Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I’ve recently adopted a cat, a year old, from the humane society. Bailey is everything we could ever ask for in a cat. He’s recently started exhibiting some weird behavior, namely “hugging” our carpeted stairs and trying to maul them, with his front and back claws. His pupils dilate when he does this, and he’s liable to lash out at anyone who gets too close. Otherwise, he doesn’t cause any trouble. Any idea what’s going on? Is it normal kitty behavior, or should I talk to my vet?
Siouxsie: Judging from your description, Erica, this actually sounds like what we might refer to as predatory/play aggression. When cats play, they mimic the predatory activities they’d do in the wild: hunting, grabbing and “killing” their prey.
Thomas: When Bailey lashes out at people who walk by as he’s mauling his prey (the carpet), he’s redirecting his predatory instinct to you.
Bella: So how do you deal with this? Well, we’ve got a few ideas.
Siouxsie: First, we always suggest that with sudden behavior changes, you at least make a call to the vet to see whether you should bring him in for a checkup.
Thomas: But we think there are some things you can do at home to help Bailey “get his ya-yas out,” as Mama says.
Bella: Since Bailey is an only cat, he doesn’t have a chance to entertain himself by playing with a feline friend. You’ll have to make up for that by playing with him and getting him some solo play toys that stimulate his play drive.
Siouxsie: When you play with him, use an interactive toy that you can move around to mimic the prey that Bailey would chase in the wild.
Thomas: Our favorite interactive toys are Da Bird and Neko Flies. You can find these at most pet stores. When you use an interactive toy, play hard. Get him tired out, and if he’s healthy overall, don’t worry about exercising him until he pants.
Bella: For some tips on how to play with your cat (yes, believe it or not, there is a right way), check out this article Mama wrote for Catster.
Siouxsie: For best results, play with Bailey just before meals. Cats’ instinctive routine is “hunt, kill, eat, groom, sleep,” and if you play with him and then feed him, he’ll get on with the rest of the routine after he eats.
Thomas: Provide him with some solo play toys, too. You can find battery-powered toys that move on their own like the Fling-ama-String and the Undercover Mouse, or other toys that make appealing noises.
Bella: I love my Cardinal Call chirping bird! I play with it all the time!
Siouxsie: You’ll probably want to start teaching Bailey that the carpet is not to be attacked. If you haven’t got any scratching pads or posts in your house, get some. Cardboard cat scratching pads are not very expensive at all, and they’ll serve his need for “horizontal scratching.”
Thomas: Bailey should also have a vertical scratching post. Of course, lots of people make a big mistake when they get vertical scratch posts: they get shrimpy little carpet-covered models that don’t give adult cats the amount of stretching they need and reinforce the idea that scratching carpets is okay.
Bella: We recommend a sisal-covered scratch post that’s at least 1 1/2 times as tall as the cat. It should have a steady base and be well-constructed so it doesn’t wiggle around all over the place.
Siouxsie: You should expect to pay a goodly price for a high-quality scratching post. But the good news is that there are plenty of DIY guides for making tall cardboard scratchers and sisal-covered posts. aMany cat towers come with sisal-covered posts. Our new cat tower (made by Armarkat) is about 6 feet tall and has lots of sisal poles for us to scratch on.
Thomas: So, if you give Bailey lots of opportunities to exercise his hunting instincts in appropriate ways, you shouldn’t have any more trouble with his carpet-mauling episodes.
Bella: Please let us know how things go, Erica. We’d love to hear back from you!
we don’t have any great advice other than lots of play time. but as mom was reading this, Ivy was running up and down the hall “getting her ya-yas” out….tail all fluffed out and yowling at the mirror on the bedroom door. :)
Just about every cat I have lived with and many others I have known that lived with friends or family do this, usually once a day but sometimes more. We call it “The Rips”. It is one of those amusing ‘cat things’ I have always enjoyed watching. The kitty that is currently allowing me to live with him gets the rips just about every evening, and involves some stunning displays of speed and leaping talent. It usually lasts only a couple minutes, but during those minutes, stay out of his way! One other thing that I have noticed is that separate from his regular evening sessions of rips, he will sometimes have a couple minutes of mad-dashery after he has been to the litter box. These we call the “Poop-Rips”, for obvious reasons, and are just as, if not more wild than the regular rips. Having plenty of things that are FOR kitty to attack, scratch, or jump on will help make it easier to discourage him or her from doing those things to the possessions you DO want to keep nice, and I have found that a squirt bottle with nothing but clean water comes in handy when they find something they just can’t resist scratching even when they know they are not supposed to. As long as they are safe and keep the attacks focused on toys and scratching posts, fun should be had by all.
Charley and Mya love to come into a room and start scratching so I have two sets of two different things. The first is the s-curve scratcher which has a sisal patch on the top, a dangly play thing handing down, and a nice area to sit (even for Charley who’s big). There’s one in our bedroom (3rd floor) and one in the living room (recent addition, much loved). The second item is a Big Mama Scratch Pad — sisal with cloth binding and wool tassels. There’s one in my home office (2nd floor) and one in the living room. Again, these are much loved. The furkids will run into the room and start scratching it rather than the carpet. (Actually need to track down another one or two those for some other spots where Mya in particular has started attacking the carpet.)
One of my boys gets this way occasionally. He’s a bit older than your baby, so it happens more infrequently now. However, when it looks like he needs a good “rip” (thanks, Timecow) I’ll give him a full roll of paper towels. He can straddle it, rabbit kick, tear it up – basically let out all the crazies for less than a dollar.
Next time Bailey goes nuts, try slipping him a roll of towels or TP and see how he responds.