Why Is My Cat Being So Clingy?
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It is common to hear of terms such as ‘hyperattachement’ or ‘pathological dependency’ when we talk about dogs. In the domestic environment, human guardians are the canines reference figure on whom they most rely. Felines have always been seen as being much more independent, but this is not true. They need physical and emotional stimulation just like any companion animal. What it does mean is that when a cat does become over-attached or needy, it can seem inappropriate. Since it can be a sign of some deficiency in either their care or their health, we need to pay attention when a cat gets needy.
In this AnimalWised article, we ask why is my cat being so clingy? We look at the reasons a cat has become needy, as well as what we can do to bring balance back to their lives.
What is a clingy cat?
Genetic selection and the history of feline domestication means cats share certain qualities. This doesn't stop them from all being individuals. They have their own personalities and behavioral tendencies. Although cats have the reputation for being aloof, it is perfectly possible for them to become over-attached to their human guardians. While we may enjoy getting affection from our cat, too much is too much and can be a symptom of an underlying problem.
Cats will also develop different relationships with individuals, depending on the circumstances and nature of the relationship. Our behavior to the cat will have a lot of influence on whether they become needy. This starts with whether or not we provide their basic needs, especially when they are a kitten.
Being needy is another term for an insecure attachment. A cat will often become clingy because they fear their needs won't be met, so they stay close to us to better ensure they are cared for. They can become anxious, hypervigilant or develop signs of stress when separated from their guardians. In these cases, the cat has developed emotional dependency.
Symptoms of a clingy cat
Here are some symptoms that could make you suspect that your cat is very dependent. Keep in mind that not all the symptoms have to appear at the same time or with the same intensity. They depend on the type of relationship that exists between you and your cat and the context of the situation. In general, a clingy cat will:
- Show signs of anxiety whenever they are left home alone or have no direct access to you. E.g. meowing in desperation, stopping eating, vomiting, gasping and salivating, repeating movements (stereotypies), self-harming, urinating or defecating out of the litter box, destroying objects or not sleeping.
- Constantly follow you around the house, even waking up if you move so they can follow you. Is unable to relax in a room if you are not there.
- Display ambiguous behaviors when next to you, e.g. doesn't let you touch them, but at the same time does not leave your side.
- After a time apart, they are very upset when they greet you and display excessive emotions. The opposite is also a symptom, i.e. if they are distant, stressed or even aggressive, as if they were annoyed with you.
- Never play alone or with individuals other than you, they do not explore their surroundings and they are very suspicious of everything they do not know.
It is important to note the extent to which cats carry out these behaviors is important. For example, healthy cats will want to know what you are doing and will follow you around out of interest. This is not the same as doing it obsessively.
How to know if your cat is being clingy
Attachment is a natural and biologically important process for humans, as well as cats and many other animals. The specific type of attachment that is established between the individual cat and their caregivers will be decisive for the emotional development of the feline. Not all of them are beneficial.
A study published in 2019 at Oregon State University stated that the bonds cats establish with their human caregivers are similar to those that babies establish with their parents. Although there are more categories and subcategories, in general terms we usually talk about two main types of attachment:
- Secure attachment: a healthy bond is established between the caregiver and the cat. The former cares about covering all the needs of the latter and provides affection, trust and security. A securely attached cat has no difficulty socializing, feels calm in the company of their guardian and actively seeks their support when afraid or in need of help. The animal may want to spend a lot of time with their guardian, but is also able to remain relaxed when apart and they enjoy having their own space to rest, explore or play.
- Insecure attachment: this is the type of attachment a clingy cat will have. The insecurely attached cat tends to be under a lot of stress in social interactions and is wary of strangers. Depending on the relationship between the cat and their guardian, some clingy felines avoid physical contact with their caregiver altogether. Others seek them out constantly and develop a lot of anxiety when they are separated from each other.
If your cat wants attention, but is also able to be well-adjusted when not around you, it is not likely they are clingy. However, if their emotional well-being is harmed when not around you, there is likely a pathological or behavioral issue at play.
Why is my cat so clingy?
There are many factors that influence a cat to be very dependent or needy. The way in which you behave with the cat after adoption will have an impact on their levels of dependence. It is also different adopting a kitten compared to an adult cat. An adult cat will already have a developed personality and s set of learned behaviors. If a cat has been removed from their mother too early, experienced trauma or had some kind of mistreatment, it can affect how to relate to their guardians. Similarly, some breeds are generally more clingy than others, e.g. the Sphynx.
The vital experiences the feline has had in its past influence their behavior and ways of managing emotions. It is possible that animals that have been rescued or that were not properly cared for suffer a lot of stress and develop dependency problems towards their new family.
On the other hand, if you raise your cat from a kitten and control their environment from an early age, you must make sure you know the needs of a cat during the different stages of their development (both physically and emotionally). Some frequent behaviors such as overprotecting the kitten, ignoring their calls for attention, isolating them or not providing them with enough social or environmental stimulation can lead to behavioral changes in adulthood, especially related to phobias, insecurities and excessive emotional dependence.
What to do with a very dependent cat?
When there is a behavioral problem in a cat, the first step should always be to rule out the possibility a physical pathology. Some diseases are manifested through an alteration in the animal's behavior. They can suddenly become more affectionate, demanding or attached than usual. A review with your veterinarian will be enough to assess the physical health of your cat.
Emotional dependence can only be correctly diagnosed by evaluating a series of factors over a period of time. A feline ethologist is best suited for this task. They are a professional who will assess your specific case and advise you during the behavioral modification process. If you are looking for help with a clingy cat, you should know there is no single formula. Rather, it depends on each case.
Likewise, if you suspect your feline is too dependent, here are some tips to help them gain some autonomy and self-confidence:
- Enrich their environment: interactive and stuffed toys, jumping platforms or climbing towers can keep your cat entertained while stimulating them physically and mentally- They cover some of their basic needs as a species, so they are very helpful in encouraging them to play and be distracted without being aware of you.
- Allow them to explore: although you fear something could happen to your cat, you should avoid overprotecting and isolating them. Cats are very curious animals by nature and it is important you encourage them to explore their environment independently. This helps to gain confidence and self-assurance. To avoid any accident, you can place guards on windows and patios or put a harness on your cat to prevent them from escaping if you offer access to the outside.
- Don't ignore them: many people try to reduce dependency on their cats by ignoring them and avoiding physical contact. In doing this, it is possible that the animal develops more anxiety. It is important you create a healthy relationship with your cat. Play with them and give affection so they know they can count on you when they need it. At the same time, with great patience, you will teach them they cannot always get what they want.
- Avoid any type of punishment: never yell or scold your cat if they show symptoms of anxiety or dependence on you. They think this problem causes them great emotional discomfort and they are unable to control this on their own. The last thing they need is to be punished for expressing themselves. Try to understand your cat and contact a professional when necessary.
- Use products to reduce stress: some products such as feline pheromones or catnip can have an anxiolytic effect on cats. They help them cope with times of stress, always accompanied by behavioral modification guidelines. Specific drugs for the treatment of these cases should only be administered under the prescription of your veterinarian or ethologist.
Again, we insist on the importance of seeing a feline ethologist in cases of neediness in cats to establish an appropriate plan.
If you want to read similar articles to Why Is My Cat Being So Clingy?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.
- Vitale, K. R., Behnke, A. C., & Udell, M. A. R. (2019). Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Current Biology, 29(18):R864-R865. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.036.