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I have three cats. My oldest is fifteen years old, and lately I've noticed that he's beginning to get really attached to me. On an abnormal level.

It began when we moved. Previous to moving, the cat had definitely preferred me, but nothing out of the ordinary. When we moved for the first time in his life, I put him on my bed and sat with him until he felt ready to explore the house. We stayed in that house for a year, and I noticed that he preferred to stay on the bed more than usual during that time.

We moved again a year later, and I put him on my bed again and sat with him. His behavior increased so that now he sleeps almost nowhere but the bed, and constantly wants me to sit on the bed with him, so that he can lie on me. He's become more and more persistent about this over time.

Previous to moving, the cat had liked to sit on/sleep with me in bed. Nothing abnormal. But now it is at the level where he wants to do it constantly. There is no exaggeration. Constantly. If I don't sit on the bed, he will sit on it and meow loudly at me (remember I'm sitting right there at my computer), until one of us gives in. If he gives up, he will go down the hall meowing loudly, and come back later. He seems content if I put him on my lap while I work, but this is difficult for me to do, as I need to type.

Additionally, the cat shows worrying signs if I'm gone for more than a day. Usually this is just meowing as he looks for me and ultimately sleeping, but recently I was gone for three days, coming back only in the evening and leaving early the next day. The cat quickly lost weight, and I believe he stayed in my room the entire time. He seemed perfectly normal, otherwise.

Why is my cat acting this way? Is it something I should be worried about?

Additional details:

  • My cat has a hyper thyroid condition, which has always caused him to vomit/regurgitate a lot. He is on a medication for it (and has been for over a year), which was working, but now doesn't seem to be having quite as much effect. The reason I mention this is because he vomited a lot the first two days I was gone (this is NOT abnormal). This might be why he lost weight... but he hasn't lost that much before when vomiting. All the vomit was in my room, which is why I think he stayed there. (The medication is not to blame; he's been on it for a year)
  • My cat has dry itchy skin which is causing him to pull out his fur, which has caused us to put a soft cone on him. He's been wearing cones for a year, and seems completely unaware of and unaffected by them.
  • The behavior described above is not new. It's been there for the majority of my cat's life. It is simply now more exaggerated than it has ever been. This change was gradual, and not sudden.
  • I do not believe this is a fear issue. The cat moves around the house freely, often sleeping under the dining room table or on the living room floor. Sometimes he sleeps in my mother's office, as she is usually the one who feeds him. He generally tries to sit on my bed with me first though.
  • I live with my family, so there are other people and two other cats for him to interact with. There is plenty of food, and he is eating fine.
  • I think Moto’s and flater’s answers are both very good. Summarized in a couple of sentences the answer would be: some cats are just high-strung, neurotic, and may have mild anxiety disorders. You can medicate them however they can often live very good and normal lives without medication. Some cats are very strongly bonded to a human and get very upset if they are separated from their human. This behavior could be even more extreme with a neurotic / anxious cat. It is not something you need to worry about unless you are concerned for the cats wellbeing. – Beo Nov 2 '17 at 0:33
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Your bed is home.

When we brought our kitten home, we were instructed to put her in the litter box, and let her explore the house from there. The idea is that she always knows where the litter box is, because that's where her "journey" started.

Whenever something really startled her, she always fled to the litter box. She still fled to the litter box years after we moved (different house, different litter box even).

Our latest two cats had the luxury of getting their own bedroom since we had a spare. Although they now live in the house and don't really use that room anymore; they still run there if something has them scared.

The same seems to be happening for your cat. He explored both new environments starting from your bed, which means that your bed is his frame of reference (when considering the house's layout). He will have a tendency to default to this place when he is looking for a safe spot.


You keep him safe.

Due to his medical condition, you've likely been taking care of him for a long time. From your story, I also read that you take personal care of the cat (who needs a lot of care to begin with), which means that he's likely to seek you out if he needs help.

It's pretty much the same reason why crying children ask for their mommy, their primary care taker (forgoing gender stereotyping, most children tend to emotionally connect to their mother before connecting to their father).

This is somewhat proven by the cat being happy enough to sit on your lap. He doesn't feel safe, which is why he's looking for the safest place (your bed), or someone to keep him safe (you).

You mentioned the cat really doesn't take to your absence well (losing weight), which further proves that he's attached to you (in a way that his wellbeing depends on having you near).

Your cat is scared and/or feeling alone. At least, that's what I read from his behavior. This can be connected to moving house, although I would expect there to be more of a reason (I've seen plenty of cats move house without suffering emotional issues).
It's possible that his medical situation has left him in a position where he relies on you so much that he's lost the ability to be self-reliant.


Was it a sudden change?

If your cat's behavior changes suddenly, with no provocation (such as moving house), consult a vet. Medical issues can make changes to their behavior, and cats can't tell you where it hurts.

From your description, I gather that your cat's behavior hasn't changed suddenly (or if it did, that it was related to moving house). So it seems (to me) that he's behaving consistently needy, which doesn't suggest a medical problem.

