Have you ever known a cat who veered from nice to naughty and back again? That was the problem facing a reader, and as I always do when faced with behavior questions, I recruited my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to respond.
Q: Our cat seems to have two personalities. She is an 8-year-old rescue that we have had for a few months. She can be sweet when she wants to sit by us or when she jumps up on our bed, but more often, she is on the defensive. When we bend down to pet her, she usually tries to bite. Sometimes she reaches out for passing legs. No one dares pick her up. Any suggestions? Do you think it had something to do with her previous life?
A: Cats are more comfortable when they are the ones doing the “choosing” when it comes to initiating closeness or interaction with a person, especially if they’re fearful. Acting out when being petted could be a defensive response caused by fear. Swatting at legs as people walk by could be a type of predatory play behavior.
A consultation with a Fear Free-certified veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist who can see your cat’s behavior in person could help you get a better picture of why your cat acts the way she does or uncover underlying health issues that may be contributing to her behavior.
What animals learn during early life can forever impact their adult personalities and comfort level with humans and their environment. Animals can still learn throughout life, but their basic resilience in the face of stress is formed early. That said, you can do some training exercises to build your relationship, communication and her confidence. One is to turn petting into a positive by pairing the reach of your hand with a desirable reward, such as a favorite treat or toy. A skilled behaviorist or trainer can offer other suggestions. — Mikkel Becker
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.