Please help me with my Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde kitten
June 5, 2012 11:58 PM   Subscribe

Please help me with my Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde kitten

Help me, cat people of metafilter! I'm at my wit's end with my adorable but deeply confusing kitten, who i assume has entered his crazy teen phase at 8 months. I briefly trialed letting him into my room when I'm sleeping when I first adopted him, but there was too much attacking the blankets I was under etc, so now he stays in the living room/kitchen when I sleep. However, I've found that in the mornings when I come out into the living room, my kitten starts hissing at me! His ears are not back, he does not swipe or claw at me or bite, simply hissing. And after the hissing, he behaves as normal and begs for his morning wet food, rubbing around my legs. I was wondering if it was a greeting, but he usually meows to greet me when I get home from work, and the hissing seems pretty hostile. He is normally a very sweet and loving kitten, and sometimes even when I've gone into the other area of the apartment for the night but have to go back to the living room to pick up something like my phone, he'll hiss when I go quietly into the living room- hissing just 5 minutes after he'd been snuggling in my lap begging for pets! I am pretty sure my kitten loves me as he's constantly begging for attention, comes to me for pets, will lie in my lap for hours. I just don't understand why he hisses at me when I go from my bedroom to the living room. I'm always wearing the same clothes and smell the same and don't live with anyone else. My assumption is that he becomes deeply territorial of the living room at night. I'd like for him to stop hissing when I come out but can't figure out how to. The following things tried with consistency do not work:
-ignoring him
-hissing back in the same tempo
-firmly telling him no
-gently clapping in his face (this is how I got him to stop chomping on my hand when he gets too excited from pets)

I have Feliway. He has no medical problems and is playing, eating, and eliminating normally. It is deeply upsetting to go from a very loving kitten to a hissing one with virtually no explanation, so I'm posting here in hopes that someone had the same issue and may have a solution.

Following the rules of mefi, here is my cat
posted by raw sugar to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
some additional info: i have also tried water spray as discipline. he gets half an hour to an hour of dedicated kitty playtime a day, plenty of attention and love, good grain free food. there has been no change to his routine.
posted by raw sugar at 12:01 AM on June 6, 2012

My adult cat hisses at me when I'm ignoring him or he wants to go out or is otherwise being thwarted. It's like he realises it's for communication, but is a bit confused as to exactly what he should be communicating. His sister doesn't do it at all so I don't know where he picked it up from, and personally I find it hilarious.

Given your kitten has no other body language of aggression at the same time I'd just ignore it. He's not attacking you, he's not angry, he's just an idiot telling you something using the wrong words. Probably he's telling you that you're not currently playing with him which is clearly all wrong, although he could be territorial too. Consistent ignoring, like really consistent for weeks, is a good way to train out behaviour and not taking this personally is a good way for you to stop feeling bad about it, so it's a good solution.
posted by shelleycat at 12:18 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, that's a beautiful cat.

The first thing I'm noticing is that 4 of your 5 corrective techniques are negative reinforcement, which cats tend to up the ante on rather than submit to. The hissing back at him, clapping, water spraying and saying firm no's are all actions that many cats will interpret as aggressive behavior on your part and it tends to build mistrust toward you rather than a cessation of the undesired cat behavior*. For a cat, mistrust = fear. Some cats are wired so fear slides right into anger.

What is his tail doing while he's hissing? Is it in the same position as when you are bringing out the cat food or is it held low? What are his whiskers doing, are they forward, out to the sides like they normally are, or laid back along his cheeks? (The last one is anger/fear).

Have you noticed a pattern where he only approaches you when you are seated or when you are in the area of the house where his food is stored and served? He might have associated some of the negative reinforcements as only happening when you walk toward him, for example.

Some cats respond well to food treats as motivation, although unlike dogs they have a very limited appetite for them so use them sparingly. If yours is food motivated, you can try offering him a treat when you enter the room while saying a soothing phrase. The soothing phrase is to give your cat a bit of a warning that you are coming into the room, the treat is to get him to associate Good Things when you've entered the room and eventually you can eliminate the treat and just use the phrase. Also use the same soothing phrase when giving him a few gentle strokes on the forehead while he's in your lap and when you feed him. As an example one of my cats, Daisy, is an extremely skittish former feral and I announce my presence before I enter the room she's usually hangs out in by saying "Every day is a goooood Daisy." When I say it, she doesn't bolt under the bed. If I don't say it, she runs and hides. When I pat her and feed her, I say the same phrase, which sends her into a frenzy of purring.

*another positive approach would be distraction: so, in the example of biting, always keep a feather-on-a-stick toy or a plush toy nearby so you can either wiggle the feathers or insert the toy between cat teeth and hand while letting your attacked hand go limp. Another would be to get more familiar with his body language so you can recognize when he's getting overstimulated from petting and stop before he starts using his teeth and claws. For some cats, just 2-3 strokes down the back is too much stimulation. For others, keeping the pats light and not going past the shoulder blades is the only way to keep the things from going awry. I don't think these two later two suggestions will help with the hissing through, but just keep them in mind as substitutes for other situations.
posted by jamaro at 12:59 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

Feliway is no longer the only pheromone available -- check out Sentry's calming collar. It's amazing. I'm sure it would help with your situation. This might just be a phase for your kitty, but mightn't a little extra coddling help prevent his forming unfortunate hostility habits?

