how can I make my cat like my wife?
June 1, 2007 2:07 PM   Subscribe

How can I make my cat like my wife?

I read this thread
but my cat is nearly 5 years old. I wish it was a matter of kittens and that eventually i could have her feed them into love. My cat won't even let my wife touch her - not even with offer of a delicious kitty treat.
when I got her she was a stray, and honestly has never really, really liked anyone but me. Though, historically, she didn't seem to dislike someone to the point where she wouldn't at least let you touch her. when wife and i first started living together the cat was borderline amiable to her. (my wife came with a dog, that the cat abhors, but has seemed to grow "used to"). Occasionally she would sit on the couch and even let the wife touch her.
We briefly acquired a serious flea infestation that it really seems like the cat blames my wife for - and since will have NOTHING to do with her. I would say that the cat is more comfortable with the dog now then my beautiful wife.
The cat spends most of her time hiding under the bed, sadly. Though, she'll come out to see me and if the dog's not around sit on my lap. and even lately she's becoming more comfortable with our new house and will move around a bit more freely. but I think i'm tired of it - i want a cat that my wife doesn't have any affection for, and one that's, in general, less scared of life. I don't want her to change (i truly, truly love that cat) I just want her to loosen up and be amiable to the wife.

that cat has zero interest in catnip, and barely an interest in toys anymore - so offering her either of those as a peace-maker isn't going to work.

anything that can be done besides putting wife on feeding and treat duty? My wife thinks maybe cat pheromones could calm her down (though, it looks to me like that's more of an anti-pee device) and make her generally more sociable and amiable. maybe there is some other cat-style drug that will have a similar catnip affect that I can have the wife dose her with?
posted by starr226 to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
having your wife on feeding duty is the only way this will work. it will take a long time and won't change over night.

the cat distrusts your wife probably more for her living with you than anything specifically wife centric. your cat probably learned to distrust humans or certain types of humans (it could be attached to smell) while a stray and your wife is now labeled in the cats mind as "negative". cats respond to food so have your wife be the only one that feeds your cat for awhile. once the cat realizes that your wife comes with food, things will gradually change.
posted by Stynxno at 2:18 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like your cat's gone through a lot of major changes and one serious flea infestation in a small amount of time. Any cat is going to react badly to all that, a former stray more so. The new home by itself is a major upset for her. It takes some cats months to adjust to a new home, and they'll act strangely during the entire adjustment period.

As for the relationship with your wife in particular, I hate to say it, but I don't think there's a lot to be done aside from handing over feeding duties as Stynxno suggests. Time is going to help the most here, and the feeding will speed things up a bit. The relationship between your cat and your wife is never going to be like it is between you & the cat, but given time your cat will accept her as a part of the family.
posted by minda25 at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2007

a serious flea infestation that it really seems like the cat blames my wife for ...

Sorry, but this has to be asked: Has your wife been completely honest with you?
posted by rob511 at 2:32 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

The only thing I have found that works to change cat behavior is time.

Time and consistency (on your part) will eventually wear the cat down.

If it helps, one of our cats ignored me for the first four years he lived with us. He didn't dislike me per se, he just liked my partner more. So he would hide and do his solitary cat things when it was just me at home, and come out and purr when both of us were around.

One day he hopped up in my lap and began purring. It was like a CrazyKitty switch was flipped. He is now far more "my" cat than my partner's.
posted by Sheppagus at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2007

You could start by getting the cat a ring and dressing her in your wife's clothes.

Oh... You meant "like" like.

Something that helped a co-worker who had a similar problem (only with her husband) was a prescription for valium. For the cat. Apparently, a narcotic haze helped the cat be more mellow and amiable to, well, everything. (In the end, the cat was right, as the guy became an abusive control freak, and they currently live in the Upper Peninsula, raising his kids, and she's not allowed any outside contact. She wrote back to us asking us to stop contacting her, because it was "making things very hard at home.")

