Problem Solving for Indoor Cats

Patience is crucial when trying to make major changes in an animal’s lifestyle. Some cats adapt to being brought inside quickly, while others may take a little longer. Preparing your house before starting the process will help avoid many problems. If behavior issues do occur, don’t immediately give up. Sometimes backing up and reevaluating the plan can help you figure out where things went wrong. There are numerous possibilities and many products on the market to help keep kitty happy indoors. So what are you waiting for? Help save the wildlife in your own backyard and neighborhood and keep your cat safe by making kitty an indoor family member.

Introducing Cats to Other Pets

If you are bringing an outside cat into a household with existing animals, you need to consider how the current animals will accept this newcomer to their territory as well as how the newcomer will accept the others. Introducing animals to new things, people, or other animals can be tricky whether you are dealing with a cat or a dog. The key is to make the new addition the coolest thing in the world to existing indoor pets. Be sure to only feed and pay attention to existing animals in the presence of the new addition. This will make the new addition an important part of the family whose presence is required to get the resources needed to exist. Treats should “rain from heaven” every time the new addition comes around. Imagine how much you would want someone to be in the room if every time they entered $100 bills came out of the sky!

Steps to help introductions go more smoothly.
  1. Set up a separate room for the new cat complete with a litter box, food, and water, scratching posts and toys. If possible, a screen door in the room helps animals sniff each other safely, but it’s not necessary. They can sniff each other under the door.
  2. Allow the new cat to explore the separate area alone with the door closed.
  3. Take the new cat out of the room and allow the current cat and/or dog to explore the room and get to know the new cat’s scent.  During this time the new cat can explore some of the house with supervision if you feel the cat is ready. Otherwise, keep the cat in a crate.
  4. Feed the animals together (one animal may need to be in a crate).  Start at a distance, then decrease the distance over time as everyone becomes more comfortable with each other.  Use plates instead of dishes so the cats can see while they are eating.
  5. Have some short supervised time together—some hissing from the cats is to be expected at first but this will eventually pass.  Redirect any inappropriate or rough play—especially from the dog. Have toys ready to keep everyone happy. A laser light can be something that everyone might enjoy playing together (a dog may get too excited).
  6. Dogs should know the basic commands of sit, stay, and leave it.  The dog may need to be kept on a leash in the beginning to prevent chasing.  Once a dog finds out how much fun the chase is, it’s hard to stop this behavior.  Prevention is the key.
  7. Never leave the animals alone together in the beginning.
  8. Have one more litter box than the number of cats around the house so everyone has their privacy.  Keep the dog out of the cat box areas.
  9. Put water dishes in areas that a cat can drink and see all around.  Otherwise, a cat may stop drinking out of fear that another cat or dog will sneak up from behind.
  10. Eventually, the animals will be able to spend more time together without supervision.  Some become best friends, while others learn to tolerate each other.  Either way, time spent planning and training will help bring harmony to the household in no time when adding a new furry companion.

Taking the Pounce and Bite out of "Tigger"

Many cats bite in play and others bite out of fear. It is your responsibility to teach the cat what is appropriate and inappropriate. The following suggestions may help with cats who like to use their teeth and claws. Please contact an animal behaviorist for help with an extremely aggressive animal.

Possible remedies

Spaying/Neutering: If the cat sharing your home is not spayed or neutered, you may want to consider starting with this. Spaying and neutering is not a cure-all, but many behaviors are driven by hormones which spaying and neutering help remove. S

Eliminate Temptations: Avoid loose pants, flowing skirts, and loose shoelaces that will entice a cat to chase, bite, and/or claw. Teach children not to run around animals.

Training: Yes, cats can be trained. Teach the cat to come by calling his name or using a clicking sound and giving him a treat when he comes to you. Many cats come when they hear the can opener; they too can learn to come when called. This will help you to control the cat in different situations. The more training a fearful cat receives in a non-threatening environment, the more confidence the cat will build. He will be less likely to lash out in fear as he learns to understand how to react to humans through positive reinforcement training.

Redirection: When you see the cat getting ready to pounce on Grandma as she shuffles by, you can redirect the cat’s behavior to something else. Toss tin foil balls that you conveniently placed around the house or even in your pocket to distract that cat from the shuffling and redirect to the moving ball. This way you will teach the cat to chase after more appropriate objects.

Playing: A bored cat is more likely to pounce and bite. Have kitty cat play sessions a few times a day. This will entertain the cat and make her more tired. Cats often follow the same sequence in play that they would use in a hunt. They stalk, pounce, catch, and eat their prey, so be sure to have playtimes fulfill all those needs. Often humans tire of the game and then leave a cat in a heightened state of arousal causing the cat to bite the nearest thing—the human they were playing with or another pet.

Bite and Claw Inhibition in Play: Teach the cat appropriate use of claws and teeth by shouting “Ouch” every time a cat bites or claws hard during a play session. Get up and walk away. After a few minutes, call the cat to you and start the play session again. Soon the cat will realize that biting and scratching hard ends fun games and the cat will learn to modify her behavior in order to keep the game going. 

