Is it okay to punish my kitten? - Freeport Veterinary Hospital

Never. I know that sounds crazy, but punishment is never a good option. When we're looking at our relationship with our cat, punishment really damages the relationship. When cats see us, they should see that we are a source of comfort and stability and food. If we inflict pain on our cat in any way, it's going to damage that relationship. Furthermore, studies have shown that aversive types of reinforcement, so spray bottles, making the scary noise, and those sorts of things don't work over the long term. Unless you can guarantee that that negative thing will happen every time your cat exhibits a behavior, it's just not going to work.

Whereas if we reinforce the behaviors we want, so say, for example, your cat’s getting on the counter, and it's driving you nuts. Why is your kitten doing that? Or why is your cat doing that? They're doing that for a couple of reasons. One, cats like to have vertical spaces. They want to be above things. They like to "look down on us" in some ways. And so we need to give them a place that they can do that. If you don't want them on your counters, give them somewhere else to be. Say, it's a cat tree or a shelf built for them. And when they use those sorts of resources, reinforce that behavior by giving them a treat or praise or whatever you need.

Training can be beneficial for this teaching. A cat command or targeting with touch can be constructive to redirect them to the location you want. Another reason cats get on a counter is that there's often food up there. And so we need to avoid allowing them to find food on counters. So rather than spraying your cat with a spray bottle, the times you catch them on the counter, just make sure they don't have a good reason to get on the counter and give them other opportunities for that vertical space they're looking for.

Is it okay to punish my kitten? - Animal Hospital of Statesville

Punish just gives such a negative connotation, right? We like to say more redirect or appropriate discipline if needed. But if they are doing things that you don't want them to do, we don't want to hurt them or harm them, but we want to get their attention. I think that's our goal, along with placing them in the right place or redirecting. We feel that using a water bottle to squirt them will not hurt them, but it gets their attention. I've had one or two clients say their cats love it, but most of the time, they don't. Say they're on the kitchen table, and you don't want them there; you can squirt them with the water. That will sure get most of them down.

Or you can try making a loud noise—whether it's a rolled-up newspaper that you hit on a surface that makes a loud noise. Something to kind of redirect them from doing that. And then other things that they might be doing, you might need to investigate why they're doing that. Again, this goes back to the question about the litter box. If they're going outside the litter box, do you punish them for that? I don't think so because, one, they likely haven't been trained appropriately. Or two, something's going on that's making them behaviorally act that way. I would want to dig a little deeper and see why that behavior was occurring.

The other part would be: is that normal behavior? Are you punishing normal behavior? Is a cat scratching your couch, and you're punishing that when that's normal behavior for them to scratch and to shed those claws?