13

Having trouble with my girlfriend's cat constantly hissing at me and swiping at my legs. Wondering if there is a way I can get this cat to like me, or at least to get it to stop this behavior.

The cat is a 4 year old female. It is very affectionate to my girlfriend although this is much more muted when I or any other company is around. The problem is my girlfriend lives in a smallish apartment, so there are times where I have to walk by the cat to get to something and about 80% of the time it will hiss, and maybe 40-50% of the time will claw my legs as I walk by.

At the moment I am currently watching this cat at my apartment for the rest of the month where the problem is more acute, as there are thin hallways you need to traverse to get anywhere, and it seems more on edge than usual, given it hasn't seen my girlfriend in quite a few days.

There have also been a few occasions at my girlfriend's apartment where it went out of its way to walk over and swipe me.

I understand this is likely a fear reaction, so what can I do to stop it? It seems to have stopped giving me the mean glare in recent days and it is generally receptive when I play with it using its wand toy. I also try to give it a treat once a day when I walk in the door.

If getting this cat to like me is improbable, is there any other way I can get it to stop swiping at me at least? The cat seems to have an expansive definition of "personal space", so just avoiding it all the time isn't really an option.

Edit: Adding additional info from my comments below!

Neither my girlfriend nor I knew what to do at first so there was poor behavior in the past, i.e., I would pet her when she was being affectionate to my girlfriend, which the cat didn't like, and I would stare back at her instead of averting my gaze. Now I don't touch the cat with the exception of it eating treats out of my hand, which I give to her once a day at some point after walking in the door. We no longer have staring contests. When she swipes at me I just continue walking past the cat as if it didn't happen.

Also realizing I forgot to include that my girlfriend has a second cat that I am watching as well. The second cat is fine and has actually been pretty affectionate to me in my girlfriend's absence. The two cats don't interact very often but the mean one will hiss at the affectionate one as well sometimes. The affectionate will also occasionally play fight with the mean one, although I don't think the mean one takes it as playing. (This happens maybe less than once a day on average from what I can tell.)

4
  • Why is it important for the cat to stop this behavior? Has it hurt you in some way? That is, when it swipes at you, is it with claws out? Dec 11 '20 at 23:58
  • 3
    I can't tell as my legs are usually covered, although it did draw blood when it swiped at my arm once. To answer your first question, to the extent I can get the cat to actually be nice to me would be great, and if I can't, I would like the behavior to stop because it worsens my mood when it happens, especially when it occurs multiple times in a short period. Dec 12 '20 at 15:05
  • It's best to get the cat to love you, but if everything fails - aim for victory. Try to hiss and swipe back at it. But softly. And wear hand protection.
    – obe
    Dec 12 '20 at 16:51
  • A pocket full of catnip might help - but honestly though, some cats are just assholes.
    – SeanR
    Dec 14 '20 at 13:07
23

Use less threatening body language.

While it sounds like you've come to this conclusion on your own, I reiterate this point to write a more general answer. In cat body language, staring down a cat is very aggressive and threatening. Instead, if you notice a cat looking at you, avert your eyes, and slowly blink instead. This is how cats communicate they are relaxed and just want to hang out.

Similarly, cats respond best when you are quiet, but still confident and deliberate when interacting with them. If you are loud, make sudden movements, or loom over them, they will be intimidated or scared. But, contrary to human intuition, being tense, nervous, and skittish when interacting with them will also make them nervous and more likely to swipe.

Give the cat better places to go.

The cat has ended up essentially guarding certain locations, making it difficult for you to get past. Instead, encourage the cat to be some place else where it will be out of the way and won't feel as threatened by you brushing past. For example, put cat trees nearby, but more out of the way. If it's on the cat tree when you go by, hopefully by being high up, it won't feel as threatened by your going past because it will be more at the same level.

You might even consider getting a bunch more cat furniture in general, such as cat trees, shelves, window perches, and so forth. Some cats feel trapped and anxious when they have nowhere to go but the floor or human furniture that's the center of people bustling around, and become much calmer if they are given cat furniture that they can escape to, and is definitely just theirs.

Use toys and treats as a distraction.

If you still need to walk past the cat, then try to get it distracted with toys or treats. Hopefully you could even get it to move out of the way entirely, so you can simply go where you need to go.

Step up your efforts to be friends.

