12 Things We Should Never Do To A Cat

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  • At a glance

    1. Punish a cat
    2. Scruff a cat
    3. Throw a cat
    4. Pull a cat’s tail
    5. Pick a cat up by the tail
    6. Give human or dog medications
    7. Self medicate
    8. Ignore their emotional needs
    9. Ignore their physical needs
    10. Litter box mistakes
    11. Smoke around a cat
    12. Feed food that is dangerous

    Physical punishment

    Hitting a cat is never the answer when a cat has engaged in a behaviour that we do not like, such as going to the toilet outside the litter tray or jumping on kitchen benches. Physical punishment teaches a cat to fear us. A more effective way to change a behaviour is to ask yourself why the cat is doing it? Cats will either engage in a behaviour for the following reasons:

    • As an avoidance method: Refusal to use a dirty litter tray, being ambushed by an alpha cat or relating pain with the litter box such as constipation.
    • Because they are rewarded: They steal unsupervised food on the kitchen bench
    • Hardwired behaviour: Sometimes, cats are just cats, for example, hunting or scratching.

    How to solve the issue without physical punishment

    Inappropriate elimination outside the litter tray can fall into two categories, behavioural or medical. Once medical has been ruled out, we must look at why they are doing this? Common causes include dirty litter trays, inappropriate location, not enough litter trays and inter-cat issues.

    For behaviours such as jumping on kitchen benches we need to firstly make sure that there is nothing up there for them to steal, and then discourage them from jumping up by making it an unpleasant experience. If you push them off or hit them, they will just do it when you are not around. Instead, you have to make the negative experience an act of God, ie; it happens when you are not around.

    • Apply double-sided sticky tape to the benches which cats don’t like the feel of.
    • Buy some disposable aluminium trays and place them on the benches protruding out a few inches, so when the cat jumps up, the trays fall on them (without hurting them).
    • Place motion sensors on the benches which will blow a puff of air at the cat when it jumps up.

    Scruff a cat

    We all know that mother cats pick up and carry kittens from one location to another by carrying them by the scruff of the neck.

    People scruff cats for two reasons, to pick them up and to subdue them. Picking a young kitten up by the neck is fine for a mother to carry her 200 g kitten, but not a fully grown cat who weighs 4-6 kg or more. You must never pick up an adult cat by the scruff of the neck as it has the potential to cause injury and pain. To pick up a cat, scoop your hand under the belly and pick him up, support him by placing your arm underneath the cat while cradling him with the other arm.

    Some veterinarians still use scruffing to subdue/control a cat, but there is a growing movement of practitioners who are practising gentler methods such as Fear Free or Cat-Friendly. The goal of this method is to provide a calm and stress-free environment for the cat so that examinations and treatments are easier on everyone, especially the cat.

    Scruffing a cat should be used as a last resort practice only, and the cat must be supported either on a surface or with an arm underneath, don’t ever leave a scruffed cat dangling, it could cause damage to the skin and underlying tissues and bones.

    Throw a cat

    We all know that cats are agile and for the most part (but not always), will land on their feet, that is not an excuse to throw a cat. It is unkind and can lead to injury such as torn ligaments if the cat lands badly.

    Pull a cat’s tail or pick a cat up by the tail

    The cat’s tail is an extension of the cat’s vertebrae and is prone to injury. Never pull or tug on a cat’s tail as it could dislocate the joints.

    The same goes for picking a cat up by its tail. Just don’t.

    Give human or dog medications

    Cats are not small people or dogs; they are unable to metabolise several medications which are safe for use in humans, that includes over the counter painkillers and dog flea treatments both of which are a common cause of poisoning in cats. Even a tiny amount can be enough to kill a cat.

    Self medicate a cat

    Only administer medications your veterinarian has prescribed for that particular cat. Even cat-safe medications can cause problems in other cats with underlying medical problems.

    Transport a cat without a suitable carrier

    The cat carrier is a must for all pet owners as a safe way to transport your cat to the veterinarian, pet groomer, cat sitter etc. A cat should never be placed in a car on a person’s lap unless an absolute last resort, such as if you find an injured cat on the side of the road.

    Ignore their emotional and mental needs

    We should never adopt a cat for our entertainment without giving considerable thought to meeting their physical, emotional. Cats need a stable and enriching environment, they need companionship, and they need mental stimulation. If you are out for long periods or don’t feel you can give them the time they need, consider two cats so they can keep each other company.

    Provide an enriching cat-friendly environment with perches, cat trees, and plenty of toys to keep them entertained. Try to schedule at least 10 minutes a day for; it with the cat. Interactive toys are a great way to keep your cats happy and entertained when you are not home.

