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Ask the Trainer: My Cat Attacks Visitors!

93598145Hi Jennifer,

We rescued our cat when she was a kitten. Since then she hates to be held but will climb on our lap when she wants too. She tends to attack us when we are walking thru the room. She also hates when people come to visit us. I don’t want people to be afraid to come over because of our cat. She has lunged at people and spits at them. I have 3 grandchildren that very rarely come over because they live so far away but will be visiting over the upcoming holidays and im afraid the cat will hurt them. She usually starts out rubbing herself against them (anyone who comes over) and then she suddenly spits at them and will attack them. Please how do I change this behavior!! Please help!
Stefynie (Peanut the Cat)

Dear Stefynie and Peanut,

First of all it is very normal for a cat not to want to be held.  Of my three personal cats only two allow me to pick them up and even then it is not all of the time.

Based on your information it sounds like you have two different things going on with Peanut.  First of all, attacking you when you are walking through a room sounds like a cat that is trying to elicit attention from you.  A great way to work with this is to preemptively play with her before she attacks you.  A wand toy is a great way to safely interact with her and provide her with an outlet.  Some great toys are DaBird by Go Cat or Neko Flies interchangeable wand toy.

When Peanut is behaving in a more agreeable manner you can reward her for good behavior by clicking and treating, playing or scratching behind her ears.

It also sounds like she is afraid of new people entering her space.  There are several things we can do to make her feel more comfortable.  First of all make sure she has vertical space to escape from the floor and people.  By adding cat trees or cat shelves this can be easily done. Feliway can also help.  It is a pheromone that comes in a spray or diffuser that only your cat can smell.  This can be used to make her feel more comfortable when people are visiting.

Cats rub up against people to mark them with their scent.  It sounds like she is becoming overstimulated when marking.  If someone then tries to pet or touch her it becomes too much and she then lunges and spits to get herself out of the situation.

When people come over make sure that they do not try to interact with Peanut.  Let her investigate at her own speed.  You can use this time to feed her favorite treat or meal.  This way she will start to equate people coming over with good things happening to her as well as keeping her busy as people are entering.  If she begins to rub up against your guests redirect her with food, toy or calling her to you.  You can click and treat her for returning to you and all other positive interactions.

When she is acting in a calm manner have family members engage with her by playing with a wand toy for short periods of time or tossing her a favorite treat.

It is also very important not to punish her for any of her unwanted behavior. Punishing a cat can increase aggressive behavior.  That includes spraying her with water, shaker cans, yelling and or hitting.  If you are consistent and patient you should see improvement in her behavior.

Thank you for the question!

Jennifer Mauger, CPDT-KSA

Jennifer is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and owner of both L’Chaim Canine and L’Chaim Feline.  Her interest in working with cats began after going into homes where, although she was working with the dog, Jennifer saw that the cat was also in need of behavior modification and mental enrichment.  She wanted to be able to advocate for the cats from the point of view of a professional.  For more training tips and tricks,  follow her on Facebook by clicking here.

Do you have a training question for Jennifer? Ask her by clicking here.

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