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Dear Molly, Unpredictable Biter

Dear Molly,

You were recommended by Operation Kindness after I reached out to them. I adopted a cat and had to surrender her 2 weeks later due to biting and clawing. She was feral for a year, lived with a large household 5 months, then went to different shelter. I adopted her Feb 4 and surrendered her for the bite on the 19th. She is very sweet, follows me everywhere and loves to play and lay in her condo. I'm 70, and have been around cats all my life but have never experienced anything like this. It is like she is 2 cats, one sweet and the other possessed. She gets out of quarantine Feb 29. I really want her back and need help. Thank you.

Mom of Unpredictable Biter

Dear Mom of Unpredictable Biter,

I see a lot of cats with this “sweet one moment and feral the next” behavior – and a lot of cats end up on the streets and in shelters because of it.

There are some theories that a percentage of them “have a screw loose” – and I think there might be some truth to that. Loose screw or not, they do deserve a chance at a home. However, you have your own safety to consider also.

Here are some thoughts/things you can do/try:

  • Trigger: There is almost always a trigger for the change in behavior. It looks like “sweet one minute and demon the next” but there is something that sets it off. Be very mindful to what is happening right before the change. What time of day is it? Are you touching her when it happens? Is she hungry? Is she seeing a cat outside? Was she sleeping right before? Cats who have lived, feral, outside tent to harbor fear (that they aren’t very good at showing/expressing), and sometimes that fear rises up and they strike out with defensive aggression.

  • Body Language: There is almost always body language that signals the change is about to happen. It can be very subtle. Watch for it and get away from the cat the instant you see it. It might be a slight ear shift, pupils dilating, whiskers going back, hair standing on end at base of tail, tail swish, quick head turn, etc. Even though you’ve had cats your whole life, you’re probably not used to observing minutia body language such as this.

  • Boredom: While living in the wild, she was hunting six hours a day, so indoors, she likely finds herself bored (as are most indoor cats.) You’ll need to work really hard at diffusing off the pent-up energy. Cats are masterful at hiding emotions like boredom, so you might not “see” it. Prey Play is an important activity that you should engage in with her twice a day, for ten-minute sessions. Other things to help with the boredom are: Cat TV on YouTube, catnip kick saks, birdfeeders by windows, treat puzzles, etc. Listen to this podcast I did on the topic: Is Your Cat Bored?

  • Interaction – Keep physical interaction to a minimum; let her seek you out for affection; never initiate it. Do not reach for her; do not pet her; do not raise your hand up over her head; do not pet down her back. When she comes to you for pets, keep your hand low and allow her to pet herself with your fingers/knuckles. Cats who are allowed to control human interaction become social much faster.

  • Punishment: Never try to correct the aggressive behavior; she is expressing natural behavior. If you scold her, she will just become more fearful of you - and that’s counter to the bond we’re trying to create. If you see any antecedent body language, remove yourself from her space immediately.

Also listen to this podcast: Overstimulated Cats.

As a last chance option, you could make her an outdoor cat by providing her a heated enclosure, food, water, etc. Or install a cat door where she can come and go at will. Of course, if you are near busy roads, this isn’t a good option.

Keep me posted on your progress!



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