How To Discipline A Cat – A Guide To Training Your Cat

how to discipline a cat

I love my cat, he’s delightful, most of the time. But now and then he’s a little demon. What I need to know is how to discipline a cat, and beyond that I’d like to understand why he’s behaving badly, and if there’s a way to prevent it. 

After all, prevention should be better than in-cat-ceration, Right?

When he was a kitten, his mother was the law. But now he’s with me, I need to know what the best approach is to keep him in line, and how do I tell him his behavior is unacceptable?

Why Do Cats Act Out? 

Cats can misbehave for a variety of reasons including; boredom, illness, distress, anxiety and of course to get your attention.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to have a clean slate when you want to start training your cat. As such it’s best to put aside any memories of bad behavior or past naughtiness.

Instead, focus on what you want to accomplish such as stopping biting, clawing of furniture or not using the litter tray. 

Pro Tip: It’s also important to remember that your cat is not like a dog, they don’t do blind obedience. You also won’t be able to use the same training methods or get the same results. So, keep your expectations realistic.

How To Discipline A Cat 

Down to the nitty-gritty of dealing with a naughty kitty. How do you discipline your cat, why should you do it, and how does it work? 

close up cat in timeout

First, disciplining your cat does not mean you’re treating it unkindly, or that you don’t love your cat. It’s quite the opposite. Discipline helps keep kitty safe, it builds a bond of respect and love and reassures them with the security of the known.

So, how do you discourage bad behavior? Here are a few tips:

Is kitty attacking your feet or legs when you walk? 

Where possible make a loud noise like clapping your hands or whistling to shoo her away as she attacks. Do this each time you’re walking, or if she strikes again.

If she’s persistent, try giving her a ‘time out’ in another room. A few minutes of being ignored usually works wonders.

Why is she doing this? She’s more than likely bored. You might want to schedule in some 1 on 1 time with her for some approved play behavior. Try a swinging toy for her to pat at, rather than you.

Kitty’s taken a dislike to someone new in your life, or is maybe a little too assertive? 

Some cats need help adjusting to changes in their world. Ask for an article of unwashed clothing, something that has their scent on it, and place this near kitty’s food bowl, or bedding.

You can even try wearing it and cuddling kitty to get her used to the smell.

How To Discipline A Cat Chewing on cables, books, or even furniture.

This is usually another sign of boredom or needing a good chew on something to clean their teeth. Try coating cables in a topical solution of something cats find detestable; hot pepper, vinegar, or cheap cologne or perfume.

cat laying on book shelf

What can you do to help your cat? Buy some tasty nibbles that will give her something to chew, something crunchy and with square angles to aid in dental hygiene. 

Is your cat clawing furniture etc?

A cat has to scratch; it’s how they maintain their claws. So, rather than have kitty sink her claws into your nice leather sofa, buy a feline scratching post! Look for posts with wither sisal rope, as these will last a long time. It’s a much better solution to declawing a cat.

When you’ve installed her new post, give it a few sprays of catnip to encourage her to inspect her new toy.

If she needs a demonstration, feel free to mimic what she should do, and encourage her to give it a try.

Pro Tip: Try not to buy posts with carpet, this can be confusing to kitty if you have carpet in your house.

Is kitty’s business being done outside the litter tray?

Causes for this are usually easily identified: 

Kitty doesn’t like your choice of litter, crystals can have sharp edges which can be uncomfortable for some cats, equally, others dislike clay as it sticks to their paws.

Some cats don’t like the texture or smell of other litters. It’s a matter of trial and error until you find a cat litter you can both agree on. 

If kitty is a rescue cat, she might also not have been trained on how to use it. So, you’ll have to show her what’s right and what’s wrong. 

This is easy to do, just follow these steps:

  1. Keep an eye on your cat when it heads towards the litter box. 
  2. When she squats outside don’t freak out! Just speak kindly to her and scoop her up. 
  3. Place her in the litter tray, praising her as you place her down. 

Cats can easily get urinary tract infections, making pooping/peeing difficult and/or painful. Over time they begin to associate this discomfort with the litter tray and avoid it.

They still try to do the right thing and such, they’ll go near the box but just outside of it. Can’t blame them for not trying.

Ignore Bad Behavior 

When training, the last thing we want to do is over-react to her making a mistake. Any form of negativity could do damage to the relationship, and be difficult for her to overcome.

I’ve found it’s better to ignore minor indiscretions, they’re not worth the hassle. Just make shooing noises if she’s doing something naughty, this will stop her, and then praise her when she does stop.

I also found out that we need to avoid yelling at our cats when they do something wrong. Any form of physical punishment like smacking, scruffing or making aggressive movements is not going to help the situation.

Any of these things will cause her to become fearful and deeply unhappy. 

For instance, if kitty comes and plays with ‘birdie’, you can praise her for that, instead of attacking your feet or legs. Equally, if she gets over-excited and starts to bite, try not to smack her or speak unkindly, instead put her on the floor away from you. Ignore her.

Create A Stimulating Environment 

A great solution to these problems is prevention. A lot of cats misbehave out of boredom. So, to avoid a bored and cranky kitty, think about what you can do to entertain her. Here are some suggestions I’ve found work well:

Cat scratching pole: Sisal covered, of various designs including apex, tree-trunk, ladder, and platform.

