Trainers Say You're Causing Your Cat To Behave Badly If You're Doing Any Of These 31 Things

The experts are here to make life easier for you and your cat.

Originally Published: 
We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Getting an animal to do what you want is a lot of work — but sometimes it can feel like you’re giving it your all and your furry friend is still acting up. Due to their independence and deeply ingrained instincts, cats can be particularly difficult, especially when it comes to breaking naughty habits like scratching, nibbling, begging, and going where they shouldn’t (in both senses of the word “going”). According to experts, however, owners may be inadvertently encouraging their kitty’s bad behaviors without even knowing it. Bustle got in touch with a handful of cat experts (including veterinarians, trainers, behavior experts, and cat-company founders), and it turns out that scolding your cat for something “bad” or simply taping off areas you don’t want them to scratch isn’t nearly as effective as you might think.

Still, pointing out a problem doesn’t do much good if you’re not providing a solution. Yes, these experts told us which of our actions might unintentionally confuse, threaten, or mistrain our pets — but they also told us exactly what we can do to fix them. Below, you’ll also find the tools you’ll need to make having a cat easier. So, if you feel like you’ve tried everything and your cat is still acting out, keep reading to see which common (but unexpected!) can actions often lead to a misbehaving feline.


Setting Boundaries Without Redirecting Your Cat’s Attention

“A very important part of behavior correction in cats is to not only set the boundary but also to present a YES for them to gravitate towards,” wrote Catalina Esteves, founder of Cat Therapy. “Many of cats’ bad behaviors come from instinctual needs that need to be satisfied one way or the other. We just need to redirect their attention.” According to Esteves, catnip spray is a great alternative to leaves because it’s “easier to apply and less messy” — but more importantly, it redirects their attention to “the toy or object you do want them to play with/chew."


You Can Also Try Distracting Them Away From Undesirable Behaviors

Giving your cat something enticing to chase is another effective way of redirecting their attention. These catnip-infused paper bags can be crumpled up and tossed — or smaller cats can use them as a tunnel, cave, or napping spot. Either way, according to reviewers, “cats love playing with them,” so they’re a “super affordable” way to keep them distracted and out of trouble.


Not Setting Boundaries In The First Place

That said, redirecting your cat’s attention works best when you’re setting boundaries in the first place — but scolding them often isn’t the way to go. Instead, when you “apply bitter spray on an object you don't want them to chew on,” according to Esteves, it lets them know that item or space is off-limits. This sour-apple-flavored spray is suitable for both dogs and cats, and it’s designed to discourage licking and chewing without toxic ingredients or damaging your furniture. “I have used this product for over 20 years to keep my cats from clawing my couch and curtains,” one reviewer raved. “It has worked like a charm for all 9 cats I've owned. It has never stained anything.”


Misunderstanding Your Cat’s Scratching Habits

Scratching is an engrained behavior for most cats, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to scratch up all of your furniture. Joey Lusvardi, a cat behavior consultant and owner of Class Act Cats, often recommends over-the-couch scratch pads rather than “the sticky pads or double-sided tape that people sometimes recommend.” A furniture protector like this “still meets your cat’s needs to scratch in that spot,” but it “won’t accidentally encourage the cat to just go down further on the couch.” This one is made from eco-friendly, durable sisal fabric and comes in two colors as well as both a right-hand and a left-hand design.


And Try This If Your Cat Likes Scratching Sofas

"You’ll notice that many cats will scratch a couch or chair close to a door or another major intersection,” Lusvardi wrote. “They do that because they want to communicate to other cats (whether or not there really are other cats) that they are there and to let them know that there is a cat in this territory already. Scratching posts can be placed strategically to make them more appealing to cats by placing them near intersections.” This wall-mounted scratcher is a great option, particularly because it’s made from heavy-duty sisal. “This was perfect because we could choose the height in which it was secured to the wall, it's very good quality and isn't yet ripped and frayed, and it matches the aesthetic of our home,” one reviewer reported.


