What is Destructive Behavior?
It is frustrating for cat owners when their feline engages in behavior that damages or destroys property. These behaviors include chewing on houseplants, scratching furniture and carpet, and urinating on clothing and bedding. Some have mistakenly concluded that these behaviors are normal for their cat or that they are the cat’s way of acting out or getting revenge against their owner. The truth is that these are innate behaviors that are part of your cat’s natural sense of curiosity and a desire to play. Thankfully, these destructive behaviors can be controlled.
Symptoms of Destructive Behavior in Cats
Symptoms of destructive behavior in your feline may be seen when they exhibit the following behaviors:
- Seeking Attention: They may cry and meow excessively when they do not get the attention they desire.
- Aggression toward others: A feline may exhibit aggression by attacking their owner or individuals visiting the home. They may also show this aggression when they play by scratching and biting the person or animal they are playing with.
- Destructive chewing: In addition to damaging your property, destructive chewing can put your cat’s health at risk. Chewing on electrical wires or toxic materials poses a serious danger.
- OCD in cats: Cats can indulge in obsessive-compulsive behavior. Examples of this are excessively licking or pulling their fur.
- Shyness: Most cats are reserved by nature. However, this natural tendency for caution can become problematic, leading to your feline hiding for extended periods of time, not eating, and urinating and defecating in their hiding spot as opposed to the litter box.
- Cat urine problems. Felines are fussy about the litter boxes. If the litter box is not in the right location, they may exhibit litter box avoidance. This is the primary reason cats are taken to shelters.
Causes of Destructive Behavior in Cats
Destructive behaviors in cats develop as a result of physical, mental, and emotional trauma or discomfort. Some of the causes of destructive behaviors include:
Cats that have feline hyperesthesia, also known as rippling skin disorder, may howl at night. Cats with urinary tract infections or bowel infections may not have the necessary control over their bladder and will urinate in different locations.
Aggression in cats is often something they learn as kittens. Humans will play with them roughly, and when the kitten bites them, they ignore it because of how small and cute the kitten is. Unfortunately, cute biting and scratching from kitten can become very painful as the kitten grows into adulthood.
Boredom and Curiosity
When a cat is bored or when a cat is simply curious, it will start to chew on whatever is around. Destructive chewing might also be the result of a nutritional deficit.
In the same way that emotional trauma affects human behavior, it affects felines. Cats that were maltreated by previous owners can become shy, or they may develop obsessive-compulsive behaviors like licking or pulling their fur. The same conditions can be brought on by stress and anxiety in a cat.
Diagnosis of Destructive Behavior in Cats
Pet owners are usually the first to identify destructive behaviors in their feline. Veterinarians will work with the owner by monitoring any changes in the cat's behavior. A behavioral assessment should be included in every visit to the vet. During the assessment, the pet owner will be encouraged to voice any concerns they have about their pet's behavior.
Veterinarians should create a standardized behavioral history form and include this in the feline's medical record. This will allow them to accurately track any behavioral changes and address any problems in the early stages of development. The veterinarian should take special note of how kittens react during their first exam. Research shows that if animals display an abnormal level of fear during a medical exam at eight weeks of age, they will have that same fear at 18 months. Pathological fear is not outgrown.
Part of the diagnosis process includes your veterinarian understanding when your feline's behavior deviates from the norm, as well as identifying felines that are at risk for developing abnormal behaviors. Early detection on the part of the veterinarian allows them to educate the feline owner about risks and things that they can do to minimize or completely curb the destructive behavior.
Treatment of Destructive Behavior in Cats
Since the cause for each destructive behavior is different, there is no one-size-fits-all remedy. Veterinarians will work with pet owners to identify environmental issues that lead to anxiety, stress, depression, and subsequent destructive behaviors. Successful treatment depends on correcting the bad behavior soon after its onset, especially if these occur during kittenhood. In addition to implementing behavior modifying techniques, a veterinarian may provide pharmacologic intervention to reduce anxiety or to address an illness.
Recovery of Destructive Behavior in Cats
Having a close relationship with your veterinarian is a key part of your cat's recovery process. If the vet has prescribed prescription drugs to address an emotional or physical issue, they will want to monitor the effect it is having on your cat. Follow the environmental modifications your veterinarian recommends and provide your feline with sufficient exercise and stimulation to satisfy their curiosity. All of this is part of devising a behavioral management strategy that will allow you and your cat to both be happy, healthy, and at peace.
Destructive Behavior Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
How do I stop my cat from chewing on cords? I've tried using the bitter Apple spray, but she doesn't seem to care. I've tried to put them out of reach, but she gets on her back legs and reaches. She has toys and tubes around. I have no idea what to do and I'm about at the end of my rope.
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