Frequently Asked Behavioral Questions

“Why does my cat bite or become aggressive without warning, and what can I do to stop this?”

Assuming there are no medical problems and this is all behavioral, he may be suffering from anxiety. If there is any possibility that it is medical, he should see a vet. But if it is anxiety, it could be from his previous experiences. Maybe from being bounced around, maybe he was bounced around because he does this. Some cats get overstimulated by attention such as petting and will bite in response. Some can’t seem to get enough attention and bite to get it. It can be difficult to break the cycle. First look back on the times he bit or “mouthed” you, i.e. teeth on flesh but no puncture. This is actually not too bad because he could have bitten but didn’t. The question to be answered in these instances is, was the bite provoked and by what? I mean was there some interaction occurring, petting, playing, making eye contact, etc.? Or was it completely unprovoked i.e. sitting and reading or making dinner and cat comes out of nowhere and attacks. These are different problems. If they are provoked, and I don’t mean that negatively, only that there was an interaction, then you can try behavior modification. You can also consider medicating him temporarily to help him get through this. The behavior modification consists of ignoring the cat for undesirable behavior. If you are sitting and petting and he bites, you get up and let him fall off your lap and walk away and ignore him. This must be consistent. You should also watch for signs of imminent aggression while petting, tail swishing, ears flat, dilated pupils. If you see these signs stop petting. A petting technique that is supposed to be soothing is TTouch. You can do an internet search on that. It is quarter sized circles on the head, neck and body, instead of long pets along the back. There is a medication called amitriptylline that your vet could prescribe to help him settle down. It is inexpensive and very safe. It takes the edge off this type of behavior and helps the cat relax in his new environment. You might want to consider this in conjunction with behavior modification. A good book about cat behavior is Good Owners, Great Cats by Brian Kilcommons, Also, The Cat Who Cried for Help by Nicholas Dodman, DVM. Good luck. He sounds like a nice cat that gets confused. It would be great if you can help him through this.

Dealing with overweight cats

You say Gabriel is 12 lbs – is that now or when you got him? I would weigh him now at any rate so you can monitor him. You can either get on the scale with and without him, or call your vet’s office and ask if you can just bring him in to weigh. I would think they would do that as a courtesy. If you think he is overweight some things to check are ribs (can you feel them?), and belly fat, especially from the side. Is their a little tuck to the waist? If not, he is probably a bit overweight.

Either of your first 2 suggestions will work. My personal preference would be to mix a lower calorie kibble in with the regular and then gradually switch over to all light. They tend to eat more in the winter because it is colder, even in heated homes and they need the extra calories. So this is a good time to switch him to light because he will burn more calories, but he shouldn’t feel hungry it will be too stressful.

Having said that, I recently read an article that a very high protein diet is more natural for a cat because it is more like what they eat in the wild and that the carbohydrates from the fillers in dry food are what cause the weight gain. The presumption was that that might be why even cats on restricted calorie diets do not lose weight. So it won’t hurt to try the higher carbohydrate light formula for a while but if Gabriel is not losing weight, you might want to consider a higher protein diet.

Also remember if you give him treats to factor that into his total portion for the day, because if not, you just negated everything you did. So if he gets a tablespoon of treats he should get a tbsp. less in his bowl.

Also if he likes to play with a feather teaser or cat dancer 15 minutes a day will help because of the extra exercise. I have a cat here now that was kept severely confined for quite a while by a previous owner. she weighed 9.5 lbs, which was too much on her small frame. I didn’t change her diet. She was and is on a mix of Science Diet adult and light. I started letting her walk (limp really because of damaged knees) and within a month she had lost one pound due that relatively small amount of exercise.

I hope some of these things help.

Best of luck to you and Gabriel.

Why is my cat aggressive toward my new roommate?


This woman wrote to say that her cat was showing aggression toward her new roommate.


It is impossible to say what is upsetting your cat with regards to your roommate.

It may be something about her looks or possibly scent. At any rate the best way to get your cat to get along with your roommate is for your roommate to take care of your cat for a while. Not forever, but until she settles down. If she is willing, she should be the one to feed her, give her treats, change her water, even scoop the box when your cat is there to see it. If your cat likes to be brushed, she should do that, as well as 10 – 15 minutes of playtime with her favorite toy. You should not do anything for the cat during this period.

If the cat is truly out of control initially to the point of attacking, cover her with a towel to pick her up and put her in a bathroom or separate room for a 10 – 15 minute time out. I also recommend that you get a bottle of Rescue Remedy. It is sold at health food stores and on the internet. It is a very safe product. It works best if you put 4 drops directly on her tongue. You can also put it in her drinking water but it is not as effective. Do this shortly before your roommate is expected home. Another item that helps with stress is Feliway. They now have plug ins that last a month. It releases natural calming pheremones.

