Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
HELP! My brother chases after my cat until he has nowhere to go and is trapped into corner. When he is trapped, he hisses and pees. Today, my brother chased him into a corner and my cat hissed. I ran over there and picked the cat up, and while I was walking he peed on me! This is the first time in five years that he’s ever done this. What do I do? Did he pee because he’s been scared for too long (four years) or because he was really, really scared? Please help me! What do I do?
Siouxsie: Well, Seema, it’s pretty clear to us that the problem here is with your brother’s behavior, not your cat’s.
Thomas: Nobody should chase a cat into a corner and frighten it like that. Your cat hisses at your brother because he has no escape and that’s the only way he knows to express his fear. He pees because he’s so terrified that he can’t control his bladder.
Dahlia: The cat peed on you because you picked him up before his bladder let go. He didn’t do it because he’s mad at you. He was just too scared to realize he was safe once you picked him up.
Siouxsie: Your brother’s behavior toward your cat has got to change, or your cat has to be made safe from your brother if the interactions aren’t supervised.
Thomas: We assume your brother is probably 5 years old or so, since you mention that the cat’s been scared for four years, and children wouldn’t start chasing cats until they could walk.
Dahlia: Once children start crawling and walking, it’s really important if there are cats in the house that the adults in their lives start “be gentle with the kitty” lessons.
Siouxsie: Toddlers don’t understand their own strength, and they don’t understand until they learn from their parents and other adults that cats are living creatures and they can get hurt or scared by a small child’s actions.
Thomas: When children don’t learn this lesson as toddlers, they may continue this behavior throughout their childhood, and perhaps beyond.
Dahlia: Children sometimes have behavioral problems that may manifest in chasing and cornering the cat. If this is the case, the child should have only supervised access to the cat.
Siouxsie: Whether it’s teaching a toddler about “be nice to the kitty” or giving a behaviorally challenged child contact with the cat, the adult (or older sibling, if your brother will listen to you) needs to be right there watching the child and the cat interact–not watching TV, talking on the phone, cooking, or otherwise occupied.
Thomas: Whenever you’re instructing a young child who is frightening a cat, it’s best not to yell. Your yelling will scare the cat even more. It’s best to say something like “be gentle with the kitty” in a calm voice, and then calmly show them how to pet the cat and be gentle. Mama did this with her human nieces, and it worked out very well.
Dahlia: The nieces are older now, but they still get really excited about visiting us and sometimes we have to go under the bed just to give them a minute to calm down before we allow them to pet us.
Siouxsie: There’s a point in a child’s life, maybe around age 7, where they can start understanding other creatures’ body language better. When Mama’s nieces go to be that age, if they got excited and ran up to us and we put our ears down and twitched our tails, Mama would say, “See how the cat’s ears are down and her tail is twitching? That means she’s scared. If you’re calm and quiet and stay in one place, she’ll come to you and let you pet her.”
Thomas: So, Seema, if nobody’s ever taught your brother how to behave around a cat, he may be chasing the cat because he wants to play with the cat. It’s not too late to help him learn proper cat etiquette. But your parent(s) need to get involved, too. You need to work together to help him understand how to treat the cat properly.
Dahlia: If your brother “knows better” but has a behavior issue, you may need to keep your cat in a safe place when your brother can’t have access to him without supervised interaction. That may mean your cat needs to be in your room when there are no adults or other people able to be with your brother.
Siouxsie: And of course, if your brother wants to pet your cat, it’s going to take a lot of work for the cat to see that he’ll be friendly about it.
Thomas: It’s definitely not healthy for your cat to live with the stress of never knowing when he’s going to be chased into a corner and terrified. Stress hurts cats’ health just like it hurts humans’ health. You and your parent(s) are going to need to teach your brother how to behave around the cat, and keep the cat safe and minimally stressed when your brother and the cat can’t be watched.
Dahlia: Good luck, Seema. We sure hope your brother learns how to treat your cat properly and that your cat gets to live a calmer and happier life as a result.