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Home Pet Q&A Cat Questions Do Cats Learn If You Punish Them?

Do Cats Learn If You Punish Them?

Punishing cats will often lead to more behavior issues and may make your cat fearful of you. It is not recommended. When your cat displays behaviors you don't like, your first thought shouldn't be punishing him. Instead, try to determine why your cat is engaging in the inappropriate behavior and take steps to correct it. For example, if the cat is scratching your furniture, provide several scratching posts throughout the house. Also, yelling or hitting are never acceptable punishments for cats and will never yield the desired results.

Tips for Changing Your Cats Behavior

Often, changing undesired behavior in your cat is as easy as changing the environment. Here are a few examples: 

  • Scratching Furniture: Cats have to scratch. If they are scratching your furniture or walls, yelling at them to stop will be completely ineffective as it's a thing they need to do. Instead of looking for ways to punish the cat, simply provide them with scratching posts. Place a post in all areas of the home where the cat spends time. When you observe him scratching furniture, redirect him to a nearby scratching post.
  • Urinating Outside the Litter Box: Many cats will not go in a dirty litter box, and many cats don't like to share. Some issues with urinating outside the box are as easy to solve as adding more litter boxes—as a general rule, you should have one litter box per cat plus one additional box—and keeping them clean by scooping at least once a day. Note: If a cat that has always gone in the box is suddenly urinating in inappropriate places, it could be due to a medical condition. Schedule a visit to your vet to rule out a urinary tract infection and other issues.
  • Rough Play/Biting: When your cat plays rough or bites, you may be tempted to swat him on the nose or otherwise show him who is boss. This can lead to a fearful cat or a cat who feels like he needs to fight harder to protect himself. Instead, realize that your cat is very likely just playing. When he gets too rough, immediately stop playing and walk away. Also, provide toys that are appropriate for pouncing and "hunting," so your cat will have a way to participate in these normal cat behaviors.

Yelling, hitting, and other physical punishments are not likely to make the undesired behaviors stop and will result in a fearful cat that doesn't trust you. If you're at the end of your rope, contact an animal behaviorist for advice tailored to your situation.   

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