What Your Cat’s ‘Bad Behavior’ Actually Means, According to New Study

Has your cat been especially naughty lately, or exhibiting bad behavior? A new study has discovered a possible reason for it, and that reason has a lot to do with you–their owner.

 a kitten tears through toilet paper

Why Your Cat is Behaving Badly, New Study Has an Explanation

If your cat has been showing bad behavior lately, such as peeing on the wall or trying to shred your couch, a new study has an explanation for it.

Your cat misses you.

Yep! Your cat might be experiencing separation anxiety. While separation anxiety has been widely studied in dogs, not a lot of research has covered this same area for cats.

However, recent studies have shown that indoor cats absolutely form strong bonds with their owners, and are highly social creatures.

With the coronavirus pandemic still going on, you might be thinking this isn’t an issue since you’re home more often–but you might want to still evaluate how you’re interacting with your cat.

If your cat is suddenly being more naughty than usual, you might be part of the reason why.

Related: Top 10 Jerk Cats and the Owners Who Love Them Anyway

Researchers Study Cat Separation Anxiety and Other Bad Behaviors in Cats

A questionnaire was handed out to 130 owners of adult cats in Brazil from researchers. Their goal? To study separation-related issues in cats. The questionnaire asked owners to assess their cat’s behaviors, living environment, and interactions.

Out of the 223 cats involved in the study, it was discovered that at least 13.5% of the cats had at least one problem associated with separation anxiety. Those problems involved things like distressed mental states or destructive behaviors.

The study’s author, Aline Cristina Sant’Anna, who is a professor of zoology at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in Brazil, had this to say about the matter:

“Some people believe that domestic cats are unable to develop an attachment to their caregivers and owners, but this idea was not confirmed by recent studies, showing that these cats can establish bonds with their owners.”

“Our study suggests that these animals might suffer when separated from their attachment figure,” she said.

a cat looks out the window

But Don’t Cats Like Being Left Alone?

It is widely believed that cats enjoy being alone much more than their canine counterparts, but that isn’t entirely true.

When the study asked about the body language and behaviors that cats display when their caretakers weren’t home, it was found that thirty out of the 223 cats met at least one of the behavioral criteria used to define separation-related problems.

In fact, 67% of those cats were found to exhibit destructive behavior, urination and defecation in inappropriate places, excessive vocalization, aggressiveness, and depression-apathy.

Related: Why Does Your Naughty Cat Knock Things Over?

Interestingly enough, the majority of those cats tended to live in households without a female caregiver or more than one female adult. Other cats who showed those behaviors lived in single pet homes, or in homes with owners aged 18-35, or with no toys available.

Sant’Anna said, “Maybe, for different reasons, the animals raised in households with no female adults or more than one female adult were less likely to develop secure and mentally healthy types of attachments with their owners in the sampled population.”

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant for more than 20 years, explained why being a female cat owner seems to matter. She said that female cat owners tended to be more doting and more affectionate toward their feline friends.

Younger Cat Owners Might Not Be the Greatest Owners

As for younger adult owners, there is also an explanation for why their cats might be a little sadder than most.  “They’re happy to have a pet, but they’re going out, being social [going on] dates and having parties,” said Johnson.

“They scoop the litter [twice a week instead of twice a day], put down the bowl of food and they’re gone,” she continued.

For this reason, Johnson suggested that older pet owners tend to be better pet parents than their younger counterparts.

“Cats thrive on predictability and routine and people 18 to 35 tend to have a less predictable lifestyle–maybe more travel, more random work schedules, late nights. Cats really need that structure in their life and I think the senior citizens do a really, really great job of providing what cats need,” said Johnson.

Related: 9 Odd Things Cat Owners Do That You’re Probably Guilty Of

How to Make Your Cats Happier and Better Behaved

If you think your cat isn’t happy and could use a little more enrichment, you might want to try adding more interactive play and giving them more attention in general. Interactive activities can help create a stronger bond with your cat, and can also help to give your cat more exercise.

“It also mimics that predatory sequence,” explained Johnson. “It’s ideal to play with them with interactive toys prior to a meal because that way you’re mimicking the natural sequence for a cat, which is to hunt and stalk [their next meal], catch it, kill it and then groom and sleep.”

She also suggested that providing a place for your cat to perch and something to scratch on can go a long way in helping calm your kitty’s bad behaviors.

“We have to enrich their lives if we’re going to take them out of their outside world they were meant to be in and lock them in our homes,” said Johnson.

Taking the time to truly spend time with your cat, and making sure that their most basic needs are met is absolutely the best way to help save their nerves, and maybe your couch as well!

Related: Naughtiest Master Cat Thieves Caught in Photos!


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