My Cat. Period.
March 5, 2007 10:39 AM   Subscribe

TMI question about cat behavior: Has anybody ever had a cat whose behavior seems to change with certain, um, phases in your (or your female partner's) menstrual cycle? (more inside)

My cat is 12-years old and intensely bonded with me (which is typical for former ferals). He usually falls asleep in my arms at night and sleeps next to my head touching me. But I always used to notice that there were about ten days each month, between ovulation and the time my period started, that he was less clingy and would sleep at the foot of the bed instead. My period has become erratic in the last five years, and I haven't had one for a year, but I'm pretty sure that Aunt Rose is chugging into town. The cat seems to have completely freaked out. He wouldn't let me get near him for three days, and is now sleeping on the couch. Also, he's been all up in his catnip constantly. Can he really sense this stuff? Am I projecting? HAVE I BECOME A CRAZY CAT LADY???
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hormone levels do affect humans' scent, so it's plausible that your cat would know. Why he cares is a different question.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2007

I second the hormone theory. Cats are sensitive to hormones/scent, and you've probably had a fluctuation recently.
That said, such a strong of a change in behavior in your cat strikes me as being brought on by something more than a change in hormones.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:57 AM on March 5, 2007

I often get something like PMS around the same time as my wife. Nothing happens with our cats. If the cause were physical I would expect the cats to be much more sensitive to it than me.

Perhaps your behavior towards the cat changed in some subtle way before/during your period and that's what he's picking up on. Doesn't take much to freak a feral.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:09 AM on March 5, 2007

I had an ex-boyfriend who could smell what part of my cycle on was on (when I was fully clothed!), and whether I was on the Pill. It was freaky as hell, but he was accurate enough that I stopped doubting it.

One of our family's dogs always got much more protective of my mother when she was menstruating.

So, yes, I think some animals (and people) can tell these things. It does seem odd that the cat would care, though.
posted by occhiblu at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2007


As long as you fear that you are, you aren't.
posted by chairface at 11:22 AM on March 5, 2007

Your cat knows that you are different and reacts differently because of it. No question about it, dogs and cats both can sense subtle or not-so-subtle changes in their human partner's hormone levels, chemistry, etc.
posted by vito90 at 11:54 AM on March 5, 2007

Like occhiblu's ex, I can usually pick up on a girl's place in her cycle. Pre-MS can smell like right after a light work out, and MS is... much worse. Ovulation is so damn hard coded I won't notice it till I pick up on the abscence of a smell. If that weren't odd enough, I could swear the women I've been around undergoing change of life are stuck somewhere between the Pre-MS and MS phases... I don't know the science so maybe that doesn't make sense, but thats what it seems like.

Unfortunately your cat seems to shy away from you in that part of the cycle, and if my nose is anything to go by he is sensing you are there non-stop. Since estrogen therapy is out of the question these days that leaves retraining the cat (and yes, they are stubborn enough that I considered the options in that order). The only other option I can suggest is one I've wondered about but never dared to ask... I don't know how often you shower/bathe but the women I know of who do that twice a day rarely if ever have a smell at all. It might be interesting to try for a week to see what happens. I hope it works out... you're not crazy.
posted by jwells at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2007

... excuse me while I reel from the information that I smell different to men through my cycle. My mind just exploded.
posted by loiseau at 3:59 PM on March 5, 2007

He might think you're getting ready to have a litter, and queens with a litter are often very agressive toward any males in the vicinity-- and as a feral, he might have a bit of experience along those lines.
posted by jamjam at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2007

Uhm, you guys who can smell the difference, pleeeeease keep it to yourself. I've seen this whipped out, as it were, as a party trick, and it might be the most mortifying public activity I've ever witnessed. As in, none of the women present ever got within five feet of Senor Superschnozz again. Would you?
posted by Scram at 4:56 PM on March 5, 2007

Yeah, even I, a lowly human, can pick up on the cycle. Some women have a much stronger scent than others, to the point where, if it's the wrong time of the month, I will not want to be in a car with them if I can't put my face near a window. And then there's the pregnancy smell, which I can pick up about a month in. And the disturbing "female trouble" smell. And a lot of it comes even through things like your breath and sweat. So, if I and others can do it, well, cats will be completely aware. Jamjam is right - if it's a boycat, you have that kind of situation. Occasionally wild female cats will help out other female cats when pregnant, according to this fairly recent study done somewhere in England. People also give off different kinds of funk when they're ill, and you'll find pets will respond to that, too.

On preview, and totally off-topic: It can mortify, but I also got used as an early pregnancy kit. I also sent a woman trying to use me as an early pregnancy kit to see her OB/GYN, stat, because she smelled like she had something seriously wrong with her. As it turns out, she did. I generally don't bring up the female thing, but I'll find myself noticing who was in a room recently and asking about them, or avoiding the sick.
posted by adipocere at 5:12 PM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Although it's clear cats and other animals have heightened senses of smell (compared to us), I'm gonna go with the Dog Whisperer theory of animal behavior (which does apply to social animals other than dogs) and say that it's probably your behavior he's responding to more than the smell.

Even if it is smell I'd guess that this behavior is undesirable- after all, there's no reason for him to be afraid of you or less affectionate when you're PMSing. You're not dangerous or anything (men, don't take that as an invitation for smartass comments ;)

So how do you change it? If you want to encourage behavior, positive reinforcement. If you want to discourage behavior, negative reinforcement.

You want to encourage him to be affectionate regardless of your cycle. So maybe try giving him treats to get him to come near you. Only give them to him once he seems relaxed around you (rather than tense). Ideally this should be him sitting calmly in your lap or something. It doesn't work if you pick him up and put him in your lap, he has to come of free will. The idea is for him to associate your period with yummy treats (or anything else rewarding to him, like affection/petting- although the treat smell will prob be more effective at first, you don't want to have to rely on treats- that's just to get him past his initial standoffishness).

But remember- no rewards until he relaxes and does what you want (happily purring snuggled up next to you). Rewarding him while he's still nervous means he'll just take the food and run, and it reinforces his nervous behavior (hey, being nervous means I get treats- I'll be more nervous!). :)

And be calm and assertive!! ;)
posted by thejrae at 5:12 AM on March 6, 2007

You're not dangerous or anything (men, don't take that as an invitation for smartass comments ;)

That's like saying "don't think of pink elephants!"

Sorry, I'll go now...
posted by ob at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2007

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