Is My Kitten Too Aggressive?

QUESTION: About a month ago I took in a stray kitten that I found in my yard. Zelda is my first and only pet ever. She is absolutely adorable, but I have a big problem with her rough behavior. I am covered with scratches and wounds and am beginning to be afraid of my own pet! She lies in wait for me, attacks my ankles, climbs up my legs, leaps on me while I’m asleep and bites my feet, and chases me as I move about the house. Do I have an aggressive kitten? Is there anything I can do about it?

ANSWER: Actually, what you have is a normal kitten! Mother Nature has us kitties born into a litter for good reason – we learn everything that we need to know as adult cats from the interaction with our moms and siblings. We learn to stalk and attack prey, run and climb to escape danger, and defend ourselves from foes. At the same time, we burn off TONS of explosive kitten energy in a harmless way by chasing, wrestling, and play-fighting with our sibs.
What you are experiencing with Zelda is a common phenomenon known as “Single Kitten Syndrome.” SKS occurs when a kitten does not have an outlet for pursuing natural instincts and therefore uses a substitute, i.e., YOU! She is chasing, attacking, and pouncing on you exactly as she would with a littermate. The only difference is that with her mom and littermates, a kitten learns boundaries. When she plays too rough, the other kitten screeches and runs away, ending the play. So kitty learns to play gentler so that the others will include her. When she bites too hard suckling for milk, her mom gives her a disciplinary but harmless “bop” with her paw and moves away. We kitties hate when that happens, but it does teach us that “when Momma’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy!”


What’s the quickest, easiest way to redirect Zelda’s behavior? Get her a kitten friend as a playmate! That’s probably not what people expect to hear when they’re having trouble with one kitten, but it’s the reason why adopters of kitties are advised, “Two kittens are easier than one.” A solitary kitten gets into all kinds of mischief that includes both the behavior you describe AND getting into your stuff. When all that youthful zest is directed into the natural, normal outlet of play, Miss Ferocious Lion becomes Miss Frolicking Lamb, exhausted but happy after a day of running, wrestling, & leaping with her own kind, enjoying soccer games with a ball and stalking competitions with a toy mouse. And is there anything more heartwarming than the sight of two kittens curled up together, snoring peacefully with their arms around each other after a session of rough-and-tumble?

If getting a second kitten is not a possibility due to lease restrictions, you must take on the role of the other kitten, only this time you will be setting up the play with your safety in mind. First, you need several interactive toys that will keep your hands away from the line of action. Fishing pole type toys, fake birds suspended on a wire, and the laser light are three excellent ways to engage your kitty’s stalk-and-attack drive. If you have never watched a cat franticly chasing the little red dot of a laser toy, you have missed a hilarious opportunity to see just how much energy and persistence is packed into your kitten’s compact body!

Second, keep your kitty’s nails trimmed so that they are short and blunted at all times. Practicing this grooming routine every other week will remove the sharp points that have been making you an unwilling blood donor! The Cat Angel Network volunteers will clip your kitty’s nails free of charge any weekend at the Pottstown or Downingtown Petsmart stores. Watch closely and you will learn a few secrets that make nail clipping a cinch!

The climbing behavior that has Zelda trying to scale you and every other tall object in the house with her claws will gradually extinguish until, by about eight months of age, she will be able to jump everywhere she needs to go. Throughout her life, though, she will need to stretch and scratch at her tree substitute. What’s a tree substitute? It’s a nice, tall, sturdy scratching post or cat tree covered with deliciously rough sisal rope or natural bark, and every cat-friendly home needs one! Here she will do her isometric stretching after a nap, pulling off the old nail sheaths, and marking the post with her scent. Happy work for us kitties – it feels great and we will gladly stay away from your possessions when we have something so much better suited for our instinctual scratching needs

Lastly, NEVER allow the kitty to play with your bare hands as this will teach her that your hand is a plaything which, I assume you agree, it is not. Often the root cause of aggressive play in adult cats is that a person in the family thought it was cute to play roughly with the kitten, using his/her hands, sometimes even touching the cat’s sensitive underbelly. The kitten clamps down on the hand and thereafter views a person’s hands as something to be wary of and attack. Then when Aunt Tilly visits the home, she does not find this behavior cute at all and wonders why, oh why, you have such a mean cat. ‘Nuff said.

