult with your veterinarian about possible health problems that may be causing this behavior.

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