Attention-seeking behavior can occur in any cat at any age but during my consultations I’ve seen it most often in cats who don’t receive adequate stimulation or who are left alone for longer periods.
Signs of Attention-Seeking Behavior
In general, a cat who is trying to get your attention will resort to whatever works. Typical behaviors include:
Jumping up to be at your level
Walking around and between your legs
Stealing objects, knocking things off tables
Biting (usually an inhibited bite)
Causes of Attention-Seeking Behavior
This behavior can occur as part of another primary behavior problem, a medical problem or it can happen just for the sake of gaining the cat parent’s attention. Cats who suffer from separation anxiety or cognitive issues may also often engage in attention-seeking behavior. If the behavior is due to an underlying medical issue, the cat may be seeking your attention as a source of comfort from her pain. It can also be because she’s confused by her discomfort. With attention-seeking behavior, as with any behavior issue, it’s important to get a medical work-up so you can rule out any medical causes to avoid having your cat suffer or be in pain.
Correcting Attention-Seeking Behavior
Here’s the hard part… most cat parents reinforce the very behavior they don’t like because they acknowledge the cat for displaying attention-seeking behavior. When the cat jumps on the table and starts meowing it’s common for the cat parent to look at, talk back or pet the cat. Even if you reprimand the cat you’re offering attention – just what the cat wanted.
The key to correcting attention-seeking behavior involves three steps:
- Ignore the behavior you don’t want
- Provide other outlets for the cat’s energy and attention
- Give attention to the cat when she’s quiet or acting appropriately
If the attention-seeking behavior is due to boredom or separation anxiety, make sure your cat has adequate environmental enrichment. Here are some examples:
A cat tree by the window for climbing and watching the birds
Puzzle feeders and puzzle toys for reward-based object play
Elevated areas for play and resting
Scratching posts for scratching
Adequate climbing opportunities
A consistent schedule for mealtimes
A consistent schedule of litter box maintenance
A daily schedule of interactive play therapy
Consistent affection and interaction from you
Provide Consistency, Security and Stimulation
If you aren’t consistent in the cat’s feeding schedule, litter box cleaning, playtime or even when you come home at the end of the day, it can create the need for attention-seeking behavior. Provide a consistent and reliable schedule as it relates to the cat and her needs and she’ll probably not have to resort to the undesirable act of attention-seeking behavior. If you play with her using an interactive toy but you only play every few days, then it’s understandable why she’d engage in trying to get your attention. Cats are hunters who are equipped with incredible senses. They need appropriate energy outlets. They’re also creatures of habit who rely on consistency in their daily lives. Combine the security of being consistent with the fun of daily reward-based activities and you’ll very likely have a much happier cat who will no longer knock your alarm clock off the nightstand in order to get your attention.
Need More Information?
For more specific information on cat training and solving cat behavior problems, refer to any of Pam’s books, including Think Like a Cat. If you’d like to make an appointment for a consultation with cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, contact our office.
We’re sorry but Pam is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.