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Top 10 Stress Inducing Behaviors in Cats

Updated on September 2, 2014


EDITORIAL NOTE: check for obscenity.
EDITORIAL NOTE: check for obscenity. | Source

Dogs or Cats or Small Children?

Who stresses you out the most?

See results

For information on stress-inducing canine behavior ...

Here are 10 biggies.

Me ... personally ... I am partial to cats, and dogs kind of stress me out. That is not to say that I don't love my dogs.

Um what? Cats being stressful?

Different stimuli affect people, in different ways.

For me, some of the hardest behavior to cope with, from a human or animal, is pushiness, unpredictability and excessive noise. When somebody gets into my space, and doesn't relent, that also stresses the living [!] out of me. So needless to say, cats don't stress me out as much as dogs or kids can when they get into that "mode" and if you don't know what I am talking about, consider yourself lucky.

Before I go any further, when I address animal behavior that stresses people out, I am talking about just that ... behavior that PEOPLE find obnoxious, offensive, antisocial, inconvenient, etc. There is nothing inherently "wrong" about any of these behaviors, especially if you are a cat or a dog. Well ... that might not be exactly true. Some cat and dog behavior is specifically designed to drive off other cats and dogs. So they deliberately lay it on thick. But for the most part, as hard as it is for us to accept, there are some signals that animals give off that seem disgusting to us but are simply part of the standard repertoire of their behavior.

For example, cats and dogs generally socialize by sniffing the anus. When a cat is "getting into" being pet, s/he might turn around and display the anus. People find that off-putting but from a cat's standpoint, this could be seen as a hearty hand-shake or a hug. Dogs are also butt sniffers and we just kind of need to get over the fact that our butts might get sniffed more often then we would like.

I realize that there is feline behavior that causes people stress, but I must admit, when I sat down to write about these 10 cat-negatives, I had to stop for a moment and recall moments in which my cats stressed me out. But then I asked my husband and he had a list already prepared. When discussing something as challenging to measure as "stress," the degree and intensity are obviously very subjective. And when I make generalizations about humankind, and what stresses us out, this is clearly a liberty in which I have indulged.

The fact that I mention stressful cat behaviors does not signify that they are intolerable for every human individual on the planet, and ubiquitous to every single domesticated feline in the world. And unlike dogs, who (from my experience and observations) seem to share the same cluster of "nuisance behaviors," the personalities and orientations of cats are quite variable.

But unlike dogs, who seem to demonstrate a predictable set of obnoxious behaviors when they are either poorly trained, badly socialized to humans, extremely young, or under some kind of duress, cats' disagreeable behaviors emerge seemingly at random. They strike unpredictably and once they do, they are difficult to control.

The answer to the question if you are a "cat person" or a "dog person" (not sure why we really need these distinctions but anyway) might hinge on how you cope with stress. If you prefer to deal with unpredictable, but generally less intense stress-inducing behavior, you might be a cat person. If you would trade unpredictability for intensity but easier to contain and extinguish, you are probably a "dog person."

I must confess, I am more of a "cat person." But when sat down and thought it through, I realized that there are a lot of stress-inducing behaviors that I live with, without even paying it much mind.

I started my list with problems that we see in cats who are generally kept inside all the time and are hopefully spayed and neutered. Cats kept inside can be victims of intense boredom and to reduce some of these behaviors, I suggest spending more time with your pet, or considering adding another young cat or kitten, or even a small breed (crated) puppy. But if you take the second route, be careful about who you bring in. Pick the newcomer solely based on whether you think your existing cat would like him or her.

The middle of the list is applies to all cats and the end deals more with cats who are stray, feral and/or reproducing.

I sure love my kitties though. Their personalities are far more individual than I ever imagined they would be, in my pre-cat-days.

1. Climbing onto counters

If this does not bother you, it should, because this seemingly harmless activity spreads disease.

