How To Help A Cat With Behavior Problems

When my husband Adam mentioned that a new cat could be a terrific addition to our family we were completely in agreement that the first place to visit would be the neighborhood shelter. Like so many other people looking for a new pet, we were planning to adopt a very young animal… after all, what is more adorable than a beautiful new kitten?

That was what we thought, but the kitty that ended up coming home with us ended up being very different than we expected!

We explored the facilities and worked our way through the various rooms, visiting with and petting a formidable assortment of felines and making notes on the ones that seemed like the best fit. When we were visiting with the occupants of the last room, we encountered a cage with a warning sign on it: “Warning: This Cat Bites!” So why in the world did we end up adopting a chunky, cranky, three-year-old cat with a lot of baggage when we could have had a lovable little kitten?

Because everyone is looking for a kitten and this cat’s was not his fault.

“Rumson” was clearly a cherished pet at one point in the past because he craved affection but his conduct made it very obvious that he was abused before he ended up in this particular shelter.

He was desperately affectionate when given the rare opportunity to interact with people but then he could become savage in an instant without warning, plus he did not get along with other animals.

The hazard of Rumson going after another animal, one of his care givers or a prospective visitor meant that the chances for him to leave his cage for exercise were very limited, which explained a great deal about his size. Without the opportunity to exercise he also had lots of pent up energy which did not have a safe avenue for expression. All of that was stacking the deck against him, but the big yellow warning label on his cage made it even more unlikely that he would get the chance to end up in a loving home.

It really looked like this cat was destined to spend his life in a cage.

Adam and I decided to give Rumson a try, and I am delighted to say that just four months after adopting our ferocious feline, Rumson is a beautiful, loving and purring member of our household.

So how did we go from fierce to fantastic?

First, we had to identify the problems.

Rumson had an issue with feet. He went absolutely ballistic on Adam when he attempted to shoo him away from a door with my foot, which leads me to suspect that Rumson may have been kicked before he came to the shelter.

Once we knew about his foot issues, we always made a special point to step slowly and deliberately around him so he never felt endangered.

Our next observations about Rumson’s behavior lead to what we jokingly dubbed “Roslyn Bryan’s theory on pet communication.” It probably applies equally well in both humans and animals alike, but it certainly seemed to work in the case of our new kitty!

I’ve always believed than in order for any relationship to prosper, there needs to be good communication between the participants. That’s why I am sure that another big problem that Rumson was facing is that he didn’t feel “heard.”

When Rumson had enough contact with us, there was none of the usual body language of cats.. There were none of the tell-tale signs like growling, flattened ears or twitching tail. When he had enough attention, Rumson would just strike out and Adam or I were almost always caught completely off guard. This led me to suspect that he might have been in a house with a young child or someone completely clueless on cat body language who wouldn’t take the hint.

Just like with people, when a cat tries to say something and gets consistently ignored, it is going to resort to more and more unseemly conduct to make its feelings clear. If you ignore a cat’s “request” for space too often, he will eventually stop asking nicely and start taking a swipe or a bite to ensure you get the idea. When too much time passes and the human side of the “conversation” does not respond to the polite requests, the cat learns that this type of communication just can’t convey his message so he’ll stop using it and just go straight to the fierce behavior.

It took us a bit to realize that Rumson did offer some clues of displeasure. Adam and I both have the scars to prove it, but we finally realized that we could watch his whiskers. He would pull them back by his cheeks when he was about to attack. When that happened we would instantly stop what we were doing and give him some “alone time.”

Our attentiveness eventually taught him to realize that we wanted to be sensitive to his needs, and that he could “use his words” and other means to convey his wishes instead of getting all fierce whenever something displeased him.

Finally, being stuck in a cage for so long, Rumson had a lot of energy, and he really need a lot of quality exercise-time to release it in a non-destructive manner. We found a toy that he absolutely loves and Roslyn and I run him around until he is completely tired out.

He’s lost almost all of the extra heaviness that he had, and this was great quality bonding time for the three of us. Now he asks nicely by bring the toy over to us and meowing expectantly. THAT’s a big step up in constructive communication!

To sum it all up, a “special needs” cat can become a wonderful addition to your family. You just need to find out what exactly those needs really are and then act on them. Our wonderful Rumson had to learn that he was in a house of people that cared for him, were not going to hurt him, and listened so that he knew it was safe to go back to more appropriate ways of communicating.

Now that we are all on the same page and part of the same pride, everything is working out just fine.

I’m Roslyn Bryan, and Adam, Rumson and I are here to tell you that a little understanding will go a long way to making any new pet quickly become a loving part of your family. Please consider adopting a special needs pet if you can, even on a trial basis. They may need a little more attention, but they have a lot of love to give!

Roslyn Bryan is an active member of the Animal Rescue Coalition of NJ and reminds you that adapoting a pet from a shelter saves a life! For more information please visit