So, enjoy Zelda and let her teach you all the joys and wonders of living with a being who is only one small step away from the ways of the wild. By knowing and respecting her needs, and learning day by day how to work WITH them and not against them, you will see her predatory relationship with you disappear, and in its place will grow a deep and satisfying friendship between you, Zelda, and, hopefully, that second kitten we hope you’ll adopt.

Would My Older Cat Be Happier In A New Home Where She Got More Attention?

fluffytummyQUESTION: I have a beautiful, loving cat that I adopted as a kitten many years ago. She is now 10 years old. The kids no longer pay any attention to her, and I am so busy with work that I’m beginning to think she would be better off in another home. She is a sweet cat and enjoys sleeping in sunny windows or sitting on laps. I think she would make an older person or couple an ideal companion. Wouldn’t she be happier if I surrendered her to Cat Angel Network so she can find another home?

ANSWER: Can I tell you the honest truth, from a cat’s point of view? The truth is, NO, she wouldn’t be happier. The fantasy most people have is that there are many potential adopters for a friendly senior cat like theirs. They believe that their “nine-year-old-or-older” kitty will soon leave the comforts of the shelter to be taken home by a lovely retired couple who will lavish her with the time and attention she craves.

The reality for a kitty like yours is more likely to be an experience like the following. Upon entering the shelter, she’ll go into a cage so she can feel safe until she acclimates. She will probably not want to come out of her carrier so it will be placed in the cage with her. Being in an unfamiliar room, approached by unfamiliar people, and surrounded everywhere by unknown cats, she’ll huddle in her carrier, some cats for days, others for weeks and even months. Most refuse food, requiring days of persistent prompting by the volunteers so they don’t succumb to liver damage. The adjustment period can take months, and some, especially former “only cats,” never adjust to a life surrounded by other kitties. Aggression is very common in a cat under such stress, and even the nicest cat can lash out at anyone or anything approaching the sanctity of her cage. As nice as our shelter looks to a visitor, it is a terrifying place to a cat leaving the only home she has ever known.

Once kitty adjusts, she is available for adoption. Here’s where that loving older couple puts in an application for her and takes her home, right? Unfortunately, that is not likely. Although your kitty WOULD make a wonderful pet for them, they are most likely to request…. a kitten. At least 90% of the applications we receive are for the youngest kitten possible. Whether it’s because adopters don’t want to go through the loss of another pet too soon, or they’re afraid of vet bills for an older kitty, adopters most often choose kittens, while wonderful older cats wait on the sidelines, passed over again and again.

Sometimes adopters will state that they don’t want a kitten, but an “older cat.” Asked specifically what they’re looking for, most reply, “Oh, everybody wants kittens so I’m looking for an older cat, somewhere between one and three years — definitely not older than five.”

fireplaceThe sad reality is that only one or two cats that are nine years old or older get adopted from Cat Angel Network each year. Those days on which a senior kitty goes home are very, very happy days for everyone at CAN. So, please, please, let your kitty live out her golden years in the comfort of her own home, surrounded by her family and enjoying the simple, familiar rituals that cats love so much. Believe me, she would NOT be happier having to join the ranks of the many, many homeless cats competing for too few homes. That competition leaves senior kitties at a distinct disadvantage, most living out their last years in the shelter, waiting for an adoption application that never comes. May she never be in the position that so many of us are, of watching the shelter door, praying, 

“Please, God, may the next person who comes in to adopt not say ‘Too old, too big’ when he looks at me.”

What Do I Do When My Cats Don’t Get Along With One Another?

catfightQUESTION: I have three cats who do not get along as well as I’d like. I had always hoped for a harmonious group, but there is definite tension among them which sometimes erupts in hisses, spats, and chases. The oldest, Cleo, is quite the diva, and does not want to be bothered. She hisses at any cat who gets in her personal space, and her overreaction spurs on the youngest, Spanky, who loves to ambush and chase the other two. He’s just rambunctious and doesn’t mean any harm, but he terrorizes the middle kitty Lola who is something of a “fraidy cat.” She sometimes doesn’t use the litterbox, and I think it might be connected to her nervousness around Spanky. How do I improve the relationship among the cats and create a peaceful, safe environment for myself and my cats? I love them all and do not want to part with any of them.

