Many cat owners use the technique of squirting their pets with water from a handheld spray bottle to deter them from doing certain unwanted behaviors and activities. Many cat owners also believe this is a good method to use in disciplining their feline. While it may stop the action you dislike at that moment, your cat is highly unlikely to associate the shock of the water with the said activity or behavior they were doing. Therefore, your cat will probably continue to engage in it. Meanwhile, spraying your cat with water as punishment to stop the undesired behavior is silently causing negative effects on your cat.
Is It Bad to Spray My Cat with Water?
Yes! Water spraying may work instantaneously, making it appear an effective deterrent. It gives owners the false perception that this disciplinary action works well at stopping your cat from scratching household items, eating plants, or drinking out of the toilet, for example. The concept is simple: your cat does a bad or unwanted behavior, and they receive an immediate negative outcome (the water spray). Your cat then correlates the action with the negative outcome and will stop the behavior.
The truth is your cat doesn’t associate the punishment of water being sprayed at them with the activity they were partaking in. Rather, they associate it with you and your presence. They believe it is you, not the behavior or activity, that caused the punishment, and long-term use of this technique can have many negative effects on your cat while potentially creating aggression toward you.
The 5 Reasons Why Spraying Your Cat With Water Is Bad
Cats do not respond well to negative reinforcement techniques. Continued use of such a deterrent can cause one or all of the following effects on your cat.
1. It Causes Stress for Your Cat
The act of being surprised by a squirt of water out of nowhere shocks your cat. Cats are very sensitive to stress triggers, like moving homes, decorators in your house, or bringing home a new pet. Punishment techniques are also a stressor and create the same fears, making them frightened. This subsequently initiates stress responses.
Your cat may disappear for short or long periods of time until they believe the perceived threat is gone. Other behavioral issues may begin, such as urine spraying in the house or aggression towards you. Stress, as in humans, particularly if experienced repeatedly, creates negative problems and reactions in the body, potentially instigating health conditions such as feline lower urinary tract disease.
2. Whisker Fatigue
Whiskers are a very specific form of hair. They are highly sensitive and attuned. Cats use them as a sensor. They can sense air currents and changes with their whiskers, judge the width of spaces, etc.
Whiskers can become fatigued very easily if they are interfered with, and that can potentially apply to being covered in or sprayed with water. Whisker fatigue is debilitating for a cat, and, in this scenario, is entirely preventable.
3. It Doesn’t Stop the Behavior
This technique and other negative reinforcement techniques may have been used at one time, but they are no longer considered a good idea. Cats do not equate the water and the dislike of being sprayed with the activity. It leads to more fear and perpetuates a vicious cycle. Behavioral issues are often caused by different reasons, such as anxiety or health conditions, and these concerns should be addressed with your veterinarian and investigated. Once any underlying causes are corrected, so too is the unwanted behavior.
4. It Can Affect Your Bond and Relationship With Your Cat
The home environment and the people in it should feel safe and secure to your cat. Spraying them frequently with water and punishing them is going to disrupt this and have many effects, such as not wanting to be near you or becoming aggressive with you.
5. It Can Cause Your Cat to Avoid All Water
Cats are not big fans of water at the best of times, but when they are regularly punished with it, it creates an even larger aversion to water. This can make them avoid and fear all water, from being too scared to go out in the rain to even their own drinking bowl.
Spraying your cat with water is a method that has long been used by owners, and most likely in good faith. Many have thought it was the correct approach to use. As we can see, however, it’s far from this.
A cat’s environment needs to be safe, secure, and calm, and this negative reinforcement technique seeks only to create fear, stress, and fear of serious consequences, including your relationship with them. Behavioral issues, unwanted activities, and stress should be addressed using positive reinforcement. If you are not making progress in changing the situation, seek further assessment by your veterinarian or a cat behaviorist.
Featured Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock