Have you ever tried to train your cat out of behavior by squirting them with spray bottles? Is it really effective, or just kind of mean?
Dr. Vanessa Spano from the Behavior Vets in NYC said it is never a good idea to use a spray bottle on your cat. It’s not nice to spray your cat with water. It could be all that uncomfortable, and you might not believe it but cats really do find spraying themselves annoying.
“A cat’s tactile and olfactory sensations are relatively more sensitive than a human’s. “[So] equating the discomfort a human feels upon being spritzed with water to the discomfort a cat feels upon being spritzed with water is unfair and not rational,” Dr. Spano explained.
This is a huge problem if you’re doing something to her that makes her feel uncomfortable — especially if it’s happening regularly. She’ll start feeling like she can’t trust or even be scared of the bond between the two of you.
You might be thinking that spraying your cat with water will teach her better behaviors, but the truth is it could end up confusing her. It is important to understand the reasons why your cat hisses. It may not just be one of those random things that seem like bad behavior, but actually could indicate fear or stress-level anxiety for their environment. She doesn’t know she’s doing wrong, so when you spritz her with water it’s because of an assumed sense that she needs to be punished for something. But in reality, she is just reacting naturally out of fear or stress.
So, you’re essentially scolding your cat for being afraid. “Let’s say a cat is fearful [of] guests entering into the home. A guest may approach the cat, and because the cat is fearful, she may swat at the guest,” Dr. Spano said. “The owner then spritzes the cat with water because of the undesirable swat. The act of spraying water, through association, taught the cat what not to do, but it did not teach the cat a coping mechanism or what to do instead.”
When you spray your cat with water when she is already afraid of being wet, it just compounds that fear. “It’s not only suppressing fear but also increasing discomfort,” Dr. Spano said.
As a result of this compounding fear, many behaviors can be developed in the future. “Let’s say someone who made you uncomfortable was approaching you without consent,” Dr. Spano explained. “You feel backed into a corner, so you scream and reach out to push them away. You are then met with pepper spray.”
You might think that spraying a cat with water on the regular is a great idea, but it could actually cause some pretty negative effects. Such as suppressing fear and anxiety, putting a strain on your cat’s bond with you, and causing discomfort and annoyance.
Why do people spray cats with water?
Some cat parents think that you can make your cat stop doing something by spraying her. That may sound like the worst punishment ever, but some pet parents choose this because it feels like an effective way of getting their kitty back on track, and then they won’t do anything bad anymore. “Theoretically, the cat should associate the undesirable behavior with an unpleasant consequence [like] being sprayed with water. To avoid experiencing this unpleasant consequence, the cat will avoid performing the inciting action,” Dr. Spano explained
You may think your cat is learning how to behave, but they’re actually just knowing that the spray bottle makes them feel bad.
How to discipline your cat without spraying water?
To address behavior issues with your cat, you have to figure out what’s triggering them. “Is it being approached by someone without consent? Is it being handled in an area that may be painful or uncomfortable? Is it because she can’t access something that she wants?” Dr. Spano said. “Upon figuring out what the trigger is, AVOID IT!”
Some triggers are unavoidable, like if she can’t get what she wants. She might jump up on the counter or steal your food out of spite for not being able to access it. But that doesn’t mean you should go ahead and spray. Instead, it’s time for a backup. “If, for some reason, it is unavoidable, such as jumping on the counter, work with an experienced, reputable trainer and veterinary behaviorist on teaching her happy, alternative behaviors,” Dr. Spano said.
A simple way to avoid these behaviors is by redirecting. For example, if you see your cat make a run for it towards the kitchen, distract her before she jumps by throwing a treat in another direction. With this technique, she won’t jump anymore because you’ll be giving her a reward in return for not jumping.
You can use positive reinforcement to train your cat. This method of training will teach them that good behaviors are rewarded, not bad ones. But don’t get discouraged if the change isn’t immediate – you’re investing in long-term, sustainable behavior changes. “Please remember this takes time,” Dr. Spano said. “Any therapy that is worth it, for human animals and nonhuman animals alike, takes time because it requires the learning theory.”
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