My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do?

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Woman vet consults cat owner

You love your cat, and by all accounts, your cat really seems to love you.

But where is the line between your big cat being your lovable, loyal, and adorable companion to being demanding, needy, or just a plain clingy cat?

Whether your cat is suddenly clingy or seems to have been super needy for a long time, it's definitely worth it to address the issue.

Why? Because at best, needy cats can be a bit annoying and irksome. At worst, a needy cat may have some history of physical or behavioral health problems that need to be resolved if she's expected to live a healthy and happy life (or nine lives, that is).

Friendly vs. Clingy

For all the flak that cats get for being precociously independent, there actually are kitties out there who are just a bit too needy and clingy. Not sure if your feline companion fits the bill for a “stage 5” clinger? Here are a few signs and symptoms to look out for:

  1. Your cat follows you absolutely everywhere you go. You may as well have a second shadow. She hates to be alone and will yowl or scratch at the door if you try to lock yourself in the bathroom for a few minutes peace!
  2. Your cat puts herself in front of or on top of whatever you're trying to use (like your computer).
  3. Your cat stares at you all the time (clingy and creepy?).
  4. Your cat will rub against you, jump on top of you, and otherwise contact you physically every chance she gets.
  5. Your cat may not eat her food unless you are home.

Of course, any good cat lover will want their feline to love them, show them affection, and respond to affection shown to them. But when a cat's physical and emotional interaction begins to feel almost frantic and unrelenting, it can be a bit troubling for the cat owner.

My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do? 1

It's not totally unlike a child or dog with separation anxiety or some sort of attachment disorder. Needy and clingy cats often have some history of emotional trauma or stress. This is especially true if you adopted your cat from a shelter.

A needy cat is unlike a demanding cat, however. Not sure what the difference is? It's all about the intention.

My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do? 2

A Needy Cat vs. a Demanding Cat: What's the Difference?

Needy cats feel insecure and nervous if they aren't around you. Demanding cats, on the other hand, feel almost too secure. They take the idea of an independent and precocious cat to the extreme.

Here are a few signs of a demanding cat:

  1. Your cat is super vocal and will yowl or yell at you when it's meal time.
  2. Your cat always wakes you up in the morning by yowling, mewing, or even kneading you with her paws. “Come on, wake up time! If I'm up, you're up.” 
  3. Your cat frequently jumps on you, furniture, the counters, or other areas in your home without asking your permission, even if you've tried to discipline her in the past.
  4. Your cat will paw and meow at you until you pick her up.
My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do? 1

In general, your demanding cat will fit the bill of independence—that is, until she needs something from you that she can't get on her own. When this happens, she'll definitely let you know about it.

In other words, a demanding cat is overly confident while a needy cat has low self-confidence. Demanding cats have somehow found a way to wrap you around their little paws and manipulate you so that you're always at their beck and call. 

Needy cats, on the other hand, aren't actively trying to manipulate you per se. But their general skittishness and insecurity may manipulate you by default, since you find yourself tolerating and reinforcing an undesirable behavior.

My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do? 4

While they seem similar, demanding vs. needy cats require different approaches when it comes to dealing with their behavior. Knowing which description fits your kitty will help you help her become a healthier and (appropriately) independent creature.

If Your Cat is Needy, Then It's Not Just Her Making Her That Way

Nothing is more innocent nor deserves more love than a pet. But if your cat has some self-confidence issues, then you need to be aware of your role in this.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you let your cat jump all over you without asking permission?
  • Do you always give your cat treats and belly rubs when she asks for them?
  • Do you leave every door open in your home so your cat can be with you wherever you go?
  • If your cat interrupts you by sitting on your book or computer, do you always stop what you're doing to reward her with scratches and coos?

Let's face it: cats are smart. Why would they stop being needy (or demanding for that matter) if you reward their needy behavior with the exact type of affection and attention they're looking for?

At the end of the day, there should be no free handouts for pets. Cats and dogs alike should have to “work” for their treats, meals, and belly rubs.

They do this by showing good behavior—and you help them by demanding such good behavior and ignoring the naughty (albeit cute) tactics they employ otherwise.

clingy cat

Why is My Cat So Needy & What Do I Do Now?

Has your clingy cat always been this way ever since you welcomed her into your home? It's possible that she had some sort of emotional trauma before she found her forever home which may make her behave this way.

It's also possible that she was separated from her mother too early. In this case, she may have imprinted on you as her new “mom”—and in her eyes, there may be no difference between human and feline.

My Clingy Cat: What Should I Do? 5

If your cat becomes clingy seemingly out of nowhere, then it could be a sign of some sort of underlying medical problem. After all, she can't tell you if she's not feeling well. But she can try to show you through her actions and behaviors. If this is the case for your feline friend, you should definitely bring her to a vet for a check-up.

Of course, another reason why your cat may be clingy is that she's just plain bored. If your cat does not live in an enriched environment with toys, safe places to scratch, and space and means to exercise, then she may direct that pent up energy toward you.

In order to address your cat's neediness (which can be painful for her and annoying to you), try the following steps:

  • Gently pick up your cat and move her away whenever she rubs against you excessively or jumps up onto your laptop, paperwork, etc. Don't be rough about it, and try not to say anything either. Simply pick her up and move her away. Keep doing this until she stays away for at least a few minutes, then reward her with a treat or a clicker noise.
  • If your cat scratches at the door when you are the bathroom, simply ignore her. Once you're out of the bathroom, don't pet her until you're somewhere else where you can sit down and invite her over for attention.
  • If you have a demanding cat, you basically need to give her the cold shoulder for a while. Ignore her yowls, scratches, and in-your-face-rubs. Wait until she's calm and quiet before you give her the snuggles that you both love.
  • Remember: repetition is key! You can't help your kitty regain her confidence and “unlearn” needy habits with only one day of practice. Be patient.
cat and owner

Conclusion: Be the Strong & Loving Owner Your Needy Cat Needs

Needy cats have low self-confidence and don't like being alone. This could be because they had a lot of trauma and stress as kittens, or were separated from their cat mothers too soon.

A sudden onset of cat neediness may be a sign of a medical problem. This warrants a trip to the vet for further investigation.

A demanding cat is not needy—at least not in the sense that she has too little confidence. If anything, she has too much confidence and has figured out that she can get away with bossy, demanding, and spoiled behavior!

A basic rule of pet training is this: reinforce the behaviors that you want, and don't reinforce the ones you don't want. Learn to recognize signs and symptoms of a needy or demanding cat.

The earlier you can recognize these signs, the sooner you can adjust your own behavior so that you'll be able to positively affect hers.

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