Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My cat, Gracie is a 5-year-old orange female. We’ve had her since she was a young kitten. She hasen’t been abused, but she doesn’t like to be picked up or cuddled. Sometimes when I surprise her, she hisses and growls at me. She attacks my grandchildren, the neighbour kids and adults. Sometimes when someone pats her she is fine, then for no reason she attacks them. I’m wondering if I bring another cat into the house, will Gracie attack it? I like cats that cuddle and I find cats purring relaxes me. I’m wondering what I should do with Gracie.
Siouxsie: The first thing you have to understand, Stephen, is that every cat has a different “snuggle tolerance threshold.” Some cats love being picked up and snuggled, and others just don’t care for it.
Thomas: It’s just the nature of cats, really, although some if might depend on how they were socialized.
Kissy: They (they being the humans who study cats) say we have a crucial window of socialization that happens between 2 and 7 weeks of age. Any experiences we have –or don’t have–during that time supposedly has an impact on the rest of our lives.
Siouxsie: Anyway, what it boils down to in the end is that some cats love to be picked up and held and cuddled. I happen to be one of those cats: nothing makes me happier than when Mama holds me in her arms upside-down and gives me lots of pets.
Thomas: I, on the other hand, enjoy being petted and hugged and loved, but I prefer not to be picked up.
Kissy: I love being picked up and snuggled! Ooh, just the thought of it has me purring!
Siouxsie: So the first thing you need to do is honor your cat’s preferences. Your Gracie may never be a bigtime snuggler. But if you let her approach you on her own terms, you might find that she does start curling up next to you and purring.
Thomas: Now, about the aggression issue. First of all, has Gracie always attacked people or growled at them when she’s surprised? If not, you should bring her to the vet for a checkup. She may be in pain, and pain tends to make a cat aggressive.
Kissy: If she has always been this way, maybe you should think about when she gets nasty.
Siouxsie: Does it happen if you start petting her in a certain place? Like, maybe it’s fine if you pet her on her head and neck, but if you approach the middle of her back or her tummy, she gets upset.
Thomas: By honoring her petting limits, you greatly reduce the possibility of an attack.
Kissy: Like me. I hate it when people (or other cats) come at me from the left. You see, I’ve got a bad leg and it makes me scared that I might get attacked from the side where I’m weakest. If you approach me from the left, I’m more likely to attack. Thomas learned that lesson!
Siouxsie: The other thing is that some cats are naturally more skittish than others. High-strung cats don’t react well to sudden intrusions in their space.
Thomas: So how do you keep Gracie from attacking you or your neighbors or grandchildren?
Kissy: First, make sure they approach her slowly. They should get down near her level and make themselves smaller by squatting or sitting on the floor.
Siouxsie: Then they should hold out one hand, with a finger extended, as an invitation for Gracie to investigate them. Once Gracie approaches and rubs her head on their finger, they can try petting her gently.
Thomas: But they shouldn’t come at her from above her head; that’ll scare her. And instead of reaching out and grabbing her, they should let her come to them.
Kissy: And watch for signs that she’s reaching her limit. If her tail starts twitching or she starts moving around, they should stop petting her and let her go on her way.
Siouxsie: The trick is to leave her wanting more affection, not upset because she’s had too much. That’ll help her get more comfortable with people in general.
Thomas: So, Stephen, the slow approach should make it less likely that Gracie will attack people.
Kissy: About the new cat idea — we’d recommend you hold off on that. You need to make sure Gracie is comfortable in her home before bringing in a feline roommate.
Siouxsie: Keep up with the slow approach and build Gracie’s confidence by playing with her every day using an interactive toy like a feather wand or some type of “thing on a string.”
Thomas: When Gracie is starting to feel more at home in her own fur, you might consider adopting a new cat, but keep in mind that it could set her back if you don’t do the introductions properly.
Kissy: So make sure you read lots of information on how to make a proper introduction before you bring a new cat into your home.