It’s no secret that our youngest, Kalista, is a big attention seeker. Although Kalista is not much of a cuddler or a cat who likes to be held, she does love lots of belly rubs and every so often wants… well no… demands to sit in your lap even if you’re busy working.
Throughout the day Kalista will follow me around the apartment, come into a room and headbutt me. and if I don’t give her attention immediately she will bite and then lick me. If you continue to ignore Kalista, she will jump up onto you and walk in circles, continuing to bite you softly until you pet her. These petting sessions can last anywhere as short as a couple of minutes to a whopping 10-Minutes (or sometimes longer, though rare.) If you stop petting Kalista before she’s had enough she will continue to push herself into you, making you aware that she’s unhappy with how you stopped petting her and may even start meowing in disbelief.
Sometimes it feels like Kalista is starved for attention, as if we haven’t pet her in months, or even years. I actually even write about how Kalista has a bit of “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) whenever she sees me. She always perks up and often comes running to me, which is adorable, but I have to admit… concerning at points.
You see, it’s not the fact that I mind that Kalista is “needy” or “attention seeking” it’s more about me worrying if it’s healthy for her to be so attached to me. Although, unlike when we first adopted Beau, who used to chew on plastics and garbage when we were away due to anxiety, Kalista does show some signs of separation anxiety, especially if we have been gone for a few hours at a time. Kalista’s classic move when she’s missed us is running out of our front door and kneading the carpet immediately as we unlock the door. Although not as common anymore, Kalista still waits by the door every so often for my partner to come home, though now it’s more common that she runs to the door if she hears keys jingle or the elevator run at a certain hour.
So, is this normal behaviour for a cat? Does it have anything to do with separation anxiety? Are these traits we should be training Kalista out of, or are they perfectly normal and healthy reactions? Let’s jump into some of the ways cats ask for attention and whether or not you should be worried.
MOST COMMON REASONS FOR ATTENTION SEEKING
1. A cat who is sick and letting you know. (Note: cats will commonly hide illness or pain until things are escalated and serious, so please take your cat to the vet immediately if you suspect this is the case.)
2. A cat who has a lot of energy and wants to play
3. A cat who wants food or treats
Although the following aren’t the only reasons why cats may seek attention, these are the most common. Below the following list are the most common forms of attention seeking and the most common reasons cats use those tactics.
MOST COMMON FORMS OF ATTENTION SEEKING
PICA – THE INGESTION OF FOREIGN MATERIALS
As mentioned in the introduction, Beau, our oldest cat, has a condition called Pica. While Pica isn’t derived from cats wanting attention, it does common stem from stress and anxiety.
In short, Pica is a disorder that causes your cat to want to suckle on soft materials such as wool, tissues, plastics, strings, and garbage. The worry with this disorder is the fear that materials will become lodged in your cat’s intestines and become a blockage. Dependant on how large the materials are, they may cause the cat to become unable to defecate or if the objects are sharp they will cut the insides of the cats making them susceptible to internal bleeding, infections or worse, death.
So how do we deal with Pica? Well, in short, we have to get to the cause of why your cat may be showing signs of it. In short, if your cat is experiencing Pica due to stress and anxiety make sure that you are spending lots of time with them. Brush them, pet them, play with them, stimulate them. When you’re out, put food in challenging feeder toys or slow feeders.
Some pet parents will even leave the radio on while they are gone so their cat doesn’t feel alone or stressed out. We actually do this, but I’ve written some music for our cats that they associate with me which helps them calm down. We’ve noticed our cats really enjoy soft piano music or acoustic guitar, though different cats will/may enjoy different music. Many pet parents try a product called Feliway which releases a pheromone meant to calm cats. While many folks report that this product really helps with behaviour issues and anxiety, it hasn’t worked with our cats, though we’re uncertain why it works with some and not others.
At the end of the day, the two most important things to do when your cat has Pica are managing their stress and make sure that they feel full at all times. To read more about Pica and what we did to get Beau to stop chewing please check out this article.
PAWING AT YOU
Honestly, this is one of the cutest things cats can ever do. Beau tends to do this the most. He will come up to you when he wants attention, will put one paw onto you and look you right in the eyes. For Beau, it usually either means feed me or please pick me up and cuddle me.
This is usually not a concerning type of attention seeking. It does, however, give you a clue as to when your cats are in need of something small (like extra food, water, or just attention in general.) If this behaviour is ignored it commonly leads to your cat using another tactic to get your attention such as headbutting, walking around you in circles (or figure 8’s), meowing, or in cases where they are being ignored for too long they may pull out their claws to give you a warning.
If you are trying to reduce this behaviour, especially if you are concerned that it is stressing out your cat, begin a routine with your cat. Feed them at the same time each day, play with them at the same time each day, brush them at the same time, etc. Cats actually thrive on routine and show reduced signs of stress when they know they are being taken care of and what is coming next.
By far, this behaviour is what gives cats a bad reputation. I know when I was going to adopt my first cat my mom complained and said, “well, isn’t he going to ruin all of my furniture?” Well, yes and no. Cats will show destructive behaviour such as inappropriate scratching when they are stressed out or when they aren’t taught to use other surfaces (or don’t have proper surfaces to scratch).