The treat while entering the home is a good idea, but that's not going to make you friends with the cat. You need to increase the treats and playtime, so hopefully the cat will come to genuinely like you. You should also work on actually petting the cat, but be mindful of what I said earlier on body language. Your interaction will not be positive if you are too nervous with your attempts to pet it. Use treats as a distraction, and then try to pet it, but start out just with a little petting either under the chin or at the base of the ears. As you grow more confident, you can try more petting.

As a side note, you might want to decrease its meal portions, so that you can feed it more treats without worry of the cat gaining weight.

Improve the catsitting situation.

As you're probably already aware, moving the cat from its home to a strange territory is very stressful. But I also think your situation is even worse than that, because the cat already doesn't get along with you, but it has been forced into what it perceives as your territory. As a result, it's gotten even more aggressive. If possible, do not catsit the cat in your home. Instead, visit the cat at its own home. But if this is not possible, you can improve the situation a little by bringing the cat's things along with it, and placing them about your home. This will spread its smell around, and make it feel more like it owns this space.

Do not use negative reinforcement.

A point I wanted to add is that in a situation like this, I do not recommend using negative reinforcement such as squirt bottles, shouting, and so forth. The cat is behaving this way because it's unhappy about something, and not because it just wants to be mean. Negative reinforcement could very possibly make the problem worse because it could make the cat dislike you even more. Or at least, negative reinforcement will surely make the cat even more unhappy, when the ideal should be to make everyone, including the cat, happy. So when it does swipe, I think your current reaction of just ignoring it is the best approach.

6
  • 8
    For introducing a new cat to my home, I've had some success with reading a book on the floor or napping on the floor, about 6 feet from the food. They have hours to get over fear and investigate me at their leisure. Eventually they get hungry and sneak up to eat, and then leave, but since I ignore this, this also assures the cat I must not be dangerous. 20-40m after eating, they usually get bored, at which point I'll use toys on long sticks/strings to entertain them, away from my body. This is too late for catsitter1029 though. Dec 12 '20 at 0:11
  • 1
    Some cats are just not cat-people... some cats are just not nice. This is nice general advice but really doesn't answer the question. In reality there isn't much this person can do - that cat will make up its own mind over time.
    – blankip
    Dec 12 '20 at 5:04
  • 1
    Gifts of food. Fish, for preference. Human: Puss, here's a mackerel. Cat: This guy isn't so bad. Dec 12 '20 at 19:29
  • 7
    Cats already have dominance over you. They don't need to 'assert' it. Dec 12 '20 at 21:37
  • 2
    I'd second @MooingDuck 's comment - I've found floor time is very helpful with our formerly quite aggressive rescue cat. You're not as imposing, you're in a relaxed pose, that is hard to spring at it from, and so overall, the cat chills out a bit. Bring some bribes, see if she'll come to you, then try one or two pets, then stop and take your hands away. It took us about a month with our new cat before he chilled out enough to stop biting and scratching, and now he lets us hold him, as long as he gets treats afterwards.
    – lupe
    Dec 14 '20 at 14:32
3

A cat lives in a World of smells and catsitter's problem is that he doesn't smell like his girlfriend. Arrange a comfortable (possibly enclosed) sleeping place for the cat using your own unwashed sweaty shirts or towel. Rinse the cat's food bowl thoroughly to remove all trace of washing detergent, then consider how cats place their scents on things and do-though-likewise! Make the cat aware that you, i.e. your scent, is the only provider of food, not just treats. As already noted, you do NOT stare at the cat. An attempt at a gentle welcoming purr by a human may be appreciated or just get you regarded as non-dangerously silly, either is good enough. Causes of hostility in a cat that are not as easily solvable are:

A) Cat has a painful tooth/bladder/whatever, ask a vet to check.
B) Cat is an unspayed female with an urge that no man can satisfy. The vet can fix this too.

1
  • 3
    "using your own unwashed sweaty shirts or towel." - Ewwwww. I'd scratch you if you did that to me. Dec 13 '20 at 0:24
2

I foster and rescue cats, and the first thing you do when you're meeting a cat that doesn't know you is BLINK. Blink slowly and deliberately, maintaining eye contact while your eyes are open. There will be no question in the cat's mind that you are blinking AT IT, and it's how cats tell each other that they are not threatening.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.