ANSWER: Visitors to our shelter and multi-cat foster homes are often amazed at the number of kitties who live together harmoniously. Baskets and beds by the windows frequently contain multiple cats curled up together, and mealtimes reveal dozens of cats, each going to his or her own bowl, with no arguments or competition. The question often asked of our caretakers is “How can so many cats get along together in ONE ROOM, when my couple of cats at home can’t coexist peacefully in an ENTIRE HOUSE? Well, the answer lies in our “P-A-L-S” Principles.

The “P” stands for “PLENTY,” plenty of everything that’s important to cats -litterboxes, beds, sunny window seats, toy mice, water bowls, etc. Abundance eliminates competition over scarce resources. The size of your home does not matter as much as the availability of the things cats need and want.

catfight2An examination of the conflicts and problems in a feline family will almost always reveal where there is a lack of abundance. In your household, for instance, there is a definite need for more litterboxes in several different locations. Lola is telling you, by her behavior, that she is not always comfortable using the litter box when Spanky is in the vicinity. Very likely he has ambushed her while she was in or leaving the litterbox, and now she is avoiding it rather than risk being jumped. By the way, covered litterboxes should be outlawed in any home where there are inter-cat tensions resulting in litterbox lapses! (See “Ask Angel” article on litterbox problems on our website).

“Plenty of play” is another element you should add to your cats’ daily routine. Spanky’s behavior is indicative of a young cat whose need to play is so great that he is desperately trying to engage any available kitties, whether they’re interested or not! Now, out of boredom and excess energy, he’s made a game out of their resistance. If you don’t have a laser light toy, you need to run, not walk to your nearest Petsmart and get one! These inexpensive gadgets can wear out even the most high-energy kitty in one or two 10 minute sessions per day!

An even better solution, believe it or not, is to adopt another young male as a playmate for Spanky. The last thing most people with inter-cat problems are looking to do is add another cat to the mix, but it almost always works beautifully. The rambunctious kitty has a willing and able buddy that is available for wrestling, chasing, and ambush games, and the pressure is off the older party poopers.

The “A” of P-A-L-S stands for “ALTITUDE.” Have you ever noticed that the top of the refrigerator is a popular spot for cats? The reason is its altitude. The fastest, easiest way to make less-social or timid cats more secure is to offer them plenty of high places on which to perch. From a cat’s point of view, height is safety, security, power, and, yes, just plain fun! Visit our “Sweet Kitty Suite” room at the shelter and you’ll find the cat-walk, high placed shelves, and tall cat trees filled with serene kitties! For the most part, these are the more timid or aloof cats. When something happens that upsets them or they just want to be alone, they literally “run for the hills!” A cat tree is a great investment for any multi-cat home. Store-bought or hand-made, they offer lots of natural refuge and are worth every penny in terms of peace and harmony in a fur-filled family.

The “L” of P-A-L-S stands for “LOVE,” “TOUGH LOVE”, that is. Although cats are not pack animals in the traditional sense, they do look to their favorite people as the hub of the family wheel. If their most significant person cuddles and coddles them when they’re behaving badly, you’re encouraging more of the same. If, for example, Cleo hisses at and bops the other cats when she’s on your lap and wants you all to herself, you should quietly stand up and end her monopoly on your time and attention. You can reward her with treats at future sessions if she tolerates the presence of the others. Most cats are bright enough to realize that every time they behave badly, something unpleasant happens and every time they behave well, something GOOD happens!

If Spanky is about to pounce on one of the females, make a distracting noise to interrupt the behavior. If he persists, use a squirt bottle. If he jumps on one of them, give him a 15 minute TIME-OUT in a cat carrier. By the time you let him out of the carrier, he’ll have forgotten what he was up to, and the other kitty will have found a safe haven.

These “Tough Love” strategies should be carried out calmly and confidently. No yelling, screaming, or roughness. They will not make your cats hate you. Cats thrive on consistency and respect consequences that are predictable. The more you discourage bad behavior and reward compatibility, the better your cats will get along.