Here is a potential sequence:

Litter box -----> living room carpet -----> kitchen counter -----> owner's key turns the door lock open -----> cat jumps down from counter -----> owner enters house -----> owner washes hands -----> owner pulls a head of lettuce out of the fridge ----- > owner puts it on the counter haphazardly ----- > owner pulls out cutting board -----> owner takes lettuce off counter and puts it on cutting board ---- > etc.

If you have a cat, I strongly recommend getting those "Lysol Antibacterial Wipes" and wiping down the kitchen counters before you prepare food, ESPECIALLY if it is uncooked, such as lettuce.

For me, the fact that climbing on counters is "disobedient" or "violates the rules" is incidental. The problem with this behavior is that it can put trace amounts of fecal matter (with potentially NASTY pathogens like toxoplasmosis, not to mention parasites) onto the kitchen counter.

When you trim your cat's claws, pull them out and look at what accumulates around them.

Yeah ... that is what I am talking about.

As with other cat behaviors, this one is hard to completely and reliably extinguish. I advise that instead of stressing out trying to train a cat to behave when you aren't looking, simply wipe your counters down with an antibacterial wipe or a 10% bleach solution before you prepare food.

if I see a cat on the counters, I say "NO!" sharply and he usually gets down. If he doesn't voluntarily get off, I lift him off. I have tried squirt bottles, etc. They work but I find them a bit cumbersome. I also have a lot of squirt bottles around the house with various chemicals in them and meh ... too risky. You can also try a can with coins in it as a shaker, or that scattt stuff or an electric pad that gives a mild shock. But in my experience, the simpler the better.

2. Use of expensive carpeting and leather sofas as scratching posts

This is a lot of people's pet-peeve about cats.

Even if you have 50 scratching posts, some of them will still decide that your leather sofa is a better one.

We have an expensive leather sofa-chair that we cover up with 5 layers:

1. Human grade Good Nights Piddle pads

2. Moving blanket

3. Blanket

4. Comforter

5. Sheet

And it takes ONE LOOSE CLAW to irreparably destroy that upholstery. My dad gave us that chair and if he found out that our cats shredded it he would be disappointed and I can't say I blame him.

We love our cats tremendously but we would also like to actually remember what color that chair's leather actually is.

It also has a footstool that has had similar treatment.

Not only do we cover every bit of exposed leather, we keep that chair in a room where the cats are not allowed.

I do not believe in declawing cats for such reasons. In fact, in the rest of the house, we have tatty second-hand furniture covered with more piddle pads and sheets. It is comfortable for us and I prefer not to stress out about pampering furniture.

However there are oriental carpets all over the house. We take our risks but so far it is ok (knock on wood). Cats don't have the capacity to destroy something like an oriental carpet in one sitting. So if there is any sign of damage starting, you can just roll the carpet up and store it or put a cheaper carpet on top of the more expensive one. It takes a while for them to shred something.

The showdown of sheer destruction!

L.G.K. vs. Dusty Rotterman ...
L.G.K. vs. Dusty Rotterman ...
Don't pay Squeaky any mind. He has nothing on these two in the destruction department.
Don't pay Squeaky any mind. He has nothing on these two in the destruction department.

3. Property destruction

Yeah, well ...

I have a Little Gray Kitty, who goes by "L.G.K." for short.

I have a "Rotterman" (Doberman x Rottweiler) ... named Dusty.

Now let's pretend that L.G.K. suddenly is the size of Dusty Rotterman.

Who is more destructive?

It might be a tie, but I think that L.G.K. has the Rotterbitch beat by a small margin.

I related this to the veterinarian when L.G.K. ingested the rubber tubing from a plastic Tupperware. This was an older one, that had a detachable rubber band that sealed ... don't know don't care ... point is ... we were scared out of our wit that he could get an intestinal blockage.

Never mind the way he simply chewed through the cords on some speakers that I had for the past 20 years.

Or the charger for my cell-phone.

And my husband's cell-phone charger.

And my computer cord.


Now all of our cords are tucked away with only $1.00 extension cords exposed.

