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What to do When the Cat Hates Your New Spouse

three books by author Pam Johnson-Bennett and a quote from Beth Stern

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Treat-giving can also be done by the spouse. It may initially involve casually tossing a treat so the cat can eat it from a distance. You can also do clicker training with your cat so that you can click and reward for any positive step toward your spouse. In some cases, that positive step may simply be that the cat is willing to step into the room where your spouse is sitting. Regardless of whether you clicker train or are simply offering treats for desired behaviors, set the bar low enough so the cat is rewarded for the smallest of steps.

The Power of Play

Playtime is a powerful tool in your behavior modification toolbox. When a cat is in play-mode, she’s having a good time, the good brain chemicals are being released and she’s making positive associations with her surroundings. Initially, you may have to conduct the play sessions while your spouse sits on the sidelines, but it’ll be a way for your cat to see that she can relax her guard and focus on the toy instead of worrying about your spouse. Use an interactive toy based on a fishing pole-design so you can keep the action going. Don’t move the toy too close to your spouse. Keep the action within the cat’s comfort zone.

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In subsequent sessions, you can sit closer to your spouse as you conduct the interactive play session and then eventually hand the toy off to the other person. Work up to having your spouse initiate the games with your cat.

The Environment

Provide your cat with plenty of areas where she can retreat and feel comfortable when your new spouse is around. If there’s no place for her to hide or retreat, she’ll feel very vulnerable and end up diving under the bed. There should be at least one cat tree in the environment so your cat can have a high elevation where she can feel safe. Instruct your spouse that the cat tree is off-limits and when the cat is up there it means she wants to be left alone. If your spouse respects that then the cat will begin to feel as if she can go to the tree instead of hiding under the bed in another room.

Create hideaways using “A” frame cat beds, boxes on their sides, donut beds etc., so your cat can feel invisible yet be able to stay in the room. Being able to hide is an important coping mechanism and can provide much needed security.

black cat in gray covered bed

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

The Litter Box

If the litter box is currently located in an area where your spouse will also be (such as the bedroom or master bathroom), set up an additional box in another area so your cat will always have a choice. This may also be the perfect time to increase the number of boxes so you can place them in multiple locations. That way, your cat doesn’t have to pass your spouse in order to take care of personal business.

Making Contact

If your cat approaches your spouse, let her do a scent investigation without being interrupted. Just because she comes up to sniff your spouse’s pant leg doesn’t mean she wants anyone reaching down to pet her or pick her up. Even if the cat walks across your spouse’s lap, let her do so undisturbed. It’s better to leave your cat wanting more rather than rushing the process and ending up with her darting away again. Instruct your spouse not to stare directly at the cat because in the animal world, a direct stare can be viewed as a challenge or threat. Instead, if any eye contact should be brief and soft. Show your spouse how to use polite cat etiquette by extending an index finger and letting the cat sniff it. This is similar to nose-to-nose sniffing that familiar cats will do. It’s sort of a cat handshake. This way, the cat has the choice of whether to continue to engage or back away.

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