So, talk to your vet, get a prescription, and make sure that your wife isn't a lunatic.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on June 1, 2007

what is your cat's favorite liquid, fish oil, beef consomme, chicken gravy, what?
your wife needs to coat her hand with this liquid and let the cat lick it off of her.
posted by bruce at 2:53 PM on June 1, 2007

My cat never liked my husband, nor did she get along with other pets we had. Her entire life, I'd kept her sequestered in my (to be "our") bedroom, isolated from us and the rest of the house. She was very much my cat and as loving as could be to me, but in the end, the cat had to go.

(The Humane Society wouldn't take her because she'd attacked my husband; and none of the no-kill shelters would take a hostile cat. I had tried giving her medication to chill her out (kitty valium), but it only made her off-balance. In the end, I had to put her to sleep. She was 11 years old.)

She never got along with either of my roommates, either. I realized now that I could have saved several years of frustration (both mine and hers) at the living arrangements had I made the choice sooner, but I always thought she would change. I guess I under (over?) estimated her intelligence, because she never did. I did no one any favors by prolonging her life, but still, it was the hardest thing for me to do, knowing that she loved only me in this whole big world.

I can't offer you any help, but I am offering a data point that suggests that sometimes, cats don't change.
posted by parilous at 3:03 PM on June 1, 2007

Feeding duty, for sure, and also Feliway is generally just good for anxious cats, and since you've recently moved house, it can't hurt to try it.

You can't make the cat like your wife, though. If your wife is patient and doesn't persue the cat, feeds it, speaks to it soothingly, and lets it alone when it wants to be let alone, then maybe it will work out. But your cat might just be a one-man girl.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:04 PM on June 1, 2007

I would say your wife might try to ignore your cat more. Though dear, some cats are very vain little animals - we have three - and the one way to get them to want a cuddle is to completely ignore them, particularly if that's what they want (hiding under the bed, etc.)

My cat did this when I moved in with my SO and his two cats. He shied away from my SO, wouldn't allow him to pet him, would take any food offered and then just prance away without so much as a headbutt to the ankle. So, my SO mostly ignored him, would occasionally be the one to feed him, and basically just didn't pursue my cats affections beyond what my cat was willing to concede.

Then I went out of town for extended periods time for work. Well, slowly but surely, the tide turned, my SO became the main source of food and affection and, in about two years time all-tolled, my cat made peace with my SO. He even sits on his lap now and naps with him occasionally.

Oh, one last thing - you don't mention any other cats. My cat had to learn the pecking order in a three cat household. It's made alot of difference - he is not the alpha, nor is he the omega. He falls right in the middle and this socialization has helped. Also, he's never completely alone anymore when we are away and I think that helped alot, too.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:20 PM on June 1, 2007

A vet treated my friend's antisocial cat with Prozac. ... I know, it sounds like a joke, but apparently it worked.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:23 PM on June 1, 2007

In this order:

Buy a good book on cat behaviour (ask your vet to recommend one) Both you and your wife read it. Learn how to mimic a bit of cat body language. Slow blinks, looking away, yawning, lying on your side on the floor - a good cat behaviour book will show you all of these things.

Feliway - fit your entire home up with some Feliway diffusers. It will make your home smell more like your cat, to your cat You won't be able to smell it, your cat will. There's also a product called Felifriend which you put on your hands before handling your cat, it mimics the friendly smell cats give off to each other when socialising. Many vets in the UK use it before they handle nervous cats, it's quite effective.

Environment: If your cat prefers quiet time alone, then reward it with that. Make sure she has plenty of high up spaces to get away from the dog. Ensure the cat can feed in peace, uninterrupted by the dog. Don't keep washing your cat's bedding, allow it to smell of her a bit. It will give your cat a feeling of security. Put some cat bedding under the bed initially, allow her to stay there as long as she wants. She needs at least one seriously secure place to relax. Train your dog, not to hassle the cat. Ensure your dog gets enough attention too.