Rulemaking: Set limits in the household. Cats pounce, bite, and scratch. Roughhousing with a cat should be an absolute no-no. Only use toys to play. Decide what the rules are and enforce them. If you don’t want the cat pouncing on your feet when you crawl into bed or roll over, then teach him to get off with a hiss and a quick squirt of water. Have quiet play toys for the cat. At night, put the cat in a separate room with lots of climbing apparatuses and toys.

Socialization and Handling: Cats who were not socialized early in life or those who experienced excessive or inappropriate reprimands or rough-handling by humans often have a great fear of being near people. These cats need to be taught that having humans around can be quite rewarding. This can take time and patience. Sit quietly in the room with these cats and read a book. Bring in some tasty canned food and have this be the only time it is available. You may need to start by offering it across the room from where you are sitting and slowly close the gap. Work slowly. Don’t push by reaching out to touch these cats. Wait and let them come to you. Avoid eye contact as this can be threatening. Look down at your book and be quiet. When was the last time you had an excuse to just sit and read quietly? Here you go!
 

Redirected Aggression

Here's a common scenario featuring redirected aggression -- when a cat is excited by something external and redirects that energy toward other members of the household, particularly other cats.

"My cat has been attacking my other cat. They have always gotten along but this spring they started fighting. I think the one cat is protecting the window from the other cat. Is that possible? Why would she protect a window? It doesn’t seem to happen any place else in the house."

Possible solutions

There might be something happening outside that window that is getting your cat excited. A bird house, bird feeder, or even squirrels playing in a tree can be very fun for an indoor cat to watch; but as she sits and watches, it is also getting her prey drive going. Watch her body language. I’m willing to bet her tail starts swishing quickly, especially the tip. Her whiskers are more than likely straight out. She may even be making little trilling noises. Some cats will hunker down as if they are in pounce mode. All these things are indications that your cat is getting aroused by her surroundings. When your other cat comes by, she is ready to pounce on anything that moves, and your cat is the target. That cat is probably totally surprised as she was more than likely just moving to the window for a little ray of sunshine.

You may need to consider moving any objects outside that are getting your cat too excited. Perhaps a bird feeder needs to be moved elsewhere. You can also redirect her excitement to an indoor game of chasing a feather on a stick. When you see her watching out the window and that tail starts to twitch faster, dangle the toy in front of her to get her attention and run her around the room. Be sure to end the game with her catching the feather, and then put a few pieces of her kibble or a kitty treat on the floor for her to eat.

Living with multiple cats can be challenging. Some like to sleep and play together, others just coexist, and then there are those who will not tolerate another cat at all. Since this behavior only seems to happen in the window, chances are it is outside stimulation causing the problem. The other thing to look for is a stray or neighborhood cat hanging around outside.

Scratching Problems

Cats love to stretch and scratch. All that pulling, stretching, and working the muscles is like kitty yoga,. Scratching also serves another purpose—to mark territory. 

Unfortunately, this necessary kitty yoga can be destructive when a cat is living indoors. Many people decide to declaw a cat in order to end this destructive activity. It's important to understand that declawing is not just the removal of the claw, but the amputation of the cat's toe at the last joint. Not a pleasant thought. Declawing can also cause behavior problems as cats often use their teeth more when they don’t have claws and choose to mark with urine instead of their claws.

Alternatives to declawing
  1. Make an attractive scratching post: Since scratching is a natural cat activity, it is important that you show the cat where he can scratch. 
  2. Show where to scratch: Whenever the cat scratches in an inappropriate place, do not punish her. Simply pick her up and redirect her to scratch on her new scratching post. Entice the cat to the scratching post by playing with attractive toys and feeding her by the post. 
  3. Make unwanted areas unattractive to scratch: If your cat refuses to give up old scratching areas, cover them with double-sided sticky tape or Sticky Paws, tin foil, bubble wrap, or scratch protection guards made specifically for furniture. Make the area where the cat is going to scratch uncomfortable to walk on by placing X-Mats on the floor.
  4. Clip nails. Clipping the tips off the cat’s claws will help cut down on the damage done when cats do scratch. Get the cat used to having her paws touched first to make your job easier. Then when you do cut the nails with cat nail clippers, just clip the tips avoiding the pink vein that runs down the claw. 
  5. Put tips on the nails: In addition to clipping your cat’s nails you can put Soft Claw tips on the nails to make them less sharp. These will not stop your cat from trying to scratch, so other methods of deterring should still be used, but this is a step in the right direction.
  6. Eliminate Stress: Stress can cause a cat to suddenly start marking territory. Moving furniture around the room may cause a cat to feel as if he needs to mark his territory all over again. A new cat in the neighborhood can cause a cat to mark his territory even if he is an indoor cat. Changes in the household—a new baby, someone moving in or out, and new animals—are all stresses that cats may react to. Try to prepare your cat in advance for any of these changes and gradually allow him to get used to changes.

Marking

The good news is if you take all the steps mentioned in the section on Places to Eliminate prior to bringing your cat inside, you will hopefully avoid marking behavior. If a cat has plenty of places to climb and hide and multiple cat boxes to use in a variety of places, marking behavior can be avoided as the cat feels there are plenty of places to leave a scent.

