The Ultimate Cat Behavior Guide.
THE PROBLEM – CAT OVER-ATTACHMENT
IMPACT ON OWNER –
emotional bond with pet that is so intense that neither party have good wellbeing.
can indicate underlying issues in owners own life experience.
can stop owner forming relationships with people in general.
- inability to cope if cat dies or is euthanased.
CAT’S PERSPECTIVE –
displays unusual inappropriate attention seeking behaviours.
- develops learned helplessness regarding everyday occurrences.
A lot of people develop close relationships with their pets – they are seen as part of the family and they interact with family members. This relationship provides pleasure and reward for both owner and pet. Some owner-pet relationships can be so intense however that over attachment develops to the detriment of the physical and psychological wellbeing of both parties.
Some examples of over-attachment include;
1. Getting up in the early hours of the morning to prepare food for your cat because that is when he wants it.
2. Sleeping at a contorted angle because your cat is stretched out in your bed and you don’t want to disturb him.
3. Offering several food varieties to see what your cat fancies at one particular occasion.
4. Declining invitations to meet friends and stay away overnight incase your cat is lonely.
5. Keeping your cat confined indoors for fear of something bad happening to him.
And yes – you very well may recognise some of your own traits in this list! Some more extreme examples include the lady who left her heating on all night to keep her cat warm but was unable to sleep herself as she was too hot or the lady so worried that her cat would hurt himself by scratching his ears that she left an Elizabethan collar on him for 18 months.
Various situations can present problems from the outset. Many people are in desperate need of having something to love and care for. Most over-attachment issues occur when the owners are women either living alone or with a partner they rarely see, in owners with physiological problems either on or off medication or having been through a major life changing event like divorce, bereavement or illness. Owners tend to be anthropomorphic about their cats ie referring to them as if they were human. Most cats are house cats or cats only allowed outside under supervision for ‘safety reasons’. Most people concerned are perfectionists and eager to please and their lives revolve around the needs of their cat. Any cat can become over-attached but particularly susceptible breeds are highly intelligent sensitive Orientals like the Siamese and Burmese.
Over-attached cats can suffer from separation anxiety. Cats that have not developed good bonding as kittens, have been early weaned or orphaned or bought from pet shops are at most risk. Signs of separation anxiety include
1. Following the owner from room to room
2. Anxiety as the owner prepares to depart.
3. Vocalising as the owner leaves.
5. Inappropriate elimination
7. Surface scratching
8. Exuberant greeting behaviour
1. Make a diary of the interactions and problem for a four week period to try to see patterns of behaviour.
2. Consider using a behaviourist – they are there to help not judge.
3. Seek professional help for yourself if you are feeling negative, low and disinterested in life in general – consult your GP – you may be depressed or have underlying issues beyond the scope of this text.
4. Try to establish the basis for the problems – are you over attached to your cat, is he over attached to you or have you both become mutually dependent as all three have different issues to address.
Cats are good at manipulating interaction with their owners. Attention seeking methods include inappropriate urination / defecation, surface scratching in owners presence, yowling, grabbing feet and ankles, rubbing themselves on your arms and face when you are trying to type on a computer (!) and sitting on the item you are concentrating on be it book, newspaper or keyboard. All of these behaviours generally receive a reward for the behaviour by attracting the owners attention albeit in a negative way. Cats will show this behaviour if they are bored – they’ve nothing else to do or interact with either because they don’t like going outside or are not allowed, there is insufficient stimulus in their environment in way of scratch posts and games or they have developed an over- attachment to a particular family member.
The combination of a manipulative sociable cat and a loving overprotective owner creates an intense relationship. By reacting to the attention seeking behaviour initially and worse still further rewarding with ttention/food/interaction by the owner after the behaviour further increases the reward and drive.
The owner must realise the behaviour is just as disruptive and stressful for the cat as it is for them. A routine should be set for the activities of daily life. You may want to consider allowing your cat outdoors to increase his activity and general interest in life and provide more stimulus than just yourself within the confines of the house.
If this is not possible, it is important to employ daily ‘playtime’ to allow your cat to expend his energy and engage in activity at a time you have instigated. Best games involve toys on the end of stick to ensure your feet and ankles are well out of the way of an excited cat grabbing at moving fluffy objects.
Avoid feeding on demand. Your cat can be fed meat twice a day at set times and you could leave ad lib dried food out all day if required. Getting a cat to work for his food can add interest to the daily routine ie by hiding small amounts round the house in cardboard boxes cut in a bespoke fashion and placing catnip alongside. Scratch posts should be provided and you should ensure litter trays are clean and there is an elevated area for your cat to sleep on somewhere in the house.
The hardest part for an owner to do is not to react to overly demanding behaviour. Interaction should be at the owners request rather than the cat. There may be a period of initial intense frustration where your cat will try even harder to get attention but you must be strong – avoid eye contact, don’t speak and adopt a closed body language so your cat is able to understand a clear signal. The key to success is the non reward of the undesirable behaviour – even the slightest weakening will give confusing signals for your cat. Ask any gambler how addictive a random reward can be!!
In the case of separation anxiety, your cat needs to feel secure but also needs to be allowed to develop some independence. Environmental enrichment again is important with provision of a safe area to rest, scratch post and climbing frames to interact with, food stations and sometimes leaving a radio on to remove the silence. When leaving the house don’t make a big thing of going, don’t overly interact with your cat and say ‘ bye, I won’t be long’ – they don’t understand! Just go and come back as if there is nothing unusual about you not being in the house.
On return, try to avoid immediate interaction especially if your cat is overly exuberant. Wait about 5-10minutes then interact with your cat in a calm manner. Some anti anxiety medications can be obtained from your vet but are not licensed for use in cats.
It is important not to just ignore your cat totally as this will lead to frustration but by ignoring the attention seeking behaviour and rewarding the non attention seeking behaviour with play and interaction, you will end up with a happier cat and a mutually beneficial relationship.
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Paul, Sarah & Merlin