Behavior Problems: Is it the Cat or the Owner?

February 3, 2012

By Julia Williams

The second season of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell began a few weeks ago. Naturally, I’ve been watching. Even though I don’t have a “difficult” cat, I still like this show because it’s spreading some very important messages to pet owners – namely, that problem behaviors can be corrected, that there are reasons behind every cat’s demeanor and actions, and that even the meanest cat can become loving, happy, playful, friendly and well-adjusted. All it takes to turn a misbehaving cat into a model feline citizen are some very simple changes – but not from the cat, from the owner!

My Cat From Hell features Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, who shows desperate owners how to save their relationships with each other and their cat. Just by making a few changes in their own behavior and/or their living space, the cat owners can create harmony out of chaos, and keep the cat out of the shelter and in the family where it belongs. Jackson proves to the owners (and the viewers) that these cats are not mean, they’re just misunderstood.

To the casual observer, the name of this show implies that devilish behavior problems are the fault of a “hellish cat.” If you watch the show, however, you quickly learn that Jackson believes most bad behaviors stem from things the owners are either doing, or not doing. I wholeheartedly agree. It is true there are instances where the cat’s behavior is not a direct correlation to the owner’s behavior and/or the living environment, but this is usually a reaction to trauma or a negative association from its past. No cat is “bad to the bone” or incapable of rehabilitation. All it takes is a little knowledge and insight.

All creatures have needs, and cats are no exception. If their needs aren’t being met, they’ll let you know one way or another. It’s foolish to think you can just bring a cat into any living environment without considering what it needs to be happy, and expect life to be hunky dory. Responsible pet owners understand that the onus falls on them to provide the right living space and stimuli in order to have a happy cat. That may mean providing vertical spaces for a cat that likes to be up high, providing enough exercise and play sessions for a high-energy breed, giving a timid cat a safe place to retreat from the pesky family dog, or teaching the cat how to redirect its hunting instinct from your ankle to an interactive toy that mimics a bird. Each cat is different, and thus, each solution to problem behavior will be, too.

Any owner who thinks their actions, energy and emotions don’t affect their cat, really ought not to have a cat because they are setting themselves up for failure. There is absolutely a cause-and-effect for all of those things, and if there was such a thing as Pets 101, that should be the first lesson. Until then, we have Jackson Galaxy and My Cat From Hell.

I had to laugh at the owner who offered his cat a filthy litter box, and then wondered why his cat peed in the sink. Really? It’s not rocket science! Then there was the fighting couple whose relationship was fraught with tension; they didn’t understand why “her cat” and “his cats” didn’t get along. Finally, there was the guy whose apartment had so much clutter that Jackson thought he’d mistakenly wandered onto the set of Hoarders. LOL. To simplify these situations a little, it boiled down to this: clean your litter box, “clean up” your relationship, and clean your apartment – cat problem solved!!

My three cats are not total angels, but they sure seem like it when compared to some of the felines featured on My Cat From Hell. The difference between the cat owners on the show and me is that I have a better understanding of why cats do what they do. I also accept that when my cats do certain things I don’t like, I am probably at least partly to blame. If you want a happy, loving, well-adjusted cat but yours acts like the devil incarnate, step back and ask yourself, “What am I doing to contribute to my cat’s problem behavior? What am I not offering my cat that he clearly needs, and how can I provide it so we can both be happy?”

Photo by Al Herrmann

Read more articles by Julia Williams

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    As kitty “staff” we need to remember that WE are the bipeds with opposing digits (supposed “superior species”), therefore it is OUR responsibility to attend lovingly to ALL our charges’ needs. A well-cared-for cat is a good, happy cat and care goes FAR beyond a full food dish/water bowl with the occasional head-scritch. WE are ALWAYS at fault for any issues that arise, much as with small children. The parallels are overwhelming, actually…
    FWIW – follow Pammy @ “The Way Of Cats” blog, absolutely invaluable advice and insight. I am in no way affiliated, but her knowledge has been most enlightening in my personal ‘cat training’ quest…
    TL/DR- there are no bad cats, only misunderstanding caregivers.

