Are Cats Manipulative or Is What you See What you Get?

oriental shorthair cat with book

It would be a huge understatement for me to say that when it comes to feline behavioral issues, my husband Marty and I often don’t see eye-to-eye.

As an example, the other day I was becoming extremely frustrated with Dr. Hush Puppy’s finicky feeding behavior. In fact, it was driving me straight up the wall. Since after opening several different cans of high quality grainless cat food, I finally hit on one that Dr. Hush Puppy thought was the “bee’s knees”.

But after about a week of cheerfully chowing down on this particularly delicious brand, all of a sudden for no apparent reason he decided it was no longer acceptable. It’s possible that he even started covering the food dish with the bathroom mat, because he suspected that I was trying to poison him!

I was about to throw up my hands in sheer desperation and defeat when I discovered that if I offered him a few pieces of grainless kibble – (his all-time favorite treat) he would practically inhale them. He would then get down to business and eat his cat food. I was so excited about learning this new diversion which successfully gave his appetite a jump-start, that I couldn’t wait to tell Marty about it.

provocative manipulative cat

Provocative, manipulative cat? No, I think this cat simply wants to play and is provoking the dog into playing.

Marty had a totally different “spin” on Dr. Hush Puppy’s apparent compliance. Please understand that I certainly am not recommending that everyone use this method and bribe their stubborn, finicky cats into eating; however (knocking wood) since this little trick has thus far been working like a charm, I think of it as type of “appetizer”. Needless to say, my husband disagrees strongly and is positive that Dr. Hush Puppy is skillfully “playing me” like a Stradivarius violin.

From where I sit, just considering that of a cat is capable of “playing” someone is totally unrealistic. Cats are highly intelligent little predators, openly showing their emotions. I have never considered them to be in the least devious. Quite the contrary. In the many years that I’ve been kept by cats, I find them to be inordinately honest and “up-front” in the way they share their feelings and desires.

So When Dr. Hush Puppy sits on the floor next to the cabinet in which we keep their treats and starts to lovingly gaze up at me, he is simply saying “ Please give me a goodie”. After all, at least in this particular case, one doesn’t need to be an expert feline behaviorist to understand this polite request. There is nothing in the least covert about this behavior.

On the other hand, Marty thinks this is manipulative and I am too easily being seduced by Dr. Hush Puppy’s charming manners. But since I have willingly taken on the role of kitty servant, devoting hours on end doting on them, thinking of ways to please them; in our household I consider myself to be more of an expert in understanding feline speak – a language, which in my experience I find to be always direct.

Please understand that I am not casting any dispersion on my husband’s capacity to love our two delightful furry family members. I don’t doubt for an instant that they both hold a very special place in his heart. When they rub up against him and jump into his lap, he gets a “goofy” expression on his face and beams from ear-to-ear. However, there’s no question in my mind that our trusting felines would be greatly disappointed and upset if they thought Marty didn’t trust their motives for showering them with love and affection.

Many people still believe that cats are sneaky and manipulative. What do you think? Share your opinion in a comment.

Jo

Photo credit: Jo Singer (Sir Hubble reads Jackson Galaxy)

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Comments

Are Cats Manipulative or Is What you See What you Get? — 38 Comments

  1. No cats are never manipulative, they are honest and open and yes as you say they are ‘what you see is what you get’ for sure. They haven’t a single manipulative bone in their bodies, they are simply cats being cats, doing what cats do, and giving us the message to ‘like it or lump it’ lol

    • I agree – I don’t believe animals are even capable of things which are entirely human inventions – like jealousy, cruelty or just being manipulative in general. They literally couldn’t do it if they tried.

      • yea i dont think animals are manipulative, thats more humans that are like that. Also animals are more prone to want to play than do something on purpose. Some cats are very clever though. I remeber my tammy she tried to jump up on door handles and when she couldnt get to the fridge she would use her paw. Had to put a brick in front of it. Had to think of clever ideas to try and train her. she was a wonderful cat miss her soo much.

