How To Discipline A Cat (Without Losing Your Mind!)

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio
We know it’s hard to believe, but cats can misbehave on occasion. Here’s how to discipline a cat and help you break bad kitty habits.

If you have a kitty that tends to misbehave, you may be wondering what steps you need to take in order to get him to stop acting out of line. Training cats requires a lot of effort and patience on your part, and it’s also quite different from training dogs.

Check out the tips below on how to discipline a cat so that you can take the right course of action when your kitty misbehaves. Failing to discipline your cat appropriately won’t only prevent you from correcting the behavior, but could also lead to even more problems and behavioral issues in the long run.

Related: Common Bad Behavior Issues And How To Fix Them

Never Physically Punish Your Cat

Cats don’t respond well to physical punishment because they don’t associate the punishment with their bad behavior. If you use physical force when your cat does something wrong, he probably won’t understand why you’re hurting him. Instead, he’ll assume you can’t be trusted and that you could turn on him at any moment.

If your cat or kitten misbehaves, simply ignore him for a little while and then provide him with attention and affection after he’s learned his lesson. Intimidating your cat physically will likely only serve to make him neurotic, fearful, and potentially aggressive. The once sweet kitty who used to love sitting in your lap may actually become so afraid of you that he no longer seeks your attention. He may become shy and depressed, as well as uncertain of all humans because he may not know whom to trust anymore. You definitely don’t want that to happen!

Use Your Voice or Clap Your Hands

Rather than using physical force, you can use vocal intonations to get your cat to understand that he’s doing something wrong. You can say things like “no” or “stop it” in a firm voice. Another option might be to clap your hands, as the irritating sound may cause a cat to stop misbehaving and it might help redirect his attention.

Note: It’s a good idea to only raise the volume of your voice if it’s really necessary to get your kitty’s attention and stop him from doing something that might be harmful or dangerous. Generally, when it comes to teaching your cat, you don’t want to frighten or stress him out, but you do want him to know that a behavior isn’t allowed. Shouting at him might scare him, but it might not be effective when it comes to helping him understand what you want.

Related: 5 Helpful Cat Training Tips To Control Your Frisky Feline

Praise Good Behavior

Cats respond better when they’re praised for good behavior and ignored for bad behavior. So give treats, attention, and praise when your cat behaves. That way, the good behavior can be reinforced.

In addition to praising and reinforcing good behavior, though, it is also a good idea to get your kitty’s attention when he’s misbehaving so you can redirect it toward something that is acceptable.

A classic example is inappropriate scratching. If your kitty is using your furniture as a scratcher, make sure you buy a few different high-quality scratching posts that can meet his needs. These can include vertical and horizontal scratching posts, as well as those made of different materials, from sisal to cardboard. Place these strategically around your house so that, if you see your cat scratching your furniture, you can stop him and redirect him to the right scratching post that he can use whenever he feels the need. Then, you can praise him and give him treats when he uses the scratchers that you bought him.

Correct Bad Behavior with Clever Tactics

Correcting bad behavior using tactics like double-sided tape or spray bottles might deter your cat from exhibiting certain behaviors without making you the punisher.

For example, you can apply double-sided tape to your countertops or furniture to make it undesirable for your cat to jump on or scratch them. Also, some cat training products use motion detector technology to sense when a pet is doing something wrong, and these products produce a gentle punishment, such as a quick blast of odorless air, to prevent the same behavior in the future.

When it comes to bad behavior that is related to play (for example, if your cat tends to scratch or bite you while playing with you), you can also employ the strategy of simply taking your attention away from him for a while. Let’s say that you’re playing with your kitten or cat and he starts to get too aggressive. At this point, stop the interaction and give your pet some space to help him understand that those behaviors are unacceptable and will result in the play session ending abruptly. You can also replace your hands with toys that your cat can claw at, bite, chase, and tackle as much as he wants.

Never Give Late Punishments

In the event you come home to find that your cat or kitten has destroyed something or done something wrong, it’s too late to punish him, so don’t even bother. He probably won’t realize he did anything wrong, and he may have even forgotten about it by the time you get home, so your pet won’t understand why you’re angry or why he’s being punished. Instead, it’s best to keep valuables in areas that your cat can’t reach, and to provide him with plenty of enrichment to keep him occupied while you’re gone.

Figure Out Your Cat’s Needs

A cat’s bad behavior is often the result of him trying to fulfill his needs. Going back to our example above, if he’s scratching up your furniture, you may have to purchase more scratching posts, including vertical and horizontal varieties, that will allow him to fulfill his need to stretch and scratch.

Also, keep in mind that, sometimes, negative behaviors are the result of a kitty not feeling well. He might be dealing with a physical ailment that is causing him to misbehave or act aggressively, so getting him checked and treated by a vet would be helpful in that scenario. For instance, if your cat is urinating outside of the litter box, using physical punishment can make matters worse. Instead, have him examined by a veterinarian to see if there’s an underlying medical condition causing the behavior. Sometimes even just switching the type of litter that you use, cleaning the litter more often, changing the kind of litter box you use, or moving the litter box to a different location can remedy the problem.

Another thing to keep in mind: a cat might be exhibiting bad behavior if he feels lonely or bored, so you might need to pay more attention to your pet or provide environmental enrichment to ensure he has everything he needs to feel happy, especially when you aren’t home. In other words, it isn’t always a physical ailment that’s to blame; instead, it might be an emotional concern that needs to be addressed.

Understand Feline Behavior

The key to how to discipline a cat successfully lies in understanding feline behavior.

If you have any questions about how to address your pet’s behavior, whether he’s a kitten, an adult, or a senior, consider consulting with a veterinarian who will be able to help you find the best ways to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior effectively.

No matter what, remember to be patient, and know that it takes time to teach a cat what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. Once he learns, though, he’ll be the best companion you could ask for.

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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