Q My boyfriend moved in just over a year ago and my tortie Missy is still hissing at him. One minute she is fine, then the next she turns on him. Occasionally she turns on me but is generally affectionate. He has tried picking her up more, playing and feeding her, but it doesn’t seem to be appreciated.
My other cat Dolly is very sweet but timid. Missy will swipe at her too and occasionally Dolly will retaliate, giving Missy a sneaky swipe when she walks by. Is this typical of a ‘naughty tortie’ or is it something more?
Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini says: How a particular cat behaves very much depends on who she met in her early weeks and what sort of behavioural traits she inherited. It sounds as if Missy was probably raised and largely handled by women during the socialization period (two to seven weeks old). As a result, we would expect her to be more drawn to close contact interaction with females.
That doesn’t mean your boyfriend can’t have a rewarding relationship with Missy, simply that it’s never likely to be as intense as yours and he will have to work harder at it. That probably means reining back on any attempt to pick Missy up or ‘trapping’ her in any way, which is what we do when we cuddle our cats.
It’s the wrong way to make them want to spend time with us and tends to set up a situation where they feel a conflict of motivation: being drawn towards us but fearful that the intensity of our response will be too much. Cats need to feel in control of everything and, as you have a multi-cat home where there is already evidence of tension between the cats, Missy’s stress levels are probably quite high. This means she’s less likely to tolerate human actions that she finds difficult than she would be if all was well in her world. This is certainly likely to contribute to her abrupt changes in mood.
Reduce competition between the cats by providing several sets of everything they need, including hiding places (some dark and some high up), toys, water bowls and feeding areas. Pay particular attention to the parts of your home where they come face-to-face and where you see them hissing or swiping at each other, and make these less stressful by using Feliway and providing hiding places.
When both of you are at home, make sure you respond to every overture from Missy by just chatting to her, throwing a toy or dangling a fi shing rod-style toy – but not by imposing hands-on interaction. When you are relaxing, if she chooses to come and join you, adopt the same approach but resist cuddling.
Gradually, if you get it right, she will choose to spend more time near you, but make sure you still allow her to be in control of everything. This also means ‘protecting’ her from visitors who want to stroke and pet her – give them toys to throw for her and ensure that they respect Missy’s right not to interact if she doesn’t choose to.
Be careful to distract whichever cat is the apparent ‘aggressor’ into a game rather than trying to intervene or getting cross if they have a spat. Otherwise you then become associated with a stressful situation and that will undermine your other efforts.