Clingy Rescue Cat Behavior: Is Training a Cat Possible?!

by Anne
(Philadelphia, PA)

My boyfriend and I brought home a 4.5 year old rescue cat 5 days ago and are now having some cat behavior problems. Our cat, Kitty, was adopted as a kitten, then, a little over a month ago, returned to the cat shelters when her owner could no longer afford to have any pets. Kitty was very friendly when we visited her at the cat shelter, but not too clingy. She came right up to us when we first came in, let us pet her, but then, when we stopped petting her to fill out the adoption papers, she was content to wander off and entertain herself.

Since we brought her home, though, our cat has become very clingy. She wants to be pet all of the time. While it is cute, it's starting to get irritating. She is not even content to just sit in one of our laps. She will meow and head-butt our hands until someone pets her. She even wakes us up in the middle of the night to be petted. She makes it very hard to get anything done.

I was hoping that because she is older she would be more willing to nap near us while we work and sleep, rather than demanding attention all hours of the day. We do not know whether she was allowed outdoors by her first owner, but we live in the city and are keeping her as an indoor cat for her own safety. I have tried to get her to play with toys to tire her out, but she doesn't seem interested in play. She just looks at the toys while we try to entice her. No matter what we do, our cat will not go after them. She won't even chase a laser pointer.

Is this clingy cat behavior normal for a newly adopted cat? Will she grow out of it? And if not, what can we do to try to change her cat behavior?

Dear Anne,

It is normal for a newly adopted cat to show such needy cat behavior, especially as it sounds that she has lived in and out of cat shelters and may have never gotten much love and attention. Similar to a child, your cat needs love and attention as well, and she may have been deprived for much of her life.

While your kitty may grow out of this clingy cat behavior, more importantly, she can be trained. Every time she relentlessly paces on your lap, for instance, you can place her gently on the chair beside you, pet her for a moment, and return to what you were doing before. With time, patience, and repeated efforts, training a cat is possible. Cats can learn to engage in new cat behavior. Keep in mind, though, that disciplining her by hitting or yelling, for instance, will not help her learn.

For many cats in a new home, they would be spending these first few days hiding. It is a true sign of your cat’s great personality that she is already so comfortable with you and your boyfriend. You are very lucky to have such a loving, sweet cat and should appreciate her! In time, by gently redirecting her, you can teach her to accept love and attention from you in ways that are less disruptive and more comfortable for you.

All the best,
Dr. Neely

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