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10 Things People Shouldn't Do to Their Cats

For starters, don't scare them.

Key points

  • Avoid letting your cat get bored. Use creative ways to feed them and engage in joint activities like play to keep them occupied.
  • Cats hide signs of pain and illness, so take them to the vet when needed and avoid toxic plants and flowers.
  • Always give your cat a choice whenever possible. Don’t use punishment, frighten, or hassle your cat.
Dominika Roseclay/Pexels
Source: Dominika Roseclay/Pexels

Cats are wonderful pets, and dedicated guardians will do anything they can for their cats because they know that cats deserve to be happy. But there are still some misconceptions about what pet cats need.

Here are 10 things to avoid doing to your cat.

1. Don’t just put your cat’s food in a bowl in the morning and leave it there all day. Cats do better with multiple small meals a day, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners.

Using food puzzle toys and changing the locations where you put food can encourage your cat to engage in normal foraging and hunting behaviour. Make the food puzzle toys nice and easy to start with, and only make tiny changes to location while your cat gets used to the idea. You’ll find lots of tips and toy reviews at food puzzles for cats.

2. Don’t let your cat get bored. You must give them things to do, especially if your cat is indoors-only. As well as the food puzzle toys, you should make sure they have a selection of toys for individual play and make time to play with them every day too.

A wand toy is perfect as you can move it around like an actual mouse or bird (but always tidy it away after use so your cat can’t get in trouble with the string). Other fun activities include training them with positive reinforcement and scent games such as nosework for cats.

3. Don’t have houseplants or flowers that are toxic to cats in case your cat tries to eat them. One that many people don’t know about is lilies. They look lovely and smell gorgeous—but unfortunately, lilies are highly toxic to cats and can cause serious kidney issues. This applies to all kinds of lilies (Lilium) and daylilies (Hemerocallis). You can always check if a plant is toxic for cats at the ASPCA toxic and non-toxic plants list.

4. Don’t squirt water at your cat or make a loud noise to try and stop them from doing something. If it works, it will be because it’s unpleasant for your cat, and they find it frightening or stressful. Unfortunately, they may associate that with you rather than with what they were doing, which can affect your relationship. See things from your cat’s perspective and find a better way to resolve the issue. A better environment, more enrichment, and training may all be part of the solution.

5. Don’t neglect their scratching needs. Cats have to scratch; it’s a natural behaviour that helps to keep their claws in good condition. So cats need tall, sturdy scratching posts, but unfortunately, many people provide ones that are too short and flimsy. You also have to consider your cat’s preferences for both the surface (rope, wood, carpet, cardboard) and direction (vertical or horizontal) of scratching posts. For more on this, see "3 things too many people don’t understand about cats."

6. Don’t blame your cat if they toilet outside the litter box. Unfortunately, sometimes people think that if their cat pees in the wrong place, it’s because they are being spiteful or hate you. But they may have a medical issue, so instead of maligning them, take them to the vet. If your vet rules out medical issues, they will be able to offer advice on improving your litter box set-up and reducing stress.

7. Don’t neglect vet checks for your cat. Cats are taken to the vet only half as often as dogs, and according to AAHA, it’s because people think their cat doesn’t need care—but cats are good at hiding signs of pain and illness. If your cat finds vet visits stressful, you can train them to go in their carrier. You can also look for a cat-friendly practice/clinic or a fear-free veterinarian/practice, as they take special measures to reduce cat stress.

8. Don’t hassle your cat. Learn to recognize the body language that means they don’t want to be petted (see why petting can make some cats aggressive). And if your cat is sleeping or hiding, let them enjoy their catnap or stay in their hiding place. It’s always best to give your cat a choice whenever possible.

9. Don’t try to terrify your cat. We’re all familiar with the image of a cat with their back arched, their fur standing on end, and their tail puffed out like a bottle brush—but it’s not nice for your kitty if you try to make this happen. Unfortunately, there are videos on social media that some people think are funny, but in fact, the cat is terrified. That’s not funny at all.

10. Don’t declaw your cat. If you live where this procedure is still allowed, don’t do it. “Declaw” is a euphemism as the procedure involves amputating the cat’s toes, a painful surgery that can also cause health issues. The Paw Project says, “Cats’ paws need their claws.” Declawing is already banned or illegal in places including Canadian provinces such as BC, Alberta, and Nova Scotia, and countries such as England, Australia, and New Zealand.

If you’ve made any of these mistakes with your cat, see them as learning opportunities. As veterinary behaviorist, Melissa Bain wrote recently, “No one knows where our knowledge base will be in another five, 10, or 20 years.” We are always learning—and our cats will benefit from it.

You’ll find plenty of tips for things you can do to make your cat happier (as well as a plan to train them to like their carrier) in my new book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy.

Facebook image: Mary Swift/Shutterstock


Todd. (2022). Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy.

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