Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I have a question about my 9-month-old cat Luna. I just adopted her from someone four days ago, and she’s my first cat. She seems okay to me, she sleeps with me sometimes and lets me rub her, I’ve seen her knead my blankets, she likes to play, and she is okay in the litter box. I have been busy with work the last week — I’ve been gone for eight to thirteen hours a day. She has been meowing incessantly and just this night it has gotten very sad/whiny sounding. I’m not too sure what to do; I pet her as much as I can when she does and I also try to play with her (she doesn’t seem too excited though). What can I do? Is this loneliness?
Also just a curious question about her: When I pet her back she kind of scratches her back paws in a clawing/kneading motion and drags herself across the floor. Have you ever seen this? Any idea what this means?
And if you have any good new cat owner resources I would appreciate it! I’ve Googled constantly since receiving her but still feel so new!
Siouxsie: Congratulations on your first cat companion, Janet. It sounds to us like you’re going to be an excellent caretaker for your new kitty. We really appreciate that you’re doing everything you can to learn about your cat’s needs and behavior!
Thomas: Regarding your first question — it could very well be that Luna is lonely or bored. She’s in a totally new environment and she’s alone for a large part of the day. It’s hard for most cats to get used to that, especially when they’ve been surrounded by other cats or they come from a home where there are always people around.
Dahlia: Some people would tell you to get another cat to keep Luna company. But you may or may not be able to do that. Since Luna is your first cat, we wouldn’t blame you at all if you wanted to keep your feline family to one member until you get used to having a cat in your life.
Siouxsie: One way you can help Luna feel less lonely while you’re away is to leave a radio on, turned to a low volume. We’d suggest that you choose a station that broadcasts a mixture of fairly mellow music and talk, so that she can hear human voices in the background.
Thomas: There are “cat TV” videos that you can leave playing while you’re away, too. These videos show birds and animals playing, among other things, and can keep an indoor kitty entertained for hours. There are a number of these on the market, and this page shows five sets that are available through amazon.com.
Dahlia: We’d recommend that you find other ways to handle Luna’s midnight serenades, though. It’s unfortunate but true that every time you pet her when she’s meowing in the middle of the night, you’re giving her positive reinforcement to continue that behavior.
Siouxsie: Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett recommends ignoring those vocal demands. Do anything you have to do in order not to hear her crying: put in earplugs, read aloud, or whatever. Just don’t respond to her.
Thomas: If you can catch her getting ready to go into her meowing phase, you can distract her with interactive play.
Siouxsie: Pam Johnson-Bennett actually wrote the best cat behavior modification and reinforcement book we’ve ever seen – Think Like a Cat. In it, she explains why cats exhibit certain behaviors, how those behaviors originated through their instincts, and how you can use their instincts to help cats behave in a way you want them to.
Thomas: We recommend this book to everyone who has a cat, whether they’re a first-time cat owner like you or whether they’ve lived with cats for years. She’s also written a number of other cat behavior books, which you can find in our Amazon.com shop.
Dahlia: One thing we have to ask, though: Is Luna spayed? If not, she may be carrying on and meowing more than usual because she’s in heat. If she hasn’t been spayed, we strongly recommend that you get it done as soon as possible. Cats in heat are great escape artists, and if they mate there’s a virtually 100% chance they’ll get pregnant. You don’t want to have a house full of unexpected kittens!
Siouxsie: You also asked about your cat dragging herself across the floor when you pet her. Sometimes cats do this because it feels so good to be petted.
Thomas: But again, if Luna isn’t spayed, she could be showing signs of being in heat. A cat in heat will react to having her back rubbed by kneading her back feet on the floor and assuming a swaybacked posture that makes her genitals more accessible to a male cat. She may even twitch her tail aside.
Dahlia: Sometimes when Mama pets me and it feels really good, I like to drag myself around by my front claws and make sure her hands are right where I want to be petted! Of course, I’m spayed, so there’s no way I’d be in heat.
Siouxsie: Mama wrote the entire Kittens section at the Catster website, and you might want to go there and read through it. Even though some of it is geared toward kittens younger than Luna, we think you will find some helpful information there about diet, vaccinations, vet care, and other things that a new cat owner should know.
Thomas: So, in short: Find ways to keep Luna entertained while you’re away, don’t reinforce negative behavior like excessive vocalization, and if she’s not spayed, get it done as soon as you can.
Dahlia: We hope that Pam Johnson-Bennett’s book and the Catster website will help you in your quest to be the best cat caretaker you can be. Please feel free to write back and tell us how Luna is doing; we love to hear from our readers!