The pheromone they've synthesized mimics a mom cat's "everything's OK" pheromone; it made my slightly bossy foster cat want to snuggle under the covers with me.
posted by amtho at 1:01 AM on June 6, 2012

My suggestion is a bit similar to jamaro's. You could teach him to "come", then reward him with a treat before frolicking into the living room together, hopefully in a better mood than usual. There's a bunch of helpful advice on how to teach cats basic commands scattered about on the web, but it's essentially the same as teaching a dog. My cat learned this command within 24 hours, and within a week he consistently came when called without treats in sight. He nearly always arrives purring up a storm, even if he'd been in a huffy mood just two minutes before. He's incredibly food motivated, though, and has a bottomless pit for a stomach, so your results may vary.

If you go this route and ever want to talk about the details of training, feel free to memail me!
posted by plaintiff6r at 1:41 AM on June 6, 2012

I once had a kitten that behaved similarly, only she growled instead of hissing. Never bit, never scratched, but if you picked her up or stroked her, she'd growl. We ignored it, and went on holding and petting her, and she eventually grew out of it. Despite having been born into our household, she always gave the impression of having been domesticated under protest, so I think maybe the growling was a manifestation of her wild side.

At the other end of the spectrum, I had a very old cat who began hissing at us when we approached her, even though she was friendly as ever in all other respects. Her vision wasn't so good any more, and I think she didn't always recognise us right away. But if the vet hasn't noticed any problems with your kitty's senses, that's unlikely to be the cause in his case.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 2:55 AM on June 6, 2012

I had a half-blind cat who did that, but it sounds like your guy checks out, so that's probably not it.

Positive reinforcement of desired behaviour is going to be more effective than negative feedback, especially in a case where the cat might actually be confused. jamaro & plaintiff6r have good approaches, and I'm sure you can find a good method for your specific cat with some experimentation.

Another thing is that Persians are...special. They are not necessarily bred for personality and tend to be quirky. This might be the first of many surprising character features in your kitty, so figuring out a positive approach for resetting him is likely to be valuable down the line.
posted by batmonkey at 7:38 AM on June 6, 2012

If your cat is such a snuggle bunny as you say I would just ignore the bad behaviour, and then when it has settled down and is acting more normal then reward that behaviour with a play or a pat. Affection is a great motivator in house pets.

Also remember the saying Cats are weird. Persians are weirder still, and no offense to Persian owners not always the shiniest of pennies (in a nice way I love their quirks, I have never met a Persian cat that didn't make me smile).
posted by wwax at 8:04 AM on June 6, 2012

Thank you everyone for your kind and thoughtful comments. The "no" and gentle clapping negative reinforcements have worked for getting him to stop doing destructive/unwanted behaviour but are not working here. He has never displayed fear towards negative reinforcement, he'll just stop doing whatever it was he was doing, the only thing i've ever seen him genuinely scared of is the blowdryer. And for those worried about offending me, no worries, I will be the first to admit that my persian is sort of worryingly a dumbdumb lol (I have tried clicker training but I don't think he's smart enough for it... but I will memail you for tips on training anyway, plaintiff6r :))
posted by raw sugar at 9:04 AM on June 6, 2012

The calming collar has significantly improved my life, even though I had a diffuser in place before. So give it a try.

Sounds to me like he's startled or scared. If he has hearing issues (or, like my crazy girl, is oblivious while sleeping or bathing), he may just not notice your approach until you're too close for comfort.

Try making a little more noise when you leave the bedroom or change rooms, so he has plenty of signals that you're coming. My girl is a ridiculous snuggle-bunny, but if you startle her, it's world war three.
posted by freshwater at 11:27 AM on June 6, 2012

I wanted to add an update here with a warning against the calming collar, for anyone who comes to this thread and has a cat who is not used to collars. If your cat is not used to collars, DO NOT USE IT ON HIM/HER. I just went on a 4 day vacation and got the calming collar suggested upthread for Comet as I was afraid he'd freak out with me gone, and hiss at my friend who was catsitting. I put it on with the requisite 2 fingers under the collar room, the night before i left. He fussed at it before I left, but not enough for me to be worried. The day after I left, my catsitter came in to feed him in the morning, to find him sitting there with his mouth open and his chest and paws covered in drool. He had managed to get his lower jaw under the collar trying to get it off, and it had stuck his mouth open. Thankfully she was there to remove it before any great damage (other than a mild abrasion on his mouth) was done, but I'm still upset as it was a breakaway collar and if she hadn't come sooner who knows what may have happened...
posted by raw sugar at 9:45 AM on June 14, 2012

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