  2. Your article reminds me of my husband and I. Jeff says Monty has me wrapped around his little paw.

    Monty will purr like crazy when he wants some of my food. But that’s not manipulation, it’s instinctive behavior. Kittens purr to tell the mom cat they want milk and they purr loudly when they are nursing well. It’s communication. Monty’s just communicating, “Mom, I want that tuna.” And when he gets some his even louder purr while eating says, “Mom, this tuna is great!”

    Tuna could be salmon, sardines or actual tuna. He just knows the one word for all fish. I wonder if he really could learn more words? Jeff thinks he could and that I should call tuna tuna, salmon salmon and sardines sardines, and that Monty could learn all those words. I think cats respond better to words with the hard consonants in them, like ‘t’ or ‘d’ or ‘k’ so I’m not sure he’d come running the same for salmon as he does when I call out “tuna” or “treat.”

  3. LOL Ruth- it does sound a lot like life in our household.

    I believe that cats DO understand words. That has been my experience with our two boys.

    Dr. Hush Puppy loves his homeopathic remedy- I think he has become somewhat of a “sot”- so when I tell him “It’s time for you to get your remedy- (He has heard that word tons of times by now) he follows me into the bathroom where it is kept and sits patiently on the floor until I get the syringe loaded. He sometimes will even jump into my lap and paw at me if I don’t give it to him quickly enough.

  4. No I don’t think cats are manipulative, they just expect a certain standard of care, expect complete obedience and expect us to want to comply with their expectations, that’s not being manipulative that is just a cat being a cat, and that’s how we love them isn’t it?

  5. Right on Barbara!

    We cater to their wishes and they return the favor a million-fold.

    After all, purrs control blood pressure and uplift the spirits- a great sleep aid for insomniacs, and they make us feel so darned good!

    It is an honor to serve them!!

  6. This is a great subject, But, just like some of you guys, I need to start winding down right now and will get to this tomorrow. Suppertime for all of us, litter box cleaning duty, and relaxation.
    But, we already know that cats are intelligent, but I believe there are some that have the ability to manipulate.
    If you have ever experienced an occasion where you actually thought you could read your cat’s mind, then why can’t some read ours? My cord is tripped here many times.

  7. Well, cats are somewhat sneaky as part of their predator role–predators mostly sneak up on their food. But manipulative about it? I think it’s more that we often don’t understand their needs at the moment and they do. I’m having a few problems with Pancho and feeding now that he has a thyroid condition but I think it’s more a matter of how he is feeling at the moment changing than about him trying to manipulate me. When your Dr. Hushpuppy has almost died sometimes due to dietary issues, I hardly think he is manipulating you. I think his inner cat just tells him that this or that is not going to work for him in the way you’re presenting it at a particular time. Like you, I find kitties to be pretty straightforward. They may ask nicely but if you don’t pay attention, there is then the claw in the leg or some other feline gesture that says, “Hey, I’m serious about this.”

    • Elizabeth,
      LOL-
      Dr. Hush Puppy wasn’t near death at all. I was being sardonic- that “he thought I was trying to poison him”- I never thought that he thought that- it was just a bit of sardonic “poetic license”. I just worry when he won’t eat is all.

      I do think that cats get bored with the same food all the time. At one time it was suggested not to change foods, but now there is more information about that – exactly because cats get bored- just like we do- eating the same food day after day. They like variety too.

  8. i do think sometimes when they cant get our attention they will do whatever they can to get us to do something. Like Rebel will keep meowing at me, first with soft meows, then the pitch gets louder. until its unbearable ive got to give in to him. They all been very loving and staying around me think they know im going though a hard time.

    • I think they know how to deliberately irritate and pester us to force us to pay attention. The cat has learned to do this because their survival is dependent on us. We are their whole world and they have to get us to pay attention.

      • It’s frightening that many people don’t think of it that way Michael, they take in a cat and expect the cat to conform to the behaviour they want him to.
        They don’t look at it from the cat’s side, that being a cat they can only behave as cats do! Cats shouldn’t have to beg for attention, a good cat caretaker should provide it as a matter of course by learning to ‘read’ their cat’s needs.

  9. yea im not ignoring him just he meows constantly i dont know if its food, or just his way of talking with me. He always seem to love to chatter or something like that. None of my other animals do this which i find hard.