The “S” of P-A-L-S stands for “SOLITUDE.” Sometimes the only solution to a situation where one cat has grown to dislike or fear another is to offer her a room of her own for all or part of the day. It’s a very effective solution that many cat owners fight “tooth and nail,” excuse the cat metaphor. The idea of closing off a beloved kitty in a separate room is an option that some owners won’t even consider. Look at it this way. If a senior citizen were surrounded by high-energy toddlers all day, don’t you think she’d appreciate some peace and quiet in a secluded spot for a while? That’s how your oldest kitty Cleo may feel. If an elementary school child were being harassed by the school bully during recess, wouldn’t he jump at the chance to enjoy the play yard at a different time? That’s how Lola may feel! Giving the cats a break from each other while you are at work or during the night is an easy and effective answer that often results in more peaceful interactions when the kitties ARE all together.

catloveAt Cat Angel Network, large cages outfitted with perches and cozy beds are used to give cats an opportunity to get to know each other gradually and safely. Cats who are having disagreements can be separated and reintroduced. One lady who was having trouble with her kitties was reluctantly talked into borrowing a cage to help restore peace. A few weeks later she said she was returning the cage. It worked so well she was buying one of her own! Her pestered kitty loved it, and even after being released, was going into her “private apartment” on her own!

So give our P-A-L-S Principles a shot in your home. You have nothing to lose (except some hisses and growls), and so much to gain. Watching mistrust s-l-o-w-l-y turn into tolerance and eventually even friendship is one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences you will ever know. It is well worth the effort!

How Do I Help My Cat Maintain A Healthy Weight?

snoozingQUESTION: I would like to adopt a kitten in the near future but am wondering what to do about the feeding situation. I presently have two adult cats who are eating a special low-calorie food, and I know kittens need a kitten chow which is high in proteins (and calories!). How do I prevent my adult cats from getting into the kitten’s food? The vet has already told me that my cats are overweight, and I am concerned that they might put on even more unhealthy pounds once the kitten is here. Any tips on how to manage the food setup so all the kitties reach and maintain a healthy weight? I notice most of the cats at your shelter seem to be so slim and trim.

ANSWER: Thanks for the compliment! We shelter kitties have to maintain our gorgeous figures for a very important reason — we want to get adopted! And the truth is, overweight cats are often passed over at adoption time in favor of cats that present a younger, healthier appearance. That motivates us to cooperate with the feeding system followed here at the shelter. Our friends, the volunteers, are really MORE concerned with our health and well-being than anything else, and they know that overweight kitties experience a lot of problems: illnesses like diabetes and fatty liver disease, a reluctance to jump and play and get proper exercise, and also the embarrassing problem of difficulty cleaning the “backside area” the way a normal cat can. This results in unsightly matted hair and “stinky stuff” clinging to our fur. And when we cats can’t keep ourselves immaculately clean, THIS ANNOYS US!

cateatSo here’s the feeding system followed for all of us C.A.N. cats: First, and most importantly, we are fed a MEASURED amount of a high quality dry food: a quarter cup, twice a day. NO FREE FEEDING! NO SELF FEEDERS! Cats were never meant to be grazers. In the wild we catch a mouse, and then our body fasts until we catch again. Grazing on food all day long is not natural or healthy for predators like cats and is the NUMBER ONE reason cats become overweight or obese.

Secondly, our cat carriers are left out at all times with cozy mats in them. At feeding time they are used to insure that each kitty gets the food that is best for his or her individual needs and that no “Greedy Gus” steals someone else’s portion. When the volunteer comes into the room with the tray of plates, she calls out, “Suppertime!” and, believe it or not, each of us runs to our very own carrier to eat! Visitors are amazed, since many think it’s impossible to train a cat to voluntarily go into a carrier. NOT SO — we LOVE our carriers and never run and hide when we see one like so many other kitties who only see their carriers when they have to go to the vet’s office. This is the way you would be able to feed your adult cats their special food while allowing the kitten to have her high protein/high calorie kitten chow. Kittens under 10 months old can be fed more than twice a day. Three or four feedings a day will help to meet your kitten’s high nutritional needs because of her rapid growth and high energy output. She should be weaned down to two meals a day between 10 and 12 months of age unless your vet feels she is a skinny Minnie.

