Help, I spooked my cat
May 31, 2022 4:23 AM   Subscribe

My cuddle-buddy cat smelled Benadryl gel on my fingers and more than a week later, we're both still Very Unhappy about it. This despite showers (for me, not the cat), laundry, treats (for the cat, not me), feliway, etc.

Every morning for ages, my cat has come up and cuddled with me while I check the headlines and do the crossword before I get up. When we go to bed at night, she often hops up for a quick cuddle then, too, and sometimes sleeps on the bed. That all ended more than a week ago, when I had a bunch of itchy bug bites. I got into bed and put some Benadryl gel on the bites, and started to read. She came over as usual, smelled my fingers, backed away in alarm, tried once more, and jumped down.

The next morning, she hopped up as usual, but left as soon as she saw my fingers, and we haven't made clear progress since then -- she's avoiding my fingers and, somewhat, the bed. I've had a number of showers and thoroughly scrubbed my hands and washed the sheets. I've given her treats with my fingers as close as she'll tolerate. I've sprayed feliway. I've played with her with a wand toy. I've walked up to her and patted her briefly, which she's fine with if I don't hold my fingers out towards her first. I tried patting her for longer, and she clearly craves it -- pushing against my hand and purring -- but then she very suddenly bit me -- not a hard bite, but a clear STOP THAT. (She used to do that a lot, but it's rare now. I learned her body language, she learned biting wasn't ok, and I make sure to make her 'ask' for more patting -- i.e., push into my hand -- every couple of strokes if she doesn't seem unusually calm.)

She comes up towards the bed and cries, I invite her up, she sometimes hops up, she sometimes comes over for patting she's clearly missing and butts me, but within seconds, she jumps right back down. It doesn't matter what I do -- I've tried giving her the pats she's asking for, or not, or hiding my hands entirely. She's barely letting my husband touch her now either, where she usually at least tolerates and sometimes likes that.

I'm convinced it started with the Benadryl smell, not just a coincidence. She's healthy and normal otherwise, and her reaction when she Did Not Like the smell was immediate and emphatic. Now she's got it in her head and it's generalized out from there even though the smell is long-gone.

I want my cuddle-buddy back, and I can tell she misses it, too. Have you ever had a cuddly cat turn uncuddly for more than a week because of some event, and did that cat eventually come back around? How long did it take? What did you do, and what can I do?
posted by daisyace to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would wash the sheets in something new, maybe move the bed to a new part of the room for a week or so, feed new treats on the bed. Break all the associations. Then marinate my fingers in something irresistible (sardine mush?) and let her go to town licking.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:53 AM on May 31, 2022 [10 favorites]

Let your next Benadryl session be from a spray. Try to keep it off your fingers entirely.
Your cat is adorable!
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:31 AM on May 31, 2022

I never had this exact issue with my cat, but as another suggestion for making your hands irresistible, maybe try holding catnip?
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:16 AM on May 31, 2022

Time. Time heals all wounds. Be patient. Keep offering treats and such.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:05 AM on May 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: definitely time. keep treating her as normal. i once tripped over my cat in the bathroom, causing me to fall into the tub while pulling the shower curtain down. it was loud and scary. he avoided me at all costs for a couple weeks and then all was back to normal.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:16 AM on May 31, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Two anecdotes.

The first one is cat-to-cat cuddles, so not the same, but one of my cats was decidedly cool to their sibling for over three weeks last summer, avoiding being in the same room, refusing to nap together in a fuzzy pile as usual, and most upsetting, immediately swatting and hissing when they were approached by the other cat in the best perching spots. I tried feeding them more treats and some calming chews but tensions remained high. My best guess is that there were too many feral cats roaming around outside creating stress combined with a bout of unwanted roughhousing. And then after a trip to the vet (scheduled wellness check, not an emergency), it was a like a reset button had been pushed and they were back to their loving sibling cuddles. It was a reminder, oh yeah, we're on the same team.

Second anecdote. My fearless cat was jumping for a cat toy (fuzzy ball on the end of a twine) and landed badly. Fearless cat was immediately terrified of that toy and would scuttle away if it appeared. I tried giving treats when the toy was out, but no dice. I put the toy away and maybe a month later tried it again and it was fine.

The association between your fingers and THE WORST OW OW OW SMELL EVER will fade with time.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:31 PM on May 31, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I'll update. It's weird -- after what I'd have guessed would be much more alarming incidents (e.g., botched attempt to catch her for a vet trip...), she's been just about all back to normal in a day or, at most, two. I don't know why this one was apparently so much worse.
posted by daisyace at 9:11 AM on June 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First update: I tried sleeping on the guest bed last night, and she cuddled as we went to bed!
posted by daisyace at 3:02 AM on June 3, 2022

Response by poster: She's back! She finally decided that cuddling in our bed is A-OK again. Very glad to have her back!
posted by daisyace at 3:32 PM on June 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Now I just need something that works on mosquito bites as well as Benadryl, since apparently I must never use it again.
posted by daisyace at 6:36 AM on June 8, 2022

« Older Looking for an article about how our brains...   |   1970s documentary: competition to explain... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments