Don't you love those pictures of adorable little kittens frolicking playfully in baskets of unraveled yarn? Keep dreaming - that only happens in calendars. Real cats can be a terror and a half, peeing on Persian rugs, clawing curtains, and spreading litter box remnants all over your humble abode. Fortunately, however, a cat can be trained. So before you do something rash like go out and get a dog, we suggest you follow our advice and learn how to keep your freaky feline in check. If you don't, you might have a "cat"-astrophe on your hands. Sorry.


Since the days when ancient Egyptians elevated cats to goddess status, the animals have been known for their independent, mysterious ways and aloof nature. (Translation: they're snobs.) Although they can be every bit as emotionally demanding as dogs - they, too, want to be petted and played with - cats typically are much cooler customers, frequently pretending they couldn't care less about their human caretakers.

No matter how vexing cats can be, just remember that they're not trying to get your goat, but rather, they have reasons for their actions (either biological, medical or psychological). Your cat, for example, does not know that she has ruined your $5,000 rug (we'll assume, for the purposes of the SYW, that your cat is a girl). All she knows is that you have moved her litter box next to the washing machine, and she's scared. Or that you have bought a new type of litter that she dislikes. While cats have excellent memories, they won't understand if you rub their noses in misplaced poop and yell at them. Being hit will only teach your cat to fear you, which is the worst move you could make if you want to train her to do anything right in the future. Cats are quite logical creatures (why do you think they get such high SAT scores?), and in most cases, there is a clear explanation for your cat's behavior.

The following characteristics are biologically inherent in cats:

  • Cats are hunters (mice, take note).

  • Cats are territorial.

  • Cats like to jump onto high places and creep into small, dark nooks and crannies (protect those Eggo waffles).

  • Cats are nocturnal.

  • Cats sleep 50 to 75 percent of the day (slackers).

  • Cats defecate away from where they eat (a good thing for all).

  • Cats like to scratch things (and they need to scratch things to keep their claws healthy).

  • Cats like objects that amuse them, especially when left home alone for long stretches of time. These objects include: house plants, curtains that blow in the breeze, electrical cords, shoelaces, feathery boas left on the backs of chairs, and open garbage cans.

  • Cats do not respond well to physical violence, screaming, intimidation, or being chased by infants with scissors.

  • Cats like to perform on Broadway.

Now that you know what makes cats tick, it should be a bit easier to figure out what's at the root of "bad" behavior. Often the cause is either medical or due to a change in lifestyle or environment.

  • Medical. When your cat starts acting weird, you should first make sure that the cause is not medical-related. Urinary infections can cause random peeing, while rabies-although unlikely due to mandatory vaccinations-can cause aggression. The last thing you want to do is reprimand your cat when the behavior isn't her fault.

  • Lifestyle or environment. Is there a new baby, dog, cat, or mother-in-law to introduce stress? Did you move recently? Has your schedule shifted so you are working different hours or longer periods of time? Despite their independent nature - cats in the wild come together only to mate - house cats suffer from boredom and stress. So if you think excessive changes are the cause of your cat's naughtiness, give the cat lots of attention and playtime when you get home. Limit your kitty's interactions with the cause of the stress (say, another cat or a new baby) at first, and then gradually allow her to have more and more contact with the new entity.


Unlike humans, cats are born with the instinct to bury their feces. So unless you want Fluffy tearing up your hardwood floors in an attempt to bury her poop, we suggest you get a litter box.

Before we correct the accidents, it's important to make sure that you train the cat correctly in the first place. As a kitten, every time that she looks like she's about to crouch or she starts sniffing near a corner (classic signs of oncoming urination or defecation), pick her up and put her in the litter box. Also, first thing in the morning, put your wee kitten in the litter box. Kittens learn extremely quickly (much faster than dogs), so this process should be relatively painless.

The most important thing is to keep that litter box clean. Just as you'd hate to keep using an unflushed toilet, make sure that you clean the litter box every day, and completely change all the litter and wash the box out at least once a week. That will help encourage your cat.

Here are some methods for correcting accidents:

  • Cats never poop where they eat, so put her food bowl near wherever she had the accident.

  • Like most of us (with the possible exception of frat boys), cats like to use the facilities in private, away from loud noises or other interference such as dogs and toddlers. If the cat is going in hidden places like under the bed, this could mean she feels too vulnerable in her box. Getting a cover from the pet store or making one from a cardboard box may lure the cat back to her original litter box. Put the box where the cat can reach it easily.

