We love our pets. But no matter how much we love them, sometimes it’s tempting to think of our pets as jerks. After all, who hasn’t had the 3 a.m. glass of water spilled on your head by kitty or put your shoe on just to find that the dog picked that spot to throw up?
For cat moms, there’s even a half-hearted, half-endearing term for this: living with catitude. (Entire Tumblr blogs and Huffington Post articles have been devoted to this subject, in fact.)
But is pop culture’s obsession with the idea of cats-as-jerks causing real cat moms to miss serious signals from their feline friends? Chances are, they are. Simply writing off our cat’s seemingly jerky behavior as cats being cats doesn’t address the fact that there’s usually an underlying reason your cat’s doing what he’s doing — medical or behavioral. And if there’s a reason behind it, there’s likely something you can do about it.
We combed through the archives at our partner site PetCoach to see some favorite — and in some cases totally awful — “cat-being-jerk” episodes cat parents wanted to know about. Check them out below, find out what the experts really think is driving the behavior — and what you might do to stop it in your own house.
1. Help! My cat’s pooping on my pillow
When your cat begins to eliminate in inappropriate places, it can be a total nightmare. But this behavior is usually a big sign that something’s not working.
If your cat’s peeing or pooping outside the litter box, you’ll definitely want to see your vet to rule out any medical issues, especially if there are additional symptoms, such as weight gain.
If medical issues are ruled out, it’s time to analyze environmental changes. PetCoach experts suggest asking ourselves what might be contributing to the behavior:
- Has there been a lot of activity that wasn’t normal?
- Were you away and your cat was left at home or boarded?
- Is the litter box located in a busy area?
- Has anything happened recently in this area to make him reluctant to use it again?
- Is there another cat, pet or person that is preventing him from getting to the box?
- Have you changed it from a hooded to an open box or vice versa?
- Have you changed the brand of litter or kind?
- Or is there something about the spot he has chosen to use that is attracting him in some way? Cats dislike disturbances to their routine and may act out as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction.
Pro tip: Try a different litter, different place for the litter box or a different box for each cat (in a multiple cat household). Also, be sure to address any signs of inappropriate peeing and pooping ASAP. The longer it goes on, the harder it will probably be to stop.
2. My cat’s terrorizing my Other “nicer” cats
When your cats don’t get along, total mayhem can ensue, especially between a new kitty and an established cat. This catitude can be indicative of an energetic kitty rough-housing or a feline attempting to create dominance in the space. Either way, it needs to be accurately assessed and handled.
Pro tip: Neutering a male cat could stop some of the displays of dominance. Provide plenty of parent-kitty playtime and individual space (scratching posts, window ledges, private toy box, time to “cool off,” etc.), which can alleviate some of the territory stress. You may also want to reward kitty when he displays positive, acceptable behavior.
3. My cat selectively decides to attack certain people
This catitude can turn into a big problem, especially if one of the people your kitty attacks lives in the house. Cat bites are serious, and there could be a few contributing factors at play, from fear to medical issues to simple boredom. Whatever the root cause is, don’t blame your cat; get to the bottom of the cause and work quickly to correct it. You’ll definitely want to see your vet to rule out any medical issue, and if it’s a behavior problem, you may want to consult a cat behaviorist or trainer.
Pro tip: Dr. Christie Long suggests an anchovy paste to reward good behavior and ending playtime as soon as aggression begins. You’ll also want to avoid encouraging play that involves your hands or feet, instead providing a toy to help teach your cat bite-inhibition. Never strike your cat.
4. My cat won’t let us hold her
Not all cats want to snuggle up in your lap and purr you into a love coma. They have different personalities, just like us, and you can’t force them to be some way they are not. However, you can find things that may work for you both. For example, one of my first cats, Kura, would never sit on a lap, but would let you hold her and look over your shoulder indefinitely while standing. We even went so far as to make her a hands-free kitty Bjorn in her final months when she decided she wanted to be held all the time.
Pro tip: Make sure your cat is healthy and not avoiding snuggles out of illness. Some conditions may make petting or snuggling uncomfortable. “If she lets you pet her, then pet her,” PetCoach reminds us. Plus, if petting is all kitty allows, it’s all you get. Hey, you can still play with her with toys.
5. My cat meows constantly… when I go to bed
Believe me. I know the benefits of a deep, sound sleep. And a meowing cat is the last thing you want to entertain during bedtime. There are many reasons your cat meows, but a consistent after-bed meow concert is a sign that it’s first time for a checkup to rule out issues and second, once ruled out, the realization that your cat is probably bored.
Pro tip: Kitty needs entertainment. Tire your cat out before bedtime with lots of play so you both can get a good night’s sleep.
6. My cat bites for any reason at all
This is super-jerk behavior, but it’s not necessarily because your cat is a jerk. Like humans, cats can have sensory overload. The biting could be aggressive or playful, and knowing the intention will come from context.
Pro tip: No matter what, never smack a nipping cat (or any cat for that matter). According to PetCoach, there will be other signs if the biting is aggressive: dilated pupils, turned-back ears and stiff body. Stop immediately if you see any of these signs to decrease the chance of a bite. If the biting is playful, you’ll need to do some retraining. For more tips on retraining a biter, read here.
7. My cat knocks everything over… while staring at me
We cat-lovers face this a lot. My second cat, Toby, used to get up in front of the TV and go down the line, knocking everything off the shelves when I was relaxing. Total jerk move — right? As easy as it would have been to view Toby as a jerk, he really wasn’t. He was trying to tell me he was bored and wanted attention.
Pro tip: Cats need mental stimulation and enrichment activities. Toby’s catitude was his way of communicating his boredom and need for attention. Give your cat an enriching environment, and he’ll find fewer reasons to knock Grandma’s china off the shelves. The true fact is that cats are just really smart, get bored and find ways to entertain themselves.
3 quick ways to stop cat boredom and keep them entertained
- Hold regular playtimes: You should play with your cat once a day, every day, 15 minutes at a time
- Swap out toys: Rotating toys in and out gives your cat something “new” every few days to enjoy afresh.
- Give perches: Many cats like to be high up to reign, so give them spots where they can safely climb and encourage them to do so. Bonus points for creating a catio. Check them out here.
Don’t feed into the bad rap cats get. Yes, sometimes cats can act jerky — but it’s just because they’re awesome and smart. So next time you think your cat’s giving you catitide, ask yourself, “What is my cat trying to tell me?”
Have a question about catitude? Ask the experts at PetCoach below.