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We have three rescue cats, all three of which we fostered, a 2 year old neutered male, a 1 year old fixed female, and a 6 month old neutered male. The problem is with the middle cat. She stays in my daughters' rooms much of the day, and will sleep on their beds. She's a bit stand-offish with my oldest, but allows my youngest to pick her up and carry her around regularly.

The problem is she doesn't like me (or my ex-wife) and will avoid me. If I approach slowly she will sniff my hand and occasionally tolerate me touching her chest, but usually skedaddles after the sniff. If I am able to hold her, if I pet her back her ears go back and she will fight and sometimes scratch in a panic or bite (sometimes hard but never breaking my skin). But occasionally I've been able to rub her belly and paradoxically she seems to calm down and tolerate it. She is like this with the kids, but to a lesser extent; clearly she doesn't like being touched on the back, but I can think of no reason why, no injuries or episodes.

When she was a kitten she would sleep with me and the wife, and didn't seem to have any hangups about her back being stroke. One dynamic that has changed (other than age, and being fixed) is that the oldest cat (a 15 lb Maine Coon) occasionally chases and even bites her. The older cats both love the youngest cat, but seem to have a chilly relationship with each other. But still I see her following the Maine Coon around sometimes after they fight, so I wonder if she's provoking it.

She's a beautiful cat (gray leopard like colors) and I worry about her mental state and would like her to be more comfortable around all of us. I've tried giving her a variety of treats to find something to use to train her with, but she either doesn't like them or isn't willing to like them if they come from me.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

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First and foremost: You cannot force trust, you can only earn it. Saying that you "would like her to be more comfortable around all of us" easily translates to "I want to have a closer relationship with the cat", regardless of whether the cat wants that too.

The behavior you describe is extremely similar to one of my own cats. She is more sensitive towards loud sounds, touch, strangers (guests in my home) and my younger cat which likes to chase and scare her.

Every cat establishes its own territory, even if that's just one half of a room or one arm rest of a sofa. It will patrol this territory regularly and leave scent marks. This scent makes the cat feel safe and at home. Your cat seems to have claimed your daughters' rooms as her territory and feels safest there. This is probably a result of the oldest cat choosing a different room as his territory and chasing her away. Wanting or forcing her to stay in other rooms will make her uncomfortable because of the scent of the other cat(s) and may result in more fights.

Every cat also has its own personality. Some are extremely cuddly and seek physical contact, others don't like the contact and are much more comfortable if they can curl up next to you without being touched.

If you want the cat to feel safe and comfortable around you, there are 2 main problems you should change:

Eye contact: We humans are almost the only intelligent creatures on this planet that maintain direct eye contact in a friendly way. For almost all animals direct eye contact means a direct threat. Whenever you approach your cat, you should not look directly at her, but at a spot next to her. You should also do the "lazy cat blink" to signal her that you don't intend to fight.

Physical contact: Your cat obviously doesn't want to be pet by you. Then stop it. I know it feels bad to be disregarded like that, I went through the same with my cat. But for now she must build trust in you that you won't touch her in a way she doesn't want. Letting her sniff your hand is ok, but don't touch her unless she also does the "lazy cat blink" at you. As long as she watches you and your every move, she doesn't trust you and by touching her anyways you can only make it worse.

My own cat still actively avoids my hand whenever she doesn't want to be touched. She walks in an arc around my hand or ducks beneath it. I must respect her wish in those situations and not touch her. At other times, she comes running to me and headbutts my hand to ask for a petting. But I'll be honest with you, it took me more than 2 years until she decided she wants to be pet by me at all. She is not a cuddly cat in general and doesn't cuddle much with anybody.

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The cat's reaction to the petting makes me think that you may just be overdoing it. Some cats can be particularly sensitive to being pet. If you pet intensely, all the way down the back, these cats seem to get gradually irritated. You might notice it getting a little tense, the tail starts flicking, or the skin starts twitching. Do it enough, and cats like this will usually swat or bite. The safest way to avoid this is to lightly pet around the head and neck area only.

The other possibility is that the cat has a medical problem that is making the area sensitive. It could be something like arthritis, which sometimes even happens in pretty young cats even though it's a disease associated with old age. I would ask about it next time you're at the vet.

As for why the cat prefers your kids, perhaps it's because of the amount of time they are able to spend with it, or perhaps it's because they play much more with the cat. While it might not be true in your case, it's often the case that since kids already like to play and usually have a lot of free time that they end up playing a lot more with the pets than the adults in the household, and some cats will become particularly attached to them that way. If you realize this might be the case for your family, then perhaps playing with the cat more yourself will make it more attached to you.

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