Many companies featured on Money advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and
in-depth research may determine where and how companies appear. Learn more about how we make money.

Published: Feb 26, 2024 4 min read

Training cats and other pets with a fear-based or punishment-based approach has been almost universally discredited as a training method. Instead of focusing on disciplining after a display of negative behavior, cat owners should instead try to understand the source of the problem and use approaches that are not bound to cause more issues down the road. Read on to learn more about how discipline can affect your cat, the reasons behind certain behaviors and better ways to address them.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
Protect your furry friend with Embrace Pet Insurance
Get up to 90% reimbursement on vet bills. Customized coverage is available. Select your state for a free quote.
HawaiiAlaskaFloridaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaAlabamaNorth CarolinaTennesseeRIRhode IslandCTConnecticutMAMassachusettsMaineNHNew HampshireVTVermontNew YorkNJNew JerseyDEDelawareMDMarylandWest VirginiaOhioMichiganArizonaNevadaUtahColoradoNew MexicoSouth DakotaIowaIndianaIllinoisMinnesotaWisconsinMissouriLouisianaVirginiaDCWashington DCIdahoCaliforniaNorth DakotaWashingtonOregonMontanaWyomingNebraskaKansasOklahomaPennsylvaniaKentuckyMississippiArkansasTexas

Don’t use punishment

Bad behavior, while frustrating for pet owners, should not be met with anger or aggression. It has been proven that cats and other pets don’t respond well to punishments or other harmful approaches to correcting behavior and that it can actually cause more damage than good.

Yelling, using spray bottles, clapping at them and any form of physical punishment could result in a cat displaying aggressive behaviors toward their owners and other people, as well as other behavioral issues. Moreover, misbehaving could be a sign of underlying issues or your cat’s needs not being met.

Why cats behave the way they do

Understanding your cat’s behavior is key to correcting it in the most effective way. Your cat’s bad behaviors could be linked to basic necessities not being met, behavioral issues, medical conditions and even just wanting your attention.

If they poop or pee outside of their litter box, causes can range from their potty training not being effective to health issues such as urinary tract infections and even kidney stones or blockages. If they’re scratching furniture at home, they may not have a proper scratching post or horizontal scratcher that works for them.

In order to determine what might be causing your cat to misbehave, we recommend visiting your veterinarian to rule out any health issues and a pet behaviorist if the problem isn’t medical.

Better approaches to undesired behaviors

Undesirable behaviors in cats can only be corrected with proper training. Whichever method you choose — whether it’s voice command, hand signal or clicker training — it should be accompanied by positive measures that ensure it takes. Effective measures include:

  • Positive reinforcement: This approach focuses on associating positive behaviors with rewards like high-value treats and catnip.
  • Deterrents: This approach consists of making the undesired behavior uncomfortable or unappealing to cats. For example, an owner may deter their cat from being on the kitchen counter by placing aluminum foil on top.
  • Redirection: With this approach, cat parents divert their cat’s attention away from the negative behavior and get them to focus on something else. In the case of cat scratching, owners can redirect them toward their cat tree or scratchers.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
The best pet deserves the best coverage
Get up to 90% reimbursement on vet bills with Embrace — quality coverage tailored to your pet’s needs. Get a quote now.

How to discipline a cat FAQs

How do you punish a cat for misbehavior?

You shouldn’t punish your cat for misbehaving. Figure out why they’re displaying certain bad behaviors and use non-harmful approaches —like deterring or redirecting them— and positive reinforcement of good behaviors.

Why does my cat misbehave?

A misbehaving cat may be trying to communicate that something is not quite right. Because the underlying issue may be behavioral or a medical condition, we recommend consulting experts such as veterinarians and animal behaviorists.

Should you clap at your cat?

No, you should not clap at your cat when it misbehaves. Aside from being ineffective, it will only distress your cat as they generally dislike loud noises.

Summary of Money’s guide on how to discipline a cat

  • Understanding feline behaviors will help pet owners instill desired behaviors and correct the negative ones more successfully.
  • Your cat may be acting out due to medical issues as well as behavioral ones.
  • Some proven methods to approach bad behavior include positive reinforcement, redirection and deterring.
  • Experts like veterinarians and animal behaviorists might help in identifying the root of the problem and address it accordingly.