Veterinarian-written / veterinarian-approved articles for your cat.

How Can I Change My Cat's Bad Behavior?

Learn the best way to change a cat’s bad behavior.

Living with cats is fun, entertaining, and adds love and other benefits to humans' lives. Still, sometimes cats engage in behavior that isn't so fun for their people. It's normal to wonder how you can change that bad behavior.

First, Change Your Mindset

When a cat is engaging in what humans think of as bad behavior, we also tend to assume they're doing it purposely—knowingly misbehaving to get us back for something or simply to be saucy.

The truth is that cats' behavior is rooted in their instincts. Most bad cat behavior occurs for one of two reasons: they are unable to get their basic feline needs met and are feeling stressed or trying to get them met in their own way, or they simply don't know you don't like the behavior.

Here are a few examples:

  • Your cat urinates on your pile of clean clothes. You may assume she's trying to get you back for being gone all day. But the truth could be that your cat has a medical problem, feels stressed because you're gone a lot and feels better by marking her territory, or is upset about something else and trying to self-soothe by marking territory.
  • Your cat plays too roughly and bites your fingers. You may assume he is just trying to hurt you, but he likely has no idea you're troubled by his teeth since that's how he plays with his siblings. He hasn't learned to be gentle with human skin.

When you change your mindset and understand that your cat isn't trying to be bad, it becomes much easier to deal with your kitty. Instead of thinking of the behavior as bad, think of it as unwanted.

How to Modify Unwanted Cat Behaviors

The best way to approach stopping unwanted cat behaviors is to determine why the cat is engaging in it and provide an alternative that's acceptable to both of you. The first place to start is always ruling out a medical problem, especially if the issue begins suddenly and includes anything physical like inappropriate urination or decreased appetite.

After a medical condition, the next thing to consider is whether your cat has enough access to resources. For cats to stay happy and healthy, they need the following: food, water, a clean litter box, good scratching posts, love, and attention. Evaluate your home and determine whether your cat has easy access to all those things, especially if there are other cats in the house. Are some of them keeping others away from the food bowl? Do you have enough litter boxes for the number of cats you have, and are you keeping the boxes clean enough? Do you spend enough one-on-one interactive playtime with each cat? Adjust anything that needs adjusting and see whether the unwanted behavior resolves.

If you're still noticing the problem, the next step is to make that behavior undesirable and give the cat a more desirable alternative. If your cat is scratching something inappropriately, cover it with tin foil or spray it with citrus spray (spot test it first) and provide a good quality scratching post in the same area. Praise your kitty when he uses the post. If your kitty bites when you play with him, use a toy to play instead of your hands. Withdraw from the play session if you feel his teeth, turning your back and ignoring the kitty for a minute. Reward the cat when he bites the toy instead of your fingers.

A Word About Punishment

Punishment is a negative or unpleasant thing that is used to deter a specific behavior. Usually, it's a swat or a spray in the face with water. Most of the time, punishment like that will make an unwanted cat behavior worse or introduce new, stress-related ones. It also damages the relationship between the two of you.

Punishment can sometimes work if it doesn't come from you and occurs when you are not around. That's an environmental consequence that happens naturally and teaches the cat to avoid doing something because it's not pleasant. That can include something like a Scat Mat placed on a counter or at the base of the Christmas tree.

In general, punishment is not a good idea unless those very specific conditions can be met.

You May Also Like These Articles:

What Is the Best Cat Scratching Post for Your Cat?

Cats Help Humans

Tips for Good Litter Box Cleaning

Interactive Playing with Wand Toys

Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. Just Answer is an external service not affiliated with

Notice: Ask-a-Vet is an affiliated service for those who wish to speak with a veterinary professional about their pet's specific condition. Initially, a bot will ask questions to determine the general nature of your concern. Then, you will be transferred to a human. There is a charge for the service if you choose to connect to a veterinarian. Ask-a-Vet is not manned by the staff or owners of, and the advice given should not delay or replace a visit to your veterinarian.