The veterinarian knew exactly what I was talking about too when I told him that L.G.K. was proportionately more destructive/per cubic centimeter body weight, than the Rotterwoman.

But never mind L.G.K.

I have been going through older electronics and L.G.K. isn't the only kitty who has made his mark (as in teeth marks) on our stuff.

Add knocking plates and glasses off of counters. They have put holes and gashes in fabrics, shredded displays.

Although they are not as powerful as dogs, who can do thousands of dollars of property damage in an afternoon, they certainly can do their fair share.

If you have cats, I strongly recommend tacking down electrical cords against the walls with cable ties and when possible, tucking them behind shelves, etc. Cats can tear through electrical cords in seconds and that can be a major fire hazard. Put away any china, glassware or brick-a-brack that you would mourn.

You know what augments the stress? Having to stress out about protecting delicate home furnishings. And THAT actually is in your control.

Let's admit: this kind of thing is less than optimal, at 3 am.

4. Running, jumping, climbing curtains and walking on our heads at all hours of the night

Try sharing a studio apartment with a couple of young cats.

They might just drive you batty, chasing each other in all hours of the night.

See .. Mr. Mew sleeps while you are at work. So does his consort, Ms. Meowsalot.

And they get revved up when you get home.

And unlike dogs, you can't exactly give them an epic walk to help everybody sleep more soundly.

Instead, you can play with them with the light-laser or a feather stick or something. But honestly how much of that can you do?

They you go to bed and GOD help you if the cats decide they want to play chase.

If you can close the door to your bedroom and turn on a fan or some other source of white noise, this is what we would consider a "positive development."

But if for some reason you live in a one-room apartment or the door is wonky, cats might come in and walk on your head while you sleep.

Personally I enjoy having my head crushed once and a while, but my husband finds that somewhat troubling so we keep the door shut.

5. Their resentfulness of other cats and other species of mammal, including unfamiliar humans.

OK ... well cats are gonna be cats.

I have read and heard countless times, that cats are "independent" and "do their own thing." I have heard cats described in other ways such as "antisocial" and "aloof."

Compared to what ... sparrows?

From what I have observed, cats don't seem completely independent, and they have moments in which they are extremely gregarious, and moments when they are totally isolated.

What they don't do, is move across space and time in a school, pack or flock in the ways that fish, dogs and birds do.

But that doesn't mean that they are completely "independent' and don't crave the companionship of other cats or people. I'll get to the "cat calls" in the next section.

But then there is this odd trait: cats get very resentful if you bring another cat or dog or even person into what they perceive to be their "territory." They will hiss at the newcomer and take swipes at him or her. If it is a person (who clearly outsizes the cat) they will often hide and sulk, until that person leaves.

Of our four cats, we have one who is "antisocial" like that. She doesn't seem to mind other cats, actually. But she gets very shy around people.

I have seen horrible rivalries between cats, that go on for years and only resolve when one of them dies.

Why live like this?

This sucks for the people who keep them because cats stress response is often quite unpleasant for us to deal with. It can manifest itself in several ways, including tattered possessions, injuries, screaming, and pee-pee and ca-ca.

Sometimes you can solve the feline rivalry problem before it starts. Keep something in mind: put yourself in your cat's position. She lives in your home but sees your home as her home. Imagine you are living your life just fine and you have things just the way you want them. Then comes this hand from above and drops off some dorky room-mate at your front door and says "work it out guys." You know you can't leave, but there is the possibility that if you make it unpleasant enough, the dorky room mate will somehow leave on his own. The dorky roommate now lives in your house and leaves dirty tissues all over the place and sleeps in your bed sometimes, leaves a massive stink in the bathroom and goes through your underwear drawer at will. If you are thinking about bringing a dog or cat into your home, if you look at it from the "room-mate" perspective, you might save your cat, and yourself, a lot of stress.

If you are mindful and respectful of what might stress your cat out, you can ease the situation before it begins. That article has already been written, numerous times. Do a Google search "how to introduce two cats" ... etc.

