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What to Do With a Demanding Kitty
By Joanne Eglash
Cats have a reputation of being loners, but try telling that to owners whose feline follows them around like a shadow. Some domestic cats even become so attached to their humans that they crave nonstop attention. If “Mrrrrooooow! Mrrrrrrow! Mrrrrow!” followed by a friendly, yet forceful, head butt, have ever altered your plans, you might share your home with such a devoted, needy pet.
Signs of a Clingy Kitty
Your attention-craving kitty may do the same action over and over again. “Repeated attempts to relocate the cat often fail as the cat just jumps back up,” says Dr. Neilson, who runs a behavior referral specialty practice at the Portland Animal Behavior Clinic. In some cases, cats may become demanding only “when they want a specific item, such as food or interactive play.”
Clingy cats are difficult to ignore, agrees Sherry Woodard, an animal behavior consultant at Utah’s Best Friends Animal Society. “When you arrive home, he or she is at the door vocalizing.” Your demanding cat may attempt to climb up your legs, then “follow you everywhere, in and out of every room.” In addition, the needy pet might “help” you “work, clean, cook and read.” If this happens, you might discover kitty hopping onto your shoulder to “groom you” or even “chew on you,” Woodard adds.
Too Close for Comfort
Investing in one or two DVDs designed just for cats, such as a movie of birds flying or fish swimming, might also keep kitty busy when you need some quiet time. Tip: Many online stores that sell such products offer previews. Test your cat’s interest level for free by showing the clip to kitty. You should also be sure that your cat has plenty of other diversions at “paw,” Woodard suggests, such as “cat toys, yummy edible plants, other cats, a huge cat tree in the living room, cat tunnels, beds and catnip.”
Cat daycare could also help your needy cat, according to Woodard. “Have someone come to your home and spend some quality time with your cat so he or she receives more attention,” she says. Another option: “Teach your cat to enjoy trips to a friend’s or family member’s house where someone is home to enjoy the cat’s company during your workday.”
While all cats could benefit from these stimulating diversions, your feline might also require a more fine-tuned approach, depending on its personality. Many felines fall under the “Midnight Meower,” “Laptop Lounger” or “Garfield Gobbler” profiles:
That assumption is not true, according to Dr. Neilson. Cats tend to exhibit “heightened activity at dawn and dusk,” she says. Although some house cats may regularly display “a burst of nighttime activity that awakens the soundest of sleepers,” the Portland veterinarian believes felines are not nocturnal by nature. She, however, adds that the average house cat does not enjoy “a great deal of exercise and activity during the day.” She says, “While the humans are out working, most cats spend the day sleeping. In the evening, owners may enjoy curling up on the sofa with their feline companion.”
The result is akin to a teenager bored in a classroom all day, then obsessed with computer games and TV in the evening. By midnight or 2 a.m., that teenager may have so much pent-up energy that misbehavior ensues, such as sneaking out to party with pals. The same could happen to your cat. It may become passive throughout the day and early evening, gathering proverbial steam. The accumulated cat energy then “explodes in the wee hours of the morning -- often as dawn is approaching but well before our alarm is set to ring.
To manage the problem, you need to channel that energy into activities when your cat is awake,” Dr. Neilson explains. She recommends keeping your cat lively throughout the evening by playing games, such as an interactive toy chase. You also may be unwittingly motivating your cat’s midnight prowls by responding with “screams, shrieks or bellows,” combined with a chase that “the cat probably thinks is great fun,” cautions Dr. Neilson. “Consistent disregard on the part of the owner will eventually extinguish this type of behavior.”
Perhaps kitty receives what should be sufficient attention from you. In that case, “you need to become creative and consistent. The creative part is discovering ways to engage your cat in activities that don’t require your constant engagement. A treasure hunt for treats, where you hide treats around the house for your cat to find,” or a “battery-powered toy” can help, suggests Dr. Neilson. As for consistency, make sure you don’t give in to your cat’s attention-seeking behaviors.
“To minimize this feline-feeding frenzy, you may want to satiate your cat before you sit down to eat by making sure your cat has had its meal first,” Dr. Neilson says. If problems continue, try keeping your cat in a different room while you eat. Alternatively, punishment such as a gentle squirt of water delivered at the right moment -- so that your cat associates the unpleasant squirt with the bad behavior -- can help.
Remember Who’s in Charge
If you realize that you are giving in to your cat’s ultra-demanding behaviors, take action by:
Different Breeds, Different Behaviors
Regardless of your cat’s breed or demands, you probably agree with Dr. Neilson when she says, “There is no doubt that the rewards we reap from our feline friends are amazing. They have a way of putting everything into purrspective!”
is a widely published journalist, specializing in health, fitness, food, fashion, relationships and lifestyles. She currently lives with two elderly cats, Miss Manners and Ashley, and is the official godmother to three poodles.
Cats reach full skeletal development when they are this old: