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Treating Behavior Problems in Cats

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Is Medication Necessary? continued...

The most effective approach to treating a behavior problem in a cat is behavior modification. Behavior modification plans designed by knowledgeable, qualified professionals treat a problem behavior by:

  • Changing the cat’s perception of a situation or thing
  • Changing the consequences of the cat’s behavior
  • Giving the cat an acceptable outlet for her natural behavior or an acceptable behavior to do instead of the problem behavior
  • Using a combination of these solutions

Unfortunately, behavior modification can prove difficult in some situations. For example, natural cat behavior is sometimes at odds with a cat’s environment. Many modern households have multiple cats. But cats are solitary hunters, and although they sometimes get along, it’s also normal for them to avoid each other. Because living together isn’t natural for them, it’s sometimes necessary to help cats in a single household learn to accept each other. This can be accomplished through a kind of behavior modification procedure called desensitization and counterconditioning (DSCC). Sometimes, however, cats are so excited and upset by the sight and smell of each other that DSCC isn’t possible. In these cases, behavioral medication can reduce the cats’ reactivity to each other enough so that DSCC can be carried out successfully.

Can You Use Medication Instead of Behavior Modification?

Behavioral medication alone isn’t usually enough to resolve behavior problems. Medication serves to reduce the emotional part of a situation, but it doesn’t resolve the behavioral component. Once medication gets your cat’s emotional reactions under better control, behavior modification can be used to change her behavior. For instance, if your cat is afraid of another cat in your home, she might not use the litter box because of her fear. Medication can help your cat be less reactive to the other cat-but it won’t help her learn to use the litter box again.

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