    • Kylee,

      How old is he? If he is getting on in years he may be getting hard of hearing. Sir Hubble is far more vocal as the years pass. He is louder also which makes me wonder if he is both losing his hearing and getting somewhat senile.

      • hi joe hes 5 years old he was caught as a stray cat but grew up in a house with lots of cats. i.e in a hoarders home. Hes been well looked just very talktive and laid back very friendly but only loves mummy

  10. I have a slightly different opinion here. I have 3 sets of sisters. The oldest set (2 12 years old ) are very affectionate and try to get along with the others. The middle set (3 8 years) are very very manipulate and mean when it comes to all the others. The last set (2 6 years) are the main target of the middle group. They actually set them up for attacks all the time. Dot and Freckles can’t even come out of my room without being assaulted. In the beginning they were brave enough to explore but it got so bad that they have to be on guard any time my door is open. It breaks my heart that it is like that and I am tempted to re-home the middle three, well maybe just the ring leaders Ginger and Patches. Any suggestions?

    • I think you have to make sure that what is going on is actually going on and if you decide that some cats don’t and won’t get along then it may, as a last resort, be sensible to rehome them. Not all cats get along. People forget that sometimes and end up putting incompatible cats together. Most often cats that don’t naturally get along learn to but it is not ideal.

      • I have always wondered if all this has to do with them being sisters. When I owned or was owned by cats who were not related to each other there was very little problems. This sister thing seems to be the trigger for some reason. Keep in mind I have owned cats practically all my life and I am in my 70s right now. All these cats were brought in as kittens and have grown up in this house. It is not like they are cramped because my house is a single built like a double so there is plenty of space and the youngest two cannot venture too far from my room. What is your opinion about the sister thing?

    • The middle sisters are not manipulating, they are simply being cats, we call it ‘cats politics’ and just like some people they can’t get along with some others. Seven people together in a house, even if they were sets of sisters, would probably not get along. It sounds like a clash of personalities, all seven can’t agree and with Dot and Freckles being the youngest, the middle sisters are maybe a bit jealous.
      I wouldn’t rehome just two of the three middle sisters if it comes to that, but I would wait a while because the two youngest have just come to maturity now and might start sticking up for themselves. Our Walter tries to bully Jozef but once he retaliates, Walter knows he has gone too far. Cats usually sort themselves out but you need to keep a eye on things, maybe shut the three middle ones in one room for a few hours each day to give the others some breathing space. Do they ever get outside? I think with so many cats in the house you need some sort of outdoor run if they can’t have their freedom. Good luck.

      • Thanks for you response but as I stated their ages as being 12 years, 8 years and 6 years of age. Wouldn’t you think that 6 years is more than long enough to wait and see if they get along? I have taken to keeping my door closed when I am not in there. But I think keeping the evil threesome in a room for a few hours a day would not hurt them one bit. I am willing to try that and see if it works. I just worry about the others being caught off guard and being attacked when I release the others. Again thanks for your advice.

        • Amy,

          Your comment got me thinking about “My Cat from Hell”- on Animal Planet- featuring that amazing cat “whisperer” cat daddy Jackson Galaxy. Some of the episodes are almost exactly the same- cats that live together but don’t get along- and cower in the presence of the more aggressive cats.

          One of the things that Jackson recommends is re-indroducing cats slowly-

          Watch his video:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FLCHN7jivA

          Jackson also recommends site-swapping- exchanging them- putting the three “evil threesome” in the room for some time and then exchanging them with the other cats to be in that room. I love his “feeding” next to the door idea- ultimately opening the door a crack- using a doorstop so they cannot actually open the door.

          It sounds like Dot and Freckles feel powerless- so they need to get their “mojo” as Jackson says. Try watching some of the episodes of the program that are on YouTube or on Animal Planet itself. The new season should be out in the next few months.. I HOPE!

          • I watch My cat from Hell all the time. lol Jackson is brilliant and I have gotten some great ideas. Matter of fact he is on right now as I sit here. I am going to try the separation idea. Should be easy because the 3 evil ones tend to eat in the same room. It should be easy enough, but you know cats are not predictable by any means. Thanks for responding as you know I have had this problem for quite a while now. Will keep you posted.

