When Do I Need Cat Behavior Help From A Professional?

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There’s a lot of advice about cat behavior on the internet. Heck, you’re reading a blog on cat behavior right now! While some of the advice out there is good, if you’re looking for cat behavior help you may be considering hiring a professional. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding to do a DIY approach or hire someone to help out. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to you need professional cat behavior advice or if you can do it yourself.

What have you already done to address your cat’s behavior?

The first question to consider is what you have already done. You may be just starting out and trying to figure out where to begin looking for help. My blog is devoted to cat behavior so you may want to see what if there is something that can help you here. Other great resources include iCatCare and Cat Friendly Homes. However, there are a few things you may want to make sure you’ve done prior to consulting a cat behavior professional.

Have you talked to your veterinarian?

In many cases, I suggest people start with their veterinarian rather than with me. Why? Some behavior problems may have a medical cause or be worsened by an underlying medical issue. As I’m not a veterinarian, I can’t diagnose illnesses or prescribe medications for your cat. Making sure you’re not missing the underlying cause is incredibly important as behavior plans can only help so much if your cat has a medical issue.

If you’re not sure where to start or your cat has a really hard time getting to the veterinarian, you can still get them seen by a veterinarian. There are in home veterinary services like Caravan Vet or even televet services like Dutch available to get around the need to get your cat into a carrier and haul them to a clinic. These services allow your cat to get the medical evaluation they need in their own territory while not increasing their anxiety or your stress.

Can I still help with your cat’s behavior? Absolutely, it’s totally your choice where to start. Just know that they might recommend you call your vet pretty quickly. Even if that ends up being the case, I may suggest a few things to help make your visit with the vet easier so starting with me is a great choice.

Spay or neuter your cat!

Most cats I work with end up being spayed or neutered so I don’t have to have this discussion often, but spaying and neutering can have a really positive impact on your cat’s behavior. Cats will be less likely to spray, display less aggression, and will not go into heat if they’re a female. Plus, it helps improve cat welfare. It’s a win for everyone involved!

An orange, white, and black cat under a blue surgical chucks is getting surgery. Two people in purple scrubs and white scrubs wearing gloves are seen doing something, but it is unclear exactly what they are doing.
They may not be enjoying it now, but spaying/neutering your cat will improve their overall well being. Image by Arvydas Lakacauskas.

Reading Up On Cat Behavior

If you really have the time and are interested in learning more about cat behavior on a deep level, you can try going with a book. Some books are going to be more reliable than others and others are more geared toward animal professionals. However, a few of my cat behavior books to get you started include:

Many of these books are available in both physical and e-reader format. You can also get them as audiobooks if you prefer listening to your cat behavior information.

Have you sought cat behavior help from other sources?

I have very mixed feelings on cat behavior advice dispensed online as there’s a lot of genuinely bad, potentially harmful information out there. However, it can also be a very helpful way for folks to get an idea of where to start. It’s neither all good nor all bad.

Chances are if you’ve been looking online or on social media, you’ve found some less than helpful cat behavior help. If you’ve tried and found the internet to not be so helpful, time to get a cat behavior professional.

Situation And Cat Specific Factors

Sometimes there are clues to your specific situation that suggest you’re in need of cat behavior help beyond what you can manage on your own. Let’s take a look at some of them that suggest you may need a cat behaviorist.

How long has the behavior been happening?

There are two ways to look at this: If the behavior has been occurring for a while, then chances are whatever you’ve tried isn’t working. This is definitely a time to get some extra help! Regardless of how long it has been occurring, a behavior consultant can give you an idea of what needs to be done to get a resolution.

On the flip side, sometimes it makes sense to call in someone pretty quick. Some problems, in particular litter box problems or cats waking you up in the middle of the night, can become self perpetuating and may worsen over time if they are not addressed early. Nipping something pretty quickly after it starts might help prevent you from needing more extensive intervention down the line.

If you feel confident in your ability to solve the problem without making it worse, it’s completely personal preference if you want to jump to professional cat behavior help or try to do it on your own. While I generally suggest for problems involving fighting cats, as an example, you try a professional as these situations are typically challenging to resolve, you can always get help later.

Are there other animals or multiple cats involved?

Cat social structure is complicated. Some cats are fine with other cats, some cats are not. Most cats are fine with certain other cats but not with every cat. Cats and dogs can be just as complicated as it can be challenging to tell if your cat and dog are safe around each other. While you sometimes can manage multicat or multispecies situations without help, if there are behavior problems involved it becomes trickier.

Sometimes these situations can be worked out and you can always try a product like a Feliway diffuser to see if it helps ease tension with your cat. However, if there is danger involved to any other animals, you probably want to call in a professional. If the cat is a bigger problem in interspecies conflict, calling in a cat behavior expert is the way to go.

Human Factors

Let’s not forget who is reading this blog trying to decide if they need someone to address their cat’s behavior problems: you, the human! Cats can’t read (or understand English) so your needs are important, too. What things suggest you may need some professional cat behavior help?

Are you considering rehoming or behavioral euthanasia?

This is not a pleasant topic to talk about, but unfortunately some cats end up getting rehomed or euthanized for behavior problems that could be successfully addressed with a little help. While rehoming isn’t always a bad outcome, it isn’t ideal as it creates a lot of stress for the cat and humans. A professional can give you a realistic assessment of your situation and what it may require to come to a resolution. They can help you determine how to most effectively address the behavior and if either of these outcomes can be avoided. In many cases, with a bit of work and proper guidance, they absolutely can be!

How are you doing?

I’d go far as to argue this is the most important consideration: Regardless of how severe a problem is or what you’ve already tried, is the problem impacting your wellbeing? Are you finding yourself completely overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to address your cat’s behavior? Are you losing sleep, noticing changes in your mood, or not feeling safe in your home? Are you spending a large portion of your day cleaning up cat urine? Are there other things going on in your life that make it hard to focus on the cat currently such a new baby or stress at your job?

While you will still have to do work to get results, hiring a behavior professional takes a lot of the guessing out of what to do. You avoid the extra cost, stress, and time involved with following advice that may not be great. Cat behavior help isn’t just about helping the cats, after all.

If you’re at the point where your cat is impacting your mental health in a not so good way, it’s time to call in a professional. Even if you haven’t tried anything to address it yet, hiring someone to help get you to a resolution sooner will reduce the amount of stress you experience. Your wellbeing is just as important!

A person with long hair in a jean jacket is sitting with her hands crossed while another person, slightly blurred, wearing black has their crossed hands visible.
I’m like a therapist for your cat. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

While this guide is by no means exhaustive of when you’d want to hire a cat behavior specialist, it should give you some ideas of when might be the right time to call one in. Class Act Cats offers virtual consultations to help you wherever you’re located. If you think you may need some assistance or want to learn more, I’m here to help!

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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!