Help me make friends with a pyscho cat
July 6, 2006 11:52 AM   Subscribe

PsychoCatFilter: So my roommate has a demon for a cat…

A friend of mine has been staying with us in our spare room for a few months while trying to get back on his feet. Everything about the situation is great - except for his cat. She is two years old and while she loves my roommate, she absolutely hates anyone else with a passion.

If she sees my husband or I even so much as glance at her she starts hissing. If we get close or start talking, which is usually because we need to walk by her to get somewhere, she growls quite loudly. And god forbid we linger in her vicinity; she will yowl/scream and basically try to attack us.

We both love animals would like nothing better than to be friends with this cat. We haven’t done anything to her at all; we generally keep our distance and leave her alone because she goes into a conniption if we even look at her. We have two cats ourselves and even they both stay far, far away from the other cat.

I’d like to be friends with this cat, but I am starting to get really tired of it hissing, growling and pretty much throwing a fit every time we go into the same room. Is there any sure-fire way to make friends with it? Or, barring that, make it respect us so it doesn’t at least keep trying to attack us?
posted by Burritos Inc. to Pets & Animals (18 answers total)
For starters, see if your roommate would mind letting you take over feeding duties for a few weeks. Cats learn slowly, and they learn from positive reinforcement.

If you're the only person feeding the cat for a while, he/she should begin to show you a little more kindness.

Keep treats handy as well, so that when the cat is nice and lets you pet him/her, you can give out a reward. Basically, you need to train this cat through positive reinforcement that you are its friend.
posted by twiggy at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

If I understand this right, the cat has moved, with your friend, into your spare room in a house that already has cats.

Realize that cats are pretty attached to their territory and all of a sudden this cat has been upended and dropped somewhere completely new. I hope an actual cat-owner will chime in - I've seen this happen to other friends with cats when they move, and the only cure I've seen so far is time and a safe space for the cat.
posted by canine epigram at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2006

The cat sounds stressed out, probably by the move to a new place where there are other cats. Actually, that cat is definitely stressed out by the other cats.

Since you're not really under any moral obligation to seperate the cats, since this friend is crashing with you, you should try some appeasement like activity. Crouching down low, offering a hand for the cat to sniff, and not looking in it's direction are good starters. If that works out, sit on the floor, but don't stare at the cat. Just hang out silently for a while.

If that works, one thing you could try is looking at the cat by turning your head slowly while sitting on the floor, and slowly blinking your eyes, and then turning your head away. Apparently, in cat language, this means, "If I was going to attack you, do you think I'd be closing my eyes like this, all slow like? I don't think so."
posted by jon_kill at 12:01 PM on July 6, 2006

Go into a room that has the cat in it. Hold some catnip or cat treats in your hand. Get close enough that it knows you're there, but not so close it runs or tries to attack you. Find her "warning spot", where her ears are back, she's hissing a bit, but she hasn't gone batshit. Anyway, sit there. Read, knit, do something quietly. Occasionally slowly, slowly hold out your hand with the treats or catnip in it towards the cat and make soft chucking noises (don't know how else to describe them). When the cat seems comfortable try inching closer and closer towards it, a little bit at a time.

Depending on how psycho-bitch the cat is, this may take many sessions of just sitting before you can start moving closer or you may be able to move things faster along. You gotta get a feel for the cat's reactions. Basically, you're a new smell and presence to what sounds like a pretty territorial cat, and it has to figure out you're not a threat. Oh, and before you ever, ever try to pet it, let it sniff you first for as long as it feels like.

I've dealt with some pretty skittish, nasty cats (and dogs), and this method works for me.
posted by schroedinger at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2006

If the cat wasn't this way before, I'd guess that she's highly stressed. Cats are very territorial, and a move to a new place, particularly one that has other cats who live there is extremely stressful. She may not feel safe and is trying to assert that she has control over some territory by threatening and/or attacking you.

The San Francisco SPCA has some literature about behavior training cats. Here's one chapter that might be applicable.

I have some suggestions from the time that we got a new (second) cat and were having difficulty introducing her to our old cat. You all should have a period of time where the door to her room stays closed. The new cat has her food and litter box there. This should go on for a few days, and only your friend can use that room.

Then, after the cat's relaxed and feeling secure in the space, you can spend some time where the door to that room is open a bit, and the cat can peek out, but can always go back to "her" space when she feels threatened. She'll probably be bored and interested in going out and checking out the environment. During this time, don't make a big deal out of it - don't even make eye contact. You can even pretend she's invisible, while she's checking out the environment. She's going to have an "escape route" back to her room. Don't block the escape route if you can help it, as she'll feel more secure if she can beat a quick path back to her safe space.

After a while, she'll relax enough to approach you, or allow you to approach her. Follow your cats' lead on this - they know what's going on and will guide you in dealing with her. Finally, once all the territorial and hierarchy stuff is settled in her mind, I believe you'll find she'll calm down and blend in.

