Emotional Support Animal... But He is HURTING Me

kkallo

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Hi everyone. I just found this website on a Google search and I am hoping you can help. I'm at my wits end with my cat. Here is his backstory:
I adopted him in July 2019 after finding him outside under my mom's shed. He was very comfortable with humans, approached me, my mom, and my 7 year old brother very quickly, and after a few weeks of socialization I took him to the vet and brought him inside. He was already neutered when we found him, and the vet said he is about 2 years old. He did not have a microchip and we don't know his background, he just showed up.

At first he was very sweet. He purred whenever he saw me and snuggled right up to me. He stayed in the finished basement of my mom's house until he could move in with me a few weeks later. I visited often, and she went down multiple times a day to feed him and play with him. He took to the litterbox immediately (has never had an accident). He seemed comfortable around humans, as if he had been in a house before and been abandoned. It all seemed great. My mom said he would occasionally nip her ankles, but she attributed it to him being lonely.

Fast forward to a while after he moved in with me. He developed the bad habit of scratching my fabric cube organizers. It bothered me, but what are you gonna do? I got him multiple scratching areas (a flat cardboard, carpeted post, and a hanging scratcher) and I also allow him to scratch on my rug (it's cheap carpet), but he has ruined those organizers now even though I try to stop him. He also will take his paw and paw/scratch the sides of my drawers, which I think is his way of telling me he wants treats or food. I try to ignore both of these, but they bother me. But here is the real reason I am coming here. He bites me and does not let go. At first he would nip my ankles a bit and I thought that was normal. But then he started hiding under my bed and pouncing out to bite my legs. It has slowly gotten more aggressive. He will bite my leg or arm and not let go, leaving marks and even making me bleed and cry. Today he bit me and I was trying to show him with body language that he hurt me (people online said writhe around, pull away, etc), and he pounced onto my head.

I am at my wits end. I am in college and I live in one room with him. I know it is not ideal, but I didn't want to give him to a shelter and he has a ton of toys and things to scratch. When he's in a good mood, he will purr and snuggle me. He still rubs all over my legs and follows me around when I get home. It doesn't seem like he hates me. But he hurts me really badly. I have tried scruffing him, saying NO, pointing my finger in his face, using body language to show I'm hurt, saying OW, redirecting him to toys/scratching posts, and finally resorted to spraying him with the water bottle (which stops the behavior initially but he goes right back after a moment). I do not know where to turn. I love him so much but I can't handle being terrified to walk around in my own room because I'm scared he'll hurt me. I can't even change my clothes without running from him a lot of the time (he gets worse when he sees my bare skin usually, but does it regardless of if I have clothes on or not).

Have any of you experienced something like this? What should I do? I personally do not want to declaw him, but how do I show him where he can and can't scratch? And how do I stop him from biting and attacking me?
 

jen

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Declawing him would only make him bite more, I am not sure how that relates to the biting. But he sounds bored. How long does he have to live in only 1 room? He needs exercise and enrichment. A friend perhaps. He just sounds like he is bored out of his mind. It sounds like really aggressive, bored, play from a cat who was probably separated from its mother too early and not properly socialized. You are right to do things like cry out in pain, hiss at him also, speak his language.

I would also recommend calming collars, Feliway diffuser and sprays, and lastly medication. At least the medication until you can get into a better living situation for him. It doesn't have to be forever.
 

ArtNJ

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It sounds to me like this is play biting, which sometimes happens with young playful cats, especially when they don't have a lot to do. At this point, its a habit and addressing the boredom by playing with him more won't make it go away. I would use a just loud enough to be slightly startling "no!" If he doesn't respond to what you feel like is your max volume in a college dorm, gently but firmly hold him down, asserting dominance and more importantly making it not fun. I can't understand the advice you got to show him it hurts by flailing around, which in my opinion is likely to make him think you are playing with him.

I had two kittens in a school dorm room once. Wouldn't ever do it again, but its doable. You can train him out of this habit.
 

molly92

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Today he bit me and I was trying to show him with body language that he hurt me (people online said writhe around, pull away, etc)
Nooooonono absolutely do NOT do that.

This is the play behavior of a cat who didn't learn good manners from socializing with other cats when he was young. If you wriggle, you're a more fun game for him, so you need to be less interesting than his toys!

You also risk reinforcing this behavior with ANY kind of attention, unfortunately, positive or negative. Yelping or a stern NO could make things worse, so I think you need to divert, divert, divert. I think jen jen is right-enrichment will probably help. Is he a smart cat? You could look up clicker training and try to teach him tricks and commands that you can do when he gets fiesty. I would rely on wand toys, too, that direct him away from your body during play time. Also puzzle toys. You also might want to consider getting a leash and harness and doing "walks" outside to redirect that restless energy.

Another possible fix would be to adopt another (physically and temperamentally equivalent) cat he can roughhouse with and learn that biting hurts! But I'm not sure how feasible that would be for you.
 
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kkallo

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How long does he have to live in only 1 room?
It will likely only be for another year or so.
I would also recommend calming collars, Feliway diffuser and sprays, and lastly medication.
Thank you for this advice! I work at a pet supply store, so I will look into trying those. We are constantly out of Feliway's collars, but we definitely have diffusers. Do you have a recommendation for collar vs diffuser vs spray?
I can't understand the advice you got to show him it hurts by flailing around, which in my opinion is likely to make him think you are playing with him.
This is the play behavior of a cat who didn't learn good manners from socializing with other cats when he was young. If you wriggle, you're a more fun game for him, so you need to be less interesting than his toys!
Yeah, it has definitely seemed like the least effective method thus far. The only success I've had with it was likely due to him just being bored of me. I have only done so for a few days.
I would rely on wand toys, too, that direct him away from your body during play time. Also puzzle toys. You also might want to consider getting a leash and harness and doing "walks" outside to redirect that restless energy.
He has a wand toy that he loves and I try to play with that for at least 10-15 minutes every day with him. Do you have any recommendations for puzzle toys? He has a ball that I can put treats in and he has to roll it to get them out, but he doesn't seem to understand that what comes out is food. I may look into getting a harness for him as well, once it's warm out I'd like to take him outside on the lawn if I can.
 

ArtNJ

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Be careful with your harness idea. Give a cat an inch, they want a mile. There will likely be begging at the door and escape attempts. If you are going to do it, make sure it is at the same time every time you go, and that you never take him out just because he is whining at the door.
 
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kkallo

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Right! For now the most exploring he has done is the hallway outside of my room. Even then, he got nervous and came back in after walking around with me for a few minutes. He's pretty terrified of the elevators that are right outside my door, but I can leave the door open and he'll stay inside or maybe stand right in the doorframe. He doesn't like to adventure without me.
 

Furballsmom

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Do you have a recommendation for collar vs diffuser vs spray?
Hi! Collars can be an issue if they get caught on something, and the diffusers have been known to get hot.

Here are some other calming product ideas for you to consider;

Only Natural Pet has a calming product called Just Relax Calming spray with essential oil (catnip oil).

There's this one, be sure and scroll all the way down the page;
Bach Flower Remedies - Rescue Remedy Pets Dogs Cats Horses Birds

Also, there is ThunderWunders calming chews, Naturevet Hemp, HomeoPet Anxiety Relief, Head to Tail Calming, Relaxivet Quiet Moments Cat treats, GNC Calming formula, and there is Calm-o-mile, Natures Miracle calming spray, Vetri-Science's Composure is another item to look at, Pet Remedy - UK (it has valerian) is yet another, as is Essential Pet Pet-eze, Pet Organics No Stress, Only Natural Pet (brand and website) has other calming products, Pet Naturals also has one I believe, and there are others.

Lambert Vet Supply is a website to look at, and of course chewy, also there's Petwishpros, animaleo, 1-800-petmeds, Petco and PetSmart, and other pet stores.

There is also a product called a lickimat which could be helpful, as cats can be calmed by the process of licking. The LickiMat - Food Puzzles for Cats

This post talks about some other products;
Calming Treats For A Very Picky Cat
 

FeebysOwner

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Thank you for this advice! I work at a pet supply store, so I will look into trying those. We are constantly out of Feliway's collars, but we definitely have diffusers. Do you have a recommendation for collar vs diffuser vs spray?
Just know that not all calming products work on all cats, so if Feliway (either spray or diffuser) doesn't work, try others. You can do an internet search on "cat calming products' to see others that you might want to try. However, if he is bored, this is really not going to be a real solution.
He has a wand toy that he loves and I try to play with that for at least 10-15 minutes every day with him. Do you have any recommendations for puzzle toys? He has a ball that I can put treats in and he has to roll it to get them out, but he doesn't seem to understand that what comes out is food. I may look into getting a harness for him as well, once it's warm out I'd like to take him outside on the lawn if I can.
I've included a link to an article that discusses how to deal with bored cats (see below). In your situation, I would first try all I can to entertain him inside before you attempt the harness/walking approach. Some cats are worse once exposed to the outside like that, and you might even have some issues with him trying to get outside. In a dorm environment, that might cause him to get lost or even picked up/mistreated by others around the area. Instead, despite the fact that you are in a small area, it would be better if you could find room for a cat tree, or wall shelving for him to use as perches - and if any can be done by a window, all the better.
I have tried scruffing him, saying NO, pointing my finger in his face, using body language to show I'm hurt, saying OW, redirecting him to toys/scratching posts, and finally resorted to spraying him with the water bottle (which stops the behavior initially but he goes right back after a moment)
Aside from spraying him - which you should never do - find one approach and stick with it. Probably, using a hiss or "OW" (pick one) and then ignore him afterward. If he comes at you again, repeat, and then put him in the bathroom with door closed for a one-two minute 'time out'. This isn't necessarily going to work the first time, but the key to getting it to work is consistency (same approach and every time it happens). It could take a while, but he will eventually 'get it'.

Bored Cat? What Cat Owners Need To Know (including 10 Actionable Tips) – Cat Articles
 

jen

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Since you are just in 1 room I would do the diffuser. But the sprays could be good for the areas you don't want him scratching. Collars are nice too if your cat will wear one.
 

jen

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I think whatever works best for you and your cat is the best way to go. All diffusers get hot, and some cats can't handle collars. But if there is no concern with that then I don't see an issue. But the bottom line is what helps calm your cat down. There is nothing wrong with medicating him too.
 

danteshuman

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There are hundreds of things I would recommend before Prozac BUT given that you are even considering declawing/de-knuckling your hyper baby, why not talk toa Vet about trying some Prozac cream?

Next I am going to tell you what I would do if he was my kitty:

Do a long high pitch wailing ooooowwwwwwww at him at the slightest hint of teeth or claws, then ignore him for 5-15 minutes. EVERY time! Do not crack! You must be more stubborn then him or he will not stop. You can train him for 1-6 months or have him bite you for 15 years. Do not crack! You are his mom, you must teach him how to behave.

Next a strict toys not hands for everyone that comes into contact with him!

If you can give him a kitten to play with. If not, on to the next step.

Hang bird feeders in a tree in view of your window. Then give him a very comfy bed to watch birds from.

Harness train him and take him outside for an hour each day (we can help with that.)

Buy interactive toys and rotate them so he gets a new toy every couple of days. Keep buying him a new interactive toy every week or month ( tissue paper and catnip can be one.) I have bought my twerp catnip bubbles, balls with flashy red lights, feather attached to a ball, wand toys galore, his favorite long haired large mice with a rattle (made of real bunny fur), laser pointer, many cat dancers ..... he just loves those cheap toys, a remote controlled mouse plus he has some others on his wishlist. I keep special toys set aside for when I am sick or it rains.

Lastly please read what Jackson Galaxy says about declawing & all the problems it causes. The ‘meanest’ cat I ever met was my stepsisters Declawed cat! He sat right next to me and then bit me!!!!!!!! 20 years ago I declawed my cats and even though they have passed, I still regret maiming my babies! Plus I’m still mad at the vet who didn’t even try to talk me out of it! Cat clinic my behind! 🙄

I have a hyper little dude who gets outside time every day & it works! I raised 3 kittens with a strict toys not hands rule and it worked great! I convinced all three kittens that I was a furless wimp with skin that shredded like tissue paper! That is what you want your baby to think about you!

Lastly worse case scenario please re-home him or have him stay with your parents until you finish college before you declaw him. I’m really hoping with some training (& maybe Prozac) your boy will be a non bitey cuddle muffin that only attacks toys. Plus my twerpgets play dates every weekend with his brother/bff so they can wrestle. I’m working on getting his brother ESA so I can move them in (I’m trying not to pay hundreds of dollars.) BTW you can have 2 cats certified together. They are just playing though it may look viscous.

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Animal Freak

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Please don't declaw your cat. It's a cruel thing that could cause both him and yourself more grief down the road. This sounds very much like a cat who was never taught that hands/feet are not toys, so now he thinks they are. He's gotten rougher because he's gotten away with it. He's been testing boundaries to see how far he can go with it. You can try to firm "no" or "ow" method. Or you could keep a toy on you and throw it when he gets into that "attack" mode. Preferably prefer he actually attacks. Any of those methods can work, but it does depend on the cat. Telling him off could get him riled up more. If it does, then don't tell him off. Personally, I think redirection--for both cats and dogs--is a safer, more reliable method than positive punishment, but that's certainly not to say that other methods can't work. The key is to find what does work and stick with it. And encourage behavior you do want! It could take weeks, it could take months. Don't give up. Don't switch methods every few days or weeks.

Also, mental stimulation. It's more important than most people think and it doesn't have to be expensive. It works faster and more effectively than just physical exercise. Even if the body is tired, the mind could still be hyper, and if the mind is hyper, the body won't quit. Treat dispensers, puzzles, etc. Any of them. Just keep your cat in mind. His size, his food motivation, whether he'd rather use his paws or his mouth... Start with something simple. You don't need anything extravagant. A toilet paper roll with holes cut into it and the ends closed off. You can start with bigger holes and then make one with smaller holes as he gets better at it. Some fabric or something with food folded into it. Food hidden around the house.

As far as the scratching goes, some cats can be difficult. I have a cat who loved scratching my ottoman. Wouldn't quit long after it stopped being new. The trick is to block off the area with something he can scratch. I had to get four scratchers to put around the ottoman so that way he couldn't scratch it. And for a while he just didn't scratch. Wouldn't touch the scratchers. Now he does though. I still keep them in place because there's little doubt he'd go back to scratching the ottoman if I moved them.
 

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I've had several cats who were taken away from their mothers too soon, including my very first childhood cat, so I kind of knew what I was getting into with this one. She has her issues, and one of them is giving love bites:


I've had very good luck with positive reinforcement: her cue word is "gentle", and I've been trying to cue her before she bites hard enough to hurt, reward her, and distract her before the skin is broken.

The article recomends rewarding and distracting before the cat actually bites, which might be your personal choice. Cats are fairly flexible as long as their people are consistent about how much contact play they want:


It is not ideal for a cat to live in a single room, but it is doable. My Wallaby went from a #vanlife #homeiswhereyouparkit lifestyle where she was one of three kittens on a leash to spending most of the day alone in a single room in less than a year. That's just what life is like sometimes and your cat can be a major source of comfort and stability. She went on to help me raise some kids, survive a toxic marriage, and get through a lot of other hard times while various humans came and went.

She wasn't even an ESA.

danteshuman danteshuman has some great suggestions, including how to safely include outdoor time. I take my teenaged kitten hiking twice a week when weather permits, pop her in a backpack so she can come along when I walk the dogs, anfd since this is a normal part of her life, in a crisis she knows how to snuggle down quietly inside my jacket or at the bottom of my purse, so she is much less obtrusive in public than a dog would be.

Cats are worth it. Thank you for rescuing this sweet boy.
 

danteshuman

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Willow’sMom, one of the things I have learned is that life is full of twists & turns you can’t plan for. I’m glad your baby & you made it through those rougher patches. If anything ever were to happen to me, I am comforted by knowing my mom has promised she would take care of my baby.

One of the kittens (now grown up) has been rough housing with my mom’s roommate, and being allowed to attack his hand. I was petting him the other day and he gently attacked my hand. I gave him a stern no and let my arm/hand go limp & was ignoring him so much I wouldn’t look at him for 15 minutes. It worked amazingly well. Though it might be hard to let your arm/hand go limp if he is really hurting you. Jackie likes to pretend to attack my legs while I’m on the toilet. I have told him no hundreds of times. Finally I gave up and just started keeping a wand toy by the toilet so I can pee in peace. So distraction works great.
 

Telstar

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This is the play behavior of a cat who didn't learn good manners from socializing with other cats when he was young. If you wriggle, you're a more fun game for him, so you need to be less interesting than his toys!
This.
A water sprayer usually works as deterrent. But being 2 years old rescuer, who knows what kind of childhood he had.
He didn't learn to bite SOFT. I read that someone tought her cat to bite only when wearing a kitchen glove. There should be a video or something - you can try that. Also use toys with stick, to keep your hands safe (although that's mostly for claws protection).
Calming stuff (feliway, bach flowers etc) could help, but he needs to play at least a couple times a day.
 

danteshuman

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Oh yeah Jackie can attack my hand trough a blanket (but he gets upset if I don’t let him win.) I’m hoping to bring his brother over so I no longer have to wrestle with him & he can have a buddy to rough house with.
 

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Please read this before you recommend to anyone, or use, a water sprayer.
5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat [Or otherwise punish them] – Cat Articles
Yes, I did read that, and i still used and recommend this method. It is better than others, and the trick is to make the cat think the spray is coming from you. I just re-read that page and I think it works mostly for a location rather than a behavior, which was the way I used it (kitchen counter = spray). I think that is less stressful than yelling at the cat, or worse. How many people would stay calm and silent after your hand is bleeding?
 
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