I remember reading about a very similar situation. I will try to find the reference, and if there was anything else in it. I will email you with further info.

This may seem like a lot of work, but it really shouldn’t take to long for her to come around, and the peace and harmony will be worth it.

Please let us know if this information is helpful.

Why are my kittens playing and rolling in litter that spilled outside the box?

Kittens do seem to like to play in litter. They usually grow out of it, but in the mean time, a higher sided box is probably a good idea. You could get a Rubbermaid or Sterilite tote and take the cover off it. I use these because I have a super digger who likes to spew litter all over the place.

As far as getting them to stop, maybe you could get a textured mat, like the kind you wipe your feet on. The litter will fall down into the crevices and it won’t get on their fur. Maybe they would like the feel of the texture on their back too. I have also seen cat scratchers that are in the shape of a stand up horseshoe made out of a bristle brush. The cat rubs against it by walking under it. I have no personal experience with these though.

Keep brushing them even though it doesn’t seem to help. It is good for them in other ways. If their skin seems ripply when you brush or they have dander you can try vitamin E in their food in case it is a minor skin irritation.

But as I said, chances are they will just outgrow it.

Good luck with your kitties.

My cat won’t eat cat food and won’t stop begging for table food


This cat refused to eat and was holding out for table food.


I have a couple of thoughts and observations.

First, Peyton was at the shelter for a while and she did not get table food there. She definitely was eating or someone would have noticed it. I think that once she got back into a home environment, the old habit of eating table food kicked in again, and cats can be remarkably stubborn about not eating in order to get what they want. I assume from your message that she won’t eat wet or dry.

You should be able to get her back on cat food with some patience and persistence.

The trouble with table food is that it is not nutritionally complete and in order to feed a proper home diet to a cat you need to add supplements. Most people don’t have the time to do this, even though a properly prepared home diet is considered the ultimate for a healthy adult cat.

Anyway, assuming you would rather Peyton eat cat food. I would start by feeding her some of the things Priscilla mentioned: cooked hamburger, chicken or chicken livers mixed with a very small amount of wet food. Does she like tuna? Add a little tuna juice too. Very gradually increase the amount of wet and decrease the amount of meat or tuna juice. The slower you go, the better it will probably work. If you get to a point where she won’t eat the mix, go back to the previous step and keep feeding that mix for a while.

A lot of cats don’t care for Iams. If she likes it, that’s fine, but if not, try her on Nutro, both the wet and dry. Most cats really like the taste of it. You can get it at Petco and Petsmart. Even if you get her to a 50/50 cat food to meat ratio, that would be okay from a nutrient standpoint. You can buy a package of hamburger, make it into meatballs and freeze. Then take one out and nuke it for her meal. Does she like textured foods? Maybe the Fancy Feast grilled entrees will tempt her. They are about as close to human food as you can get in a canned cat food.

Another thing to try is no free feeding. If she doesn’t eat after 20 -30 minutes pick it up and toss it. No food until the next meal. Do not leave any dry out either. Now, if she is eating the dry, but not the wet, then by all means leave the dry. Some cats just don’t care for wet food.

I hope things settle down with Peyton. It can be very frustrating to deal with these problems. Many of the shelter cats come from unknown backgrounds and may not have received the best care like your cat has. We do our best to bring them to a stable state of health prior to adoption. Sometimes they regress in their new environment, but usually they settle in within 4 – 6 weeks.

Let me know if you have other questions.

A woman recently had her cat declawed and now she is not using the litter box.

Your cat is in pain and she is associating the litter box with that pain, so she does not want to go there. This is a fairly common occurrence after declawing, along with some other behavioral issues that can develop. Did your vet warn you about issues that can arise after declawing, such as litter box aversion and increased aggression? Some do and some don’t. I think they do the cats and the owners a great disservice when they do not fully disclose potential problems.

The best you can do now is to try to alleviate the pain and give her time to heal. Call the vet and ask if she can have pain meds or a baby aspirin. Then you will probably need to confine her. A large dog crate (3x3x2) is ideal, because it is a relatively confined space and they don’t like to soil their bedding so they are forced to go in the box. If you don’t have a large crate, try putting her in the bathroom. Make sure that you spend A LOT of time in the bathroom with her during this time so she doesn’t feel like she is being punished. If she is using the box consistently she can be let out with supervision until you are sure she is using her box all the time.

I hope that if you ever get another cat you will reconsider declawing or adopt a cat that has already been declawed. The operation is now illegal in 9 European countries.

Imagine how you would feel if half of all your fingers had been cut off. She needs total love and support right now.

Good luck to you and your kitty. With patience you can both get through this.

© Pat Brody Shelter for Cats. All rights reserved.

Scroll to Top