What to do if your cat’s a brat? Ask the Cat Whisperer

Punishment isn’t the way for the misbehaving feline

The Cat Whisperer knows what to do if your cat’s a brat

Zachary Scott/Getty Images

What should you do if your cute little kitten grows into a stalking beast that sinks its fangs into your flesh or leaps up to the counter to pee into a teacup? Some cat owners shout at their misbehaving felines or swat them on the nose, but punishment can teach a cat to view its owner with fear, and do nothing to remedy the biting, scratching and peeing outside the box. To stop bad cat behaviour, you could medicate the animal or, worst-case scenario, euthanize it. Or you could do what many vets are doing with their own badly behaved cats: you could heed the advice of an Oregon woman, Mieshelle Nagelschneider, a.k.a. the Cat Whisperer.

Nagelschneider is a former veterinary technician whose uncanny ability to communicate with cats is known to cure the toughest cases—cats that claw the living room drapes, pee in their owner’s shoes or defecate on pillow cases. In her new book, The Cat Whisperer: Why Cats Do What They Do—And How to Get Them to Do What You Want, Nagelschneider promises a cure for nearly every behavioural cat problem; medication is rarely needed, and change takes place in about 30 days. “Cats who have never groomed another cat will lick away at their buddies—and grow all the closer. Cats who have slept apart will curl up next to one another. When I do a follow-up visit,” she writes, “in place of a battlefield I walk into a feline Eden . . . There’s no hissing, fighting or attacking.”

Nagelschneider, a farm girl whose parents raised goats and cows, discovered her talent for taming brutish animals at the age of 4 when she cut out a pair of bunny ears, disguised herself as a rabbit and hopped into a corral where a lone, ornery bull was penned. Her parents had warned her: the bull charged anyone who came near it. Somehow Nagelscheinder knew not to look the bull in the eyes, she explains in the book. She averted her gaze as she reached up to pet the fur on the bull’s head. When her parents found her, the bull was lying beside her, allowing her to caress its neck and head.

Next, Nagelschneider worked her magic on the feral barn cats. She discovered that by blinking slowly she could coax a cat from a water pipe that was about to flood. “Slowly blinking and looking away is a powerful form of cat communication,” she explains. A blinked-at cat feels relaxed and reassured.

Nagelschneider, who runs the Cat Clinic in Oregon and has made thousands of house calls for cats with special needs, says that most of the unwanted cat problems are the result of an owner doing something wrong. For instance, one reason a cat might pee outside the box is that some cats prefer two boxes: one for urine, one for feces. Buy two boxes, change the litter daily and you’ve solved the problem. If your cat likes to pee in the bathtub, a shallow pool of water left in the tub will discourage this behaviour. Another reason a cat might soil outside the box is that the cat requires medical attention. A constipated cat or one suffering from a urinary disease may associate the pain it’s experiencing with stepping into the box. It may even growl at the box—and quite often a cat will decide it’s time to try a new area, like the carpet or a closet.

If you catch your cat scratching or wiggling its tail poised to spray the upholstery, there is no use reprimanding it. “You might as well scold a squirrel,” writes Nagelschneider. The best way to correct unwanted behaviour is to interrupt it with a technique she calls an “Act of God.” Toss a Ping-Pong ball at the cat. The cat will stop scratching, chase the ball, and never know who threw it. Other “Acts of God”: remotely turning on loud music if the cat gets too close to the stereo, or blasting the cat with compressed air from a motion-sensitive canister installed on the counter.

Playing with your cat is crucial to its confidence and happiness. Interactive toys, like wands with feathers, can make your cat feel it’s stalking and catching prey. “Wave or twitch the toy several feet away from your cat. Don’t wiggle the toy in your cat’s face. Real prey moves away.” Play helps release feel-good chemicals in your cat, she says. “A bored cat is a cat that will sink its teeth into your ankle.”


What to do if your cat’s a brat? Ask the Cat Whisperer

  1. “To stop bad cat behaviour, you could medicate the animal or, worst-case scenario, euthanize it” ???!!!???? are you serious!? I stopped reading after this statement… there can’t possibly be uselful advice in here if this you consider this an “option”

    • Calm down; that quotation is the description of what people who do not use the cat whisperer techniques might do.

    • Ever heard of sarcasm??? If you would’ve just read the very next sentence you would’ve understood what she was saying! !

    • I thought the same thing at first. “You can always just kill it.” I was like “wtf” but I don’t think the author meant it that way… though for many animals that’s just the way it is.

  2. I tried a litter called CAT ATTRACT which you can purchase at Pet Valu (just Google for other locations) for my cat that was peeing outside of the box. He has dementia & bad arthritis. The good news is that the CAT ATTRACT really works.

  3. I guess I would be considered a “cat whisperer of sorts” have had cats all my life (I’m 51). No medication necessary. If cats peeing outside litterbox, there’s a reason, you just need to figure out what it is. Most of time, not medical. I went crazy trying to figure out why 1 of my cats kept doing it. and one time I had the cover off the litter box. He got right in did his thing w/out issue. Kind of made me feel stupid that it took me so long to figure out he just didn’t like the cover.

  4. my cats have never really been responsive to punishment. Only thing they seem to respond to is w/drawal of mommy loving. if they act up, turn my back on them, no loving and very quickly they seem to figure it out. after all, cats are the smartest animal ever.

  5. Suzanne
    I feel the answer to many cat problems is to play with them. My cat/kitten was a stray so I don’t know what may have happened to her in the past, but she won’t play. She’d rather scratch or bite me. I have the feeling that she doesn’t understand play, only self preservation. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Suzanne, I have experience with cats going back many years, I also rescue and tame feral adult cats and kittens. Don’t push your kitten to play as it sounds like it is over stimulating her, she gets confused and lashes out. I have a kitten like this, I was there when she was born and she was handled from the get go, so sometimes it’s just part of the personality and a learning experience for a kitten. Buy her toys she can play with herself and never use part of yourself to play with her directly, for examples, hands and fingers. If she does scratch or bite on petting, a firm ‘ no!’ and withdraw the attention and ignore for a bit. Then once she is calm, pet her again, speak softly and be aware for visual clues that she is becoming overstimulated again, ears back and forth, tail thumping or swishing, her body language becoming more ‘rigid’ and so forth, once you pick up visual cues she has had enough petting, stop. Try to pet her from behind her neck, under the chin etc, try to avoid a hand coming directly at her as some cats can interpret this as a threat. Petting a cat from behind reminds them of being with Mother and their littermates, so this in itself can be a good technique to use. But above all, patience and consistency will win the day, make it easy for the cat to get it right! I am sure you will see improvements soon with her although she might never be the type of cat that adores unlimited affection, she will none the less still be a loving and faithful companion, thank you for taking this baby in!
      Also, make sure she is spayed as soon as she is old enough, this can sometimes have a beneficial effect on their temperament besides as you are well aware, prevents her adding to the unwanted cat population. Best of luck with her and I hope this helps.

    • she likely hunted, if she was an older kitten, so maybe start with toys like balls to chase to connect with that, then try a wand with feathers on the end or a peacock feather. don’t rush it.

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