Even though our cats have fur and four legs instead of being mostly hairless and able to walk upright on two feet, many of us consider our cats to be part of the family. We humans take on the role of cat parent or guardian, and we are responsible for the well-being and care of those under our watchful eyes. In most family units, there are four major parenting styles people have with their human children. I decided to take a look at these and see if there are any parallels to how we take care of our cats, and guess what? There are! Having an understanding of the type of cat parent you are (or what you’d like to become) is an important factor in the well-being of your kitty. Want to take a short quiz to find out what kind of cat parent you are? You sure do! Here are a few scenarios; what would you do?
Question A) Your cat is BEGGING to go outside, even though you live on a busy road, and there’s a pack of coyotes with tattoos that live just beyond your yard, and there’s a gang of feral tom cats that terrorize the neighborhood by demanding milk-money from small children. You:
- Take your cat out onto the patio with you and make her sit in your lap so that you can give her hugs and kisses while she tries to scramble out of your arms.
- Let your cat outside – it’s her fault if she gets hurt or in trouble and maybe she’ll learn her lesson.
- Completely ignore her pleas to go outside unless it’s to yell at her when she keeps meowing because she’s got to learn SHE’S NOT GOING OUTSIDE!!!
- Think about how you could safely give your cat the outdoor experience that she wants, so you train her to wear a harness and leash to go on walks, or you look into building a catio.
Question B) Your cat jumps on the counter, which she’s not supposed to do. She’s looking for food and walks her little dirty litter-box paws over to where you’re prepping dinner. You:
- Say hello and give her some chicken, and then pet her and give her kisses and more chicken.
- Leave her up on the counter – if she walks across the hot stove and burns her paws, it’s her own fault and maybe that will teach her not to do it again.
- Pick her up roughly and drop her on the floor, then scold her for jumping on the counter.
- Think about why she wants to get up on the counter, figure out how to make the counter free of temptation, and then train your cat to use an alternative perch where she can see what you’re doing (but stays out of the way), and gets rewarded for doing so.
Question C) Your two cats aren’t really getting along very well, and never have. One cat wants to chase and fight the other cat, who just wants to be left alone and often hides. You:
- Keep the cats separated in the home. These two kitties will just never get along, but they will get plenty of love from you, no matter how inconvenient it is to try to keep the cats separated from each other!
- Let the cats work it out on their own – if your shy cat ends up permanently under the bed, that’s her problem; she’ll learn that she has to suck it up and stop letting the other cat bully her around eventually.
- Put the cats together in a room and shut the door. When fighting ensues, you enter the room and tell those cats they’re going to learn to get along or suffer the consequences…no more catnip toys for a week!
- Keep the cats separate initially, but slowly work on reintroducing them, using positive reinforcement with rewards to create good associations with each cat for the other. This takes time because you have to move at the pace of the cats, but after a month or so, your cats are able to both hang out in the living room together on opposite ends of the couch.
Question D) Your cat – YIKES – has decided she no longer likes using the litterbox! She will poop inside the box most of the time, but she urinates just outside of the box about half of the time. You:
- Tell her it’s ok, scoop her up in your arms, give her smooshy kisses on her face, then grab the enzyme cleaner and clean up her mess. C’est la vie!
- Let her go wherever she likes; if she doesn’t like the litterbox, let her find some place else she likes better. You might end up giving the cat away or abandoning her at an animal shelter, but too bad; that’s what happens when cats don’t use the litterbox.
- Take your cat’s little nose and rub it in a place where the cat peed previously, which you just found. You punish your cat the same way each time you find a new place that she’s soiled. For some reason, there seem to be more and more incidents of her not using the litterbox (go figure)!
- Bring your cat to the vet and make sure that she doesn’t have a bladder or urinary issue that needs to be treated. When she’s medically cleared, you make sure that you are scooping her litterbox at least daily, are using a litterbox that is big enough for her, and are using litter that she approves of. If these things don’t work, you consult with your local cat behaviorist to identify the issue and work on resolving it.
Ok, how do you think you did? Could you see any trends in the answer options? Thinking about the types of answers available, do you see yourself in any of them, or see a cat parent that you would like to be? Do you see the type of cat parent that you don’t want to be? Let’s go over the answers and figure out which type of cat parent you are!
