Dealing with a Problem Cat

Cats can be challenging to understand, especially when they're misbehaving, so we sat down with veterinarian and animal behavior specialist Dr. Rachel Malamed to get to the bottom of some common cat behavior problems. Her top three? Going to the bathroom outside the litterbox, scratching furniture and fighting with other cats.

1. Not Using the Litterbox
For cats who won't use the litterbox, Dr. Rachel says to bear in mind that it may be a medical problem. If your cat is suddenly urinating outside the box, check with your vet to make sure he or she doesn't have a urinary tract infection or other condition.

Aside from that, Dr. Rachel says it's important to go out of your way to make the litterbox more appealing and other locations less appealing. Remember that cats can be very picky: just like us, they like a clean bathroom, so keep the litterbox clean, but also keep in mind that they may prefer one brand of kitty litter over another. Dr. Rachel says you can do a kitty litter challenge where you try a few litters side by side and see which one your cat uses more.

To make other locations less desirable to cats, she suggests cleaning with an enzymatic cleaner so cats don't return to areas they may have used in the past. She also says you can try feeding your cat in those "problem" places where they've chosen to go in the past: cats don't like to eat in the same place they use the bathroom, so it may cause them to stop.

For cats who are spraying, or marking their territory, 90% of the time, neutering a male cat will stop that behavior. If that doesn't work, you should consult your veterinarian.

2. Scratching Furniture
Scratching is a normal cat behavior -- they use it to groom their nails, to mark territory, and just because it feels good -- so if your cat is doing it, the best thing to do is provide an acceptable place for them to scratch. Scratching posts will only work, though, if the cat likes them more than the furniture. Reward your cat every time you see him or her using the post; Dr. Rachel says that cats DO respond to training and rewards! There are even some posts that come with feeders attached to make sure your cat gets the message.

3. Fighting with Other Cats
Cats are naturally social animals -- really! They like the company of other cats, but introducing a new cat into the household can be tricky. Some cats can be bullies and a scared cat is more likely to fight. Introduce a new cat slowly: keep them separated and them slowly increase the time spent together. Again, positive associations are key: reward your cats when they're together so they come to associate feeding or other positive things with time spent with their new friend.

And of course, make sure they each have their own space. Dr. Rachel says the standard rule that vets have for cats and litterboxes is "n+1", meaning you should always have one more litterbox than you do cats. That way they're less likely to fight over that piece of territory.

To find out more about pet behavior or to contact Dr. Rachel, check out her website: