Cat Behavior: Play Aggression, Poorly Socialized?

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Cat Behavior: Play Aggression, Poorly Socialized?

Post by curious » Sat Feb 01, 2020 6:52 pm

I live with my boyfriend and his parents. BF's mom got a kitten late last year. I'm not sure how old he was, but he was at a shelter. BF's mom met him when he was too young and the shelter held him until he was the appropriate age to adopt out. I believe he's about 7 months old now.

I'm posting to ask for insight into the cat's behavior. I'm not a cat person and my experience with cats is limited. I'd like to know if this cat's behavior is bad behavior or is it just his personality?


This cat doesn't tolerate much human contact, if any. (Maybe this is just a cat thing?) He is curious about people but will not really come near them. If you have to walk through an area where he is (like the hallway), he will run away. He will lay under tables and watch people. If you kneel down and offer your hand, he will immediately swat it with his claws out. He does not hiss, fold his ears, spike his hair, or do any other behaviors which I know signal fear. It just seems like this is how he reacts to someone presenting their hand. It's kind of playful. (I think I had one time where he sniffed my hand instead of immediately swatting it, but then... he swatted.)

I know he will come up to BF's mom and sit with her, but he also scratches her a lot about her hands and face, and he bites her feet. He will also crouch in places and spring out and attack your heels as you walk by.


I know there are things wrong with this cat's upbringing. The vet told BF's mom to keep the kitten in a small area, which makes sense. I understand this is done for the first few days so the animal can get used to its surroundings and explore while also feeling safe. BF's mom doesn't understand this (she has some issues, I'll leave it at that). The baby gates and pet fences that were erected when the kitten was first adopted are still up several months later. This cat is generally confined to the living room/kitchen area. I say generally because, as we know, cats can jump.

He has slowly explored the rest of the house, on his own, after jumping out of his fences. Basically, this means he will get into the master bedroom and hide under the bed or other furniture. He has gotten into the basement a couple of times. There is a lot of stuff down there and I have to go dig him out and catch him (and he does not want to be caught!).

There was a day we were certain he had gotten out of the house, never to return, because he was missing for 6-8+ hours. There had been some workers in the house, installing a door. The cat popped out at around 11:00PM, ended up being hidden in a folding recliner.

I know he's been discouraged from exploring his environment, and this has probably fostered some fear in him. There are other factors in his life which may have some detriment on him, but being a novice in cats, I doubt I can recognize them all. I'm somewhat suspicious about the piles and piles of toys this cat has. They are scattered everywhere. His owner complains that he will steal pens and chew plastic bottle caps. Maybe he can't tell his toys from not-toys, as everything is scattered and mixed together?

It's my understanding that you must wait for a cat to approach you, and then you can possibly make friends. There's really no opportunity for that with this cat. I expect he was handled some as a kitten, but not on his terms. He hid a lot. As he grew up, he was handled less due to his hiding and running away. I believe he probably needs some serious attention, enrichment, and positive reinforcement training to stop his swatting, scratching, biting, and fearfulness.

Granted, I still don't know that much about cats. I had a cat for a few years when I was in my early twenties. It was feral (pregnant during winter), didn't much like people, but it never scratched or bit us. I've had people tell me some cats are very social, but I've only ever known these standoffish cats. Maybe it's a personality thing? Or a combination of personality and bad behavior?

Thanks for reading such a long post.

Is this cat's behavior bad behavior, or is this just his personality?

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Ruth B
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Re: Cat Behavior: Play Aggression, Poorly Socialized?

Post by Ruth B » Sun Feb 02, 2020 9:30 am

While I wouldn't go as far as to say it was really bad behaviour as he is very much still a kitten and really is still learning, I will say some of it is not acceptable behaviour.

Jumping child gates and going exploring is normal for a cat his age and unless he is in danger then he is best left to it. Contrary to popular believe, cats can be trained, and it sounds like he needs some. Firstly i would say he needs to learn to come when called. Calling his name each time he is fed will teach him to associate his name with food, or call it and if he comes give him a treat or two.

You mention he has plenty of cat toys, but for most cats these can get very boring when just left lying about. I would suggest getting one of the wand toys, (a toy consisting of a length of plastic rod, a length of string and a toy on the end) and playing with him get him running around a room until he is worn out. Again calling his name when getting the toy out will help him associate his name with good things happening.

He should not be clawing someone who reaches for him, it might just be play, from what you say about his body language I suspect it is at the moment, but it could easily develop in problem behaviour. After he has been playing and is tired try reaching for him, just to stroke the side of his face or behind the ear, two spots most cats are happy to accept attention, if he lets you give him a quick fuss and a treat, if not just back away. Then try and find out just how close you can get with out getting clawed, start by going that far and then giving him a treat if he doesn't attack you, gradually you can push closer until you can touch him easily. Again it is all about him learning that human contact means something good is going to happen.

Why he is like this is hard to say, it could be he isn't a particularly cuddly cat, some cats aren't and has learn how to keep people away from him. It could be the shelter was particularly busy and didn't have time to really spend enough time with him and teach him manners. It could be he is actually still scared of people, I have a cat that runs and hides if you approach her. I got her 4 years ago and she was terrified of people, now she can really enjoy a fuss, but it is on her terms when she feels safe. If we are walking around downstairs she will normally go and hide under the dining table out of our way and watch what we are doing, once we have stopped walking around she will come out and sometimes even have a quick fuss. It is just the way she is and as we are sharing our home with her we have learnt to adapt a little to her foibles, normally just by freezing in place while she sorts out where she wants to go and where she feels she will be safe.

You say you aren't a cat person, but if you do feel the urge to learn more I can recommend either Vicky Halls Cat Confidential (or any of her other books), she is a professional Cat Behavourist and can explain why cats do a lot of what they do, and it is a very entertaining read as well. Jackson Galaxy's (another Cat Behaviourist) My Cat from Hell TV series (some episodes and clips are available on You Tube or it is often shown on the Animal Planet channel) can also be interesting to watch although his take on things does have a far more American feel to it.

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