Permissive-Style Cat Parent
If you answered 1 for each question, you are a permissive cat parent. It’s hard to say “no” to your cat when she does something she’s not supposed to do. Get up on the table while you’re trying to eat? Aww…isn’t that cute, here’s a little piece of chicken. Wanting to play with you while you’re asleep? It’s ok, she just wants attention. You’ll bend over backwards to give your kitty what she wants so that she loves you as much as you love her. You may be rewarding bad behavior though, or at the very least being inconsistent with the rules, so it’s difficult to get long-term training done with this approach. Pros: You’ve got affection and love for your cat for miles! Cons: Long-term consequences. Cats are hard to teach if they are not given consistent lessons. If scratching the sofa is not ok and you only correct her sometimes, it’s going to be much more difficult to get her to learn not to scratch the sofa, period.
Hands-Off-Style Cat Parent
If your answer was 2 for most of the questions, you’re a hands-off cat parent. You pretty much let your cat do what she wants to do so that she can learn lessons independently. Unfortunately, you don’t really keep her safety or best interests in mind as a priority, and there may be some harsh lessons to learn. The hands-off cat guardian lets their cat do what they want and learn through experience. And sometimes the consequences can be tough. Your cat meows to go outside, even though you know that there’s a roaming gang of bad-ass tomcats on the prowl? You’re tired of hearing his meowing, so you let him out and he gets beat up. Oh well! Maybe next time he won’t want to go outside so badly. Pros: You’re teaching your cat to be independent and to not rely on you for everything. Cons: He’s a cat. Your cat does in fact rely on you for certain things for his overall health and happiness, including your attention! As a cat guardian, it’s your responsibility to keep your cat safe and teach him how to stay out of trouble (e.g., don’t jump up on that hot stove).
Authoritarian-Style Cat Parent
Did you answer 3 for the above questions? If so, you’re an authoritarian. Tough love is your approach (which includes punishment), but without showing affection or compassionate corrections, you risk destroying the relationship you have with your cat due to fear and distrust. Respect is the key to this cat parenting style, and rules, rules, rules. Your cat can’t do anything that isn’t authorized by you! Do you put your cat away (e.g., in a kennel, in extreme situations) if you’re not around or otherwise restrict her from making her own decisions at any time? Pros: Uh…can’t really come up with too much here…anyone? Anyone? Cons: Too much “tough love” can destroy the relationship you have with your kitty and result in fear and distrust. Make sure to reward your cat for the things she does right, and show her love and affection occasionally.
Authoritative-Style Cat Parent
Anyone answer 4 for all questions? Good job! You are an authoritative cat parent (not to be confused with the authoritaRIAN style). While you expect good behavior from your cat, you realize that YOU play an essential role in making this happen. You use positive reinforcement when your cat uses appropriate alternatives to inappropriate behavior. This is the most challenging type of cat parent to be (it requires patience and time for training), but the work will pay off in the end. You’ll have a strong bond of trust and affection with your cat. Authoritative cat parents expect their cats to behave as the result of training, but they also hold themselves accountable for the success (or lack thereof) of their cat achieving a desired behavior. These cat parents are willing to put in the time to train and reward cats for good behavior, and correct inappropriate behavior in a calm, kind, and patient way. Pros: You’ll have a well-behaved kitty who both loves you and understands the limits that you’ve set. Cons: This takes time and patience. But the rewards are worth it!
So, what kind of cat parent are you? What kind of cat parent is your partner, if you have one? If you are not on the same page, is there something that you can do to bring your cat parenting styles more in harmony? Being aware of your parenting style can help you move in a positive direction for both you and your kitty, so next time your cat tries to claw the sofa or drink out of your glass of water, think about what approach will get your cat to where you want her to be in the long-run.
If you hare having a hard time figuring out the best way to parent your cat or are having a specific issue you need help with, please let me know. Contact me by sending me a request to talk about what’s going on with your cats HERE.
Need help with your cat?
You came to the right place – but DON’T post it in the comments! Please contact Dr. Marci with any questions you might have about your cat’s behavior; you can send her an email at email@example.com OR check out her services to book a consult, starting at only $50!
Click HERE to see your cat behavior solution options.
Your kitty wants you to subscribe to Feline Behavior Solutions!
When you subscribe to Feline Behavior Solutions, you'll be the first to read new cat behavior articles, learn about events and online classes, and other cat-related tidbits that you'll want to get your paws on! Your kitty will thank you for it! - Dr. Marci 🙂