Attention-seeking Cat Behavior

Cat attention-seeking?
Cat attention-seeking?
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Have you experienced attention-seeking behavior from your cat? You might not have recognized it. Cat behaviorists do, however, refer to it.

A cat may exhibit attention-seeking behavior when she/he does not receive an adequate amount of stimulation. This would mean the home might lack what experts call “environmental enrichment”. For example, no vertical spaces for a cat to climb up on and/or the cat is an only cat.

A cat may depend on the owner for stimulus. If the owner engages in lots of play with her cat but the cat does not play by herself with solo-activity cat toys, she may rely on her human companion for playtime opportunities.

Typically, cat attention-seeking behavior may include:

  • following her human caretaker around the home
  • pawing at owner
  • jumping onto higher surfaces to engage with owner
  • running between owner’s legs
  • meowing at her owner a lot
  • biting owner (non aggressive)

These are the types of behaviors described by cat behaviorists as “attention-seeking”. To be honest, you might describe this behavior as a cat wishing to interact with her human companion, which a lot of people would love. It clearly depends on how a person interprets cat behavior.

Conventional Treatment

“Treatment” as advised by cat behaviorists is to ignore the cat. No response is the way to stop it. The cat learns that her actions do not receive the desired response and so she stops. In support of the nil-response strategy, the owner should reward her cat when her cat is quiet. This is positive reinforcement – a reward for doing things the owner likes.

Physical punishment is never the answer. In this instance it is not only inhumane but it is a response (of sorts) and it is agreed that no response is the “treatment”.

Alternative View

Personally, I’m not convinced the word “treatment” is correct. Also, as stated I wonder if this type of cat behavior is always “attention-seeking”. It seems to me to be about a cat wishing to engage in activities with her human caretaker because, perhaps, the person has been away for the day and the cat has been left alone.

Anyway, this sort of cat behavior may be irritating to some people. I don’t believe it should necessarily be irritating for a caring cat owner. A person adopts a cat as a companion. Interactions initiated by the cat should be welcome. I would have thought that the majority of cat owners do not recognize the idea of cat attention-seeking.

Also, might it be fair to argue that if a person responds to attention-seeking by playing with her cat, the cat will be satisfied. Her demands will stop for the moment and simultaneously the person has had some fun with her cat.

I am sure that cat attention-seeking is not the same as a child attention-seeking. If we “treat” cat attention-seeking using similar methods to the way we treat child attention-seeking we may be mistaken.

Attention-seeking is a type of demand, a request in actions rather than through vocalization. A cat making a demand for attention means she lacks it. The treatment should or could be to provide it and enjoy the experience. You make up your mind on that.

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6 thoughts on “Attention-seeking Cat Behavior”

  1. my rebel certainly does this around 4pmish when he was dinner. Also ive noticed around bed time after 11 and early in the morning. He just meows alot then looks at me and will start to claw at wallpaper he knows hes doing it. Hes definitly an affectionate cat. i dont want to be mean but sumtimes if he does it too much have to put him in kitchen with door shut as we got a hallway. Im dreading going away as i have a feeling he will complain alot.

  2. An ignored cat is an unhappy cat and eventually a depressed cat too. It takes so little to keep a cat happy, as Dorothy says a few minutes is all it takes, surely that’s not too much to ask!
    Some so called cat experts obviously don’t know as much about cats or love them as much as we do.

  3. I think it’s the attention seeking cat’s caretaker who needs ‘treatment’ in the form of education that their cat is not getting enough attention.
    Cats attention spans are quite short and it doesn’t take long to make them happy by playing with them a short while.
    I think those cat ‘experts’ who say ignore the cat know about as much about cats as the ones who recommend spraying water at cats to ‘teach them’ acceptable behaviour.
    They need to come to PoC and learn about cats πŸ˜‰

    • You said it well, Ruth. Marvin weaves in and out of my legs, sometimes almost tripping me to the floor. He is after all, almost 20 lbs. All he needs is a few minutes of attention. He never wants more. He, for sure, is the best entertainment for himself. He is very easy to engage in any kind of play.

      Bigfoot stands at the top of the stairs and calls. That one is easy. I come a running. He has me trained.

      Yellow just glares at me through the door glass and gets me running for food.

      They all have me well trained.

      Any of them can have my attention any time they want, any time of the day.

    • I know we think in the same way when it comes to cat caretaking. I find the conventional cat behaviorist’s ideas too formulaic. It comes out of a book and they tend to repeat the same stuff.


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