As a pet parent, it can be very frustrating when your fur friend misbehaves. Instinctively, you move to punish your cat, but there are very good reasons why this is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way of fixing the problem.
Unlike humans, cats don't learn easily from their mistakes. When you punish your cat it can lead to other behavioural difficulties, which can result in a more hostile relationship for the two of you.
Here are six reasons not to punish your cat. Instead, try focusing on rewarding your cat for good behaviour.
#1 Cats aren't actually mean
Although your cat may appear spiteful when they pee on your bed or scratch the new sofa, they aren't actually thinking about their actions in that way at all. In reality, your cat is simply (although frustratingly for you) trying to communicate and tell you that something in the environment is not right for them. This is key to learning and understanding what is wrong for them.
Is their litter clean? Has something changed in your home? Have you welcomed a new pet? Are they being stimulated enough?
The challenge for you is to learn to understand your cat. They aren't being mean on purpose, and it's more than likely they won't behave in ways that are challenging to you once you find the root of the problem and fix it!
#2 Your cat's unwanted behaviour can reflect your own
As a cat parent, it is your responsibility to give them love, a stimulating environment, and a healthy lifestyle.
Bad behaviour begins when something is not right for them. You need to take this as a clue that something requires fixing. Something may have changed in your own behaviour or in your environment.
Placing the blame entirely on your cat will only augment the problem. Believing them to be spoilt and saying you give them enough also dismisses the problem and creates hostility - ultimately it is your responsibility as a cat owner to make them happy.
Try to consider as many elements as you can to understand what has changed (in your life or theirs) and why they might be acting this way.
#3 Your cat can become scared of you
When a cat is acting in a way that is out of the norm for them (particularly when they are being destructive), the urgency of the situation can push you to act brusquely and this can often scare your cat.
It is easy to build a habit of shouting, stamping your foot, or spraying water each time your cat behaves badly in order to dissuade them. This might be a way to respond to a symptom (their behaviour), but you are not addressing the root of the problem.
Your cat may well end up being scared of you and becoming anxious in your presence, which will compromise your relationship with them.
When your cat does something wrong, try to restrain yourself and respond in a rational and calm manner.
#4 Your cat doesn't know why you are punishing them
With time, cats can learn to directly associate certain behaviours with reward and/or punishment. However, if addressing an issue happens after your cat has done the wrong thing, they will not understand why you are acting the way you are.
This scenario is very common when it comes to litter training. Often when a cat relieves themselves outside of their litter box it can be some hours after the incident happened that the pet parent finds the excrement. Punishing your cat by making them smell their excretion will not be understood by your cat and will only be seen as punishment. Instead, try taking your cat to its litter tray a few times during the day when it might use the toilet and use its front paws to scrape at the litter. You might also need to reconsider the location of the litter tray, how many you have (if you have more than one cat), and how often you clean it.
#5 Your cat's behaviour can get worse...
As mentioned, punishing your cat can lead to other behavioural difficulties. Without punishing your cat, you can also help make them feel secure in their environment with the use of pheromone diffusers such as these ones from FELIWAY®. These can help relax your cat, which can in turn help to reduce unwanted behaviours in your home. It is also worth discussing your cat's behaviour with your vet as there may be underlying medical reasons that you are unaware of.
#6 Your cat deserves better!
Isn't your cat the best? We're certain that if you have read this far, you won't hesitate for a second before saying a loud 'YES'! You love your cat and can't imagine not having them around.
Well, your cat also thinks you're the best pet parent. Give them the chance to develop the best relationship with you that they can and you'll both feel better for it. There's no need to punish your cat. Instead, be thoughtful and even inventive - how can you turn unwanted behaviour into something good?!
You'll need patience and determination, but the reward will be worth it.