Advice on Cat Behavior

I’m sitting two cats, have been here for one week. Yesterday, one of the cats repeatedly tried to jump on the counters.
Spoke with the owner and although he does jump on the counters, he doesn’t do it when mom’s in the room. I was standing in the kitchen next to him, and he still jumped repeatedly. Nothing would deter him.

I didn’t think too much of it until

Last night was the first night this cat didn’t sleep in the bed with me. I woke up to find the cat scratched all over the floors upstairs. Very deep gashes in the hardwood, they are essentially ruined. I notified the owner.

There’s no stopping him, because I was 1) asleep and 2) on a different level of the house. All of his needs are met. Fed on schedule, cleaned litter box before I went to sleep, access to water, daily play and petting. Any advice? Anyone experience a cat taking advantage of his owner not being there?

@monday whoa and welcome.

Very good that you notified the home host right away, as for me that instills confidence.

Gashes in hardwood. Wow.

What did the home host say in response?

Hopefully others will be more helpful with such cat behaviors…

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That’s some pretty hardcore scratching to ruin a hardwood floor. Are you totally sure it wasn’t like that before? Are they used to being in the bedroom at night? And were acting out at not being allowed in?

On the counter thing - cats like to be up high and they’re curious creatures so naturally they will want to jump on the counters, especially if there aren’t other good perches for them. You can consistently shoo them off the counters and they’ll maybe learn to not do it while you’re there but it is quite normal cat behaviour. That might be controversial! I just make sure to use clean chopping boards and wipe down the counters before making dinner if I’m sitting for cats.

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I recently sat a couple of cats (along with a dog) and the cats were “ruthless’ about trying to steal food, as the hosts described. That included jumping on kitchen counters and breaking into the cabinet where the garbage bin lived. I mentioned that to the hosts and they weren’t fazed, even when the cats broke into a kibble container. The hosts told me to use a spray bottle on the cats if I wanted, because they were getting more brazen, the longer I stayed. I didn’t spray them, but I was constantly shooing them off counters and picking them off them.

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I’m positive it wasn’t there before! There is no door to the room I am sleeping in. They’re free to roam every room at night.

He has scratching posts, perches, and furniture that he climbs on. He’s very happy, no personality changes since I’ve been here. Just breaking rules. The counters aren’t a big deal, even the owner expects it.

The destructive behavior last night is the problem, especially when I’m not around to correct it. Now I’m nervous that something else will end up broken tomorrow.

BTW, if it’s actual hardwood (and not actually softwood or veneer or laminate), it can be sanded down and revarnished by the owners or someone they hire. Hardwood is great that way.

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Regarding the wood floor damage - it sounds like the cat is stressed because the owners are away. Have they had prior sitters and was anxiety a problem? If this is a longer sit and the cat continues to be distressed, the owners might want some calming meds from the vet. I’m sure they don’t want to refinish their wood floors if they can help it - that’s expensive! I had my old cat on kitty prozac for anxiety.

You could also clip the cat’s nails - or get a vet to do this - to minimize damage.

A lot of people swear by Feliway pheromone diffusers. I’ve never found them especially effective (and I’ve fostered many cats) but lots of people like them.

As for jumping on the counters - the cats may be testing your limits. if the owners don’t mind you using a spray bottle to deter them i would do that, but sparingly. You could hiss at them and lift them off the counters when the jump up. Hissing is a cat’s signal to back off.


Are you sleeping in a different bedroom than the owner would use? That might explain the scratching at night if the cat is not used to that room not being occupied. They may get over it but you did the right thing telling the owners. In terms of the counter, cats will give things a go when new people are around. It also wouldn’t be the first time an owner says fluffy never does x but in reality they do but it’s just discouraged.
Depending on how long the sit is you could speak to the owner about calming sprays and plug ins if the cat is obviously acting out or anxious. Otherwise cat will just be cat.

Thank you! So helpful!

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Hi @monday
I’ve worked for cat rescues and the destructive behaviour you’re describing is normal boredom hunting that cats do. The best way to try and prevent this is to play for 30 minutes to an hour with the cat before bed time. For many cats this will tire them out and make them want to sleep. Worth a try.


We were playing before bed! I thought I riled him up too much! ¯_(ツ)_/¯

In my experience this sounds like a stressed cat. @monday have you asked the pet parent if they have pheromone in any form (diffuser, spray, wipes are all available)? Feliway can be effective and there are alternatives (I found that Feliway worked with one of mine, and Pet Calm worked with another). My vet clinic uses Feliway in their waiting room and treatment rooms.

The petparent probably knows and understands the pets. The scratching was not in any way your fault. Whatever the cost is of fixing, that’s going to be the owner’s issue not yours.

Preventing this from happening might have taken a whole lot of strategies on the owner’s part before you ever arrived. I’m sure she didn’t foresee this happening and you had no reason to.

You can work with the owner on things that calm the cat down. But the thing I’ve learned about cats, is they are much more like non-verbal humans than they are like say dogs. They try to send us messages all the time. In this case the message is: You are not my real mom. I don’t like you. I want my mom. NOW! And don’t you dare tell me to get off my counters in MY house!

I don’t know how long the sit is but feliway as others have suggested is very helpful. You can get a diffuser! You can also find out if the owner has any gabepentin around, and if it is okay to give the cat a dose. Probably not closing doors will help. Pick your battles. You can make the counter less appealing by putting aluminum foil over it so the cat won’t want to jump on it in the first place rather than trying to get him off of it. If there are any unlaundered clothes that belong to mom, you could try placing that on a chair or some place where the cat likes to sleep.

Food is often the best way to win a cat over. Automatic feeders that make the sitter’s role feel less essential to the cat, don’t help with sitter/cat bonding. If there are treats you can give the cat, try to make friends.

But honestly, and I say this as a catparent, catparents usually know their cats and have an inkling about what will work and even on vaction want to be involved.


This, combined with some stress from change in routine with their normal human gone. Cats are creatures of habit and changes can stress them, causing them to relieve that stress with very normal feline behaviors like scratching. I agree with playing with the cat (string or flirt pole toy - get them chasing it) and possibly keeping it in one room overnight to avoid further damage until the owner returns.