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Cat Displacement Behavior

By The Daily Cat experts

Cat Displacement Behavior

To understand what a displacement behavior is, let’s first think about humans. When we are bored, we might twiddle our thumbs. When we are nervous, we might bite our fingernails. These are actions with no real goal or purpose, save to alleviate some of the pent-up emotion.

If the person starts to do these things more and more and the problem goes unchecked, he or she could develop what is technically known as a “stereotypy,” which is really just a prolonged, repetitive behavior that serves no apparent purpose and may even be self-destructive.

For cats, a displacement behavior is “an out-of-context or irrelevant response to anxiety,” according to the organization Cats International. An example they give concerns a harassed cat. The cat could run away or stand its ground and fight. Or, it may surprisingly display another behavior, such as grooming. Grooming causes cats to feel calm and reassured, so the cat is in essence trying to self-medicate during the stressful situation.

Cats are very tidy, and they spend a lot of time grooming themselves. Parasites and other problems can cause biting and skin sores. But if your pet gets a clean bill of health from a veterinarian and yet still seems to engage in unhealthy, repetitive behaviors, you might consider looking at sources of stress. Perhaps a new cat or dog in the house is terrorizing your cat. Maybe a new roommate causes stress, or there is persistent loud noise. The trick is to identify the stressor and remove it. That should end your cat’s need to engage in displacement behaviors.

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Posted on June 24, 2012

Deva says: My one-year-old kitty, Sukhi, wants to lick my exposed skin whenever she cuttles. She doesn't do this with anyone but me. She also wants to nurse on any fuzzy acrylic fabric. Otherwise, she is healthy, active, smart, playful, outgoing, the perfect pet. I imagine this may have something to do with her history... Her litter was left by the side of the road near the humane society when the kittens were 2 weeks old. Sukhi was not expected to live, but was fostered and nursed back to vibrant health. She came home with an acrylic yarn pretend mama cat.  This licking and nursing behavior doesn't happen when she is stressed, but when she's sleepy. It can be annoying... especially when she decides to get in my bed in the middle of the night. Is there any way to stop it?

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