Help me spoil my cat!
June 12, 2008 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Catfilter: How do I reward positive behavior in a cat that doesn't like anything?

My cat, Gabby, doesn't like cat treats. The only "people food" she really likes is cookie dough. She doesn't respond to catnip. She hates to be brushed. She will occasionally play with us but usually gets bored and wanders off. She doesn't like to be held and petted unless it's on her terms. She's a loving cat, but it just needs to be when and how she wants it. She's also rather skittish.

We recently got a new kitten, Zappa, and Gabs has been behaving very well with him. She hisses plenty, but hasn't attacked him, hasn't run away to hide, hasn't acted out in other ways, even let him use her litterbox (THAT one floored me). She's been more standoffish than usual with us, but I'm not surprised - she needs quiet and calm before she'll come up to you for some love. The kitten is an attention whore, so I think she's feeling a little neglected. I want to give her some sort of positive reinforcement for behaving so well, as well as make sure that she knows we love her and haven't replaced her...but how?
posted by CrazyGabby to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tuna or canned sardines. Our cats go nuts for them.
posted by iamabot at 9:54 AM on June 12, 2008

I agree with iamabot. My cat sounds a lot like yours and she likes the canned tuna or canned salmon.
posted by likesuchasand at 10:07 AM on June 12, 2008

If she responds to your voice, then you can talk to her. Our cats know "happy human" and "Gee I shouldn't have done that human" very well, and you can tell a huge difference when you are saying, "Good kitty, come see mommy," (even if they don't come) and "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" (stern, quit-it voice). Tuna is a good treat, as suggested - the kitten probably doesn't need any, and it's supposed to be the other cat's treat, so if you can be in a room with her somewhere where the other kitty can't get her treat, even better.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:14 AM on June 12, 2008

If you know she likes cookie dough, but don't want to give it to her all the time, maybe you could use that as a jumping-off point to figure out some kind of cat treat she'd like instead. Not sure what kinds you've tried, but there's a huge variety. Cats can't taste sugar, so it seems like one of the many soft treats on the market must have a close enough consistency to cookie dough to make her happy.

And yeah, if your cat isn't crazy about canned fish, you should probably take her to the vet. Use it sparingly though, because it can cause urinary tract problems.
posted by contraption at 10:15 AM on June 12, 2008

Maybe give her cookie dough?
posted by sondrialiac at 10:15 AM on June 12, 2008

Sounds like she's doing great, and they're going to be friends pretty soon!

Seconding your voice. If you talk to her and use her name a lot in a very positive tone when she's doing something good, she'll get it.

She'll probably also go nuts for tuna like iamabot said, but wouldn't you have to give some to the kitten too? Which might make her jealous all over again.
posted by GardenGal at 10:17 AM on June 12, 2008

What's in the cookie dough she likes? Maybe it's the consistency and the saltiness? My cats have usually all appreciated salty things - one cat would kill for McDs french fries. Maybe other cat treats/human food would be similar enough?
posted by cgg at 10:22 AM on June 12, 2008

I've had cats that liked butter, salad greens, raw cabbage, green beans, peanut butter, vaseline, and tomato cores, so maybe try some non-traditional "treat" options if you haven't already. Other less-odd faves have included sashimi of various types, turkey/chicken lunch meat, and homemade beef jerky.

Mine have also all liked those little pots of wheatgrass you sometimes see in pet stores.

If you just want to do something nice for her, rather than rewarding a specific behavior, maybe she'd like a windowsill perch, heated bed, fountain-type water bowl, or something like that. Mine are currently enjoying a playhouse I made for them out of a big cardboard box, so it doesn't necessarily need to cost anything.
posted by magicbus at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2008

Since I posted that, I've read in two places that tomatoes can be toxic to cats, so please avoid the tomato cores.
posted by magicbus at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2008

Have you tried really finely minced (almost pureed) raw chicken liver? My little Imogene can slurp through a dish of that in mere seconds. She doesn't like much people food, but that, equally finely minced raw shrimp, or tuna sashimi make her insane.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2008

Turns out my cat doesn't like anchovies. So, in case yours isn't into the other fishy treats mentioned, I'll tell you this:

He went absolutely nuts the day I brought home a couple of fresh crabs and cooked them. I'm sure he still remembers just the smell, ten years later.