Cats should always have a scratching pad, scratching toy or a scratching post in the house. Scratching is extremely healthy behaviour for a cat, although sometimes scratching can be a sign that your cat is unhappy. For example, if your cat takes out aggression on your couch, there is a chance that your cat is upset that you spend a lot of time there but do not give them attention. At the same time, your cat may also just like the material of your couch and wasn’t discouraged from using it as a scratcher.
A prime example from our household is my yoga mat. For some reason, Kalista has taken a firm stance that it is a scratcher. Although I personally don’t mind, since it was a garbage mat to start with, Kalista does scratch it before she eats every meal. It’s part of her ritual, and this was a behaviour I could have encouraged her to stop. On the flip side, Kalista rips apart and chews on cardboard whenever she is stressed or thinks she’s not going to be fed. This is a behaviour that signifies something is wrong and she is trying to get my attention. That’s not to say that all cardboard rippers or chewers are stressed out, it’s just very clear to us that it is a stressed behaviour for Kalista because of when and how she does it.
If your cat is using destruction as a behaviour to get your attention start recording when your cat is acting destructive and see if there is a pattern in their behaviour (as there commonly is.)
I’m not going to go too in-depth with this behaviour since I wrote a thorough article about why your cat may be overly vocal, which I highly recommend you skim over!
Again, with this behaviour, you’re going to want to make sure to take note of when your cat is meowing. Some cats are naturally chatty, though there are fairly concerning health reasons that a can cause a cat to excessively meow.
If your cat is a “Chatty Cathy” and you don’t want them to be, make sure not to give them attention when they are meowing and instead give them attention when they are quiet. Reinforcing that their meowing is good behaviour by petting them while they are meowing will only cause them to talk more. Now, this isn’t a problem, again if the meowing isn’t connected to a health problem, and our family cat Walker is actually a very chatty cat who loves talking back anytime you talk to him.
If your cat isn’t usually chatty and suddenly becomes chattier make sure to examine them closely to make sure that they aren’t hurt. If you are concerned please take your cat to the vet immediately and don’t wait for things to resolve themselves as cats don’t usually show signs of pain or illness until things have become fairly serious.
This was one of the most confusing things Beau used to do in the first year that we had him. Night howling is very different than regular meowing. It is usually a fairly deep “yowl” and often sounds like a “hello?” which tends to be really creepy, especially if you’re trying to sleep. Night howling is often paired with some intense running and jumping on furniture and can signify a number of things.
Boredom tends to be the most common non-serious reason for night howling. If your cat is looking for you or for another cat in the household they may let out this howl. It’s actually adorable when you see Beau howl for Kalista and see her race from the opposite side of the apartment to start playing with him.
Cats may also yowl as they age because they are becoming deaf or senile. Though, young cats make also make these howls if they are confused about where they are. We’ve moved 4 times with Beau so far and in 3/4 of our places Beau howled for the first few nights. Though extremely sad, there isn’t much you can do about this other than comfort the cat. If you suspect that your cat is becoming deaf or senile speak to your vet about any special care you should be giving them and do your best not to move things around, especially if your cat is becoming senile.
Night howling has also been associated with “rippling skin disorder” which is also known as feline hyperesthesia. This is usually paired with a rippling back, biting/scratching of the back or tail, dilated pupils that appear glassy, erratic running (often in circles or darting), and sensitivities to touch. This condition is usually associated with brain tumours, traumas, infections, toxins, flea bites or pansteatitis. Cats who exhibit this behaviour, especially pulling out their hair should be taken to the vet immediately as medications or treatment may be necessary.
BITING AND/OR LICKING
I also wrote a more in-depth article about this which I recommend you check out.
BEST ADVICE FOR ATTENTION SEEKING CATS
In general, if you have an attention seeking cat and want to reduce the amount that they come to you or “bother you” it’s best to schedule their days. Some of the things that you may want to schedule are grooming (brushing & cutting nails), feeding times, playing times, petting times, and if applicable teeth cleaning times. I’ve also noticed that going to bed at the same time every day reduces Beau’s night howling. I personally think that this is because Beau likes to sleep with me, so if I’m not in bed he’s usually awake.
Cats should always be rewarded for good behaviour. This will help enforce good behaviour and ensure that your cat understands begins to associate their behaviour with the positive stimuli, whether it be extra cuddles, treats or attention when they are quiet. Cats should always be ignored or left alone while they are being naughty or aggressive. Scolding a cat by hitting them or yelling at them is never appropriate and can cause the cat to become more aggressive with you, may cause them to become traumatized and commonly causes the cat to avoid you altogether or become scared of you.
While most attention-seeking behaviours aren’t anything that you should be worried about if your cat suddenly has a change in personality there may be something wrong with them. Always be aware of your cat’s behaviours and never be afraid to give the vet a call if you notice something different about your cat. If you’re ever worried about your cat, don’t leave it up to fate, make sure you take your cat to the vet immediately to ensure that they are the healthiest they can be.
So I’m curious pet parents, how many of you have cats who like to seek attention? What have you tried to discourage them? Have you discouraged them? Let me know in the comments below!