Patience - Allow the cat to come to your wife of her own will. No forcing. Yes, it's a good idea to encourage your wife to feed your cat. Spend some time playing with your cat yourself to reinforce the bond you have with it. Again, don't force play. Both you and your wife need to avoid sustained direct eye contact with your cat, cats see this as confrontational and a precursor to aggression.

Time - and lots of it. These situations can take a long while to resolve. Consistency and calm will go along way to allowing all the involved animals (you and your wife included) to learn to trust each other again. Repeated rejection by an animal can be real hard for a human to take, it feels, and is personal. It's worse if the human wants only to be close to the animal. Withdrawing a little, and both of you staying as chilled as possible will likely allow your cat to decide for herself to come back to you and make friends with your wife.

It sounds as if your cat has been through some serious times with moving, a new partner for you, a dog and the big flea infestation. This is a lot for a cat to adapt to in a short space of time. Animals pick up on our stresses very quickly.

It might be worth getting your vet to check your cat over and maybe do a blood test for anaemia, a serious flea infestation can cause this, and the resultant symptoms can cause a change in behaviour. A test for diabetes could be done at the same time, major stress is often a cause of diabetes in cats. Make sure both animals are wormed too. Don't fret about the lack of interest in catnip, some cats just don't have the gene needed to be sensitive to it.

Good luck!
posted by Arqa at 4:21 PM on June 1, 2007 [3 favorites]

Some people swear by Bach's Rescue Remedy.

But IME, only time (and maybe lots of it) will bring about real genuine amicability.
posted by wayward vagabond at 4:32 PM on June 1, 2007

Arqa beat me to a lot of what I wanted to say. Let me just reiterate this point: if your wife has a dog, and has never had a cat before, she simply may be displaying a lot of body language that the cat finds offensive, but which dogs react well to. Cats respond well to a lot of body language that a dog owner would never think of using, such as making brief eye contact and blinking very deliberately at a cat and then waiting for a responding eye blink or head turn before approaching, and apart from that avoiding eye contact in general. A cat behavior book could go a long way towards forming a bond between cat and your wife.

Your cat could also just be jealous, in a manner of speaking. It wouldn't be the first territorial cat I've seen.
posted by internet!Hannah at 7:45 PM on June 1, 2007

My mother's cat is a one-woman cat. This creature growls, bites, and hisses at me if I try to speak with her or pet her, unless she is on my mother's lap. Then, my caresses are tolerated with flat-eared, squinch-eyed grimness.

We tried the feed-the-cat route, and now I am her little bitch when I visit. If I get up any time near to her scheduled dinner hour, the cat will curse me and chivy me and attack my feet all the way over to the food. I get no love.

Ten years of kindness and fish-flavoured dry cereal hasn't won me any status with this beast. Don't give up, but don't be too sad if your wife never gets added to the cat-karass.
posted by Sallyfur at 9:49 PM on June 1, 2007

Make sure your wife says hello to the cat each time she enters a room where it is - just a little nod and a soft "hey, kitty" will do wonders over time. And nthing the very important fact that she should be the only one feeding the cat from now on. Those two things will count for a lot.

Can you give us a timeline of events? It might help judge how badly the cat's reacting to know when the move happened, e.g., and the flea infestation, if the dog and wife moved in before the move, etc. If any of this has happened in the last two months, I'd say just relax and give the cat some space, along with lots of love. It'll come around.
posted by mediareport at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2007

The post by Arqa had a lot of wonderful suggestions. I agree completely.

The fastest way to get your cat to like your wife is to help your cat to feel comfortable in her new home. Once your cat feels relaxed in her new surroundings she will naturally warm up to your wife.

In my experience this involves a 3 part strategy.
Part 1 is creating a cat friendly home environment.
Part 2 is non-threatening interaction with your wife.
Part 3 is stimulating interaction with your cat's favorite person (You).

Part 1:Non-Threatening Environment
The quickest way to help your cat feel secure is to create new areas in the house that belong solely to her and are off-limits to the dog. I suggest installing wall mounted shelves in multiple rooms throughout the house. Cats feel more secure at higher elevations, plus these wall perches offer an easy place to escape to when she feels threatened.

