My cat's gone mad with love!
June 14, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

My cat demands constant affection. When she doesn't get it she screams and pushes herself against me. It is cute for short periods of time but recently she has become even more vocal and more needy. It's to the point that if I'm on the phone she is screaming in the background. If I have company she is in their face trying to get attention unless I am constantly petting her. How can I help her and help my sanity?

I realize this question is selfish but it's an issue that is bothering me. I love my cat. She's sweet and doesn't have a mean bone in her body. But she is crazy needy. If she is laying on me she slowly works her way up my body until her face is right next to mine licking my face. I used to try and let her wear herself out with the licking or whatever but it doesn't really work. She just keeps going. If I have company over she jumps in everyone's lap and presses her face into their hands until she is getting petted. She licks them compulsively. It can be offputting for my company. Every one who meets her says that she is not like any cat they have ever seen.

So I have started to think that she might have an imbalance of some sort. But in researching online every imbalance that I've read about seems to present itself by cats being less social not more social. Every vet I've seen laughs off my concern and says that it is a good sign that she acts this way. I don't think they understand the extent of the affection. It is constant, loud, and sometimes odd.

For a bit of background on the cat, the lady from whom I got her says she was sitting on a bench in the park and my cat was screaming under the bench. She was very young at this point and undernourished. This nice lady took her in and got her healthy. The lady had me housesit for my cat and 2 other cats for about a year and a half. When she moved she couldn't take all of her animals and I got Julie because I got along with her wonderfully. Her needs have grown as I have had her and it is getting to a point that I think she might need help. I have one other cat but they don't really play much.

Any help or thoughts or stories about similar situations would help!
posted by aburd to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yet another cat - a kitten, perhaps - that will play with her.

The Tickler cat toy.

posted by By The Grace of God at 12:47 PM on June 14, 2008

Response by poster: To clarify, my cat is the one who doesn't like to play with the other cat. My other cat is very playful but Julie (the cat in question) doesn't play along. And she gets bored quickly with toys. She likes attention.
posted by aburd at 12:50 PM on June 14, 2008

Phones are a problem for cats. The cat thinks you are talking to it and disregarding it, and that's just mean. Note--cats also have just about no 'follow someone's gaze' ability.
posted by hexatron at 12:53 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree totally with the get another cat to keep her company idea. Try going to a good shelter where you can talk to someone who knows how to "match" cats and explain your situation. Not only will your problem be solved, but you'd be saving a cat from a miserable life (or possibly two, since Julie does sound terribly bored.)

Good luck!
posted by neblina_matinal at 12:54 PM on June 14, 2008

I only now read you already have another cat. Well, I still think that a third cat, if you possibly can do it, is the ticket. Cats are like people in so many ways, and it's amazing how they'll relate to one but not another cat. Just be sure to be advised by the right person when making your pick.
posted by neblina_matinal at 1:10 PM on June 14, 2008

My cat is very needy in a similar way. Mostly, I'm just used to it. Frequently, I loudly mewl back at her just to be confusing. When it gets irritating, I've found the only thing that helps is not just to pet her but to vigorously play with her. An energetic session of fetch with a nip mouse or chasing the bouncy feather thing on a string gets rid of her nervous energy and wears her out a bit.
posted by mostlymartha at 1:11 PM on June 14, 2008

Sounds like Julie probably left Mommie cat too soon, and then lost her other owner and cat friends. I had a male cat whose mother abandoned her litter and he was my shadow for quite a while. His sister got over her issues but he had to sleep in the crook of my neck and get lots of affection for a long time.

I've had some success with mother cat substitutes, like a large soft stuffed dog with long hair, fleece blankets folded into a bed (put under a 4-legged chair to make them feel safe), and a corrugated cat pad stuck inside a small mesh laundry hamper laid on it's side (black mesh, they think no one can see them but they can see out).

Try for a routine every morning, after Julie eats, pick her up and carry her, petting and talking to her. When you have had enough, put her gently on her favorite sleeping spot or a soft blanket folded up. If she comes back, play with her until she's worn out. Then place her back on the bed.

What you are doing now is "training" her to keep doing what she's doing, because it works. I had to do this with my cat, he was keeping me awake at night, so I pet him, then put him at the foot of the bed. It took at least two weeks before he stopped padding my head and sleeping on my pillow (cute for kittens not so cute for a 12 pounder who's just exited his litter box). He get a routine of a few scoops of soft food in the morning, then pick up and hold time, then play time. After that, I more or less ignore him while I do my stuff and he sits in a chair or window nearby, then goes into his house/bed. He gets more laptime and petting in the evening.

Does your cat have some Siamese in her, perhaps? They are very vocal.