    Ignore their physical needs

    Skipping veterinary visits

    Cats need an annual checkup even if they are fit and well, this should increase to twice a year from the age of seven when they hit middle age. 6-12 months in cat terms equates to several human years. Many age-related diseases can be treated or at least have their progression slowed down with an early diagnosis.

    Ignore parasite treatment

    Fleas and intestinal worms and heartworms are all common parasites that can have a serious impact on their health. Parasite control isn’t voluntary, it is compulsory, all cats need to be treated for parasites, even those who are strictly indoors can become infected with worms and fleas. There are so many options available to make parasite control easy on both you and the cat.

    Ignoring obesity

    A staggering 56% of cats in the US are obese, and it’s not much better in Australia. Cats don’t get fat on their own; the blame lies with us, as we supply the food. The problem is twofold, cats are increasingly inactive due to the swing towards keeping them indoors (which is a good idea), but we are not scheduling regular exercise for them in the form of play. The convenience of dry food means we can put food out for our cats to graze on throughout the day.

    Neglecting dental care

    Cats are prone to gingivitis and gum disease if their teeth are neglected. In the wild, cats eat small prey, bones and all, which naturally clean the teeth. A large portion of cat owners feed their cats canned or dry food which just doesn’t cut it when it comes to keeping those pearlers clean.

    We can help by providing bones (raw chicken necks or wingtips) or brushing the teeth with a suitable cat toothbrush and toothpaste (never use human toothpaste on a cat).

    Not providing a suitable place to scratch

    Cats need something to scratch on, it helps to remove the outer layer of the claw, stretches the muscles, who doesn’t love a good stretch after waking up?

    Neglecting the coat

    Most shorthaired cats only require a weekly groom to remove loose hairs. Semi and longhaired breeds require a daily groom to prevent mats from forming which cause a great deal of pain and discomfort to the cat.

    Neglecting their claws

    Older cats, in particular, are prone to claw issues as loss of mobility along with a thickening of the claws can develop. If the claws aren’t trimmed, eventually they will grow into the paw pads. I find a monthly trim is all that is needed to keep their claws in good shape.

    Ignoring subtle signs of sickness

    Cats can’t tell you when they are not well; in fact, they are hardwired to hide signs of sickness. We can pick up subtle clues, which can include:

    • Lethargy
    • Loss of appetite
    • Going to the toilet outside the litter tray
    • Poor coat condition
    • Bad breath
    • Crying
    • Change in routine (no longer meeting you at the door when you come home)
    • Weight loss or weight gain
    • Increased thirst and urination
    • Lumps or bumps

    Litter tray mistakes

    Dirty litter trays

    Cats are clean, that’s one of the reasons we love them so much, and they don’t like to go to the toilet in litter trays. Scoop solids twice a day and empty and disinfect once a week.

    Not enough litter trays

    The general rule to go by is one tray per cat, plus one for the house. So if you have two cats, there should be three litter trays.

    Incorrect litter tray size

    There is not a one size fits all when it comes to litter trays, and I always recommend using the appropriately sized tray for your cat’s size and age. Provide a small litter tray for a kitten and replace it with a larger tray as the kitten grows. Arthritis can be an issue for middle-aged to senior cats, who can have trouble climbing in and out of trays with high sides.

    The litter tray should be 1.5 times the length of your cat from its nose to the base of the tail.

    Inappropriate litter tray placement

    There should be at least one tray on every level of the house; this is especially important for very young and senior cats who can have trouble negotiating stairs.

    Do not place litter trays close to where the cat eats and drinks. Nobody wants to eat near their toilet, which includes cats.

    Avoid high-traffic and/or noisy areas such as the kitchen.

    The use of scented cat litter may be pleasant for us, but a cat’s sense of smell is considerably better than ours and strongly scented products can be overwhelming.

    Smoke around your cat

    Second-hand smoke contains dozens of carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) which damage the health of exposed cats.

    Cats who have lived in a smoking environment for five years or more are three times more likely to develop lymphosarcoma.

    Feed food that is dangerous

    Cooked bones

    These are a big no-no. Cooked bones are too brittle and can easily splinter, causing oral and gastrointestinal perforation.

    If you want to give your cat some bones, which are great for oral hygiene, stick with raw chicken necks or wingtips, supervise the cat while he is eating the bone and remove them after 20 minutes.

    Human foods

    Many human foods which are perfectly safe for us to eat are toxic to cats, these include:

    • Onion
    • Garlic
    • Chocolate
    • Products that contain xylitol
    • Fatty foods
    • Raisins
    • Grapes
    • Avocado
    • Potatoes (green parts)
    • Macadamia nuts

    Expired food

    Pet food or human food which has passed its use-by date should be discarded.


    • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

      Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio