Affection Or Aggression?

averyfeinhaus

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I have a theory, but I'm interested in knowing what you all think.

Over the past few weeks, since he's back from the vet, my (semi)feral Siamese cat Sandy has been showing affection and trust toward me by trilling and rubbing up against my legs and bunting when I'm sitting or standing. He's very sweet, has a lovely disposition.

However, I'm afraid to reach down and pet him, and he must sense my fear, because when I do he sometimes will lunge at me as if he were going to snap or swat me with his paw. One time, one of his very long claws poked me in the hand. It was like getting stuck with a needle. I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt me. I think his swatting is a way to engage, get my attention, play. I've been working with him, letting him know I don't like the swatting, and he does it rarely. When he does, it's very tentative. Once in a while he will impulsively put up his paw and then do an oopsy and put it back down.

Also, when I'm picking up his empty food dish to take it away and either refill it or wash it, he blocks my hand. I've had to teach him to back away while I get the dish. I don't think this is food aggression. Again, his body language is more affectionate and attention-getting than protective or aggressive. When I say "baaack," "noooo," "waiiit", "good boy!" he looks up at me earnestly and tries his best. He backs up and circles around, trying to get a good position.

So now I tend to just let him rub and bunt and circle around me and trill and talk sweetly back to him while he does it. I feel guilty not reaching down and petting him. I want to, but I honestly am not comfortable with that and I think he senses it and responds in kind - or tries to encourage me by mouthing and swatting and I respond with fear. I don't know which it is. I need a psychiatrist for this! :p

I'm wondering if the swatting and mouthing are social behaviors he learned as a kitten playing with other kittens or cats and he's just a little awkward playing with humans. Maybe also when I reach down with my hands it looks like I'm about to swat at him, and that's why he does what he does.

So if I just sit or stand there and let him rub and bunt against me and give him the blinky eyes and talk sweetly to him while he does it but not reach down and touch him, will he still know I love him? I'm not damaging our rapport by not petting him (at least not yet), am I? What do you think?

Thanks for letting me share. :)
 

msaimee

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With semi-feral cats, you have to be careful with how you approach them to pet them. It's best to be at their level instead of towering over them. Try sitting on the floor, or approaching the cat while he's on the couch or bed beside you. It's also best to slowly and cautiously move your hand behind his head and do some brief, soft pets-- cats usually enjoy being petted on the head and rub behind the ears. Another thing you can do when you are level with the cat is put your hand into a fist and hold it in front of the cat and allow the cat to approach the hand and sniff it. A hand rolled into a fist is less threatening to a cat. When a cat swipes or responds in fear when he sees a hand coming towards him from above, this is pure Instinct, especially for a feral or semi-feral cat. It will take some time before he gets out of that behavioral pattern. Time and patience is the key. But you should definitely start trying to pet the cat now before he gets any older so he is accustomed to being handled by you.
 
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averyfeinhaus

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With semi-feral cats, you have to be careful with how you approach them to pet them. It's best to be at their level instead of towering over them. Try sitting on the floor, or approaching the cat while he's on the couch or bed beside you. It's also best to slowly and cautiously move your hand behind his head and do some brief, soft pets-- cats usually enjoy being petted on the head and rub behind the ears. Another thing you can do when you are level with the cat is put your hand into a fist and hold it in front of the cat and allow the cat to approach the hand and sniff it. A hand rolled into a fist is less threatening to a cat. When a cat swipes or responds in fear when he sees a hand coming towards him from above, this is pure Instinct, especially for a feral or semi-feral cat. It will take some time before he gets out of that behavioral pattern. Time and patience is the key. But you should definitely start trying to pet the cat now before he gets any older so he is accustomed to being handled by you.
Thank you, Ms. Aimee. This is very helpful! I'm older and tall and don't get up and down from the ground as easily as I used to. I'll try sitting on the porch steps and seeing if he comes to me there. I'll try holding out my fist, too. Thanks again!
 
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averyfeinhaus

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Now I sit on the chair and let my arms dangle when he's circling around, bunting and rubbing against my legs. I keep my fists lightly clenched, fingers out of sight, and he bunts, sniffs and gently licks my hands. Such a sweet boy.
 
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averyfeinhaus

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Update: As of December, our cat's coming indoors and is doing great. I respect his space and let him approach me, which he does. His sweet and gentle nature are the same as ever, and he's gotten more playful. I let him approach to greet me and when he does, I crouch down or lean forward and let my hand dangle out in front of me, and he bunts it and then I pet him softly on the head, ears and neck. We both like it. :)

Here's our boy in his favorite chair.
 

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