How to Discipline Cats

Three Methods:Getting Ready to Discipline Your CatTraining Your CatDisciplining Your Cat

When you love your cat, it can be hard to discipline him. Even when he is being bad, he can be so cute and cuddly that you don’t want to yell at him or tell him he is doing wrong. There may be other times when your cat can drive you crazy, but any attempt at disciplining him falls flat. You may even ask yourself, “do I own my cat, or does my cat own me?" You can teach your cat how behave with better manners if you learn the right methods.

Method 1
Getting Ready to Discipline Your Cat

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    Recognize the complications. Cats can be easy or difficult to train. Dogs are more eager to please their owners, which makes them generally easier to train than cats. However, cats can be trained as long as you understand how cats think and interact with their humans. Training a cat takes a lot of patience, especially since it is so hard to motivate him.[1]
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    Find your cat’s motivator. Every cat has something that will make him learn to listen to you. This key to training is called your cat’s motivator. This generally means the tastiest treat that he absolutely loves and goes crazy over. For some cats, this can be flakes of tuna while for others, a tiny taste of cooked chicken will do the trick.
    • Whichever treat you use, have it on hand and ready to reward the moment your cat obeys your command.
    • Never strike a cat if he doesn’t do what you want him to do. He will end up resenting you for it and refuse to listen to you. [2]
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    Love your cat. The first step to disciplining your cat is first to make him listen to you. This won’t happen unless you develop a warm, loving relationship with your cat. This cannot be stressed enough. It's important to set up a good rapport with your cat from the beginning of your relationship. This will ensure that he respects you, will want to please you, and will listen to your commands.
    • If you are just acquiring a cat, give him lots of attention. Spend time cuddling with him if he responds to that. If not, try to talk to him and pet him as much as you can, and give him treats once in a while. This may take a few days to a few weeks, depending on how long he takes to warm up to you and his new environment.
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    Take your time with a kitten. Although it's important to discipline your cat as soon as any bad behavior starts, take the time to consider who you're dealing with. There are some cat specific factors that may affect how your pet reacts to your attempts at discipline. If you have a kitten, you should expect him to be very rambunctious, curious, and inexperienced. It may take longer for a kitten to learn right and wrong, so be patient as he figures it out.
    • On the other hand, having a kitten can be a benefit. If you're the only owner the kitty has ever had, then you can exert more influence over his actions.[3]
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    Deal with older cats. If you are just getting a new cat who is older, if you adopt an older cat, or if the cat you have had for a while and need to discipline is older, remember that an older cat may be set in his ways. He may be used to a certain form of discipline and you'll have to work harder to show the cat what is wrong and right.
    • However, older cats can be more mellow, understanding, and may not be as eager to misbehave.[4]
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    Consider your pet’s prior experience. Before you discipline your cat, think about what kind of life your cat had before you got him. If your cat or kitten is coming from a breeder and is used to good treatment, being groomed, and being well-fed, then your cat should not act out from past trauma. If the cat was taken out of an abusive home or spent a long time in the pound, you may have to work a bit harder with your cat.
    • Remember that adopted or abused cats may be scared and suspicious of new environments and you, depending on his past experiences with other owners.[5]
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    Pay attention to your cat's personality. The personalities of cats can be just as diverse and complicated as the personalities of their owners. Ask your self a few questions to understand your cat's personality. What kind of a cat do you have? Would you describe him as squirrelly, eager-to-please, lazy, or loving? Your cat's unique personality can help you decide how to react in certain circumstances.
    • Easily scared or frightened cats will take a more delicate touch when disciplining. You will need to first work on gaining his trust before attempting discipline.
    • An aggressive cat will need to be evaluated by an animal behaviorist so you don’t get hurt when attempting to discipline the cat.[6]