But our cats have always worked it out. We have had our first three since they were tiny kittens and I can assure you, none of them have spent a day in their life, alone. Not one. So when they play that "I am actually an only kitty" game we just ignore it because it isn't true.

6. Incessant meowing

Yeah, not the kind that transpires at say ... 9 am. on a Thursday. ... yeah, because that kind DOESN'T EXIST.

I am talking about the kind of meowing that goes on at 1 am on a Sunday night, when you and everybody around you are supposed to be asleep, preparing for the work week.

Not all cats do this. But those that do, are particularly proficient at it.

This is the opposite of the cats hissing and taking swipes at each other, as they bicker over who gets the "window seat."

We have a cat who we let out. He has decided that he is largely an outdoor cat, and he LOVES to socialize. Unlike some cats, who are very territorial and somewhat temperamental, he is the opposite: he does that meowing on the top of his lungs to announce to his buddies that he is here, and they should come and see him.

I have caught him pacing back and forth, in the middle of the night, in the hallway, meowing at the top of his lungs.

Yeah, that is nuts0.

He also likes to meow so much that he goes hoarse right around dinner time.

Solution to that problem: "bathroomize" ...

We have been using the bathroom as a makeshift kennel since he was a kitten. It gives him something of a time out. It isn't disciplinary ... it is just a tactic to help him calm down and it works.

The meowing (usually isn't incessant in this case) can get really ugly when cats fight. Cat fights don't seem to go on and on (like human ones) but they can be loud and traumatic to listen to. Peter has had his share of them and when I hear that awful sound, I dread the prospect of checking him for injuries.

Neutered cats aren't going to yowl to attract mates. But in-tact toms will meow so much that it can shake the entire foundation of the house. I exaggerate, but believe me, it can get pretty bad.

7. Sexual indiscretions

This brings me to a sore point.

Please spay and neuter your cat. And if you know of in tact cats in your area, please have them spayed and neutered.

Ferals can be "TNR'd" (Trapped, Neuter, Return/Release). There are organizations that support this. Some groups are local, one example of which is the "Feral Cat Coalition" and a national one is "Alley Cat Allies."

Cats breeding is noisy, but that is the least of it. They breed constantly. And they generally produce more kittens then they can adequately provide for, which leads to disease and suffering. It is an ecological nuisance and public health menace for humans and animals alike.

Cats' "sexual indiscretions" are indeed bothersome to a point that pretty much every community in the States has some regulated way of dealing with this problem.

Not only have I rescued and homed kittens born in such conditions, I have also had one die in my arms. That was one that I could catch, out of the thousands every week who die alone, diseased, hungry and maimed, in sewers, under houses, abandoned buildings, junk cars, preyed upon, etc.

The caterwauling and spraying is indeed the least of it.

8. Cats have bladder and bowel habits that bother us a lot.

Cats are similar to dogs in this respect.

They use urine, feces and spray to claim territory, attract a mate or express anxiety. They also use feces and urine as graffiti, as in "Supercat was here."

But unlike dogs, our cats use a litterbox in the home.

Or they are supposed to, anyway.

One of our cats prefers to use a laundry basket.

I put some wire mesh on top of it, so it has become less attractive to him.

He also likes to pee 'around' the litterbox occasionally, and he has been known to tinkle on carpets.

He had a urinary track infection and was treated for it. At this point I think that he just "strikes" occasionally to make a political statement.

Of course this stresses the bejesus out of me because every time he strikes this involves an entire layer of housekeeping that I did not anticipate or plan for.

But in general, if you try to correct a cat's behavior using a measure that the cat finds too scary, his response is often to urinate or defecate. This can make cats particularly difficult to train.

He also might urinate or defecate if feral cats are marking the area on the outside of the house. Locked indoors, he might decide to urinate or spray on the wall nearest to the outside.

It is hard enough to control the bowel and bladder habits of our own cats, let alone those of feral cats.

Cat spray also STINKS. It has a sulpheric smell to it that lingers and if it is from a cat that your cats either don't know or don't like, it can lead to a "paintball" war, but in this case it involves urine.

