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New owner's guide: cat

Cat behavioural issues

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  • Inappropriate soiling
    • Litterbox avoidance
    • Location avoidance
    • Surface preference
    • Anxiety
    • Need for privacy
  • Feline aggression
    • Play aggression
    • Fear aggression
    • Predatory aggression
    • Patting-induced aggression
    • Territorial aggression
    • Pain--induced and irritable aggression
    • Cat to cat aggression

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Inappropriate soiling

Inappropriate soiling can be abnormal urinating, defecating or both. It is the most common behavioural problem of cats. If it does occur, it’s essential to make a veterinary appointment to have your cat’s health assessed. There are several health issues that may be the cause, for example urinary tract infections, diabetes, renal disease, constipation, diarrhoea and senility.

Cats often spray to mark their territory. If there appears to be no medical reason for the problem then there are many possible environmental factors:

Litterbox avoidance

  • Soiled or smelly litter
  • Wrong type of litter
  • Wrong type of litter tray

Location avoidance

  • Excessive local traffic
  • Insecure in the located area
  • Location preference
  • Cats can change the preference of a location

Surface preference

  • Showing a preference for a specific surface type rather than the litter


  • Environmental changes - new furniture, household changes
  • Excessive numbers of cats
  • Absence of an owner
  • Changed family dynamics

Need for privacy

  • Nervousness
  • Fearfulness
  • Fright
When inappropriate toileting becomes a problem it is essential to address it immediately. The sooner the issue is detected the greater the likelihood of resolving the problem.

There is a need to establish the environmental factor that may be contributing to the problem and where possible put in place measures to resolve the issue. The success of addressing these problems will depend on many factors, such as:
  • Cause of the problem
  • Duration of the problem
  • Frequency of the problem
  • Number of locations where it occurs
  • Number of cats in the home
  • Temperament of the cat
  • Health issue that may be causing the problem
  • Owner’s commitment to addressing and solving the problem
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Feline aggresion

Aggression is the second most significant behavioural issue of cats. There is a range of aggressive behaviours. In addressing this problem there is a need to establish the type of aggression that the cat is exhibiting.

Play aggression

Play aggression is a normal part of a cat’s social development. It only becomes a problem when there are no modifying influences applied to this behaviour. Owners frequently contribute to this problem by teasing the cat when playing. Owners should be mindful when playing with their new cat not to tease and torment the cat. Using hands and fingers can result in them becoming the focus of aggression at a later date. Directing the cat’s playful attention to an object or toy may reduce the potential of your cat directing its play aggression to humans.

Fear aggression

Fear aggression occurs when cats are insufficiently socialised or subjected to unregulated discipline. There is often a genetic inclination to fear aggression. It may be triggered by noises, human approach or being stared at. Cats exhibiting fear aggression usually exhibit hissing, teeth bared, ears back and lowered body posture. This requires time and reassurance to reduce the fear and consequent aggression.

Predatory aggression

Predatory aggression occurs in cats of either gender. They usually stalk a moving target and attack. You rarely see true predatory aggression. More so you are likely to observe play predatory aggression. If a cat has true predatory aggression it is very difficult to resolve, as it is an instinctive behaviour. Stalking birds is a good example of this instinctive behaviour and it probably has a genetic component. Placing a bell on your cat’s collar may assist in protecting birds from this predation.

Patting-induced aggression

This occurs when patting or stroking a cat and it suddenly becomes aggressive. The cat often seeks out the attention and exhibits the aggression when the threshold of attention has been reached. The approach here should be to handle and pat the cat, but to stop the interaction before the threshold is reached. You can progressively increase the time of the patting.

Territorial aggression

Territorial aggression is frequently seen when a new animal enters another cat’s territory. This may be within a home or in an outside area. Male and female cats exhibit territorial aggression. The territory claimed by males tends to be larger than for females.

Pain-induced and irritable aggression

Pain-induced and irritable aggression may be the result of an underlying health issue, such as arthritis, dental disease or a cat bite abscess. It may also be a reaction to pulling of the hair or standing on the tail.


Obesity is an increasing problem with cats. This is partly due to the changed lifestyles of cats such as an increase in the number of cats kept entirely indoors. However the main cause of obesity is overfeeding our pets. If there is reduced activity due to environmental issues there should be a corresponding reduction in diet. Obesity can contribute to a significantly shorter life span in some cats.

Cat to cat aggression

Inter-cat aggression is more normally territorial in nature and suggestions for dealing with this behaviour have been mentioned earlier.

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Next: Zoonotic issues  >
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