How To Discipline a Cat - Litter Training, Punishing Your Cat and More


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), felines are the most popular pet species in the United States – with a record 74 million residing with their owners throughout the nation.

A whopping 30.4 percent of homes include at least one pet cat.

Yet more than 5,000 pet cats are relinquished to rescue shelters annually. Behavior issues are among the top five most common reasons owners cite as a reason for relinquishment.

Learning how to punish a cat and how to litter train a cat are vital to ensure your new feline remains a permanent member of your family!


Contrary to what many non-cat people believe, research shows that cats really do like their owners….most of the time.

It is important to make the distinction between getting a cat to like you and disciplining a cat. The former should always come well before the latter for best results! Getting a cat to like you begins with putting yourself in her paws….so to speak. For example, your cat is rather small and short while you are quite tall and large. You don’t share a common verbal language, so you will need to rely on non-verbal cues and body language to communicate successfully.

It is vital to allow your cat to get comfortable in her new surroundings before you start the “getting to know you process” in earnest. Give her a few days to explore, scent and take in the lay of the land first. As you give her some time and space, one research study suggests that you should’t be surprised if the natural feline intelligence and curiosity leads her to want to explore you also!

When your cat does approach, speak softly and move slowly. When you reach out to pet your cat, notice her body language – what does she like or not like? Offering treats to reinforce desired behaviors (such as offering a tasty treat right after she lets you pet her) is a great way to communicate you are happy with her behavior.

Most importantly, be sure your cat has lots of fun toys and that you spend time playing together. A recent research study revealed that cat toys that mimic how cats would stalk and chase prey tend to be particular favorites so be sure to have lots of these on hand if you want to successfully learn how to get a cat to like you.


As a general rule of thumb, negative-based training methods are no longer embraced as effective long-term disciplinary strategies for pet animals, including cats.

However, you do need to learn effective strategies to let your cat know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior!

Today’s feline behaviorists and veterinarians generally agree that the most effective punishment-based training strategies are remote. This means the deterrent happens some distance away from you, so your cat won’t necessarily associate the punishment with you. This strategy is called “negative reinforcement.”

The goal here is simple: whenever your cat does something you don’t want him to do, you want him to experience an undesirable consequence. This will help your cat make the connection between that behavior and something he doesn’t want to experience. But you don’t want to be the negative reinforcer, because then your cat will associate the bad experience with you!

Rather, you want something else – something not even close to you – to be the negative reinforcer. This way, your cat will avoid that area or experience but will not avoid you. Using this strategy also ensures that your cat will not repeat the undesirable behavior whether you are present to observe him doing it or not.

how to discipline a cat

Two examples of remote negative reinforcers known to be effective include using bitter apple spray (or another unpleasant spray your cat really dislikes) to keep your cat from scratching on or chewing the furniture and using a motion sensor-activated water or compressed air sprayer to keep your cat from climbing on the countertops.

Another example is to simply change up the texture in an area where your cat routinely ventures that is off-limits. Cats are very sensitive to texture and touch and sometimes just placing a bath mat with the nub-side up will be enough to keep your cat off expensive carpeting or away from the front door.

Another unpleasant texture most felines intensely dislike is anything sticky. Double-sided tape is a good option here as a deterrent in off-limits areas where your cat may routinely persist in climbing or scratching.


Cat behaviorists state that the second most frequently reported cat behavior problem is aggression, which can include biting and scratching.

There are all kinds of reasons why a cat may scratch or bite you or another person, which means one of the most important components of stopping the undesirable behaviors is trying to understand why they are happening!

Normal kitten-to-cat development.

Here is an example. When a cat is still a kitten, learning how to bite and scratch is actually an important aspect of feline development that fosters good motor skills and coordination. To a cat, biting and scratching are important self-defense behaviors as well as social skills when interacting with other cats and potential predators.

So a growing kitten who is newly re-homed away from her litter with a family of humans will need to be resocialized to learn acceptable behavior with people instead of other cats.

how to stop a cat from biting

A word about de-clawing cats: some unaware cat owners will declaw their feline in an attempt to stop scratching from occurring. This is not only unnecessarily cruel and invasive to your pet cat, but it also leaves her nearly defenseless to prevent falls and attacks. There are other, much better (not to mention much less expensive) methods to keep your cat from scratching than de-clawing).

Health issues.

Another very common reason a formally docile cat may suddenly turn aggressive is an undiagnosed health issue. Here, the best method for how to stop a cat from biting is to schedule a health checkup with your feline veterinarian.


Some cat breeds are more sensitive to touch than other breeds. Too much petting or brushing is one of the prime reasons cats may bite or scratch the owner. If you notice your cat seems to bite or scratch more during petting or grooming sessions, back off and see if the behavior corrects itself.


Litter box issues can crop up in single or multiple cat households. Cats at heart are private in their bathroom habits and want to have a clean, solitary space to deposit and bury their waste.

Too few boxes or a dirty litter box.

Even for single cat households, cat behaviorists suggest providing at least one clean litter box per family feline and ideally more than one per cat.

Intact male cat. 

If your cat is not fixed (spayed or neutered) this can also be a root cause of litter box issues, especially in male intact cats who will “spray” their turf to mark it.

Health issues.

The most common cause of medical-related litter box issues is the feline urinary tract infection. If your cat’s bathroom behaviors have recently changed and everything else remains the same, make an appointment with your feline veterinarian for a health check-up.