Method 2
Training Your Cat

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    Provide outlets for his needs. To keep a cat from getting into trouble, provide your cat with means and ways to express his natural cat behavior. Cats love to run, bite, scratch, and explore by nature, so it's important to give your cat friendly options to play with so he has an outlet for his needs. This can also prevent many disciplinary issues that will arise because he will be more content overall. There are many ways you can help your cat express his inner feline needs.
    • Provide a scratching post for your cat. Make sure to have one or multiple scratching posts around the house so your cat can scratch those. This will prevent him from scratching your furniture, the walls, or other objects he shouldn't.
    • Have toys for your cat to chew and bite. Chew toys, little balls, and stuffed mice can help your cat use his inner instincts without biting or harming you in the process. This can also deter him from eating other objects that you don't want him to chew on.
    • Create a kitty space or playground inn your house that he can use all day long. Cats love to jump, climb, and explore, so get a cat jungle gym or establish a corner of your house that is cat friendly so he can run around without ruining your property.
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    Reward good behavior. It's important to let your cat know when he does something good. This will help him learn that this behavior should be repeated. Good behaviors can range from using the litter box properly, eating and drinking his food appropriately, using his scratching post instead of the furniture, and playing with his toys instead of your belongings. It's also important to be consistent. Reward your kitty for positive behavior as often as you can so he knows he's on the right track. Treats are common ways to reward your cat. Don't overdo it, however, because it can cause your cat to gain weight.
    • You can also reward your cat by giving him attention. Speaking to your cat in a soothing voice, petting him, or letting him cuddle with you can help let him know that you appreciate what he's doing.
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    Play with your cat. A way to help your cat act appropriately and also as a way to reward him is to play with him. When both of you are around the house, bring out an interactive cat toy that he needs you to play with. For example, many cats love dangling toys, such as sticks with feathers or shiny objects at the bottom. Take some time to play with the dangling toy whenever you can. Your cat will get some great exercise and will feel loved.
    • An option for the lazier owner is the laser pointer. Some cats go absolutely crazy for the laser pointer and you can move it all over one room from the comforts of your own couch. Some people protest that the laser pointer is cruel because the cat never gets to catch the red dot, while others would argue that it's more about the chase.

Method 3
Disciplining Your Cat

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    Use a special tone of voice. There are times when your cat will behave in a way that needs disciplining. Just as it's crucial to let your cat know he's doing something right, it's equally important to show him what not to do. It's important to be consistent, so your cat recognizes his actions as bad behavior every time. Use a special tone of voice when your cat acts badly. There's no need to shout or yell because this may scare your cat too much. Instead, establish a harsh tone that lets your cat know he has done you wrong. He'll recognize it every time he acts badly.
    • For effect, add his name to your complaint, such as saying "Bad Spike!" in a particularly harsh, even tone. This will help your cat recognize that he has erred, the downside of this method however, is that your cat may associate his name with bad behaviour. [7]
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    Remove your cat from the situation. There are two ways that you can remove your cat from a situation where he is misbehaving. You can isolate your kitty. If your cat is prone to eating your dinner, for example, you can exile him to your bedroom during dinner time. Though his meowing by the door may break your heart, it'll teach him not to repeat his mistakes.
    • You can also remove him from the room after grabbing scruff of his neck. If your cat is being feisty with you and biting or scratching, you can grab him by the scruff of the neck and say “no.” If he keeps being bad, pick him up and take him to a different room, still saying no.
    • Never pick a cat up by the scruff. It may hurt your cat and he may be able to hurt you by scratching you. Be aware that cat bites can quickly turn into a dangerous infection.[8]
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    Use the water aversion method. To get your cat to stop doing a particular action, use a well-timed squirt of water from a water bottle to deter unwanted behaviors. This can include behaviors like jumping on counters or biting plant leaves. This should be done stealthily so the cat does not know that the squirt came from you. Try squirting the cat when he isn't looking at you or his back is turned from you. Otherwise, the cat will associate you with the water and be wary or fearful of you after an ill-timed squirt.
    • Some people think aversion therapy does not work on cats, but it can be effective, depending on your cat.[9]
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    Set booby-traps. You can set traps for your cat to prevent him from indulging in bad behavior. For example, if your cat is prone to attacking your toilet paper roll, place an empty water bottle on top of the roll, so it will fall and scare him if he tries to play with the roll. If your cat is prone to jumping on the kitchen table, set up double-sided tape or tinfoil over the surface, so he associates it with an unpleasant sensation. These physical scares may give him the discipline he needs.[10]
    • There are even scat mats which can be purchased, which send a gentle electrical tingle through the cat’s feet when they are stepped on.
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    Be firm and consistent. No matter what punishment you give your cat, it's important to be firm. Though you may have the cutest cat in the world, it's important to show him that you're serious about his bad behavior. You also need to be consistent. Each time the cat does something that is not acceptable, you need to quickly react so he associated the bad behavior with the punishment. If you leave the punishment for later, he won't know why he is getting punished and may become afraid of you.


  • Don't be too loud or harsh. Your tone of voice will affect your cat, even if it can't fully understand everything you say.
  • Do not provoke your cat in any way. Leave it alone as he sleeps or hides. Going after him can cause unnecessary confrontations.
  • Never strike or hit a cat or throw objects at him. This will cause your cat to resent and fear you, undoing any positive relationship.
  • If your cat is behaving aggressively consult a pet behaviorist or veterinarian for advice.
  • Never pick up an aggressive cat because he may bite you. Cat bites can turn into dangerous infections. If you are bitten, contact your physician immediately.
  • Don't be too harsh or it may be considered animal abuse.

Sources and Citations

  3. Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses. Edited by Julie Shaw and Debbie Martin. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2015
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Article Info

Categories: Cat Training