The cats who come to the shelter already overweight are very gradually tapered down to the quarter cup portion. It is EXTREMELY dangerous to drastically reduce an obese cat’s food intake too quickly! We kitties can develop a potentially fatal condition known as fatty liver disease so SLOW is the way to GO!

lasercatI’m so glad your vet gave you a “Head’s Up” alert about your adult cats’ weight issues. A normal female cat weighs eight to ten pounds and a male should weigh ten to twelve pounds. So often people don’t acknowledge that their beloved kitty is overweight, preferring to describe him as “big-boned” or “fluffy.” If your kitty does not have a visible waist when viewed from above or his belly hangs close to the floor, making his legs look short, you’ve got a FAT CAT! And, as Dr. Fel(ine) McPaw always says, “You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge!”

Reducing a special pet’s food and treats can be very difficult for an owner that equates food with love. BUT FOOD IS NOT THE ONLY WAY TO SHOW LOVE TO US KITTIES! How about spending 10 extra minutes playing with your cats every night? If you haven’t treated your kitties to a Laser Light or interactive dangly toy like the CAT DANCER, you’re all missing a lot of fun and laughs! If a kitty doesn’t show an immediate  interest in toys, keep at it! Some of us who are “out of shape” can take  a while to be tempted out of the recliner! Brushing and kitty massages are additional ways to say “I love you.” A bird or squirrel feeder placed near a favorite window perch can be another way to add spark to our lives without adding pounds. And, of course, you’ve already figured out the best way to get sedate adult cats to run and chase and play like youngsters again — ADD A NEW KITTEN!

What Should I Do About The Stray Cats In My Yard?

straybushesQUESTION: Several strays appeared in my yard this winter, and I didn’t have the heart to see them go hungry so I started feeding them. Now my neighbor is complaining to me that “my cats” are in his yard, fighting and mating at night, and he expresses concern that they will reproduce and have the neighborhood crawling with cats. He blames me for the cats hanging around, saying if I wouldn’t feed them, they would go away and the problem would be solved. They’re not really my cats, but I feel that I’m being made the scapegoat for the situation just for showing compassion. Help! What should I do that would be the right thing for both the cats and the neighborhood? This is getting extremely stressful!!

ANSWER: We cats do seem to “know” the right house to go to when we’re looking for a kind stranger to offer a meal! Luckily, there are many people like you whose compassionate natures will not allow them to turn away from any living creature in need. Being kind is ALWAYS the right thing to do! And being kind, in this case, means following BOTH parts of the GOLDEN RULE of feeding those cute strays (I WAS one, long ago):


Now, most people who hear this say, “What? I’m fond of these cats, but
getting them spayed and neutered sounds overwhelming! I can’t pick any of them up, and even if I could catch them, isn’t it expensive to have them neutered? Is this really necessary for ME to do?”

Well, as a kitty myself, I would say that making the effort to get some help in neutering these cats is the most compassionate thing you could ever do for their future well-being. As you’ve noticed in your neighborhood, one or two stray cats can “fly below the radar” for a while, but once that number starts increasing, people who don’t love cats as you do start complaining and making calls to places to “take them away.” And, believe me, Animal Control agencies, etc., are not finding homes or relocating wild (feral) cats. They are doing something else, something that I don’t like to mention or even THINK about. Sometimes neighbors take matters into their own hands, and then things get REALLY mean and ugly for us cats.

straymomkittenSo it’s up to people like you to take the step of calling a group like Cat Angel Network to learn about the widely used and effective program called T-N-R (Trap-Neuter-Return). It involves borrowing a humane trap and learning the simple steps to using it to catch each stray. Information about “Low Cost / No Cost” Spaying and Neutering services is provided so arrangements can be made to halt the population growth, PRONTO! People who have completed a T-N-R program often say that it was a much easier process than they ever expected!

Recently, a lady called CAN for advice on the six strays in her backyard (a mother cat and her five half-grown kittens). Within the space of a little more than two weeks, she trapped all six and had them neutered and vaccinated! Four of the six cats turned out to be females. Without the dedication of this one animal lover, this spring there would have been 12- 24 kittens born to those four females (usual litter size is three to six kittens)! In another six months, THOSE kittens would have been old enough to reproduce. Eighteen to thirty cats would have been loose in her neighborhood and, with about half being females, the population of cats would have exploded. And with that explosion would have come a lot of pain and suffering for those unwanted strays.

This cat heroine single-handedly made a HUGE difference to the kitties in the scope of her sight. So often people feel overwhelmed and wish they could do something to help when they hear of the plight of the millions of unwanted cats that are killed every year. Well, this lady did SOMETHING.