If she starts hissing or being aggressive, I'd suggest a handy water spray bottle, and let her run back to her space.
posted by jasper411 at 12:15 PM on July 6, 2006

posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:16 PM on July 6, 2006

The cat is stressed from the move, stressed by the presence of new people and stressed by the presence of new cats. Plus, this cat just sounds mean to begin with-- some cats are. In fact, she sounds a lot like my Manx, The Rabbit. All of the advice given in the thread so far has been good, but as long as the cat isn't actually destroying your possessions, attacking you or terrorizing the other cats, just ignore her when she hisses and yowls. Leave her be. Let her explore on her own time, and decide what she wants to do with you. There's not much you can do to hasten the process.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the good answers, so far.

A couple things of note:

- My roommate's bedroom is her "home base" and she mostly lounges in there all day, lying on his clean clothes (oh, cats, why do you do this). The problems arise when she comes out into the living room or goes onto the porch because she then has to interact with us. She also attempts to go into our room frequently to eat the kitten food we have out for the other cats. As she already has food and water in her room, this is a problem.

- She hates the other cats with a passion too. I think they want to play with her sometimes, but she'll go after them and they run off. They don't go down the hall into her room ever.

- I remember her having a sweet temperment as a kitten but the last couple of times I met her in her old house she was a stone cold bitch then too. I don't think it's just the move...
posted by Burritos Inc. at 12:25 PM on July 6, 2006

I have an extremely personable cat who will greet and demand attention from all visitors - however! Put him anywhere near another cat or dog and he puffs up, hisses and growls. Totally stressed out and intent on showing all how bad he is. I leave him alone when he gets like this. For him the issue is that he's always been an only cat and not had to share space with other cats - I'm thinking this may be the issue with your visiting cat. Without any frame of reference as to how to react, it's all learning experiences. Which unfortunately you have to live through.

I would agree to the squirt bottle of water (I use a plastic one from Home Depot that has a long range) when trying to keep this cat away from the kitten food - if not simply closing the door to the visitor cat's room when you are feeding your own cats. I'm hoping that visitor cat also has its own litterbox too, as that's something that can cause stress if she has to share.

I would have some times where I'd close the cat off in the room to give her down time. And I'd also spend some time ignoring her, when you're not playing fairness cop to make sure she doesn't hurt your cats. Some cats seem to have this weird issue of becoming more personable when you ignore them. Of course, she could just have a bitchy temperment and only likes one person. Cats are weird and definitely have their own unique (and often twisted) personalities. Which is probably why we like them.
posted by batgrlHG at 12:41 PM on July 6, 2006

Oh and one more thing - do you have one cat that you would consider the alpha cat, the one who usually bosses around the others and is accepted by the others - in other words, they recognize him/her as the alpha? If visitor cat has been around other cats but feels she's the alpha - well there may be a showdown. Definitely keep them separate. If visiting cat has never lived with other cats there may be a showdown for the alpha role anyway - she may cluelessly just feel the need to challange all the cats.

And best of luck to you, btw. This sounds like a fun situation - you are truly a good friend to take in both human and cat!
posted by batgrlHG at 12:51 PM on July 6, 2006

I introduced myself to my present cat who was an adult feral male with a very prickly outlook by misting my pant legs with catnip spray. We were friends within days and are best of buddies now.
posted by Raybun at 1:24 PM on July 6, 2006

I introduced myself to my present cat who was an adult feral male with a very prickly outlook by misting my pant legs with catnip spray. We were friends within days and are best of buddies now.

I would be careful with this. It sounds like a good idea on its face, and I have no doubt it worked for you... however:

My cats go apeshit insane for catnip, and while I haven't tested the theory, my guess based on seeing them interact with it is that they would scratch the holy hell out of my pants and legs if they were covered in catnip or catnip scent...
posted by twiggy at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2006

Forgot to mention that a teaspoon of cream is a very effective bribe
posted by Raybun at 2:52 PM on July 6, 2006

I still have puncture scars on my upper arm where one of my cats got overly excited by the smell of catnip on my hands. I'd be careful with smelling like catnip.

At my house, you'd have one cat with his claws embedded in your arm, another cat licking your arm, and a third coming at you at a full run to wallow on your hand.
posted by jeversol at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2006

lying on his clean clothes (oh, cats, why do you do this)

Oh, cats, because your owners do not put their clothes away!

I agree that this household seems like a prime candidate for Feliway.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:50 PM on July 6, 2006

I have nothing cat-related to add, other than that behaving submissively to animals that can't actually kill you tends to be a good way to get them to investigate rather than seeing you as a big threat.

However, have you TRIED lounging on clean laundry? It's really comfortable, I totally see why cats do it.
posted by softlord at 9:04 PM on July 6, 2006

There are two cats in my house, and one of them had a habit of stealing food of my plate, jumping on me, claws bared, then running away, pissing on my stuff, and running under my feet while I was walking.

I put up with this, and other problems for about three months, then I started keeping a small squirtgun in my pocket.

The cat does not bother me any more.
posted by gally99 at 9:06 PM on July 6, 2006

I once was in a living arrangement with four cats - two were mine, two were my roommates. There were some problems. My vet prescribed... anti-depressants.

They worked.

Everything was fine after 2 weeks on the pills. The only downside was that I had to pay for the pills out-of-pocket, since my insurance company refused to believe that my cats were my domestic partners. There were two different pills -- Buspar (a human anti-depressant) for the fat cat and a dog anti-depressant for the skinny cats, but I can't remember the name of that one.
posted by cactus at 6:50 AM on July 7, 2006

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