Cat expert needed! I petted a stray I feed, now he clings to me like a limpet. How do I get him to relax?
October 26, 2008 7:23 AM   Subscribe

A neglected neighborhood cat has moved into my yard and is driving me crazy with his nonstop needy behavior since the day I petted him. What can I do to help him chill out?

I've been feeding a neglected neighborhood cat. I plan to talk to his owners, get him fixed and adopt him out to a better home.

The cat has moved to my front yard and lives there 24/7. I petted him one day. He was affectionate and friendly.

But now whenever I step outside the house he immediately comes at me very aggressively looking for a rub. I can barely take a step to my car to get to work, school, the store without him weaving around my legs so intensely I can barely take a step without stepping on him...

I have stepped on him twice, accidentally kicked him twice, and hit him with the screen door on him accidentally twice.

I have never had such a maddening test of patience in my life.

I want to help this cat, but HE IS DRIVING ME NUTS. It now takes several minutes just to walk 10 feet to the car.

I've dealt with a needy cat before, but not like this. One stray neighborhood cat I adopted did the same thing, but not so aggressively, and she got over it.

But she was inside the house. This needy cat has not had his shots and is a male who still sprays, so I am waiting to fix and vaccinate him to bring him in.

Perhaps when he is brought inside he'll feel more secure. But until then, and even after that, there anything I can do to help this poor cat be less of a total nuisance and adjust? He has food and shelter and I don't mind to pet him or spend time with him. But I need to cure him of the neediness so he is adoptable, and also to be able to take a step out the door without having a 12-pound animal IMMEDIATELY attach himself to my knee and whine for my attention.

What can I do?
posted by Jennifer S. to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Speed up the fixing/adopting out process?

Throw a treat or enticing toy out the door before you leave the house, in the opposite direction from where you plan to walk?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2008

Cats are on average only ten to fifteen pounds. Humans are considerably more so. There is no way a ten-pound cat could stop a human ten times its own weight, unless the human WANTS to be stopped. So the fact that he is delaying you several minutes to walk ten feet is just telling me that you may be a bit more of a participant in this dance than you may think you are.

He's needy, yes, but he's the cat and you are the human. Just keep walking. If he is hanging around your ankles like a pilot fish and you're afraid of tripping, just step over the damn thing.

But -- maybe making an effort to show him some love when you get home would help balance that out a little, too -- sit down for a few minutes of talking to him, giving him directed attention, etc. it may take the edge off of things for him so he's a BIT less likely to attack you when you're on your way to work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 AM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

don't feed it.
posted by patnok at 8:45 AM on October 26, 2008

Call the humane society. If these owners have allowed their cat to live in your yard and not come home, and clearly neglected him so much that he's begging strangers for attention, they don't deserve to be consulted. Call the humane society and ask them to pick him up and neuter him. That's what they're there for. You can still take an interest in his future.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2008

He wants food. You're there. Apparently his previous owners have abandoned him. Universe puts you 2 together. You are there to share your abundance with this cat so that more can be given to you. This is a done deal. You can't hurt it away, you can't scare it away. Only way to get through this is to feed the hungry feline.
posted by watercarrier at 9:15 AM on October 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: it must be frustrating for you to get so delayed on your way out, especially if you're in a rush - perhaps if you set aside some time in the day just to play with the kitty, he'll be less needy for attention every time you step out the door.

it's pretty awesome of you to be taking care of him. don't forget to stash a lint roller in your car. good luck!
posted by jus7brea7he at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2008

Best answer: His affectionate behavior won't make him unadoptable. People actually like friendly cats. As for the kitty obstacle course - why don't you pick him up on the way to the car, give him a pet and toss him lightly a few feet from your car door when you get there.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2008

People adore lovebugs - just make sure that's spelled out in your description when you go looking for a new guardian for him. There's really no need to "break" him of it.