Another issue that stresses the living hell out of some folks, is the way cats will use flowerbeds and sandboxes as a litter box.

I can't say I blame them. Cats carry intestinal parasites and they can host toxoplasmosis. If they use the sandpit at the local playground as a toilet, chances are, kids will play in the sand and as kids do ... put their hands in their mouth. Then the kid's intestine becomes home to roundworms, etc.

The flowerbed thing ... meh. Sorry, can't really get into that one. But if you are looking to pick a fight with an otherwise good neighbor who happens to have a cat who simply will not stay indoors, that one is a good excuse.

8. Leaving their mafia hits on your lawn, on the street and at your front door

I am pregnant and it has been very hot here. So I have not been going out much during the day.

When i finally DID go out to greet one of my neighbors, she told me that I had a mouse in my front yard.


Yeah, a mouse.

It was more like a rat, it was huge and on the pavement. Apparently it was a couple of days deceased.

Thanks Peter, I appreciate it.

Well apparently people walking down the street had been trying to avoid it, etc.

Then there was a dead mouse on our walkway a couple of days ago.

I find pieces and parts of birds but I don't know what to make of that because the cats don't seem to eat the rodents. But are they eating the birds?

It stresses me out that dead wildlife is placed at our front door because I don't like senseless bloodshed, and I REALLY don't like picking something up that might be diseased, or the idea that its fleas will jump on our cat and potentially bring some kind of parasite or pathogen into our home.

9. You can't take them anywhere without risking some kind of cat-astrophe.

I just wish it were more fun.

I can take L.G.K. in his cat carrier. He has a great time.

But in general, cats hate to be kenneled and transported.

More than once I have had to bathe them because one of them urinates on himself, in his plastic kennel.

By the way, bathing a cat is at best, an unpleasant experience to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

10. Hiding and not coming when called

Cats often don't come when they are called. As far as I am concerned, if I can't locate them after 5 minutes of hunting for them and calling their names repeatedly, that is "hiding."

Yeah, hiding generally sucks.

Especially when we are getting ready to go on a trip and we don't know where one of our cats is. Is she outside? Are we going to lock her out for 3 days? Is she in the bird room? (we have birds too).

Sarah used to hide in the chimney. For the life of me I could not find her hiding place. But I did see sooty paw prints all over the couch and I thought "wow ... I could have sworn that I just mopped the floor."

That is extremely dangerous for obvious reasons.

I blocked the fireplace with a bookshelf and haven't looked back.

I also can't stand hiding because if they hide in one of our closets and have to relieve themselves, where are they going to go? Yeah, that's right ... probably on a sleeping bag stuffed in the corner.

I say "no" to hiding.

So ... do cats stress you out?

In my case, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

A better way of putting it would be "they inconvenience me occasionally." I will admit that over the years they have put us through some challenges, including lost sleep and the cost of replacing items that they have destroyed.

Aside from a few disagreeable behaviors, they are a tremendous source of comfort and solace for me. I can't speak for my husband.

They have provided hours of entertainment for us and they are worth every single dime spent on kibble and vet bills, as far as I am concerned. I don't know how many times we have walked by and seen the cats do something that is particularly cute or odd and said "hey look ... Sarah is ... "

And to be honest with you, nobody is going to love you quite like your cat does. To your cat, you are a valuable companion and the rock upon which she builds her cat-life. It might not seem like it because cats don't express themselves in ways that is immediately obvious to the uninitiated. But trust me, you mean the world to your cat and I am saying this with all my heart.

So enjoy his or her purrs and cuddles and when s/he really wants to be next to you, enjoy it. If s/he does something that you like, say "good kitty" ... my cats respond very well to simple praise. They know what it is!

Don't sweat the small stuff and as a final note, if your cat is urinating or defecating in odd places, please call your veterinarian God-speed. Chances are s/he is not graffiti tagging, but rather suffering from a urinary tract infection. Please don't let your best friend suffer!


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