More information about marking

Marking is a different problem than a litter box issue. Marking is a communication problem. Cats communicate with each other by leaving their scent through rubbing their facial glands on items and/or spraying urine.  A cat who urine-marks often backs up to an area, shaking his (or her--  female cats mark too) tail and sprays urine on the item.

When your cat lived outside, this was done to tell other cats this territory is taken. When our cats are brought inside, this behavior may continue or a cat may urine-mark when stressed or ill. If there are other cats in the house or cats that can be seen outside the house, the cat may feel the need to mark.

Before anything else, bring your cat to the vet to make sure there aren’t any health problems your cat may be trying to tell you about. Next, you will want to give your cat access to a smaller area. That way he will feel more comfortable that the area is his and others will not be intruding. A large house may be overwhelming for some cats in the beginning.

For further advice, you can consult the American SPCA page on marking behavior in cats.

Litter Box Issues

Most people don’t think about housebreaking a cat. They assume that cats will automatically use a litter box, but this isn’t always the case. If your cat is not using the litter box, go through the following checklist and make sure you try each suggestion.

Is this a medical problem?

If a cat suddenly starts going outside of the box, be sure to have a veterinarian check and make sure the cat doesn’t have a medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection.

Is this a litter problem?

Some cats have a preference for a certain type of litter. Try different litters to see if the cat likes one type over another. Most cats do not like perfumed litters and litter box liners. These items may be handy for humans, but they aren’t so handy if the cat does not use the box because of them.

Are there enough litter boxes?

Imagine a house full of five people having to line up for one bathroom, or the only bathroom that was available was way across the house, up the stairs, and in a back corner. Have more than one box. For multiple cat households, be sure there is one box more than cats in the house.

What type of litter box?

Some cats don’t like lids on a cat box. They feel vulnerable and want to see around as they do their business. If there’s a lid on the box, try taking it off.

Are the litter boxes clean?

Once a week might seem like enough to humans for cleaning out the cat box, but think about using a toilet that only gets flushed once a week. YUCK! Scoop the box every day.

Is this a location problem?

Some cats have a preference for where they go. If a cat is peeing or pooping outside of the box, try placing a box in the area that the cat has chosen. If this is an area where a cat box cannot be placed, try feeding the cat in this area. Cats usually won’t relieve themselves in their feeding area. Citrus spray squirted in the area where unwanted relieving is occurring may help. Soft Scrub bleach can be applied to baseboards to discourage cats as well.

Is the cat spayed or neutered?

A spayed or neutered cat is less likely to spray and mark territory.

Is there a new cat in the house?

If a new cat has been introduced to the house, the introductions may not have been done properly. A gradual introduction needs to happen, with cats being separated in different rooms. In order to help the cats become familiar with each other’s scent, swap the cats back and forth between the rooms they are separated in. Also, put the new cat in a crate for feeding times and allow the cats to eat next to each other. The cats will begin to associate positive things with each other. See the section above on introducing cats to other pets.

Is there a new cat in the neighborhood?

Even indoor cats may be aware of a new presence even if it is outside of their own home and begin marking around the house to establish their territory. Keep all neighborhood cats away from the house. Put tin foil under bushes and spray citrus spray around the outside of the house. Keep curtains closed so your cat can’t see cats outside. Put frosted contact paper on the windows down low where the cat can see out. See the section on marking above.

Has the cat ever been taught where to go?

So often people assume a cat knows where to go to the bathroom. It may be that the cat is confused and hasn’t properly been taught where to go in a human world. If so, it’s time to housebreak the cat. Put the cat in a small room or crate with a cat box in the back. Encourage the cat to use the box, and praise the cat when she does. Take the time to play with your cat after she’s relieved herself in the box. As the cat starts to successfully use the box, slowly increase the space that the cat has access to. Don’t rush things. The time is well spent to solve elimination problems and bring harmony to the household.

Vocalizing

Some cats tend to be more vocal than others. If your cat suddenly starts vocalizing when normally she doesn’t, you should first take her to your veterinarian to make sure she is healthy. If you have just brought your cat in from the outdoors, you can expect some vocalization. 

Options to address vocalization

Vocalization at the door can be annoying especially if your cat is hanging out there waiting to dash out the minute it opens. Hanging a squirt bottle near the door so the cat can receive a quick squirt to deter her from dashing out the door can help the cat learn to move away from the door. Pair a hissing sound with the squirt.

In order to keep your cat from annoying you with vocalization early in the morning for feedings, purchase an automatic feeder for dry food. This takes you away as the primary feeder and makes the cat wander around the dish waiting for it to open when her internal clock says it is time. She may vocalize to the “robot” who is supposed to feed her, so place it away from where people sleep.

During the day, use food dispensing toys to feed her so she is working and playing to get her food.

Consider keeping your cat in a room away from where everyone in the household sleeps at night. Set up a litter box, a bowl of water, and some toys in perhaps a laundry room. Hide some food around the room right before bed and bring the cat to the room showing her some of the food. Close the door and say good-night. Kitty will not be happy at first, but if you stick with the routine, she will adjust. Animals thrive on routine and adjust to changes over time if they are made in a consistent manner.