This is another classic “cat behavior problem” that comes up time and time again. Often, perhaps always, cat behavior problems can be traced back to human behavior.
Be sure to read the comments too because they are by experienced cat caretakers – thanks.
A person, Miss B, adopts a young cat of about 2 months of age from a shelter/rescue center. Let’s call the cat Abbie. The shelter people tell Miss B that Abbie likes to play a lot with plenty of rough and tumble. Fantastic, typical kitten behavior really.
At 7 months old Abbie starts to hiss and bite. Miss A complains that:
“people (guests) will be standing around and all of a sudden Abbie starts to hiss and bite in an apparently unprovoked way”.
Abbie is biting and hissing for no apparent reason.
Miss B has tried to stop this “unwarranted behavior” by saying “No” loudly and squirting water at her cat. Nothing works and in fact Abbie hisses and bites more than ever. What can Miss B do?
Note: As usual this is my opinion. I am not always right.
There is obviously a reason why Abbie hisses and bites. Assuming the damage has not already been done, Miss B should immediately stop punishing her cat for expressing natural behavior in play-hunting and start to play with Abbie instead so that Abbie can express her natural, inner wild cat instincts in a controlled and acceptable way to her human companion.
In trying to stop natural cat behavior by punishment – saying “No” loudly or squiring water at Abbie – Miss B has simply made things worse and stimulated defensive/aggressive behavior in Abbie. It is almost as if Miss B has become a hostile threat to Abbie. Abbie wants to play with Miss B and Miss B then squirts water at Abbie. Abbie hisses etc. All pretty normal and not something that should be a surprise to the informed cat owner.
Even people who advocate cat training through negative reinforcement (punishment) will admit that cats often don’t make a connection between their behavior that a person doesn’t like and the punishment. Without that connection it is pointless and worse. Personally I reject the idea of cat punishment. There are far better ways and the first question should be, “what am I doing that might be causing this?”
What should happen next is that Miss B should put away the water bottle, stop any form of punishment and start regular and gentle play games with Abbie. Because Abbie has found the environment hostile the initial steps should be gentle to avoid defensive behavior from Abbie. After a while Abbie will learn that the environment is not hostile and she will stop hissing and biting.
Miss B refers to guests. She appears to have a busy home with lots of visitors. This may well be frightening to a young cat no matter how well socialised she is. This will make things worse and encourage more defensive cat behavior. Miss B should do something about that too. A bit of peace, quiet and routine in Abbie’s life will help her settle down and feel more relaxed and less defensive. Feliway may help to speed up the process but I don’t know how effective this product is.
The Underlying Problem
The underlying problem is a human one. Even a well intentioned and decent person can get things wrong if they have little experience of cat caretaking. They can make matters worse. This situation could easily lead to Miss B relinquishing Abbie back to the shelter, all because of a lack of understanding of cat behavior. I have to say, too, that, not infrequently, people don’t apply common sense to problem solving. The solution to this problem is really based on common sense.
The problem described is an real case scenario.