Choosing The Wrong Scratching Post

"Where a lot of people go wrong is they pick out rather flimsy, cheap scratchers for their cats,” Lusvardi wrote. “Cats want to be able to really dig their claws into the scratcher so picking out one that is nice and sturdy will be appealing to many cats." This Ultimate scratching post is a bit of an investment, but it’s made from durable sisal to inspire scratching and a sturdy, 32-inch base that can handle pressure, wear, and tear. In fact, one reviewer who’s had it “for a couple of months” wrote that it looks new “despite daily use.”


Or Save Space By Trying A Wall-Mounted Scratcher

"Go for a scratcher that is at least the length/height of your cat when they are fully stretched out,” Lusvardi recommends — but if you’d rather not have that big of a post taking up valuable floor space, a wall-mounted scratching pad is a great alternative. This one is made from real sisal, is easy to install, and won’t wobble. Most importantly, though, since it’s 22 inches long and you can install it at any height, so it allows your cat to fully stretch out while scratching.


Giving Up On Positive Reinforcement If Your Cat Doesn’t Respond To Catnip

Catnip is an essential tool for encouraging the right behaviors, but unfortunately, not all cats respond to it. If that’s the case with your animal, Lusvardi recommends “silvervine or valerian root powder,” as catnip alternatives — “in fact, more cats may respond to silvervine than catnip!" Lusvardi wrote. (This powder is made from 100% silvervine without any additives, so it’s potent, safe, and just requires a pinch. It also comes in a travel-friendly, easy-to-store tin.)


Using Your Bare Hands To Play With Your Kitten

According to Patrik Holmboe, Head Veterinarian for Cooper Pet Care (a leading veterinary telemedicine provider in the Netherlands), people often think it’s harmless to “play with a small kitten with their hands,” since small kittens have “small teeth and claws.” However, that kitten will soon grow into an adult, and when the bites and scratches start to do damage, it’s “hard to fault the adult cat [when] it learned as a kitten that this is fun and ok.” For that reason, Holmboe wrote that you should “never use your bare hands to play, no matter the age” — “Always have toys around, so that there's always an appropriate option for playtime!"


Or Try These Budget-Friendly Spring Toys

These wide spring toys are another great option to keep around the house, since they’re durable, colorful, and catch your cat’s attention with random bouncing movements. (They’re also more enticing than your fingers or toes, so kittens learn to play with toys instead.) They’ve earned a 4.6-star rating from over 22,000 reviewers, some of whom have called them a “simple toy” that “cats love.”


And This Giant Pack Of Toys To Figure Out What Your Cat Likes

If you’re looking for some cute cat toys that you won’t mind finding around the house or you’re just exploring the kinds of toys your cat enjoys, this 31-piece set does the trick. It comes with a ribbon wand, collapsible cat tunnel, feather toys, fluffy mouses, crinkle balls, and more — all made from durable materials. According to reviewers, it’s “good for finding out what your cat likes” with “great value and quality for the price”.


Not Playing With Them Enough

According to Holmboe, “Play is very important for cats (especially indoor cats), allowing them to express natural behaviors in an appropriate way. However, owners often lead busy lives, potentially minimizing time available for play. Automatic toys can help with this. There are a huge range of them, everything from moving mice to whack-a-mole. Not every cat likes every toy, so try a few. Turning it on a few times a day can give the cat the chance to have some fun without requiring the constant human input." This electronic toy, for example, has a feather that spins underneath a cloth, and you can adjust the speed depending on your pet.


Or Consider Some Mini Robotic Bugs

Alternatively, there are these battery-operated beetles, which vibrate and move on their own. As a result, they stimulate cats’ hunting instincts in order to promote exercise and keep them entertained. Each order comes with two beetles that are a good option for solo-play while you’re working or sleeping.


And This Wet Food Slow Feeder That Makes Mealtime More Interactive

For wet food or treats, a Lickimat also provides stimulation and encourages positive hunting behaviors. Additionally, it slows eating (for cats who tend to scarf down their food too fast) and can keep a cat distracted and soothed during potentially stressful situations, like grooming or nail-clipping. Since it’s made from a rubber-like material, it’s non-toxic and easy to clean, too.


There’s Also This Rechargeable Mouse Toy

Finally, there’s this automatic mouse toy, which is worth the splurge for a few reasons: It’s USB-rechargeable and it keeps your cat’s attention with LED lights and unpredictable patterns of movement. Unlike the competition, this one senses any obstacles and automatically stops after 10 minutes, after which it can be restarted with a simple touch. Reviewers have said that their cats are “obsessed,” but owners also like it because of its quiet PVC wheels and non-toxic materials.