If a routine doesn't work, call your vet, perhaps? Has she been fixed? Females yowl a lot when they are in heat and do the affection stuff too.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2008

a squirt gun and/or compressed air is a harmless way to train a cat to stop bad behavior. you won't traumatize her. she was probably taken away from her mother too early and spent enough time in the company of humans as a tiny baby that she probably thinks she's a human, not a cat. so playing with the other cat might not seem natural to her. but if you withdraw your affection, she may seek it out from the other cat.

if she licks your face, pick her up and put her on the floor. if she howls while you're on the phone, squirt her. if she bothers guests, close her up in another room.

it does seem a little harsh--you'd never train a child that way--but animals are different. you can't be subtle with them. and training a pet is the best gift you can give them.
posted by thinkingwoman at 1:49 PM on June 14, 2008

My cat is part Burmese/Siamese and screams constantly. She also doesn't like toys or playing with other cats (though she loves to fetch), and she could lick me for days. You are lucky at least that your cat doesn't bite visitors, like mine does! When it gets really bad, I wonder about Kitty Prozac but I haven't pursued that because it seems a little exteme. Generally-speaking, though, I've reluctantly accepted it. At least you're not alone?
posted by unknowncommand at 1:54 PM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: My cat is also very affectionate and high-energy, but not as demanding as yours. Thoughts:

* Toys: For 7 years I kept buying new toys, and he would love them at first, but get bored quickly. But one day I stumbled on a toy that he doesn't get tired of. After six months he still comes running across the apartment as soon as he sees it. So I wouldn't be afraid to keep experimenting, and small differences in the toy (color, feathers/not, bells/not, etc.) can matter a lot. Also try to pretend that the toy is a mouse or bird, and make it act realistically, for example, by running away from the cat and hiding under a bed. This can drive them crazy.

* Getting another cat: I have to disagree with people who make this recommendation lightly. What if they don't like each other? Even though your two cats don't play much, they pay close attention to each other, whether as friends or rivals. Julie might be even *more* demanding if you didn't have the other cat.
posted by sesquipedalian at 2:12 PM on June 14, 2008

I have to EMPHATICALLY disagree with all the others saying that you should get another cat. There is no promise that this would work, and may make her neurotic. I've heard from several vets specializing in felines (one on a radio show, one "in person") that it is a common mistake to think that your cat is "lonely" or would in some way LIKE another cat around. Generally, cats can be territorial and loners. Adding another cat COULD help, but could also create NEW problems.

I believe that the spray bottle or vigorous play may be the best answers so far. I definitely feel your pain. That would be very annoying, after a point. The good thing about the spray bottle is that it isn't YOUR HAND touching the cat, and they won't necessarily associate it with you.
posted by Espoo2 at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2008

Honestly, the spray bottle for this sounds like a bad idea. This is not bad behaviour, it's just too much of a good thing, but obviously cats don't know that. Training has to be army-like, extremelly consistent. When would the OP squirt the cat? Whenever it's too much? And what's that? 5 minutes? Or 10 if she's actually enjoying the cat's attention? 5 seconds if she's on the phone? That'd end up making for a seriously confused cat.

Marie Mon Dieu's answer seems like the most balanced one, if the OP can follow it. Training a cat is not an easy job, and not for those of little patience.

And do notice I don't reccomend another cat "lightly" at all. Big emphasys on "if you can (also read "want")" and "getting someone experienced to pick the new cat".
posted by neblina_matinal at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2008

if she licks your face, pick her up and put her on the floor. if she howls while you're on the phone, squirt her.

This sounds mean but in my opinion it has the best chance of working. Cats are very good at learning what gets them what they want and what gets them in trouble. If you punish the cat when she does something that you don't want her to do, and praise her when she does something good, she will be more likely to do the good things and less likely to do the bad things.

For example, ignoring you cat until she becomes annoying and then finally petting her to get her to be quiet is the worst possible thing you can do. You are teaching your cat that the best way to get petted is to be as annoying as possible. Instead, shoo her away when she is being annoying, and only pet her when she is behaving well.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2008

My cat also appears to have "emotional problems" ... he's neutered and all but he squawks a lot, bites and claws when you pet him "wrong" and fights with neighbor cats.

My cat was also neglected as a kitten the same way you described yours.

I find that if I give him extra attention and play with him vigorously every night, he behaves better and fights less. (because he's happy and tired)

The spray bottle and other punishments have never worked for me. They usually just scare the shit out of him.
posted by metajc at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2008

I'm going to repeat the water-bottle advice. My last cat was _extremely_ needy, nearly as bad as you describe. I found that using the bottle at specific times and places -- when I was trying to cook in the kitchen; when I was in bed -- did a good job of creating boundaries. When I was outside of those "no crazy cat zones," I just tried to live with who he was.

