A disturbing new behavior in your cat is most often associated with one of two scenarios — either an underlying medical issue or environmental stress. From inappropriate urination outside their litter box to climbing curtains, new and unwelcomed behavior is cause for quickly getting your cat to their veterinarian for a complete examination. At All Creatures Veterinary Hospital, we work hard to provide factual information you can rely on, especially when it comes to a topic as serious as cat behavior, which can mean a medical issue is lurking. As such, we’ve taken FAQs about cat behavior and answered them as thoroughly as possible.

If you’re looking for a highly trained veterinarian in Vallejo, CA, we’d love to see your cat if they’re exhibiting any behavior changes, so please call us at (707) 940-8748.

What is the most important thing to know about cat behavior?

The most critical thing to know about cat behavior is that every cat is different. You know your cat better than anyone else, so identifying changes in your cat's behavior is crucial because that may indicate the underlying problem. Cats are creatures of habit, so behavior changes are usually easy to identify. They’re also good at hiding illnesses until they are quite sick, so it's essential to know what’s normal to identify changes and address a possible medical issue right away.

Is it possible to fix behavior issues in a cat?

It is possible to correct behavior issues in cats—including aggression, going outside the litter box, or spraying—as cats are trainable just like dogs. If your cat is not using their litter box properly, the solution might simply be placing multiple litter boxes throughout the house to make access easier. Other behavioral issues might be more challenging to address, requiring medications, environmental enrichment, or de-stressing their living environment. As your cat’s owner, you should commit to finding an answer to the problem. Still, it should first be addressed with your veterinarian to understand if it is related to a medical condition. If there is no underlying medical reason, cat owners can enlist the help of trainers and behaviorists who specialize in cats. 

What are some other signs and symptoms of cat behavior problems?

There are many signs and symptoms of cat behavioral problems, with some resulting from a medical issue and others originating from a change in their household. 

Signs of cat behavior problems include:

  • Vocalizing differently or more frequently than what is typical of the cat
  • Inappropriate urination and/or defecation outside the litter box
  • Scratching, such as furniture or curtains
  • Fighting with fellow cats or other pets in the house
  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Sudden aggression
  • Sleeping more than usual

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) details common cat behavior issues and what they mean. 

When should I bring my cat to see a veterinarian to discuss the behavior?

When you witness a new behavior in your cat that persists for more than a day, the first step is to identify if it originates from a medical issue or a behavioral problem, so bring your cat in to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. A quick diagnosis is imperative if the behavior stems from a medical condition. For example, inappropriate urination might result from a urinary tract infection. Your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam, assessing their physical, emotional, and mental health. Once they’ve identified or ruled out a medical issue, they can develop a plan to address the behavior. 

What other possible health concerns can arise from cat behavior problems?

If you have a multi-cat household, how your cats interact is important. You don't want a cat with behavior issues such as aggression, hurting another cat, or eating another cat's food. Your cat’s behavior issue can impact the comfort and safety of other pets and people in the house.
If your cat is acting out because they are stressed, that stress can lead to inappropriate urination and stress cystitis, which is inflammation of the bladder. They can also stop eating due to stress, quickly leading to a liver problem if you don’t address it. For these reasons, you must bring your cat to your veterinarian for an examination. Your cat will likely get sicker if you don't, which will in turn exacerbate the behavior issue. 

How will a veterinarian diagnose behavior problems in my cat?

Much of a behavior-related diagnosis is based on your cat’s history and a physical exam. If the physical exam, blood work, urinalyses, and x-rays are normal, your veterinarian will address any recent changes to their home life. This might include any new animals or people in the house or a change in the location of your cat’s litter box. Your veterinarian will rely on you to communicate any changes that might have led to the behavior, so they can adequately assess the situation and correctly diagnose a behavioral versus a health issue. If it is truly behavioral with no medical concerns, they will strategize on a behavioral intervention.

Why is early detection and diagnosis so crucial for cats with behavior issues?

Cats are stoic animals that keep to themselves, and they can be much sicker than they seem. Even when the behavior changes start, they can already be very ill, and you don't want them to end up with persistent urinary or inappetence issues. Also, if not addressed quickly, behavior issues can become more challenging to correct. This sometimes leads to owners re-homing their cats due to aggression or inappropriate urination. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, 27 percent of cats relinquished to shelters are surrendered due to aggression issues. For both health reasons and successful behavior correction, you must address the underlying problem as quickly as possible.

Is there anything else important to know for cats with behavior issues?

The most significant variable regarding cat behavior is how comfortable they are in their environment; therefore, changes to their environment are stressful. You can remove a cat from a very poor environment and bring it into a loving home, and they will still feel stress as a result of the change. As their owner, you are a part of their environment, too. If your routine changes, that can incite stress and behavioral issues in your cat. Home construction projects are also a trigger, with unfamiliar people and noises in their home causing stress. Bringing home a new pet is another source of stress for a cat, which significantly changes their environment and can affect their behavior. Being aware of your cat and their demeanor and minimizing stressful situations will help you avoid behavior changes. If you see any problems arise, you and your veterinarian will work together to develop the best way to reduce or correct the negative behavior. 

If you have further questions about cat behavior, reach out to your veterinarian. If you live in or near Vallejo, CA, we’d love to see your cat if you’ve noticed any behavior changes, so please don’t hesitate to call us at (707) 940-8748.