Cats have personalities just like we do, meaning they experience pleasure, fear, frustration, anxiety, and a range of other emotions. These emotions affect their behavior, and while some behaviors are normal cat activities, some are not. Certain behaviors can indicate underlying problems and health issues, but how can you tell which are good and which are not?

Let’s outline the most common cat behavior problems, the best ways to correct them, and how to know when it’s time to seek professional help. We love our furry friends, but that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate repeated bad actions.

What causes behavioral problems in cats?

Why is my kitten so aggressive? Stress, anxiety, and confinement can cause cats to act out. When their environment isn’t appropriately enriched, they will seek out ways to entertain themselves. Unnatural behavior patterns may increase as cats pursue attention—signs can be untoward aggression toward feline housemates, inappropriate eliminations, and excessive predatory behaviors or aggressive play.

Undesirable behaviors need lifelong management; there is no easy or simple solution to resolve them. 77% of pet parents have experienced a behavior problem with their cats.

Pet owners have specific expectations for their pets, but expectations should be managed on a case-by-case basis in order to eliminate frustration. Your pet behaviorist or veterinarian will offer you suggestions and advice to help fix their behavior over time.

What causes behavioral problems in cats?

Most Common Cat Behavioral Issues


Toward other cats

When cats share a household they will sometimes fight—this is natural. But active, untoward cat aggression between pets can become ugly, and when this happens it’s time for human intervention.

Aggression between cats can happen for a variety of reasons and can be territorial, fear-based, or simply redirected aggression. By working with a veterinarian or pet behavioral professional you can learn how to deal with this aggression and allow your feline friends to once again live in harmony.

Predatory aggression

Predatory behaviors and predatory aggression are associated with signs of predation, including stalking, pouncing, pawing, biting, or chasing. Play aggression can also include biting, chasing, or play fighting. Some play aggression and predatory behaviors are normal and expected, while others require special attention.

Anxiety and Fear

General anxiety

Stress itself is not behavioral, but stress can lead to several behavior problems, such as depression, anxiety, and litter box avoidance. Behavior problems can be ruled out by savvy pet owners who know what health problems to look for. Pet owners should also look for stress factors, such as recent environmental changes.

Cats are sensitive creatures and they take time to adapt to new things, especially changes in the norm. If you believe that your cat’s anxiety is prolonged or serious, reach out to your veterinarian.

Fear-related behaviors

Fear, shyness, and anxiety stem from many causes. The cure for fear is gentleness and patience—providing your cat with a loving, calming environment will fix this behavior over time. Allow your cat to set their own pace, and remember to be patient with your cat even if that pace is slower than you’d prefer. If you want your cat to trust you and love you, it’s important to show them that you’re a trusted individual and that your home is a place where they can relax.

Compulsive Behaviors

Feline compulsive disorders

Stalking, chasing, and grooming can become abnormal repetitive behaviors in some cats. Abnormal compulsive disorders are exacerbated by stress or anxiety in their environment, such as relationship changes, the introduction of new cats, or owners that are disproportionately punishing behaviors. If your cat experiences repeated behavioral issues that are unprovoked or happen without context, they might have a compulsive disorder. Excess grooming, self-directed aggression, and self-mutilation are all examples of conditions caused by compulsive disorder—if left unchecked they can lead to neuropathic pain, pruritus, or adverse food reactions.

Sucking, licking, chewing, or ingesting non-food substances such as plastic, lint, paper, string, cardboard, etc., can be a sign of a compulsive disorder. If this problem becomes more frequent or intense, it can affect your pet’s GI tract and lead to other issues.

To stem these compulsive disorders, cats require environmental modifications that provide more control, predictability, and enrichment. They also will need medications to help augment their amount of natural serotonin. Your veterinarian can prescribe the proper medications.

Compulsive chewing

Excessive or compulsive chewing can be a medical issue caused by stress, boredom, or teething. Disruptions in early development can lead to this issue in adult cats. If you believe your cat is chewing excessively to manage stress or anxiety, take stock of your environment.

Ways to stop your cat’s compulsive chewing include:

  • Careful introductions of any new pets.
  • Slow desensitization of household changes.
  • Increased enrichment.
  • Providing alternative chewing toys.
  • Creating a safer environment (add gates, hide electrical cords, close doors).

Elimination Issues

Inappropriate elimination (litter box issues, house-soiling)

Litter box avoidance and continual accidents are the primary reasons cats are turned into shelters. It’s important to eliminate any physical causes, such as urinary tract infections and environmental stressors, and then look for other common reasons for litterbox avoidance.

Cats don’t like to use dirty toilets—if you aren’t regularly cleaning their litter box, they won’t want to use it. In some cases, your cats might even hold their urine for too long and have an unavoidable accident.

Urine marking

Cats often use their urine as a sign of defense or aggression, clearly telling other cats to “back off.” They do it during conflict, when they are feeling insecure, or if they’re looking for another mate. Changes in routine, new conflicts, or too many cats in a house might lead to them spraying to mark their territory. It’s important to have your cat neutered or spayed to stop them from spraying. If there’s an accident, use an enzymatic cleaner wherever they’ve sprayed, and ask your veterinarian for advice if the problem continues.

Nighttime activity related to elimination

Cats are nocturnal creatures, and are far more active at night. You might have noticed that your cats have frequent bursts of energy at night, which can be frustrating to deal with. They can be vocal, energetic, and disruptive to those who are trying to sleep. While cats can switch up their sleeping schedules and match household activity, this can be difficult to accomplish.