If you want to get away from strictly food-based items, and your cat likes calm and maybe a little space, why not give her that? A little cat home could be wonderful for her. Maybe a cat condo on a tower that's hers hers hers. If you can give her some time with it alone without the kitten, that would probably help. Also, if you get the kitten his own, or just get two and let the adult cat claim her own first, that might help. No telling what will eventually happen, but if you can make it clear that one is hers from the get-go, that might work.

If little kitten grows into a bully, I can't promise anything.

Make sure the condo/enclosed space is large enough for her to lay comfortably even if she wants to stretch out a little. One "nest" we got our cat isn't comfortable for him anymore now that he's older.
posted by amtho at 10:50 AM on June 12, 2008

my cats love love love beef jerky. (obviously, use tiny tiny pieces)

even the picky cat who has been known to turn down tuna and salmon loves beef jerky.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:14 PM on June 12, 2008

Cooked chicken, oat greens, Greenies, and a happy dot to wear out the kitten.
posted by bonobo at 1:02 PM on June 12, 2008

My wife's cat loves dry cereal and cracker bits. Grape nuts? He'll fight you for a handful. If she's not into the fishes, see if she likes a couple of Wheaties flakes or a corner broken off of a saltine cracker.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:42 PM on June 12, 2008

One of my four cats was like this, there just wasn't anything obvious that could be used as a reward, because he didn't much seem to like anything.

Just out of principle, I got in the habit of giving him a quick rub on the head every time I fed him and after a while I noticed that he actually would come to me for brief moments of affection: where the other cats would enjoy being scratched for an extended period of time, he is content to come, sit on my chest for five minutes, purr, make the bread for a bit, and then he's done for another couple of days.

It's kind of sweet actually.

(We did eventually also discover his kryptonite: sliced turkey lunch meat. It's like the crack to him, and he will come running from across the entire house if he hears that drawer of the fridge open.)
posted by quin at 2:04 PM on June 12, 2008

If your cat likes to be on or near you when you're in bed or lazing on the couch, do more of that. If you think there's a relationship problem between the cat and the kitten, make sure both are included. I had a problem in the past where kitten got all the attention, so older cat would just leave - it ended up isolating itself. A couple of naps with cat in one armpit and kitten in the other (or wherever they like to sleep in proximity to you) seemed to prove some sort of unifying pack bond to both of them and everyone was happier afterwards. Happens sometimes with humans - when baby comes, sibling sometimes feels like they're not part of the family anymore; demonstrating to cat that kitten is an addition to the family, not a change in the family structure that cuts cat out is possibly more important than finding the right treat.

Oh, and cats cant's taste sweet, but do like salty and oily things (and not necessarily out of your hand or while you're watching). Try a few. -demonstrably excluding kitten from the reward "NO, this is for Cat! goway" seems to sometimes help too, but I may be projecting.-
posted by penciltopper at 3:20 PM on June 12, 2008

My cats lose their damned minds with happy when I break out the Kitty Kaviar.

Basically, it's just bonito (dried tuna shavings.)
posted by Cyrano at 3:42 PM on June 12, 2008

...maybe showering all of the love onto her very own, brand new 'Patsy' - is all the love she ever could've hoped for??
"Jeebus, I'm near you people, isn't that enough! Hisss!! Yep, that's the way mate back over there. Go on - go love each other. Yes, purrrs, that's the way. Wasn't so hard was it?" :) :) Everybody wins!!

I suspect you could feed her whatever you please... but just no watching her/ seeing if she likes it/ being 'near' her or attention! :) :)

Cats are introverts/extroverts too...
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 4:38 PM on June 12, 2008

Oh one more thing - it turns out that my cat really likes the little tiny corners of saltine crackers I give him sometimes. Goes a little crazy for them. I tried this after remembering that some cats really like white bread, and since yours likes cookie dough, maybe this is something to try.
posted by amtho at 8:04 PM on June 12, 2008

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