Which Cat Behavior Problem Should I Fix First?

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Are you dealing with multiple cat behavior problems in one cat? Know that you are not alone as many of the clients have multiple cat behavior problems in one (or multiple) of their cats. They are all frustrating to deal with and it can be hard to decide which one is the priority. If you’re having trouble deciding where to start working on your cat’s behavior, here are are a few things to consider.

Is There A Safety Risk To Humans, Cats, Or Other Animals?

While some behaviors like a cat scratching your couch or climbing on your counters can be frustrating or annoying, they aren’t usually dangerous. Other behaviors like house soiling can be unhygienic and in some cases spread disease, it may not be as big of a safety risk as aggression, ingesting non-food objects, or chewing on plants or electrical cords.

A brown tabby cat with big ears chews on a thick blade of grass.
Chewing cat grass is fine, but your phone charger is not. Photo by Suemy Yam.

In situations where there are multiple behaviors, the priority should always be the one that poses the biggest threat to the health and safety of humans, the cat, or other animals. If your cat is biting a child, for example, this usually would take priority over most other behavior concerns. That doesn’t mean aggression is always the top priority because in some situations, such as mild play aggression, there may be a more dangerous behavior paired with it.

Is The Behavior Causing Expensive Damage?

While the safety of living creatures is going to be a priority over property, damage to your home or possessions is a big consideration as well. That doesn’t make all destructive behaviors equal as a priority. A cat peeing on your luxury carpet is more likely to require an expensive carpet replacement as cleaning cat urine cat be challenging, but a cat scratching your old couch you’re planning to chuck soon anyway isn’t a big deal.

Similarly, if the cat behavior problem is risking damage that isn’t going to be monetarily expensive, but may come with an emotional cost, that should be a priority. A cat destroying a family heirloom by peeing on it is the priority over scratching up a couch from the 1980’s.

Are The Behaviors Related?

Depending on the particular combination of behaviors you are dealing with, one of them might be causing the other one. I see a lot of clients who hire me because their cat isn’t using the litter box, but when we meet, it turns out that there are also cats fighting in the home. The litter box problem may be secondary to territorial behavior in the cats or stress from the fighting.

In this case, we may do some modification to the litter boxes themselves, but the bulk of what we’re need to do is fix the cat conflict. You can change litters or boxes all you want, but if your cat doesn’t feel safe in the litter box, they won’t use the box. They may also be spraying as opposed to just urinating. In other words, they’re trying to mark their territory as they don’t feel secure in their space. The issue won’t resolve until the cat conflict is fixed.

Whatever the combination of cat behavior problems you are experiencing, the one that is causing the other one should be addressed first as it will solve the other one. You’ll not only have a resolution to both cat behavior problems, but ultimately you’ll have to do less work.

Which Cat Behavior Problem Bothers You The Most?

Not the least important consideration by any stretch is your preferences. If you have one behavior problem that bothers you more than the other (or others if you have a lot of concerns) then that is probably the place to start. Ultimately, we want to maintain your relationship with your cat and help you be able to live without feeling distressed in your own home.

Of course, in some cases this may not be possible. If one behavior issue (such as a conflict between multiple cats) is causing another behavior problem, even if the second behavior problem bothers you more, we may need to focus on the root cause in order address the problem that bothers you more. That doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the second problem, but interventions centered directly on the second cat behavior problem may not do much.

Does One Behavior Concern Have An Easy (Or Easier) Solution?

In some cases, you may be dealing with cat behavior problems that have differing degrees of difficulty to solve. For example, destructive scratching may be as simple to solve as adding in a high quality scratching post while doing a reintroduction to help your cats get along is going to be quite challenging. You can probably solve the destructive scratching first to help with your own sanity while working on the cats’ relationship.

Similarly, there may be ways to manage one of the behavior problems while you work on the other one. Getting a machine washable rug can be an easy way to to prevent damage to your carpet from your cat urinating on the floor, but it won’t solve the issue. Still, if you can make clean up a breeze while working on solving another behavior concern, the litter box use problem may no longer be the top concern.

Where Do I Start?

When trying to solve multiple cat behavior problems at once, there isn’t a straightforward answer as to which one to start with in some cases. Behavior modification is a process and many feline behavior problems don’t have a quick solution. In some cases, one behavior clearly needs to be solved or managed first before work can begin on the other. In other situations, there isn’t a correct answer as either is a fine place to start.

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!