Do Cats Know Why They Are Being Punished?

With cats, silence may be the most effective discipline.
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When it comes to properly and effectively disciplining a cat, it's a fine line to tread between coming across as firm and unnecessarily scary. Since your precious pet probably doesn't understand why exactly she is in "hot water," you're probably better off just giving her a temporary time-out.

Do Cats Understand Punishment?

According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, punishment of felines often yields fruitless and unproductive results. To a cat, a clear correlation between what she did wrong and why you're upset with her doesn't really exist. If you waste your time yelling at your cat, it won't send a message to her brain that chewing on your work shoes was a bad idea. Instead, all it will accomplish is making her feel frightened and panicked at the mere sight of you -- the last thing you want or need.

Opposite Results

The ASPCA indicates that punishing your cat may actually yield the total opposite of what you exactly want out of her -- yikes. For example, if you angrily yell at a confused kitty as you catch her enthusiastically scratching on your living room's hardwood flooring, you may just be encouraging her to commit the offending act when she's by herself. Your cat may figure out that doing it in front of you will lead to a decidedly unpleasant result, but won't understand that she cannot do it "in secret."

Time Frame

After some time passes, it may be completely pointless to scold a cat for something that she did earlier. If you suspect that your mischievous fluff ball knocked down an expensive vase in your bedroom, punishing her for it hours later when you get home weary and tired from work likely will be a total bust. After all, your cat probably isn't retaining all of the gory details regarding her actions from earlier on in the day. Feline memory processes don't work exactly the same as those of humans, of course.


Always stay calm and cool when disciplining your cutie. Avoid all of the pitfalls of classic "scolding" behavior, from yelling to squirting water. When you're rearing a cat, the goal is to establish a trusting and kind relationship, not to instill fear. When you slap, hit, yell or squirt at a feline, you're not teaching her a valuable lesson. You're frightening her and stressing her out. As a loving cat owner, intimidation is far from the point. Never lay a hand on your cat -- unless it is to hug or pet her.

If you do happen to catch your cat in the midst of misbehavior, firmly but calmly say "no" and then walk away. Sometimes ignoring your cat is really the most sensible and practical solution. Felines are intuitive and smart cookies, indeed. Also remember that patience is key. If your cat doesn't learn something overnight, give her time. Nothing great comes easily.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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