Can a Cat Be Broken of a Bad Habit?

Try to break bad habits sooner rather than later.

Try to break bad habits sooner rather than later.

Even a sweet kitty can develop nasty habits, but that doesn't mean you have to put up with them. Undesirable behavior in your cat gets more ingrained in her routine the longer you let it go unchecked, but it's never too late to break a bad habit if you're determined.

Addressing the Cause

One of the most effective things you can do to break a bad cat habit is to address the reasoning behind the behavior, not the behavior itself. If you're sick, you treat the illness, not just the symptom -- this is the same principle. For example, if your cat likes to climb and scratch inappropriate things, like cupboards and furniture, give him his own cat trees and scratching areas where he can get his kicks. If he runs around the house at night, play with him before going to bed to wear him out a little.

Setting an Example

Cats are like children -- they learn by watching you. If you and your cat stay relatively close, her habits will sync up with yours, like when she eats and sleeps. Allowing your cat to come and go as she pleases removes structure from her life, but if you keep her indoors and maintain a routine, it can gradually wear away at bad habits like inappropriately-timed playing and begging for food.

Ignoring as Punishment

For many cats, being ignored is a serious punishment, so don't be afraid to use it when you're discouraging bad habits. For example, if your cat likes to play rough and bite you when you're playing, immediately stop playing and walk away every time it happens -- this shows her that she has to play nicely if she wants to play at all. If your cat meows for attention, you should give it to her, but not as a response to the bad habit -- instead, wait until she has calmed down.

More Aversive Training

If your cat continues to fall back on bad habits, you can use aversive training, which is when your cat gets an overtly unpleasant response to bad behavior. For example, if she has a bad habit of jumping up on the counter or scratching the couch, squirting her with a water bottle -- something cats almost always detest -- is a powerful form of negative reinforcement. Similarly, if she has a bad habit of chewing on electrical cords, spray them with a bitter apple deterrent spray from the pet store -- she'll quickly learn that chewing on the cords is unpleasant, and will stop.

 

About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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