Overactive or fussy cats can be in pain or discomfort, and it’s important to rule out medical issues. They may show their discomfort by frequent nighttime eliminations or spraying. Like any animal, sleep is required after physical exertion, and your cats require steady environmental enrichment such as interactive food toys, climbing areas, tunnels, and training.

Playing with your cats in short sessions to keep them active and awake is a good idea. Play with them in new locations and in different ways, finding new toys to keep them excited and interested. Cats are attracted to everyday objects such as packing paper, crinkly paper bags, and boxes.


Excessive meowing

Meowing is not natural to grown cats—it’s a behavior reserved exclusively for humans, as it’s how your cat communicates with you and lets you know they need something. Cats meow to their owners to get attention, to ask for food, or just to say hello.

To cure excessive meowing, it’s important to not give in to your cat’s demands. Don’t feed them when they cry. If they meow for attention, wait until they’ve quieted down. If your cat meows constantly and seems overly distressed, ask your veterinarian for advice.

Other vocalization issues

Excessive vocalizations can be a sign of senility in older cats. While it’s normal to hear your cat crying or howling at your door at night, it’s not normal to have a cat that continually cries. Your cat might be bored or hungry, but in most cases they simply want attention. It’s important to ask your veterinarian for advice, as excessive daytime meowing could be a sign that your cat is in pain.

Decrease or increase in appetite

Changes in appetite can appear as part of an underlying disease or psychological issue, and you must discover the exact reason for the change. Both an increase or decrease in appetite can be dangerous for your cat, and long-term complications with overeating or starvation can have dangerous effects on your cat’s well-being.

Possible diagnosis with food-related issues can take some time, so you must let your veterinarian know as soon as possible. Physical ailments are not the sole cause, and there could be psychological, environmental, or emotional issues and stressors causing your cat’s appetite change. Your veterinarian can help you by recommending a new diet or changing your cat’s feeding schedule.

Physical Activities

Inappropriate playing

Why is my cat suddenly aggressive towards my other cat? Inappropriate playing or rough play can stem from many things. Cats are excitable creatures, and might occasionally bite or scratch. When kittens get carried away by scratch-need behavior they can confuse their owners’ hands or feet with toys. Play biting might not hurt when your kitten is small, but it’s a behavior that should be stemmed in older cats.

Here are a few tips to stop inappropriate cat play:

  • Don’t allow your kittens to play with your toes or fingers.
  • If your kitten attacks your hands or feet, discontinue play.
  • Use toys attached to rods or sticks.
  • Pause playtime when your kitten gets over-excited.
  • Don’t get angry or punish your kitten.

Jumping on countertops

Cats love high places! They love to look for perches and hideouts that are high up, and they naturally seek out resting spots that elevate them above everything else. Being high up gives them a sense of security and keeps them safe from dogs, owners, and unwanted attention. This means that countertops are a rather attractive facet of your home.

Cat trees, shelves, and other high-rise locations will make them feel comfortable and keep your cats from jumping on your counters. Your cats are also attracted to the food and objects on your counters, and their curious natures will surrender them to exploration.

Scratching (furniture and other objects)

Cats love to scratch—it’s part of their playtime, it helps them sharpen their claws, and it’s how they mark territory. That can be bad news for your furniture, carpets, and other soft materials in your house.

To remedy this behavior, you can put different scratching posts around your house and secure them in spots that your cats typically frequent. Ensure they are sturdy and won’t fall over—you can secure scratching material to walls or floors where applicable. Invite your cat to play by hanging toys or dispensing catnip around the area.

Changes in sleep patterns

Kittens and senior cats sleep more often than adult cats—your kitten’s energy is spent growing and they need to recharge, while older cats tire out much faster. These behavioral patterns are normal and come with age, meaning they are not cause for worry. It’s when adult cats sleep more than normal that you have cause for concern and should reach out to your veterinarian. Cats sleep frequently, as much as 18 hours a day, but if you’re noticing your cat sleeping far more than usual, there could be an underlying health issue.

Behaviors indicating pain (may overlap with aggression or avoidance)

Nobody wants to be in pain. Cats experiencing an undue amount of chronic pain might lash out at other pets and people. They may be aggressive, avoid touch, or not enjoy certain activities they used to love. Osteoarthritis in cats results in them disliking having their joints touched or manipulated. They might bite, scratch, or hiss in response, and will no longer enjoy being picked up or cuddled. Some cats might continue to act aggressively after their pained body parts have healed, to defend themselves from further pain.

Cat owners can manage their pet’s pain by working with a veterinarian to establish a therapy plan. Your veterinarian might recommend physical therapy or medication, and will tell you to refrain from touching the painful parts of your cat’s body.


Even though we love our furry friends, it’s important to correct a cat’s behavioral issues so that they can live full, happy lives with us. Some behaviors are natural and others are not, and potentially undesirable actions need to be adjusted with the help of a trusted veterinarian.

Paoli Vetcare has decades of experience helping pet owners correct behavioral paths. We love every pet that comes through our doors, and it makes our hearts happy to know that we’ve helped your cat or kitten adjust to their new life. If you ever have questions or concerns about your cat’s behavior, contact the Paoli Vetcare team today. We’d love to talk with you; set up an appointment today!

Dr. Erin Downes VMD

Dr. Erin Downes graduated valedictorian from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1992. She and her husband, Dr. Jay Rowan are the owners of Paoli Vetcare | Main Line Vet & Animal Hospital.