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behavior and training
Cat being sprayed with water

The essentials

  • It’s a common way to discipline a cat — But, your cat is unlikely to equate the water with their actions, so it won’t prevent them from engaging in the unwanted activity again.
  • It can lead to long-term problems — It can affect your relationship with your cat by stressing them out or causing them to be afraid of you.
  • Alternatives are best — If you have a kitty that likes to scratch, for example, skip the spray bottle and try a cat-safe deterrent or scratching post instead.

If you catch your cat scratching your furniture or getting on the counter, you might want to reprimand them for their behavior. For this reason, some cat owners spritz their pet with a spray bottle in the hope that the water will act as a deterrent. But, according to our vets, this practice can actually have negative effects on your cat in the long term.

Spraying cats with water can create a negative association with humans. As a result, they may become more anxious or even aggressive over time.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

DVM

The downsides of spraying your cat

Squirting your cat with water will get them off the counter or prevent them from scratching your favorite recliner in the moment. But it won’t keep them from engaging in this behavior again. Instead, the spray bottle simply teaches your cat that your presence — rather than their own behavior — brings about punishment. This can lead to a variety of negative outcomes for both you and your feline, some of which are mentioned below:

It can stress your cat out

Our animals have experienced increased stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. With more people working from home, our pets’ day-to-day routines have changed. Spraying your cat with water might simply add to the stress they’re already experiencing. In fact, some cats might misbehave out of fear of being punished, creating a vicious cycle.

It’s pretty uncomfortable for cats

Cats’ senses are far more acute than our own, so being sprayed with water can be much more uncomfortable for a cat than it would be for a human. Cats’ whiskers are also extremely sensitive and can become easily fatigued from unnecessary contact — whether that be from touching the sides of their food bowl or getting sprayed with water.

It can cause your cat to avoid water

It doesn’t take much for a cat to develop an aversion to water. In the outdoors, cats will only drink when it’s quiet and they’re safe from predators. Sudden spritzes can cause your cat to become afraid of all types of water, including the water they drink.

It can affect your bond with your cat

As we mentioned earlier, cats don’t correlate being sprayed with water with whatever behavior you’re trying to prevent. Instead, they’re more likely to view your presence as the reason for their punishment. They can become wary around you because of it, leading them to hide or avoid you when you’re home.

It won’t treat the cause of your cat’s behavior

Spraying your cat with water won’t actually help solve whatever’s causing your cat to act out in the first place. Behavior issues in cats have a wide variety of causes, such as medical conditions, anxiety, and boredom due to a lack of environmental stimulation. In addition, some behaviors, like hissing, are usually the result of fear. By spraying a hissing cat, you’re punishing them for being afraid — and likely causing them additional stress and fear in the process.

What our vets say

Our team of vets agree that using water bottles to discipline cats isn’t the best course of action. According to Dr. Dwight Alleyne, “Spraying cats with water can create a negative association with humans. As a result, they may become more anxious or even aggressive over time.”

Common behavior issues in cats

Simple solutions like providing your cat with plenty of toys and stimulation can prevent the frequency of feline behavior issues, some of the most common of which are listed below:

  • Scratching. Cats mark their territory by scratching, which is why we often catch them doing it on easily destructible things like our couches or curtains.
  • Chewing or biting. Both biting and chewing occur as a result of a cat’s hunting instincts, but chewing is a comfort-seeking behavior typically seen in kittens.
  • Eating houseplants. Some cats chew on plants when they’re looking for something to play with. Others might be craving grass or other greens in their diet. Several types of plants can be deadly to cats, though, so it’s always best to do your research before bringing plants into your home.
  • Getting on counters. Cats enjoy being up high, both because it provides them with a great viewpoint and because, at least instinctually, it makes them feel safe from danger.

🚨 Some supposed behavior issues in cats, like house soiling, can be a sign that your cat is experiencing a medical issue. If you notice any behavior changes in your cat, it’s best to take them to a vet for a checkup.

How to discipline a cat 

Instead of spraying your cat with water, here are a few more productive ways to discipline your cat:

Provide alternatives — Alternatives can come in the form of cat scratching posts, cat tunnels, cat trees, catnip-filled toys, and more.

Use a cat-safe deterrent — You can try using a safe deterrent like a calming spray to reduce your kitty’s stress and prevent unwanted behaviors.

Turn to texture — Cats don’t like certain textures, like that of aluminum foil, which can be used as a deterrent. Sticky tape can also be placed on furniture to reduce a cat’s desire to scratch.

Try positive reinforcement — Instead of punishing your cat, try rewarding their good behavior with a treat. You can also teach them new behaviors this way, such as coming when they’re called.

Frequently asked questions

Is it OK to spray a cat with water?

Spritzing your cat with water usually does more harm than good. It’s better to find an alternative way to discipline your kitty.

Why do people spray cats with water?

Pet owners typically spray their cats with water as a way to punish them or deter them from doing something they don’t like, such as scratching the furniture or jumping on the counters.

How do you discipline a cat?

Cats respond better to alternatives than they do discipline. For example, if your cat keeps jumping on the counters, provide them with a cat tree instead, and make sure to give them a treat whenever they use it. Some other methods to try include making sure your house has plenty of cat toys or trying out a deterrent on your furniture and couch.

How can I train my cat to stay off the counters?

Using an unpleasant texture like aluminum foil on the counters can help deter your kitty from roaming your countertops.

Can spraying my kitten with water make them dislike water?

Yes, spraying them with water can lead them to develop a water aversion. It’s best to use other methods instead, like positive reinforcement.