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Attention deprived kitty & destructive behavior

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Here’s my situation…

In the morning Max will sometimes wake me up. I say “sometimes†because he will sometimes wait until the alarm goes off to start his routine and sometimes he’ll start it before the alarm goes off. His routine is to get up out of bed (he usually sleeps with us all night) and start purring and lightly meowing. If I don’t get up he’ll proceed to go under the bed and start scratching. If I don’t get up he’ll move to the night stand and start swatting at the blinds. If I don’t get up he’ll start knocking things off the night stand and then the dresser. He’ll knock the phone off the hook, books on the floor, wallet, chapstick, watch. He’s even knocked a small wooden jewelry-type box off the dresser. He does all of this so I will get up and feed him.

When it’s getting close to feeding time Max will do the same sort of stuff to get attention to let me know that he’s hungry. He will meow, jump on the counter, paw at the pantry where his food is. He will pick/scratch at the garage door, he will paw/scratch/pick at the china hutch doors trying to get them open, all until I feed him.

I’ve read that you are not supposed to react to the naughty behavior because it only reinforces it. But what am I supposed to do when the naughty behavior is being destructive? I’ve been trying to praise him when he’s quiet and being good. I think I need to do more of this. But how am I to stop the destructive behavior?

He has scratching posts, which probably need to be replaced and he does use them. I’ve tried spraying some “No Scratch†sprays under the bed without any success. I’ve considered using the claw caps but that doesn’t stop him from knocking things off the dresser. I’ve read about a product that has a motion detector on it and when the cat gets near, it starts to beep and then sprays something that the cat doesn’t like the smell of. Would this be something to look into?

I don’t want my china hutch getting scratched any more and I am getting a new bed soon and I would like to work on Max’s behavior before it arrives.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Thanks a lot for any help.

post #2 of 6
Hi Evan,

Could you let us know more about Max? How old is he? How long have you had him? Is he neutered? Are there other cats (outside) wild running around? The more history on him the easier it is to help you. Also, there is a cat behaviorist (that has also helped me in the past) She writes a column for TCS- you can find it on the home page, it is called Herding Cats. I believe she has covered this issue and it would be in the archives of the column
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Max is about 5 years old and we’ve had him for just about that long. We got him when he was a kitten free from a family who lived on a farm. He is neutered. He has a brother. We got them both from the same litter. His brother is the complete opposite of Max. Jake is smaller, quiet and less social. He likes his attention but isn’t obnoxious about it like Max is. We see cats outside every so often. We let Max outside while on a leash. He likes it outside. I usually roams around as far as the leash will let him and then he’ll find a shady spot under the deck.

Max is overweight as well. He was over 16lbs but is now less than 15lbs. His target weight is 13lbs. We have him on a special diet that seems to be working. We have to feed him at specific times of the day or he will eat all his food for the day in a short while. We could leave Jake’s food out all day and Jake would pick at it when he was hungry but we can’t do this since Max will eat Jake’s food as well.

But for being overweight he is a fairly active cat. The problem is he doesn’t like to play by himself. He attacks his brother to play with him but Jake wants nothing to do with it. Every so often he’ll play with a toy mouse but its short lived. He’ll play with me but only for short bursts. It’s like he gets bored with what we’re playing with. It could be either the laser pointer or a string. At some point he’ll just stop playing.

My wife is a stay-at-home mom now. She’s home with our one year old. Max’s behavior hasn’t changed much with the introduction of our son. He gets a little less attention now but all this bad behavior started much earlier.

I hope this info helps. I’ll check out the articles and see if there’s any information.

post #4 of 6
Thread Starter 
Here are some more observations. Max only acts up for me. My wife says he sleeps most of the day. When I’m home he’s begging for attention. I give it to him when I can. But he’s strange about it. He will roll over so I’ll start to rub his belly then he’ll get up and run into the kitchen like he wants to eat. Should I follow him and continue to give him attention? I tried playing with him last night before bed and I was getting more tired than he was. He would play with the toy and then just lay there waiting for the toy to come to him.

My alarm clock went off early this morning, but I decided to sleep in a bit. Max got up with the alarm clock and started his “routine†of scratching and knocking things off the dresser. I didn’t want him ruining anything and I wanted to get a little more sleep so I locked him in the laundry room until I fed him later in the morning.

Is he just craving my attention? If so, what is the “right†way to give it to him? When he wants the attention or when I have time?

I’m looking for any ideas here. I’m getting very frustrated. I love Max to death but whenever I’m home he’s acting up.
post #5 of 6
I hear you, Evan. Lilly does the same morning routine, complete with blind swatting and knocking things off the furniture.
However, she has food out, so she's not doing it to get fed. She just wants me up.

She also does "naughty" behavior when I'm around and doing work so she can get attention. This usually entails chewing the houseplants. As soon as I get up, she jumps down- translation, she KNOWS she shouldn't be doing it.

I find that these behaviors are exactly what you said- attention getters. She wants some lovin'. She only does this with me... she's definitely my baby.

I put her in her carrier in the morning until I'm ready to get up- she likes being in there, so it's not a big deal.

I don't have a solution... I'm planning to get another cat at some point, which I'm hoping will help. Good luck to you!
post #6 of 6
One thing I think you need to understand in dealing with the situation is that they don't understand they are being destructive. They don't have a concept of "nice things on the shelf" or "scratching ruins a new bed that costs $1,000" or "I'm gonig to eat mommy's houseplants to be naughty."

Also, cats are nocturnal creatures. Is is normal for a cat to sleep during the day and become active at night, when we want to sleep. Try to find a cat owner that won't tell you about the 3-5 am running, jumping and chasing marathons. Mien start theirs at 5:30 am like clockwork. You sort of get used to it, especially if you accept it as a part of having cats. Sometimes simply getting upset and frustrated makes it harder to sleep than the actual noise that woke you up.

You'd be hard pressed to find a cat that does not eat houseplants. In fact, in the wild, cats eat grass to help their digestion. You might want to keep your plants high enough up (hanging plants) so the cat can't get to them. It's hard to teach a cat not to do something instinct is telling it to do.

What the cats are learning though is that when they do certain things, they get attention, even if it's bad attention. It might also be that she has fun doing it, the action, the noise it makes. I think you'd find it hard pressed to find a cat that doesn't like to knock things off shelves. Most people who have cats simply arrange their shelves in a way that the cat doesn't break anything valuable.

This may not be a perfect, or permanent solution, but for now I would suggest removing the items from the shelves. If there is nothing to knock down, she can't do it any more. If she goes long enough without doing the behavior, you might eventually be able to put them back up when she's forgetten about doing it.

As far as scratching on wood, another thing that is also an instinct. Cats hate orange. Dab some orange extract on the places you don't want her chewing or scratching at night before you go to bed. For the plants, try to dip q-tips in the orange extract and put the a bunch of them, unsoaked side into the dirt, around the plant. The scent may turn her off. Then go to the pet store and buy kitty grass (grass plants grown specifically for cats to eat). Let her go to town on her own plant.

Also try dabbing some orange extract on the furniture where she scratches. I don't like to recommend orange cleaning solutions because that can be harmful because of the chemicals. Orange extract worked for my neighbor who's cat was chewing on and ripping up her wicker bakers shelf. She dabbed some extract on it, and after doing that a few weeks, the cat never went back to it.

The idea is not to teach them bad from good. Animals can't understand that. What we can do is make them not want to do something, and want to do something else. Sometimes its simply a matter of habit.
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