  • If you have more than one cat, determine if one is preventing the other from getting to the box if they don't get along. If this is the case, then get two litter boxes. Then one will always be available.

  • Consider if the cat has had an unpleasant experience there, such as being grabbed in mid-poop and whisked away to be neutered. In that case, simply pick a different location to put the litter box. Cats are smart, but they ain't that smart.

  • Confine the cat to a small area, like one room instead of the whole house. That way, Fluffy is never far from her litter box and has a lot of time to think about getting familiar with it again. Once the cat is using the box again, slowly let her have access to the rest of the house.

  • Make sure you thoroughly clean wherever the cat had the accident. This is necessary not only because you don't want your house smelling like cat pee, but also because the lingering smell of her feces or urine will serve to jog her memory later that this is a toilet area. So get rid of the smell. (Note: don't clean with ammonia, as that will enhance the scent of urine.)

  • If you need to change the location of the litter box from one place to another, one technique is to move it a couple of feet at a time, with a few days in between, so the cat gradually gets used to it being elsewhere. If the cat stops using the box, this is your clue to move it more slowly.

For the truly ambitious cat owner, there is a way to train a cat to use a toilet, thus eliminating any need for a litter box. We're serious. People actually train their cats to use a people toilet, and the cats don't seem to mind. We're not going to get into that method of toilet-training right now, because we just ate. But to read a detailed account of a success story, visit, which also has some entertaining videos.



There are many places in a typical household where cats should not go. The kitchen is the source of most of them. The stove is an obvious no-no but also a major attraction - especially when there's food a-cookin'. Make sure your kitty stays off the counter, both for health reasons and to prevent her from getting to your steak before you do. Try placing double-sided tape or masking tape left sticky side up at strategic places on the kitchen counter to put your kitty in a snit. Cats don't exactly relish getting stuck to the counter or having an object cling to their sensitive feet.

House plants

If you're unable to remove all plants from your cat's reach, try dusting their leaves with Bitter Apple powder (sold at pet stores), cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce. Put orange or lemon peels and biodegradable soap slivers in the soil, or - to prevent your cat from digging in the soil altogether - cover the soil with gravel or aluminum foil. If all else fails, turn your plants into hanging plants. If your cat reaches those, then bite the bullet and get plastic plants.


Cats love to climb. Curtains let them get up high, so cats love curtains. Rigging up a soda can with some pennies at the top to fall when the curtain is touched may help. Attaching the curtains so they will fall down with the cat's weight is another option. If the cat is persistent, consider Venetian blinds.

Electrical cords

If a cord is dangling in the breeze, your cat will naturally bat it around. So to prevent your cat from frying itself, try some of the same substances we suggested for plant leaves (like pepper or Tabasco sauce). Tie cords up to keep them up out of reach of the cat, or at least make cords less susceptible by taping them down or covering them in a cardboard paper towel roll.


No matter how well you cat-proof your home, there's still a chance your little kitty will destroy everything in sight. Given their killer hunting instinct, cats don't hesitate to use both their claws and jaws. To keep scratching and chewing to a minimum, be sure to do the following:

  • Have lots of toys around. Unless you consider a $100 silk tie a "toy," you'd better have lots of backup. Toys can be store-bought or home made. An empty paper bag, a ping pong ball tied to a string and hung tantalizingly from a door knob, a rubber ball too big to swallow, a wadded up ball of paper, a ball of yarn, or a feather on the end of a wire are all good cat toys. And make sure that what you give them is always theirs. It's no fair letting them play with your shoelace, but then getting upset when they eat the rest of your shoes.

  • Get a scratching post. Cats also need to scratch to loosen the exterior layer of their claws to let new growth come through. Buy a scratching post and encourage the cat to use it. At first, sit with your cat, and lightly hold their paws against the scratching post so she can get the feel of it. You can't really blame your kitty for tearing the stuffing out of your couch if it's the only thing around she can sink her claws into.

Whatever you do, be consistent, fair, and give your cat lots of praise and attention when she gets it right. When you witness your cat chewing or scratching something she shouldn't, squirt her suddenly and immediately with a water pistol. This is a tried and true (and relatively humane) method of discipline for cats, who usually hate getting wet. You can also startle her by clapping your hands, shouting "No!," or hissing. If that doesn't work, deploy an air horn. Your neighbors will love you for that!