Change in Cat Behavior

We have a cat we rescued from a shelter about 5 months ago. She was only at the shelter for about 2 weeks and we estimate her age to be about 14-16 months old. She was very loving for the first month, curling up near us wherever we were. We did have to get her fixed and even after that her personality didn't change.

My boyfriend is out of the house every four weeks for four weeks at a time for work (he is a 4 on/4 off schedule). We noticed last time he came home, Missy was not nearly as friendly to him as she used to be. This time home, she won't go near him, won't let him pick her up and basically runs away from him but is still super friendly to me (even sleeping on my pillow at night). I know my boyfriend is getting very frustrated at her sudden and drastic change. She is an inside cat only and we haven't changed anything else around the house. Thoughts?

Thank you for writing in with your question.

It is possible she had formed quite an attachment to him and then he went away and she was very stressed by his absence. Stress and fear can then bring about all sorts of behavioral changes.

It is also possible that when he came back the first time after being away for 4 weeks, perhaps he greeted her with too much enthusiasm and scared her. Cats have to be approached slowly, quietly, and gently regardless of how happy you are to see them.

It is said that cats don't have memories that last long at all. I feel that I have witnessed quite the contrary, but perhaps after 4 weeks, she felt like he was a stranger, and yet he treated her as if they were old buddies and that scared her. That happens to me all the time. I see a client's client for an exam and if I'm not careful and get too carried away with my love for cats, I can overwhelm the cat and act too familiar. The cat then hisses at me and puts me in my proper place. : )

Another thought I am having is wondering if he comes back smelling very differently. I don't know if he is in any sort of industrial work or something where his clothes would have a particularly different odor, but in general, someone who is outside the home for 4 weeks is going to smell quite differently than someone in the home with the cat. Cats rely heavily on smell to identify "visitors" or strangers.

Perhaps he could leave some of his things that smell like him in places around your home where she would definitely be exposed to them at all times, even when he is absent. Perhaps there is something you could do so that you smell more like him or he smells more like you - use the same shampoo, body lotion, toothpaste, same laundry detergent, etc. anything and everything you can try to make the two of you more similar in smell.

My suggestion is that when he returns next time, he comes in and avoids her and comes in quietly and goes about his business and not make a fuss over her. After a bit of time passes, he can then quietly offer her a treat, some catnip, a new toy ...anything enjoyable that he can give her without making a fuss. Avoid trying to pet her or handle her though. Let her be the one to instigate any physical contact.

Also, while he is around during the 4 weeks home, have him do the feeding all the time or as much as possible so she sees him as her caretaker.

With patience and time and trying the things I have mentioned, I believe the two of them can have a good relationship again.

Good luck,
Dr. Neely

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