The American Association of Feline Practitioners says there are eight questions regarding behavior that a veterinarian should ask about your cat during every visit. The answers are important not only because they help uncover behavioral problems that need to be addressed for the cat’s (and your) comfort—they also can help diagnose medical problems because behavior is often a clue to physical health.
You don’t need to wait for a veterinary visit to go through the list of questions. Run through them yourself periodically. If the answer to any of them is yes, it should prompt you to consult with your cat’s vet to consider what the possible reason for the behavior might be. The doctor can help you determine whether to go for medical diagnostics and treatment or seek a behavioral solution.
- Does your cat urinate or defecate outside of the box? A cat with inappropriate elimination may be feeling emotionally stressed, but she might also have any number of conditions that are associated with this behavior, including feline lower urinary tract disease/interstitial cystitis or arthritis.
- Does your cat spray? (Spraying occurs when a cat backs up to a vertical surface and flicks the tail tip while projecting urine.) Spraying, like misuse of the litterbox, can indicate either an emotional or medical issue that needs to be teased out.
- Does your cat show signs of aggression, including hissing, biting, or scratching? To specific family members? To strangers? Aggression in cats sometimes indicates pain. It’s not always about dissatisfaction with something in the environment.
- Does your cat exhibit fearful behaviors that concern you? A cat so fearful she won’t eat or let you show her positive attention by playing, petting, or grooming can end up suffering physically as well as psychologically.
- Does your cat show any destructive behaviors, such as scratching or chewing objects in the home? It’s hard to have a pet and not experience any degradation whatsoever of furniture or other household goods, but ongoing destructive behavior is a concern. Its root cause should be determined and the behavior redirected.
- Does your cat have any problematic interactions with other cats or pets in the household? Your home has to be a livable, comfortable place for all concerned, other pets included. Difficulty getting along with other cats in your home — or with the family dog — can be addressed effectively.
- Has there been any change in your cat’s behavior or disposition? If your cat seems lethargic in a way she never has, or has more energy than ever, something may be wrong. A lethargic cat could be emotionally depressed or physically ill. And one who now has unbound energy might have a condition like hyperthyroidism, which definitely requires medical treatment.
- Do you need further information regarding your cat’s behavior? If something about your cat’s behavior isn’t sitting right with you, don’t just live with it and try to push it to the back of your mind. Find out if it’s a sign of an issue needing attention.