Punishing A Cat For Reacting To Stress

“Cats are not aggressive without good reason,” wrote Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, veterinarian and founder of Trending Breeds. It could be a “medical issue, a physical problem,” or a “traumatic reaction to an event which to you or others may seem harmless, but which was terrifying to the cat.” In that case, it’s important not to punish your pet, but to instead “confine the cat for a short time to a separate space so it can calm down.” A designated, safe hideaway (like this self-warming cat cave) can be extremely soothing in a stressful situation since it provides a warm and comfy place to hide.


Or Try This Rabbit Shaped Covered Bed

You can also opt for this adorable calming bed, which is shaped like a rabbit and comes in your choice of two colors: pink or gray. It’s available in three sizes and its cotton pad is removable and easy to clean. “I got this for my new really small cat so she could have a safe space to hide and cuddle up from her big brother who’s not used to her yet,” one reviewer wrote. Another noted, “We recently adopted another fur baby to add to our kitty family, and she is a fearful cutie who came from a bad situation. She seems to like this bed, because she can feel it against her back, making her feel secure.”


Getting Out Of Bed At Dawn To Feed Your Cat

Cats are crepuscular, which means that they’re the most active around dawn and dusk. That said, “nobody likes their cat waking them up at 5 a.m, to be fed,” Holmboe wrote, but there’s a tool that discourages that begging behavior: “An automatic feeder is a perfect solution for a single-cat household, allowing you to set the time the cat is fed. This stops the cat from needing to find their owner for food at terrible hours.” Reviewers wrote that this option is “worth every penny” because it’s sturdy, BPA-free, and preserves the food, plus it allows you to set the portions, mealtime, and how many meals there are a day.


Or This Automatic Feeder That Works With Wet Food (& Even Keeps It Cold)

If your cat eats wet food instead of kibble, this automatic pet feeder is a better alternative. It’s still timed to automatically feed your cat at designated hours, but its two large bowls even have included ice packs to keep the food fresh. “Our cats used to wake us up at 4 am wanting to eat,” one reviewer wrote. “They’d jump on us and cry in the wee hours. This timed feeder is a game-changer! It’s easy to use and is silent when it opens.”


Letting Their Nails Grow Too Long

Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM at WeLoveDoodles, wrote that scratching is a “common issue that people have with their cats.” It can come from “boredom, anxiety, lack of enrichment, and the natural need of filing their claws,” but if cats’ claws are kept shorter, they’ll do less damage and feel less of an urge to scratch. According to reviewers, these nail clippers are “easy to use” thanks to their curved stainless steel blades. They make it “very easy to see what you are doing and makes a quick job of it,” one wrote.


Ignoring Cats’ Natural Hunting Instincts

“Similar to automatic toys, a puzzle feeder makes your cat work for its food by forcing the cat to think about how to get their food out,” Holmboe wrote. This offers a “positive way to hunt” and provides “environmental enrichment,” which is especially important for indoor cats. Just put treats or kibble in one of the 16 hidden compartments, and curious cats will move the sliders around to get them out, keeping themselves entertained and stimulating their natural foraging instincts.


Hiding Their Scratching Post Away In A Corner

"If you put the scratcher in a corner or somewhere the cat doesn’t want to scratch, they won’t use it,” wrote Lusvardi. "A lot of people don’t want scratchers that are prominent in their home, but oftentimes you can find scratchers that blend in or even enhance your decor.” Take this cactus scratching post, for example; it’s wrapped in sisal rope, is 33 inches tall to accommodate most cats, and even has a cute hanging ball toy. Still, its bright color and cute desert theme actually add to your space rather than taking away from it.


And Not Considering All The Scratching Angles

"Cats may prefer scratching surfaces that are horizontal, vertical, or at an angle,” Lusvardi continued. “Again, you want to observe what your cat is scratching and may need to try a few different scratchers." This three-sided post allows them to scratch in any aforementioned direction — but its triangular shape looks almost like a modern art piece in your home. The interior also gives them a spot to lounge, and since it’s made from 100% recycled cardboard, it’s portable enough to move from spot to spot until you find one that works for both of you.


