Should I Punish My Cat?
This is a subject of which I can speak with personal experience. Our family have a ginger tabby named Hamilton, which was and still is a very well-behaved cat which was litter trained when we brought him home, and never went on the kitchen work-tops. From day one Hamilton used his litter tray and never once did his toilet business anywhere else.
In June 2021 we introduced another kitten into our home, a three-month-old Bengal named Arthur. Arthur was everything I could have wanted: he has such a sweet nature and loves nothing better than being around people. However, many months went by and the newest addition to the family was still defecating & urinating in various rooms around the house. Initially we kept all the bedroom doors shut and Arthur was only allowed access to certain rooms downstairs. It's not an easy situation when you have to keep reminding young children in the home to keep doors shut!
One day, I had only left the house for a short while but returned home to find my husband had come home from work to discover Arthur had defecated all over our hand-made, expensive sitting room curtains and the carpet; my husband had got the wet-vac out and was busy cleaning up the mess. Hubby was not happy at getting home to find another job for him after a long day at work and he was angry, "It’s your cat! I’ve had enough of this!” he exclaimed. I was extremely frustrated & annoyed too; why was Arthur doing this? He had been litter trained by the breeder, after all, and I couldn't think of anything that could be upsetting him.
To Punish Or Not?
One morning my irritation grew to such a point that I had smacked Arthur on the bum... of course I didn't smack him hard, but my intent was a gentle tap to show him that I was not happy with him for his anti-social antics. Arthur looked at me, then he slowly turned and looked at his behind and I remember instantly feeling guilty and promising him that was the first and last time I would do that because I knew he didn’t understand. That day I realised that the problem wasn’t Arthur: it was my attitude and that I was allowing my frustration to get the better of me.
Once I realised that my response to Arthur’s toileting problems was the real problem it was a revelation – it was also the day that things started to turn around in our home. Arthur no longer goes to the toilet in various rooms around the house; he either uses the litter tray or goes out into the garden.
Cats aren’t being nasty or bad when they behave in ways that you dislike – they are trying to communicate something to you and asking for help. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t punish your cat:
- You will make your feline friend more anxious
Your cat is trying to tell you something. Imagine a scenario where your bathroom is so dirty you don’t want to use it and so you hold it in as long as you can. Eventually you can’t hold it in any longer and you have you relieve yourself elsewhere. Now imagine someone sprays you with water each time this happens...wouldn’t you be feeling confused & stressed out too?
- Your cat doesn’t speak English
So, here’s an idea. Sit your cat down and tell them all about how their behavior will no longer be tolerated, or else you’ll smack them, shout at them or squirt them with water. You won’t get a reply in words, but you’ll certainly get an answer in progressively worse behaviour, as they get more and more stressed.
- You’ll Push Your Cat Away
Pets that are repeatedly punished will remove themselves from the situation. If you squirt your cat with water to stop them going onto the kitchen top, they will start to associate the room with negative experiences and start to avoid the kitchen altogether.
- You’ll hurt their trust in you
Your cat won’t be able to make the connection between their undesirable behavior and your punishment of them. They will, however, connect you with negativity.
- You will have to keep upping the ante
Your cat is asking for help or trying to communicate a need they have. It might evolve into a situation where their need to communicate their feelings outweigh the negative consequences. This then becomes a vicious circle.
Whilst I understand that it may be tempting to treat bad behavior with punishment, it would not only be unfair but also counterproductive because it will inevitably make things worse. The original problems may escalate and your pet may develop further bad habits because they’re anxious and confused. The key is to try and understand the possible reasons behind the behavior and show love and compassion. I know personally that attitude makes all the difference. So, if you find yourself berating your cat for behaving inappropriately only to find things are getting worse, then you need to take a step back and consider that you’re going about it the wrong way. Cats respond really well to positive reinforcement and lots of time, attention and praise.