5 reasons for attention-seeking in cats and how they might achieve it

When a cat seeks attention, they meow and/or attract attention through contact. That is pretty obvious but what is perhaps not quite so obvious is that each individual cat has developed their own version of the meow to be effective under their particular circumstances with their human caregiver. The good cat owner develops an understanding which aids communication and both the cat and the owner develop their own personalised language.

Attention-seeking meow of gargantuan proportions
Attention-seeking meow of gargantuan proportions. Screenshot.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

And a cat’s different intonations in their meow can result in their owner responding differently and therefore the cat trains herself to produce a whole range of different meows depending upon the desired goal. It is incorrect to think that domestic cats produce a standard meow and that there is a universal meow language. The meow is very variable and flexible to the point where sometimes you cannot detect a meow any more.

The kitten in the video could not clearer in their desire for attention and it’s probably to do with being fed.

 

More ways than meowing to seek attention

It has to be said, too, that domestic cats don’t just meow to seek attention. Many cats learn to use their forelegs to paw their owner or an object which the owner has learned to mean something specific. For instance, my cat paws at the duvet to tell me to lift it up so he can crawl under it in winter.

Attention seeking behaviour in cats
Attention seeking behavior in cats? An example of attention seeking through contact rather than voice. Image in public domain.

Or they might jump up at their owner’s level. A classic is to walk around their owner’s legs and brush against them which is also often a greeting but can also be combined with meowing to request food. A cat seeking attention might follow their owner from room to room. It is said that sometimes a cat is seeking attention when they knock things off the fireplace mantel piece or off a shelf. This is a result of boredom and a lack of stimulation. I don’t think that it is always a means to get attention. It is self-entertainment.

5 possible reasons for cat attention-seeking

If you can think of more, please tell me in a comment. There are some more articles on attention-seeking at the end of the article.

1. One reason why domestic cats develop attention seeking behavioural issues (and I would not call this a problem) is because they don’t receive adequate stimulation. A linked issue would be that they are left alone for long periods. I guess that this is common sense because if a cat is left alone and does not receive any attention, they are going to ask for it. This is a result of separation anxiety.

2. Another reason is developmental. If young kittens are abandoned by their mothers and then hand-raised by a human they can become excessively attention-seeking towards their first owners. Kittens that are stressed in the first few weeks of life may develop emotional and cognitive problems. On their mother’s departure, kittens’ brains have to process high levels of stress hormones which can cause permanent changes in the developing brains of kittens. This may lead to them overreacting to unsettling events later in life.

3. It might be the case that a cat seeks attention in order to alleviate their pain. This would be a different response to one that we normally read about namely a cat hiding when suffering from pain.

4. A cat with cognitive issues may seek attention. I can think of one issue which comes to mind: dementia in elderly cats. Elderly cats might develop dementia and this can cause confusion which can in turn lead to a request through howling at night, for instance, for comfort from their owner. They are confused and need the input of their owner to settle them down.

5. Perhaps, on occasions, attention seeking is the result of their owner training their cat to make demands for food that they don’t want. I would argue that domestic cats can comfort eat due to boredom and a lack of adequate stimulation because their environment is too sterile. They might seek food to alleviate boredom and their owner might give it to them. Knowing that they can get a reward when asking for food under these circumstances and in that way, they might do it again and this would be an example of mutual, informal self-training. It’s one party bouncing off the other and feeding the other’s desires. The owner wants to keep their cat quiet and stop demanding food and the cat wants to keep demanding food and gets it. The experts like Jackson Galaxy say that owner’s should ignore cats to break attention-seeking behavior.

Attention-seeking behaviours can be annoying

Yes, feline attention seeking behaviour can be annoying but it is entirely natural. For example, a cat might want to wake up their owner at 4 AM. That will be difficult for some owners. But for a cat it is entirely natural because this is the time when they are going to be active. Humans decide to live with a domestic cat and therefore they should accept the different circadian rhythms of their companion. It’s down to the human to integrate as best they can with the rhythms of their cat.

The 4 AM attention-seek

With respect to the specific problem of a cat waking up their owner at 3 or 4 AM, Jackson Galaxy has some thoughts. I will pass them on as this is a suitable moment. He says you must stop free feeding. You feed your cat with their last meal at around 9:30 PM and before you feed them you tire them out with play. This will lead to a period of rest. The idea here is that you want your cat to be active when you are and restful and sleepy when you are. In this way you are trying to match your rhythms with theirs. And secondly, if and when your cat demands attention at 4 AM in the morning you have to do something which is very difficult, which is to ignore them completely. You do absolutely nothing. You play dead. You do this for long enough until your cats attention-seeking behaviour has stopped.

Personally, I can’t do this and in any case I don’t need to because I wake up at 4 AM. I am in sync with my cat’s rhythms. That I think is the best solution.

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