Just as crankiness is an unfortunate part of any person’s day—a result of work, bills or, sometimes, fellow people—cats too have moments of being “over it.”
“Crankiness in cats takes many forms, from avoidance to straight out aggression,” says Katenna Jones, a certified cat behavior consultant. “But in most cases, it’s their way of saying ‘Hey, something’s wrong and I need help.’”
Even the most affectionate, social cat can sulk, swipe and lash out as a means of communicating their displeasure, but how do you decode the source of their crabbiness? Here are the primary causes of crankiness in cats and suggestions on what you can do to help them feel better:
Pain or Medical Issues
Jones says the first thing she recommends to cat owners concerned about crankiness is to take a trip to the vet.
“I usually request imaging for lumps and bumps, as well as things like strains that might be causing major pain,” Jones says. “If you haven’t had a major change in the household lately, the majority of these cases are explained by a medical problem.”
Because of the potential seriousness of these cases, it’s imperative to note other changes in your cat’s behavior, including a reduction in appetite, intolerance to touch, hiding, and cat litter box avoidance or sudden and significant decrease in urine or stool, as possible symptoms for a variety of medical problems. Coupled with crankiness, any or all of these problems may indicate a medical issue rather than a behavioral one.
Boredom or Neglect
“These are bigger problems than people think,” says Jane Ehrlich, a feline behaviorist and associate certified animal behavior consultant. “People think cats will take care of themselves [but] they need environmental stimulation.”
Ehrlich calls play a cat’s “best stress-buster,” but often, cat owners don’t know what type of play their feline friends need.
“Cats are built for speed, not endurance,” she says. “You should play in short bursts with your cat as many times as you can.” And don’t forget to rotate their cat toys.
Interactive cat toys and cat tunnels, such as the PetSafe SlimCat interactive cat feeder or Frisco foldable crinkle play tunnel with 1 window, can help entertain and stimulate your cat to keep him playing for hours.
Addition of a New Pet
On the list of possible changes in the household that would cause cat crankiness, welcoming a new animal into the home is perhaps the most disruptive to a naturally-territorial cat.
If possible, start by introducing your cat to the new animal’s smell before making a face-to-face introduction. Jones suggests bringing home a blanket that the new animal was sleeping on.
You also want to make sure your cat has places where they will feel safe. Vertical hiding places are great, Jones says, because they give the cat a lay of the land. You also should give your cat two options when it comes to where they eat, play and use the litter box. “You never want them to feel trapped, so give them a choice when it comes to their basic daily activities,” she says.
Aggression towards a new animal needs to be addressed immediately and appropriately in order to keep the relationship salvageable.
“You’ll need to start the introduction process all over again,” Jones says, “but in the short term, contact a professional right away. Many behaviorists do remote consultations, and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants is a great resource to find someone and set something up.”
An Unfamiliar Visitor
Some cats are so socially well adjusted that they’ll stay rock solid through a raucous New Year’s Eve party, while others will exhibit some signs of crankiness with just one unfamiliar visitor in the house.
Ehrlich says cats tend to react poorly to over-familiarity. “Your hand is as big as their face,” she says. “If you approach them too quickly, even with the best intentions, you’re bound to agitate them.”
If your guest is nervous, a cat can also pick that up and reflect it themselves. The best thing to do, Ehrlich says, is instruct your guests to come in, look the cat in the eyes, and confidently address them. Later, if the cat appears comfortable, give your guest a piece of food or cat treats to feed the cat. It may approach and eat right out of his hand, or your guest could toss it gently in the direction of the cat.
Sometimes, a change in the household literally means a change of household. Moves are extremely difficult for cats because they’re wired to expect unfamiliar territory to be potentially threatening.
“Cats hate change more than anything,” Ehrlich says, “and there aren’t many changes in a cat’s life bigger than moving to a new home.”
Ehrlich recommends introducing a cat to a new house room by room using anything that smells like their old, familiar house to help the process. “It’s also good to keep them separate them from the changes [like] the boxes, the chaos of getting your house together,” she adds. “Do a little bit at a time, and they’ll get used to their new home before too long.”
Making sure that your cat also has a place to call his own for the time being will ease the transition. Having a cat tree, like the Frisco 28-in cat tree, that you can take from home to home will allow him to have his own little hideaway when feeling overwhelmed or stressed out.
A Change in Schedule
Along the same lines, if your work schedule (or something similar) changes, forcing your cat to adjust to different eating and/or play times, it might react crankily.
“Cats don’t care if your schedule has changed,” Ehrlich says. “They want and need your attention.”
Because you sometimes can’t help such changes, try to ease your cat into them slowly and give him or her a little extra attention throughout. They might take some time for it to adjust, but knowing that you, the ultimate caretaker, is there will help them come around before long.
John Gilpatrick is a freelance writer who thinks bunnies make the best pets.