I hope that you and all the other caringpeople who fill up food bowls “for the strays” will follow this lady’s example. One backyard at a time, this will make a better world for us cats.

Now, before I close this plea for neutering, I have a confession to make. My name being “Angel,” I cannot tell a lie—I wasn’t ALWAYS in favor of neutering. As a young stud-muffin male, I was living a rough-and-tumble lifestyle of wandering in search of girlfriends and fighting other males for the privilege of loving and leaving them. It was an exciting life, but all the battle-scars were taking a toll on my handsome good looks. Now, if I do say so myself, I’m sleek and shiny, and my formerly thin, raggedy looking body has never looked better. And the guys I fought with? They’re my buddies now – we can’t, for the life of us, remember what we used to fight about!

So, neutering? This DOESN’T annoy us! It makes us purrrrrr…..


My Cats Are Scratching Everywhere! Help!

QUESTION: I recently adopted a mother cat and her four-month-old kitten. They are both scratching the furniture and the kitten is climbing up everything! Why do cats do this, and what can I do about it?

ANSWER: Glad you asked! We kitties want you to know that we NEED to scratch! When we wake up from a nap, the first thing we do is look for a tall, sturdy, rough-textured spot on which to stretch up to our full height, extend our claws and have a wonderful stretch and scratch. Wow, that feels good! When our outside kitty friends need to scratch, there are LOTS of great places all around – trees!

At the shelter, we cats find plenty of tree substitutes. We have tall cat trees and scratching posts, all nice and sturdy with a rough surface of wood, bark, or sisal rope (my personal favorite) to scratch on. People often donate items to the shelter that their cats don’t use—carpeted cat condos, scratch pads that hang from a door knob, and especially short little carpeted kitten posts. When we try to lean up against these, they move, wobble, and sometimes even fall over. This annoys us! They call these scratching posts? Shame, shame…

It sounds like your kitties looked for their tree substitute and found the only thing meeting their requirements were (1) tall, (2) sturdy, and (3) rough-textured, i.e., your furniture. Since most cats are angels like me, they don’t deliberately want to cause damage. They would be more than happy to use SOMETHING OF THEIR OWN that is even more to their liking than upholstered furniture, which is a bit too soft for our taste. The secret is to isolate your kitties in a small room with their new post (Cat Angel Network sells a GREAT one for $35).

The room should have nothing else a cat would be tempted to scratch (a bathroom is ideal), and the post should be LOADED WITH CATNIP! Have a ten minute play session at the post every day, using a fishing pole type toy to get your cats to touch the surface of the post. We big guys are attracted to the catnip while the little kittens like the play method (I myself liked to climb up the post after the “Cat Dancer” toy in my younger days).

After you’ve seen both your cats use the post several times over 2-3 days, move the post to a room where your cats had been scratching before, covering the previously scratched areas temporarily with a sheet or double stick tape (sold as a product called “Sticky Paws”). You can remove the sheet or tape after they are consistently using the post in its new spot.

As far as your four-month-old is concerned, kittens climb a lot. At that age we are too little to jump where we want to go, so we tend to climb up furniture or even our owners’ pant legs! “This, too, shall pass.” Starting around six months of age, kittens begin to be big enough to JUMP to their desired locations and the climbing behavior gradually disappears. Get your kitten and his mom used to nail clipping as soon as possible. This prevents climbing damage and minimizes discomfort caused by overgrown nails. Our cat-loving friends at Cat Angel Network are experts at nail clipping and offer their services FREE at the Pottstown and Downingtown PetSmart stores on weekends.

I am told that I live up to my name of “Angel” during my monthly manicure sessions, and I’m sure your kitties will learn to enjoy it, too!

Peanut checks out her new post (left), then  demonstrates how a real pro uses the post,  scratching with all four paws at the same time (right).  A good post is sturdy enough to not tip over when  a cat executes an advanced maneuver such as this one. This was Peanut’s first experience with a  scratching post. She says, “Thanks, Angel!”
Peanut checks out her new post (left), then demonstrates how a real pro uses the post, scratching with all four paws at the same time (right). A good post is sturdy enough to not tip over when a cat executes an advanced maneuver such as this one. This was Peanut’s first experience with a scratching post. She says, “Thanks, Angel!”