Has your cat started running around the house at 4am like a mad thing? Zarli Kew explains the reasons for problem behaviours in cats, and how to address them.
Have you been woken up by your adult cat running madly around the house at 4am? Or, has your cat decided its litter tray is no longer a good place to go to the toilet; instead weeing behind the couch? These are two of the most common problem behaviours in cats and while they may have different causes, they are problems that can be solved.
The first thing to understand is how we define a ‘problem behaviour’.
We would interpret a particular behaviour as being a problem if it is disruptive for the owners. It’s not necessarily a problem for the cat to run around like a mad thing in the early hours because that is what they are wired to do. However, there may also be medical or psychological reasons for their actions and understanding this is the first step in treatment.
Born to be wild
Cats still have their wild instincts – they haven’t been domesticated for that long, so they are very in tune with their natural instincts. Their natural instinct at 4am is to hunt. That is when all the small prey like mice and rodents are most active. Cats typically get a burst of energy at this time of the morning and they race around because that is just what their bodies are wired to do.
Cats are also territorial creatures of habit. If their toileting behaviour is changing, for example, it may indicate the cat is unhappy about something. It is a bit of a work in progress to determine what it is that they are unhappy about. It could be that there is a new cat in the neighbourhood coming to the door and they are on high alert, wanting to increase their territory scent, or it could be that you have moved a pot plant inside.
A good way to find a solution, though, is to start with a full medical check-up. There may be medical reasons for your cat behaving the way it does. Once we rule out any medical aspect, we move on to behavioural.
Managing problem behaviours in cats
Every cat is different. Some are quite lazy and they just prefer everything to be handed to them on a platter. Whereas others need more stimulation. We like to work with the owner and their cat individually to try and determine what would make them tick.
There are many things we can do to mimic hunting-type behaviour for those cats that are really in tune to hunting. We often suggest ‘treat feeders’. There are many different types of treat feeders that you can either buy or make. Some are very cheap, some are a lot more expensive, but all of them are just trying to tap into the natural instinct of the cat to work for their food, rather than just going to the bowl and picking it out.
Keep in mind, cats are designed to not get food every time they hunt. That is why we get a lot of overweight cats as well. They are used to eating small amounts throughout the day rather than big meals. We are trying to mimic what their genetic make-up is, because ultimately if they are unhappy then it is going to show.
Just because you own an older cat, does not mean you can’t deal with behaviour issues. In an ideal world we would like to start young. To set that kitten up for success and to reduce the problem adult behaviours that are common.
The way we do this with clients is by talking about different types of environmental enrichment, resource placement and availability that you can provide. More specifically, this means their food, their water, their litter trays, and their entertainment. All these things make a really big impact on how the cat sees their world.