Cat enrichment: I’m Pretty Sure My Cat Hates Me

cat enrichment

No, not me personally but I hear this a LOT more than you would think! To the people who say that at best their cat is indifferent to them or at worst plain hates them I say this; don’t take it personally but you are probably doing something wrong.

That sounds harsh, I know, but more often than not it is owner behavior that creates the environment that can cause a cat to act out. Hissing, tail fluffing, biting, urinating outside of the litter box, hiding- these are all signs of distress of some sort that can usually be traced back to either a health condition or a stress factor. If your cat is showing any of these signs, it is time to examine at your cat’s health, your cat’s environment, and you and your cat’s pattern of interaction.

Once you have had your vet rule out physical reasons for your cat’s behavior take a good look at where your cat lives in your house. Is it keeping to a room with less traffic most of the time? Is it hiding under the bed a lot? Is it looking for a high perch all the time? Cats will seek out places that feel safe when they are overstimulated, or they feel the house is too busy or chaotic. They will look for alternate routes to things like food and water and litterboxes. If they don’t see what they believe is a safe route to these things they will act out in ways such as urinating in places they shouldn’t or hanging out in a bathroom sink for water. They may wait until night and then try and dart through the house to make a mad dash for water or food, often agitating other pets in the house and setting off a chain reaction of midnight madness. If you are someone who likes to rearrange furniture you may be disrupting their sense of security. If you have a lot of people in and out of your house, you can easily overload your cat’s sense of smell and hearing- having to process all of that information to make sure their space is a safe space can make them nervous and fearful. Loud, chaotic spaces are seldom fun for people, let alone pets, so try and step back and look at what your cat is experiencing in the home.

Probably the biggest contributor to a change in your cat’s behavior is how you interact with it on a daily level. Just like with people, cats learn to anticipate responses to behaviors and may develop fear-based attitudes. Cats also need to be respected as cats and not small dogs, not small people, and not just objects for creating social media videos. One of the best examples I have encountered recently is when someone told me they always win staring contests with their cats, but the cat is a sore loser and attacks them. Let’s be very clear- DO NOT STARE AT YOUR CAT IN THE EYES FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME. Extended eye contact is seen as a form of aggression in cats. If your cat leaps at you while you are trying to have a staring contest, believe me, you started it! Most cats do not like to be held too tightly. They see that as another sign of aggression, and it will undoubtedly trigger a response. Make sure that you and the people interacting with your cat are not trying to restrain it, especially young children. Also, make sure you are holding the cat properly. You should support the cat at both the back legs and just behind the front legs. Never pick up a cat by its leg or tail.

Cats are not small dogs. Let me repeat that. Cats are not small dogs. I’m pretty sure they are offended by even the idea. If you doubt that try rubbing a little dog’s tummy and then repeating that action on a cat, most cats feel vulnerable on their back and will do what they need to do to get out of that position.  Cats are also not small people. Dressing them up as such is probably going to earn you a pretty serious retaliation, not to mention weird looks from your family and friends.

Finally, punishing cats for normal behavior can generate a tremendous amount of stress for both the owner and the cat. Cats are by nature hunters, climbers, scratchers, and diggers. They are not fully domesticated like dogs. Cats still have instinctual behavior that no amount of shouting, swatting, squirting, or shooting will change. Punishment mostly serves to make your cat wary of you. Giving it positive reinforcement with more enrichment that better meets their instinctual behavior is a far kinder and ultimately more productive approach.

So, does your cat hate you? Probably not. But it might fear you and its environment. Take the time to get to know your housemate. Learn its likes and dislikes. Try and see the world as it sees it. Odds are you are going to be amazed at the changes for the better in your relationship.

5 ways to cat enrichment:

  1. Give your cat a high space to get away from it all, such as the top of a cabinet or bookshelf.
  2. Give your cat litterbox location options. Multiple locations mean fewer accidents.
  3. Learn to deal with your cat’s claws! Declawing should never be your immediate response to scratching as it creates long term issues with your cat’s health and behavior. Your vet can help you learn how to safely and properly trim nails, as well as apply plastic caps if needed.
  4. Educate your friends and family. If you truly want to share a space with a pet, then that pet should have rights and privileges as much as any other member of the household. Do not allow guests to mishandle or mistreat your cat, including scaring them for a “fun video” or seeing if cats do land on their feet.
  5. Respect your cat’s senses. Loud noises, intense smells, chaos, and clutter can cause stress and behavior issues in both people AND pets.
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