Flipping the Feline Personality Switch
January 17, 2011 12:35 PM Subscribe
Can someone explain some seemingly complex domestic feline behavior?
posted by ktoad to pets & animals (6 answers total)
I work at an animal shelter and recently two cats came in together. They're two neutered, male, 3-year old domestic shorthairs, possibly brothers but I can't say for sure. They were abandoned by their owner and brought in by a neighbor or landlord. Justin was more outgoing while Daniel was withdrawn and unhappy.
After their medical exams, we placed them on the adoption floor and their personalities remained the same. A week later, however, Justin got a home and Daniel experienced a strong personality change. Gone was the withdrawn, silent cat. In its place was a cat standing tall and meowing for attention. My more experienced coworkers noted that this isn't that unusual when a dominant and a submissive male are separated. I took him in a room the next day for a half hour and he was the sweetest cat imaginable.
The unusual part came next. Two days later I was cleaning his room, congratulating him on coming out of his shell and becoming so friendly. Meowing happily, he rubbed against my legs and purred loudly. I fed him. Everything seemed great. However, when I went to leave the room, he suddenly -- I'm talking instantaneous here -- hissed and scratched my leg, drawing blood. Moments later he was back to his purring, friendly self. It seemed so unlike the happy-go-lucky cat of the previous two days that I was almost unable to process what had happened...almost, that is, until the next second when I tried to exit and he hissed yet again, this time reaching from the arm of a couch to scratch me on the chest and arm, drawing blood again. As I backed out of the room he was practically stalking me.
He turned sweet again a moment later but now he's been placed on scratch quarantine for ten days as a matter of shelter protocol. He remains talkative and purry, rubbing against the bars of his cage when I changed his litter and fed him today, but once again he hissed and drew blood on my leg.
What gives? I know about cat warning signs. I deal with aggressive cats and friendly cats all the time. I've seen other submissive males "come out of their shell" when their dominant companion leaves the shelter, but I'm not familiar with this juxtaposition of extremely affectionate / violent behavior in short bursts. It seems like he's angry that I'm removing my affection from him, but is it really that simple, or is there something else at work here? In 18 months of shelter work with some pretty unhappy cats, this is the first time I've had a cat display quite this level of on/off switching. I'm curious about what we're dealing with, and whether or not there's hope for placing this cat in a home or "barn cat" situation without placing the public at risk. He hasn't attacked anyone else at the shelter, only me, if that helps at all.