Catch the birdie: A lightweight rod with a length of elastic and something fluttery tied to the end. Your cat will love this toy as you’ll have to wave the ‘birdie’ around for her. Purrfect.

kitten playing with toys

Jungle-gym: These interactive frames are great, they’re like a castle just for your cat. Many have different levels, tunnels, climbing poles or ladders, and a variety of bedding options. Look for ones with sisal scratching areas, and carpeted beds.

Cat toys: One of my kitty’s favorites is his donut, it’s a hollow round tube shaped like a donut, and has a ball that whizzes around inside. There are also balls, catnip mice or other animals, stuffed toys, and many others.

Cat Exercise Wheel: These are great for indoor cats. Having an exercise wheel will give your cat the opportunity to go for long walks or runs. It can be a great play area for them as well. If you’re interested in making one for yourself, I created a DIY guide on how to build an exercise wheel.

Play Prevents Bad Behavior 

As mentioned above, providing a stimulating environment is a great way to prevent bad behavior. Another complementary way to encourage good behavior is to personally engage more with your cat in a playful manner.

Having a daily play session is one of the best ways you can encourage the behavior you want, and discourage the undesirable.

So, next time kitty takes a flying leap at your feet, remember to shoo her away, but then play with her. After all, she could just want some time with her favorite human.

Positive Rewards Are More Important 

This is the bit I love, being able to spoil my cat and endear myself to him while I’m at it. One way I do this is when he comes for a cuddle in the evening is to give him a few of his favorite treats.

hugging a cat

I only give them to him when his behavior is good, never at any other time. That way the treats remain special, and he wants them.

Knowing my cat, I also know he loves to be fussed when he comes inside. So, I use this opportunity to encourage him to not scratch or bite and to heap praise on him through affection.

Repetition 

When training, and when you discipline your cat, it’s a fact that you’re going to have to do this more than once. We make jokes about cats being genius’, but it’s unlikely they’ll grasp what you’re teaching them the first time.

So, be prepared to have to repeat yourself… many times. It might be frustrating for you, but in the interests of your relationship with your cat, do persevere, it’ll be worth it in the end!

Should You Use A Water Spray Bottle?

This form of discipline has drawn a degree of discussion over whether or not it’s a suitable way to reprimand your cat.

Some feel it’s too harsh and will harm your relationship. Others feel it’s an effective form of stopping your kitty from misbehaving.

I have used this method for deterring my cat from getting on the kitchen counters. I didn’t want to be spraying those surfaces with cat pheromones or leaving pepper or vinegar sprays on them.

Having said that, I’ve also had a cat that likes water, so squirting him was utterly pointless.

However, what you should never do is to continue squirting water at your cat. This will become quite scary to them, and again like any form of prolonged punishment, it will damage your relationship with your cat and could make things much worse.

Avoid The Following:

Physical Contact. 

Whilst as a kitten their mother may have scruffed them for bad behavior, adult cats are another matter.

As a full-grown cat with a bigger body mass, being grabbed by the neck fur can be a painful experience, which damages the relationship between you and your cat. It may even make the situation worse. 

Where it was once thought to be a sign of relaxation, it’s now believed that the slumped position cats make when scruffed may actually be paralysis based on fear.

Instead, if you have to physically restrain your cat, I’d suggest placing a blanket or towel over them, which will help you scoop them up without causing fear to your cat.

kitten wrapped in towel

Don’t Be Inconsistent 

Once you’ve established the rules of your domain, you have to keep them. Set and defend your boundaries, or you’ll find your furry friend is going to push them, and you. 

So, firstly decide what is and what is not acceptable behavior, and what method you’re going to use to discipline your cat. Second, each time that line is crossed, you must follow through.

Why? Because every time you don’t, you weaken your argument, and you show Ms. Cat that it doesn’t matter if she mauls you or not.

Is It Possible To Train Your Cat 

A lot of people think that cats cannot be trained because of their personalities. After all they’re a cat, which means they will refuse to conform to your behavioral expectations right? Wrong!

Cats, as you know, are highly intelligent, and are capable of understanding a variety of words, actions, and reading body language. What they are also experts in is manipulation; they know how to play you to their best interests.

Remember, stand firm and lead the way by setting clear expectations of what is acceptable.

Conclusion On How To Discipline A Cat

So, to summarize, yes you can discipline your cat, and you may very well need to. An unruly cat is not a pleasant housemate for anyone, and should not be something to be endured.

As for how you discipline kitty, well you have options; loud shakers or rattling noises, whistling, clapping, waving your arms around are all ways to discourage their actions.

For persistent naughtiness, you can always put them in the kitty-corner, a secure room where she’s safe but means she’s ignored by you. 

FAQ’S

Do cats learn if you punish them?

No, cats don’t learn from punishment for example raised voice or a light tap on the bum. Instead, stop them from doing the bad behavior and ignore them. Praise them when they do something good with kind words and treats.

Is it OK to spray a cat with water?

While it may seem like an easy solution, this is still a punishment. There are better ways to discourage bad behavior. Use a spray bottle as a last resort and sparingly.

At what age do kittens calm down?

The kitten stage can last up to 12 months. Typically they will begin to calm down between 8 – 12 months of age.