I also recommend getting a tall cat tree with alcoves that allow her to both hide and survey the room at the same time. A tree that attaches to the ceiling and has a wide base for extra stability is ideal. This will give your scared kitty an increased feeling of security and encourage her to venture out from underneath your bed and explore the house.

Rubbing her face and neck with a towel and then rubbing the towel on her new cat ledges and cat tree will deposit her scent on the new items and help her to know that they belong to her.

I would also suggest getting an additional litter box and putting it in an area that the dog and your wife do not frequent. Some cats feel vulnerable when using the litterbox. Your cat may appreciate having another litterbox to use when your wife or the dog is near her regular litterbox.

I know that this may seem like a lot to do just to make your cat comfortable, but in my opinion it is the quickest way to get your cat comfortable in her new home and will give you the fastest results.

Part 2: Non-Threating Cat/Wife Interaction

In my experience, if a cat dislikes a person it is usually because the cat views that person as a threat.

The first step toward getting your cat to like your wife is to have your wife behave in a non-threatening manner whenever she is around your cat. I define non-threatening behavior as not approaching the cat and not interacting with the cat unless the cat initiates the interaction. This includes not making eye contact with the cat.

If you put your wife on food duty for at least one meal a day it will speed up the process. This will allow your cat to get used to her presence and associate it with something non-threatening and enjoyable like food.

If your cat attempts to interact with your wife by rubbing against her feet or rubbing against her hand I would recommend that your wife passively allow your kitty to touch her without moving and without attempting to pet the cat. This will let your cat know that your wife is not a threat.

After your cat routinely greets your wife and seeks to interact with her then I would recommend that your wife attempt to speak to your cat softly or briefly attempt to pet her and then slowly increase the interaction to a level that your cat will accept.

I have a little story about one of my kitties and my mom.

From the start my little stray cat (Mr. Booboo) mistrusted my mother. Despite Mr. Booboo's mistrust, my mom absolutely loved him. She would throw him treats and slices of meat every day. Then one day my mother threw a piece of meat and it hit Mr. Booboo on the head. He freaked out and ran into his little house. Unfortunately after the meat incident Mr. Booboo refused to have anything to do with my mother.

But my mother didn't give up on Mr. Booboo. She stopped throwing out treats, but she still put out his afternoon kibble everyday. For several weeks he wouldn't go near his food until my mom left the room. Eventually he would allow her to be in the same room while he ate. Next, he allowed her to stand next to the bowl while he ate. Finally, (after several months) when he saw her with the food bowl he would run up to her and start eating before the bowl hit the ground.

Now Mr. Booboo and my mom are the best of friends. He runs to the door when she calls his name and he even lets her pet him and give him massages.

Part 3: Stimulating Interaction with You

Just like your cat, my Mr. Booboo shows no interest in playing with interactive toys. The one thing he really seemes to enjoy is sitting on my lap. I embraced his love of lounging and started holding him on my lap and petting him for approximately an hour every evening.

I eventually found a fantastic video on cat massage . My Mr. Booboo absolutely loves our massage sessions and engages in serious power purring whenever he is being massaged.

I notice that the massage sessions really seem to relax him and he is much more tolerant of outside stimulation during and after a massage session.

It may be helpful for you to have a 15-30 minute private petting session each day with your cat. I hold our daily massage session in the same place at approximately the same time everyday. It gives my cat something to look forward to. In fact my cat often sits like a roasted hen next to our recliner and meows to remind me that its time for his massage.

It will help to hold your petting sessions in a room where your cat won't see or hear your wife or her dog. This will allow you and your cat to bond again in your new home without any stressors. This will also give your wife private time each day to bond with her dog. With all of the changes in the household he may be missing alone time with her as well.

As a final suggestion, there are anti-depressant drugs that your veterinarian can prescribe like Amitriptyline and Prozac that can help your scared kitty to relax. From what I've read these drugs tend to work best when they are used in combination with behavior therapy.
posted by alleycatd at 9:05 PM on June 6, 2007

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