How to Discipline a Cat

It’s Saturday morning. You step out of your bedroom and notice yet another fragrant gift on the floor next to the litter box. Or your ankle endures yet another “scratch attack” as you walk past the dining room table. What gives? And what can you do?

First of all, don’t give up hope. Your cat’s behavior is usually something you can shape and change with some discipline, which is really just one type of training. And next, remember the following:

· Your cat is not a child. Lectures and other displays of displeasure will not be effective.

· Your cat is not a dog. She does not consider herself a member of your pack, or any pack for that matter.

· Your cat is a cat! Her behavior is a direct result of her instinct, her environment, and interactions between the two.

Disciplining your cat is not about punishment, but correction. The goal is to make her associate an undesirable behavior with an undesirable consequence.


Below are some common ways cats misbehave and techniques to address each problem.

MISBEHAVIOR: Your cat attacks your feet or legs as you walk by.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: She probably just needs more playtime! Buy or create a swinging toy she can bat at for 10–15 minutes each day. And to discourage the attacks, carry a whistle or other loud noisemaker to startle your cat the moment she strikes.

MISBEHAVIOR: Your cat shows aggression toward a new person in your life.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Ask the person for an unwashed piece of clothing (shirt, scarf, hat, etc.). Then place it close to your cat’s food bowl, and maybe even wear it while holding her, so she can get used to the new person’s scent.

MISBEHAVIOR: Your cat chews on something she shouldn’t, like electrical chords or furniture.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: Buy or create a topical solution with smells and/or tastes undesirable for your cat (e.g., hot pepper sauce or vinegar, and cheap cologne or perfume) and apply to the trouble spot. If it’s a fabric surface, try the perfume or cologne by itself. You may also try a whistle or other loud noisemaker to startle your cat if she starts chewing.

MISBEHAVIOR: Your cat claws/scratches something she shouldn’t, like curtains or furniture.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Buy or create a scratching post, ideally covered in cardboard or sisal (instead of something that resembles carpet or upholstery). Next, rub the scratching post with some catnip. And once you have your cat’s attention, encourage her to scratch the post: Maybe dangle a swinging toy next to it or demonstrate on the scratching post yourself.

MISBEHAVIOR: Your cat does her business outside of the litter box.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION: See the links to other helpful Catipedia content under “Litter Box Blues” below. Warning: Do not use shouting, whistles, or other loud noises to discipline your cat in this case.


If done correctly, discipline is a great way to correct undesirable behavior in your cat. It just takes some extra time, consideration and patience. And with the above tips in mind, you’ll be well prepared to build a better, more disciplined life for your cat.


  • Becker M and Spadafori G. Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet? 2006: 118–20.
  • Brunner D. The Cat Owner’s Manual. 2004: 90–2; 212–6.
  • Shojai A. The Purina Encyclopedia of Cat Care. 1998: 391.
  • Siegal M, Ed. The Cornell Book of Cats. 1989: 62–7.


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