Cats may be small, but they can be intimidating. Cat bites and scratches can be extremely painful, and living with a nasty cat often means living in fear. Mean cats can also do a number on a person’s self-esteem. When you open your home and your heart to an animal, it can be deflating when they don’t return the affection. If you find yourself living with a mean cat, there are some steps you can take to overcome the aggression and forge a real friendship.
First, Visit The Vet
Some cats are aggressive because they are angry or afraid. However, in some cases, there may be another cause. Before attempting behavioral modification tactics, take the cat to the vet to be sure that she is not in pain or suffering from an illness.
Mean Cats Are Often Afraid
Aggression is typically – though not always – a sign of a fearful cat. They hiss, growl, swipe, bite and flatten their ears in an attempt to keep frightening animals at bay. They may also exhibit other behaviors like spraying, defecating outside their litter box, hiding, or freezing in place when afraid.
Cats become fearful for a reason, and there is almost always a triggering event that causes the behavior. It might be a specific sound, a specific person or animal, or a specific motion. Typical actions that can trigger a cat include loud noises, unexpected movements, highly active children, stressful events like a vet visit or a move to a new home. Pay attention to what happens immediately before the cat acts out in order to isolate its triggers. If possible, try to limit the cat’s exposure to that triggering event.
Give The Cat Space
When a cat is mean it bruises the ego, and many people react by trying too hard. If a cat has exhibited an aggressive behavior, he is telling you to leave him alone. Even though it may be difficult, back off and give the cat plenty of space. Trying to force a cat out of hiding spot or attempting to pick up an agitated cat and get into his space will only make the situation worse.
Entice The Cat With Food
Dogs associate their owners with food and they are typically most closely bonded with the family member that feeds them. However, cats are usually free-fed, meaning they can access their food dish at any time, and therefore they never learn to associate their human companion with food. If a cat isn’t bonding with you, stop free-feeding him. Instead, put him on a feeding schedule and follow this plan:
- Fill the food dish and then sit on the opposite side of the room as the cat. Do not make eye contact or pay any attention to the cat.
- Every few minutes, inch very slightly towards the cat, sliding the dish with you.
- Don’t move too quickly. Go very slowly and refrain from making eye contact.
- If the cat backs away, stay where you are for a while. Then inch forward again.
The cat may take off without eating. Don’t get discouraged. Simply get up and put the food away and then try again later. Let the cat set the pace for building a relationship.
It is also helpful to keep stashes of cat treats hidden around the house. When you see the cat, place a few treats on the floor and then step away. This will help the cat associate you with pleasurable experiences.
Exercise, Exercise, Exercise
Cats need exercise, just like dogs do. But they get their exercise through play. Playing helps alleviate anxiety and can forge instant bonds between owner and cat, but you have to do it right. Never touch the cat. Instead, use things like laser lights, feathers on sticks, or dangling catnip toys to keep yourself at a distance, while still participating in play. Try for several minutes to entice the cat to engage. If she is resistant, put the toys away and try again later. It is in a cat’s nature to chase and play so eventually, she will take the bait.
My Cat Loves Me, But Hates Other People
Some cats are loving with their owners, but aren’t very welcoming to house guests. This can be an extremely common phenomenon when an owner takes on a roommate or their significant other begins hanging out on a regular basis or moves into the home. Many people mistake this behavior for jealousy, but it has much more to do with cats’ nature to be territorial and creatures of habit.
It can be confusing and unsettling for a cat when her routine is disrupted. When a new person comes into the house, don’t force the cat to interact with the guest. Let her do her own investigation using her own five senses in order to determine whether or not the stranger is a friend. If the cat doesn’t take to the new person, they will have to engage in the same tactics of giving the cat space, enticing her with food and engaging in play in order to develop a relationship over time.
Working through mean behavior in cats takes time and patience, but it can be done. If you struggle to forge a bond with your cat and nothing seems to be working, reach out to your vet to get the number of a recommended cat behaviorist who may be able to help.