        • Sorry I misread your youngest cats as 2.6 years old but now I see you mean 2 x 6 years old.
          I think you are wise to shut the middle three away for a while, they will have each other for company and have their scratching posts and toys etc in the room with them, I take it?
          It must be very stressful for you having to watch them but as you say the only other solution is to rehome your middle ones, I’m sure you love them all and that would be hard on you and hard to find them good homes too.
          We had four cats at one time and a neighbour’s cat who just about moved in too so I do sympathise with you as we had to supervise Walter amongst the others all the time.
          Sorry not to be any help.

          • No apology needed maybe the way I wrote it was misleading. I am going to try the separation idea. I actually thing that I will be able to let one of them remain outside the room because she (Sandy) seems to get along with them. It should be easy to do because when I feed the cats, the evil 3 some all eat in one room. Now that I have written this that could change, lol Will keep you posted on how it works out. Again thanks for taking the time to offer suggestions.

            • Good luck, it’s stressful when you have discord in the camp 😉 but they aren’t being bad, they are just being cats.

              • Ruth, as I thought my idea about keeping them separated at feeding time fell through. Patches the “evil” one decided not to eat in that room! I also could not close the door because one of the eldest cats would have been trapped in there. lol I don’t want to cause undue panic among them by chasing them .So I will wait for the next chance to try it out.

              • Oh Amy you poor love, those cats are keeping you on the go lol
                I really can’t come up with a solution, cat ‘experts’ recommend rehoming the bully cats if you can’t keep them separate, but it’s not that simple is it.

  11. I just think that men have a different perception about how cats think and interact. My husband is the same he loves our cats dearly but won’t always let them get their way with him (sometimes he does). He just thinks they should know their place mind I have to say he has been successful in keeping them away when we are eating. When they used to beg it never bothered me and I would give them tid bits which drove him mad, so slowly but surely with keep telling them and moving them he got his way and they don’t beg anymore.
    Sometimes I think its the cave man macho mind set where some men don’t like the though of oneupmanship concerning a cat (with the exception of present company of course!)

  12. Leah,

    You are singing my song! Marty can’t stand having the cats on the dining room table while we eat. He too has been quite successful (except when something as yummy as roast chicken is being served) at teaching the cats that they are not allowed on the table while WE eat.

    I like you could care less- and don’t mind sharing my dinner with them. In fact Dr. Hush Puppy enjoys sitting on my shoulder- at meal times- and getting his body as close to my face as possible- and will occasionally “steal” a piece of meat off my fork. I don’t mind it at all, but my husband-who loves them to death- thinks that cats don’t belong on the table -it is too distracting.

    • Ofcourse, my cats are allowed anywhere, But, they have long lost interest in being with me at mealtime. That’s one of the advantages of being nearly vegetarian.
      In the past, I would just set my salads and veggies on the counter so they could all take a whiff.
      Now, they have no interest at all.

  13. In the past, I had the viewpoint that I’m the boss about food and they’ll eat what I give them, which was dry food, water, and if I gave them plates to lick after our meals, that was a treat. Then i got a purebred cat who had been raised on an expensive, high-quality food and for the first time, experienced both finickiness and a tummy that wouldn’t tolerate certain foods. The purebreds I’ve had were also picky about how they wanted to be held and petted, also harder to clip claws, harder to pill, and my current Ragamuffin doesn’t like to be combed. Prior mutt-cats were never such primadonnas.

    • Rani,

      I wouldn’t attribute pure-breed ism to difficulty trimming nails. I do attribute that to how they were handled when kittens, starting them when they are very young. I have never had problems trimming nails with out cats, even Nemesis who was half Siamese. I did have one mutt kitty that initially fought me tooth and nail about trimming claws for several weeks but eventually realized it was no big deal and was very cooperative. Thankfully she was a kitten and far more ready to learn new things.

  14. Manipulative? No. Persistent? YES! Around here when momma says no it means no but…if they go to poppa and beg to be let out into their enclosure he goes all mushy and lets them out. That is persistent. If they cannot get momma or poppa to do their bidding then they drop back to their human sister and beg to her. I have noticed recently that if they don’t get what they want from momma and poppa they give up. Their human sister always asks momma and my word is law. I have to say that once they have something in their heads they are determined.

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