Then again, it doesn't hurt to have a vet confirm that it's not medical.


What to do?

If your cat's behavior is indeed learned and not just a consequence from a medical issue, then the only way to get the cat to behave differently is to train him.

It seems to me that the cat doesn't trust his new environment. So I would focus on making your cat understand that there's nothing to be afraid of. There's an old joke that sort of encapsulates how you're supposed to train him:

A man walks up to a gas station attendant. "Excuse me sir, how much does a drop of fuel cost?". "A drop?", the attendant laughs, "you can have that for free!"

The man smiles, reassured. "Thank you sir. Please put free drops in my gas tank until it's full."

It's a stupid joke, but it's on-topic for your cat. If your cat is only comfortable at a given distance from your bed, try to make small increments. Depending on how easily he learns ans gets over his fear, these increments could be measured in yard, feed or even inches.

Sit on your bed and give him a treat. But with every treat you give, throw it a bit further from the bed, and keep incrementing the distance. Gradually increasing the distance means that he has to move around to get his treats.

The key focus here is that you don't force him, because it's his choice to go and get the treat or not.

Suppose he refuses to go any further than past e.g. your chair. Any treat closer gets eaten, any treat further gets left behind.

A - If he stares at the treat, clearly wanting it but being afraid to go there, sweeten the pot by putting multiple treats there. He's clearly weighing his options, which means that it's likely that he'll go there if it's worth it.

If he keeps making progress this way, keep getting him to expand his boundaries by throwing them further and further. Try to always make it his choice rather than your will.

B - If he doesn't stare at the treat, or he makes no attempt to want to go there, walk over to the treat yourself, and see if your presence makes him feel safe enough.
If this has a notable difference, then you should change tactics compare to A. Clearly, it's not the distance from the bed that makes him apprehensive, it's the distance from you.

Note
This doesn't just work for treats. This can be done by placing his food bowl, treats, his toys, ...


Your cat seems to be more fearful than average, which means that it's going to take a while for him to feel comfortable. But keep working at it, making him expand his boundaries. Even if it's inch by inch, that's still progress.

Keep reinforcing this behavior. Some other ways:

  • Hide piles of treats in the house. Make sure he doesn't see you put down the treats. The idea that you're trying to convey is that he could have so many treats if he just looks around.
  • Amply reward him when you come home. Bring him something special (e.g. a nice piece of fish). If you always come back with a present for him, he won't mind your absence as much (he'll be anticipating the treat).
  • Make him re-evaluate his own decisions. One day (without him seeing it), pull your blanket off your bed and put it on the opposite side of your bedroom. Does he now favor the blanket, or the bed? Regardless of his choice, you're subconsciously getting him to realize that he gets to go wherever he wants to go, he just needs to decide where he wants to go.
  • Once in a while, pull a Hansel & Gretel. When you leave for school/work, leave a trail of treats as you leave. When you come home, you'll see how far he managed to get. It's even better if the trail has a small pile of treats once in a while (e.g. behind a corner, so it's a surprise).

Good luck with teaching him to trust his environment. It's not a quick solution, but as long as he makes the choices (and you don't force him), there shouldn't be any risk of him regressing.

  • Great answer on how to get a cat to trust his environment. I want to mark you as the answer... but I believe my cat already trusts his environment. When he gives up, he often sleeps downstairs under the dining room table. He shows no signs of being afraid of our house - just highly attached to me. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Oct 9 '17 at 15:39
  • @ThomasMyron: Then it sounds more like a matter of wanting attention for the sake of attention. Not much you can do about that except ignoring him when he's being too demanding. Barring any medical reason for him wanting attention, of course. – Flater Oct 9 '17 at 15:46
  • Oh wow, the "this spot is home" thing just helped me to understand something important about my own elderly cat and a thing that's been troubling me about his behavior lately. Thank you so much. – fluffy Oct 26 '18 at 21:08
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Some cats do become very attached to their "favorite" human, my Birman constantly wants to be with me for example and when I went away for a few days (for the first time ever in his life) he was practially glued to me for days after I returned.

I think the factors that are exacerbating this tendency in your cat are:

Age

In cat terms he's getting on a bit at 15 and at that age he probably wants to be comfy and with "his" human - your bed is probably quite comfy for him, add in that it will smell of you and if he can get you to come join him there then it's understandable that he is wanting you to be there with him. A friend of mine with a cat of similar age has just moved and experienced very similar behavior, their cat literally sleeps almost the entire day away under their bed when they are out. By contrast their younger cat (~ 4 yrs old) has been much more outgoing in terms of exploring the new house.

Change of environment

When you moved that took away his familiar territory, and while he might not really be scared of the new environment he probably isn't feeling the need to "claim" the rest of the house to the same extent a younger cat would. This will be an even stronger effect as a result of the fact that he had never moved before, the old house was literally a constant to him for his entire life.

Illness

While not an acute condition he's probably aware of his thyroid issues to some extent and knows that you are the one that makes him feel better by taking care of him.

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