  2. Kerry-Ann says:

    Cats can’t vocalize their needs or problems, so the only way they can really express themselves is through their behavior and some meowing of course. Completely agree that owners sometime play a role in their cats negative behaviors, being an observant, attentive pet parent goes far. Great post, love the show.

  3. terrepruitt says:

    Usually if my cat does something “bad” it is because I did something “bad” (exactly as you are saying). She will chew on certain types of plastic . . . . if _I_ leave it where she can chew it. Stuff like that. So I agree, at least with my cat, if she does something wrong it is usually my fault. I guess some owners and cats do need professional help because I have heard of some people that have had real challenges with cat behavior so the owners need to be helped to see what they are doing. My cat is an angel and puts up with most of MY bad behavior!

    Thanks for another great post!

  4. I love Jackson and I have come to realize, that despite how much I have loved cats my whole life, I am still learning about them. Probably some of the problems I had years ago – such as a cat that peed all over everything, was due to the fact I had 5 dogs and 3 other cats. I did not realize I was causing her undue stress and that she was looking for her own safe spot, and probably more attention from me. He is providing an invaluable service to all of us, from cat beginners, to cat experts!

  5. Clooney says:

    Cloon’s Human: Very interesting and thought-provoking post Julia. We don’t have that channel, but he sounds like a fascinating person and it sounds like a great show. I find many layers to cats, they are like a fine, complex wine. Still figuring both of mine out…

  6. Well, the Humn likes to think she’s PURRFECT and whatever problems I have are my own. I like to blame them on her!

  7. Excellent post! Hits right between the eyes!! MOL!! I wish I could see this Jackson Galaxy, sounds interesting. 🙂

    Thanks so much for your comment on Boxer. I can’t believe how a few small changes and almost turned everything around. And not just with Boxer and I, but the whole house. It is incredible!!

  8. We are impressed with Jackson Galaxy! He really understands us cats!!

  9. BeadedTail says:

    We haven’t seen that show yet but we agree with it’s usually the owners who cause the kitties to have problems! We are both sweeties so don’t have any problems!

  10. Mr. Pip says:

    I keep forgetting to watch this show! Great post!

  11. CATachresis says:

    We don’t get the programme in the UK yet. Hope we do. Must admit I’m not keen on the title! I agree totally that the problems with a pet usually will stem from the owner. Austin is of course an angel 😉

  12. I hadn’t watched it because I misunderstood because of the title what the show was and I didn’t want to shee cats being showcased in a bad way. This is NOT the case and I will watch it next time.

    Thank you for this wonderful blog.

  13. We need more awareness of cat behavior and while MCFH is a reality show, it’s entertainment with a message.

  14. I’ve never seen that show but I’ll tune in now. Of course it’s the same for dogs. It’s almost always the owner.

  15. meowmeowmans says:

    We love Jackson Galaxy! “My Cat from Hell” is such a wonderful show. Cats are great communicators, we’ve found … the trick is really listening, watching and observing to figure out what it is they are communicating. 🙂

  16. Fuzzy Tales says:

    Good post, Julia. I’ve never seen the show, and actually have only basic cable service anyway, which is quite limited. But I imagine it’s a VERY interesting program to watch.

    There’s also the point to be made that the more cats you add to your household, especially in a small area, the more behavioural problems you open yourself up to.

  17. Ingrid King says:

    This show, and Jackson, have probably saved more cats from being returned to the shelter than he’ll ever know. This show goes a long way toward showing people that they need to think like a cat! “Bad” feline behavior is almost always caused by something the cat’s human does. The cats are just being cats.

  18. Marg says:

    I have heard a lot about that show. I can’t watch it since I don’t get that channel. Wonder how he would stop a cat from spraying all over the house. It doesn’t not help to spray with different fragrances. Anyway, I think it is so true, that most animal’s problems stem from humans.

  19. Brian says:

    Excellent points! We are trying so hard to understand what our Sister Precious needs so she will be able to join the rest of us.