Just pondering your situation: Because there's a property element to pets for most people, if you don't ask before you rehome the cat, you could get into legal trouble. If you ask, there's always a chance they'll say they don't want to give him up, which makes having him picked up a more attractive option. At the same time, Humane Society (etc.) may not find a home for him in the time they have allotted and he'll end up being put down. It seems like consulting with the owners is a logical (and legal) necessity, but I think you may have to accept calling in collectors who won't necessarily be able to adopt him out.
posted by batmonkey at 10:54 AM on October 26, 2008

Talk to the owners ASAP. If he's that much of a pest, bring him to my house. I'd love a cat that friendly and affectionate.

Cats like to do that, though. You're lucky he's only 12 pounds. I had a 23 pound loaf of a cat that would wrap himself around my legs every single morning just because he wanted attention. He wasn't needy, depressed, stressed, or anything. He was just a big happy friendly cat.

Why do you think you NEED to "cure" him of something that isn't out of the ordinary at all? Perhaps it bugs you but it's great for others.
posted by drstein at 11:32 AM on October 26, 2008

Response by poster: For late arriving advisers:

1. Kitty didn't start this behavior until I petted him. I've seen this unlock neediness in a cat before.

2. I am looking for suggestions on how to normalize a sudden and annoying change in his behavior, not get rid of him.

3. There are affectionate cats, and there are cats with problems. This kitty is in the latter group, I assure you.
posted by Jennifer S. at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2008

Find the owners and talk to them. If they are still interested in keeping their cat, they should be the ones who take care of kitty needing emotional help on this level, or a vet visit, or whatever. Really, you shouldn't be doing anything major with the cat unless the owners abdicate responsibility.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:41 PM on October 26, 2008

Best answer: We have a cat that is an attention junkie, meows non-stop, trips you, generally a pest if he feels he's not getting enough love or treats. What works so far is to pick him up, love him, hug him and kiss him until he's totally over it. Wait until he starts to struggle a little before putting him down. This should buy you a couple hours of peace. We try not to over do it because we like him being friendly but it works to calm him down.
The other trick I know is from watching my cousin's then 2 year old stretch her arms straight out and yell "Kitty!". Both of our cats at the time went about 15 feet up a tree to get away from the wee scary loud thing. Doing this will make you feel dopey but it's surprisingly effective. Best if you use a higher pitch kiddy tone. Don't forget about the arms.
I also think giving him some extra love when you have time would help. If he's like the strays we've taken in, he just needs some reassurance that you'll be a reliable human servant, uh...I meant caretaker and will calm down once he's sure of you.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:38 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK, the bad answers here are largely my fault for sloppy writing.

My walk to the car is across the porch, down the steps, through the yard and a little way long the street, not 10 feet. And I couldn't step over the cat because he darted for my lead foot with each step.

He scratched my leg and a guest's when we stepped on him after he practically threw himself repeatedly under our feet. He was like a little furry machine programmed to infuriate me, an overworked, stressed-out older working college student with no time to give.

Now I see that this cat, like many neglected cats, needed petting and attention in order to feel secure. I guess we humans have bred cats to count on us, and a cat not sure he can count on you can get neurotic.

The cat chilled out once the semester ended and I had time to take him to the vet, bathe him, de-flea him, pet him, pick him up, build him a little bed and otherwise make him feel like he had a home and a person who would provide for him. Not every neglected animal is this way, but Chunk is one of two neglected, homeless cats I have seen turn aggressively needy for petting after being shown affection, and then stop after being made to feel loved and provided for.

Sadly, the real lesson here is to have any cat you take into your home or yard immediately tested for FIV and FeLV. When I finally had the time and money to take Chunk to the vet, he tested positive for FIV, a fatal and incurable disease that sort of corresponds to HIV in humans.

But any crazy, needy kitty like this needs time. Time spent petting him and paying attention to him. Picking him up is an excellent temporary work-around, as is walking sort of like you are ice-skating, so as to gently kick him out of the way with each step, not step on his foot or leg as is easy to do otherwise as he inserts yourself under your foot with each and every *&^%$# step you take.

Chunk has a temporary home with me, and my local no-kill placement organization tells me it will try to help me find him a permanent home.
posted by Jennifer S. at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2009

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