It took time to make it work. But I think it was successful because I wasn't trying to change his craziness. I don't think you can ever really do that with a cat.
posted by not_the_water at 5:00 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Can you let the cat out at night? Being able to chase mice and explore territory greatly reduces annoying behaviour and neediness.
posted by jouke at 6:16 PM on June 14, 2008

Best answer: I have a good friend who has a cat that sounds just like yours. So I know you are not alone. And i know what it is like to have this cat NEEDING your attention and to be petted at all times.
I have been professionally training animals for about 8 years now and can't really tell you why she is doing this ( i agree that she probably was taken away from mom too young or some similar separation anxiety) but I can try and help you get the behavior you do want.
I have found that trying to tell an animal what NOT to do isn't the best approach. Spraying her with things, while it may stop her from climbing on you and yowling and pushing, is not telling her what she SHOULD be doing. In more extreme cases (which yours sounds like it might be) using the spray of something startling might be needed so you can stop her obsessive behavior long enough to reward her for doing the right thing. What is it you want her TO do? Sit quietly on her chair? Sit next to you calmly? Think about it from her angle? what is in it for HER to do this? more attention? Petting her and giving her your attention is what she wants most. So she begs for it and you give it. You stop to do something so she begs harder... and you give what she wants. You get distracted again and She gets really annoying so you try and ignore her, then she begins what is known as the extinction burst and it gets REAAAALLLY annoying and you give in just to shut her up and get her out of your face. does this seem like what is happening?? Seems to me, what might have happened is your Julie has been unconsciously put on a variable schedule of reinforcement. Meaning she is given varying degrees of what she wants when she does this "annoying" behavior. And the best way to breathe life into a behavior is to put it on a variable schedule. this is how trainers in animals shows get long complex behaviors on stage with out seeming to give them any rewards.
Let me give you a human example - You have a light switch in your house. You go to flip it on and nothing happens. You may flip it a time or two and nothing happens so you give up and decide the light bulb is burnt out. *OR* lets say you have a faulty light switch in your house and you may have to flip it a few times, jiggle it flip it again and then maybe you have light. I bet you are gonna try a lot longer with that switch, maybe jiggle it real hard and flip it flip it flip it before you decide its the bulb. I think Julie is flipping and jiggling you! Sorry if I have gotten off on a tangent. To fix her isn't going to be easy, and I will tell you it will get worse before it gets better. But what I would do, if she were mine, would be to only pet her if she is being calm and polite. If she gets pushy I stop, and if it gets too bad I go somewhere else. And as soon as she is doing something that is NOT being pushy go over and initiate the lovey session yourself. If during the day you see her sitting and being quiet, or even sleeping go over and pet her. She only gets her kitty lovin' if she is being calm and polite. When you start to get annoyed you "take your cookies and leave" let her experience the consequence of her behavior. You may have to do this in tiny increments at first and be very sensitive to her and try to catch the smallest amounts of improvement since we assume she has some emotional issues (sorry to anthropomorphize) but do you kind of get what I mean? Sorry if this is a rambling jumble... feel free to memail me if you have any questions
posted by fogonlittlecatfeet at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Good, good advice above, but I'll add my own bare bones viewpoint.

Cat behavior is a little less mysterious when you strip away the feline quirks, and consider the laws of behavior that all healthy animals, ourselves included, follow.

When a behavior, any behavior, is rewarded, it tends to increase in frequency. When a behavior elicits absolutely no response, or is punished, it tends to decrease in frequency. Cats are scrupulous about conserving energy. They generally don't do things unless they're somehow rewarded at least some of the time.

If you follow the advice upthread, there's the chance that you're going to experience a phenomenon known as an extinction burst. Don't let that discourage you, and don't give in! That will only make the behavior more persistent. Familiarize yourself with the concept of extinction, and prepare to ride out that wave. If you do, everyone else's advice will be much more powerful.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 7:56 PM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I too agree with the squirt bottle, but ONLY if it's used as a "boundary setter". Don't use it for punishment too, because the cat won't know the difference between "bothering mommy when she's on the phone" and "knocking over the garbage to get at the chicken carcass".

For boundary setting, you need to signal to the animal that whatever she's doing isn't cool. You need to send a signal that bothers the cat- like getting wet- but that doesn't make her fear you at other times. Cats won't do things that aren't fun and/or interesting. (and based on my observation, jumping on the table and getting shoved off IS fun for them) Getting squirted tells the cat that weird stuff happens when mommy has that phone thing in her hand, so leave mommy alone when that's happening. If you could work it out where the cat doesn't even know where the squirting is coming from, the better. I would imagine a curious and smart enough cat would realize that the squirt is harmless and it would lose its effect. But if it's an annoying, uncomfortable mystery, the cat will choose to not solve it.

Another solution would be to (find a way) to give the cat something else to do when it's phone time.
posted by gjc at 9:09 AM on June 15, 2008

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