Skipping The Clicker During Training

According to Lusvardi, clicker training your cat is a fun, effective training method that a lot of people don’t take advantage of: “Clicker training involves teaching your cat that a noise from a clicker means they are getting a treat or reward they really like. When the cat scratches the post, you click to let them know they’ll get a reward. Once you repeat it enough, the cat will start learning that scratching the post is associated with rewards and naturally do it more and more!" The best part? Pet-training clickers are usually affordable, portable, and easy to use.


Not Cleaning Their Litter Box (Potentially Every Day)

“Most cats want a clean litter tray, and some cats want an extremely clean litter tray,” Holmboe explained. When owners get lazy about changing and cleaning it, “cats might find another spot to relieve themselves — usually somewhere you don't want them to!" Fortunately, there are plenty of tools that make this dreaded chore a little bit easier, like these litter liners. They’re made from scratch-resistant material and have a drawstring, so throwing out the litter becomes as easy as taking out the trash.


Or Using A Sifting Litter Box To Make Cleanup Easier

Another tool that’s a game-changer? A sifting litter box, which has three stacked pans that eliminate the need for a scooper. After your cat has gone to the bathroom, simply lift the top tray and gently rustle it until the clean litter has fallen through to the next layer and the clumps remain. Then discard the clumps, put the sifting tray back, and place the litter pan with the newly cleaned litter back on top. According to reviewers, it’s “so much easier” to clean and maintain. (It’s also affordable enough to grab a few, if needed, since the Humane Society recommends “one litter box for each cat in the home, plus one more. That way none of them will ever be prevented from eliminating in the litter box because it's already occupied.”)


Or Letting Lingering Odors Go Untreated

Also according to the Humane Society, when a litter box has lingering odors, it’s “even less likely to be appealing to your cat.” Fortunately, if you’re unable to completely change out the litter and thoroughly clean the box every day, there are ways to neutralize the odors — even to your cat’s sensitive nose. Rocco & Roxie litter box odor eliminator uses essential oils that cancel out smells at a molecular level, plus it absorbs excess moisture to keep litter fresher for longer. Thanks to its easy-to-sprinkle consistency, it mixes with any kind of litter, too.


And Consider An Odor Neutralizer

Odors aren’t pleasant for humans, either, which is why a good air freshener can work wonders. That said, you don’t want to simply cover up cat smells with perfumes or candles. (Masking odors is not only ineffective, but might also be harmful to your pets’ noses and lungs.) Opt for an odor neutralizer, instead, which attaches to the odor molecules and eliminates them rather than covering them up. Simply open this jar and leave it in any space to deodorize up to 400 square feet.


Not Giving Your Cats An Outlet For Their “Bad” Behaviors

Finally, Holmboe “cannot overstate how important this is: Cats (and all animals really) have a need to perform their natural activities. One of the most common negative behaviors owners feel cats are exhibiting is biting and attacking. In the wild, cats' natural activities involve stalking, hunting, and attacking prey. If you do not provide your cat with an outlet for these activities (via playing!), they will do it in a negative way - via stalking and attacking you." First, give them something to bite that’s much more enticing than your hand, like these Meowijuana refillable catnip toy bundles.


Or This Mat With Pockets & Toys To Explore

Next, give them a space of their own where they can explore. This cat mat is multi-purpose in its usage — cats can sleep and snuggle on it, or it can be turned over and used as a toy with seven pockets for hiding treats. For added entertainment, it also squeaks and comes with crinkle paper, a mouse, and rattle. This versatile mat can also be folded to travel with you or to be used in a pet carrier on-the-go. It’s made from thermal cotton to help keep your cat warm.


And This Fan-Favorite Catnip Toy

Last but definitely not least, if no toys hold your cat’s interest, the Yeowww! Catnip Toy has thousands of five-star reviews that rave about how their cat is “obsessed.” One reviewer’s cats “never have any interest in anything except sleeping,” but they lose it “when that banana is around.” It’s handmade with an enticing texture and is filled with 100% organic catnip, which explains the average 4.7-star rating.

This article was originally published on