I know my cat is mad at me because she is: (urinating on the bed, defecating on my clothes, biting me when I sleep, scratching the furniture—fill in the blank—). People sometimes jump to the conclusion that their cats have a vendetta against them or are mad at them when they engage in unpleasant behaviors. I hear this frequently from my clients.
Behavior does not occur in a vacuum. There is always a reason for behavior, cats being mad at their people or trying to get even with them is not one of them. Cats do not hold grudges. People do.
Look beyond vendettas and grudges.
Check the environment—look for the circumstances that contribute to the behavior. Inadequate litter box maintenance, poor litter box locations, lack of scratching posts and vertical territory, changes in schedules and household tensions are examples of situations that set the stage for unwelcome behaviors.
Additionally, check out the consequences of the behavior. Consequences predict if a cat will repeat a behavior. It is common for cat parents to unknowingly reinforce behaviors. Attention seeking, night time/early morning demands, counter surfing and aggression are some behaviors that people easily and accidentally reinforce. A cat who wakes her favorite person at dawn will predictably repeat the annoying behavior if her person feeds and pays attention to her. The cat has learned that when she wakes her person, she gets what she wants—food and attention. A cat who bites when soliciting play most likely has been played with using hands and bites during play. The cat, enjoying the interaction with her favorite person, will try to solicit attention and play from her favorite person through biting.
There are other times when no one is reinforcing the behavior. A cat who urinates on their favorite person’s bed or couch may feel safe eliminating in those locations (always rule out any medical reasons by first having the cat examined by a veterinarian). Beds and couches usually have extensive views—perfect for a cat to identify and then escape a potential threat. Feeling safe is the consequence of urinating on the bed or couch.
It is easy to understand why people make ethnocentric assumptions about cat behavior. Humans hold grudges and they sometimes indulge in vendettas against each other. Cats don’t hold grudges, neither do they engage in unpleasant behaviors because they are mad at a specific person. Look beyond initial assumptions for the reasons for a behavior. After identifying the triggers, a successful behavior modification plan can be designed and implemented.