Kitten doesn't like to be petted, except at certain times

Renne

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My kitten is not a lap cat, doesn't sleep with me, and doesn't like to be petted. The exception is when she has what we call 'a petting mood'. At such a time she comes over purring and demands to be petted, and that mood lasts for approx. 20 minutes every time, during which she demands to be petted without stop, purring and being very demanding about it.

But at other times she's cold, and this puzzles me. Obviously she loves petting, but only when she's in the mood? Why such dislike for it at other times? At other times she tries to outright avoid being petted. If I try, she ducks or moves away. Even if I just talk to her without petting her, she often starts wiggling or bashing her tail in irritation, suspecting that I might get an idea to pet her. Sometimes she outright stands up and goes somewhere else.

Then again, I cannot say that she doesn't like me at all. She sleeps in my room, and she often follows me from room to room, running along, as if she wants my company. But try to pet her? Nope, tail bashing and ducking away! When she was 2 months old she'd always briefly purr while passing me by and would greet me with a meow once I wake up. Now she's 5 months old, and such overt signs of attachment are gone, and I start to question if she likes me much and if she's happy.

At the time when she was younger I thought that she had basically two moods: 'a playing mood' and 'a petting mood', and I believed that the two were incompatible. So I explained her avoiding my touch and being irritated by attention by 'a playing mood'. When you want to play you aren't tender, you want to attack prey! But now she doesn't play as much and I can see that the explanation doesn't work. She bashes her tail around even when she's been resting quitely for quite a while and suddenly I try to pet her.

Is there any hope for her to grow to like petting more? Not just in her 'petting time'... Because frankly speaking, being woken up in the middle of a night (true story almost every day) to pet a kitten for 20 minutes often means she gets ignored. She gets in the mood about twice per day, but I'd prefer to have a cat who likes to be petted in general, rather than a 'bipolar' cat who has strange demanding petting moods, which are the polar opposite of her normal behavior. That doesn't feel like affection at all, it feels like she's exploiting me for pleasure, if that makes sense. I know it's stupid but I feel resentful and I just want to be able to pet her like a normal cat.
 
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Jcatbird

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Please don’t give up on her. There is always a good reason to explain their behavior. A little detective work can help you to understand and work this out.Has she had a vet check to make sure that she is well and without pain? She obviously loves you or there would be no petting. Twenty minutes and then apparent displays of disturbance and tail bashing makes me wonder if something is uncomfortable for her or if stimulation just makes her nervous because of a lack of socializing on her part. I don’t know where you got her but there’s a good chance she missed some socialization as a little one. Not to worry! She can still learn. Make sure she is not in pain or feeling unwell first.
I have socialized even old feral cats that have never been touched by a human before I got them. My old boy BJ was a totally wild Tom that avoided me completely. He’s a lover now. Not all cats will be snuggle bugs but I feel sure that with some help, this kitty can learn to be more flexible. Perhaps she even had some scary experiences as a tiny baby. I’m very glad you wrote in about her. Let’s see if everyone here can help with tips that we use to socialize kitties.
Do you ever pursue her to try and pet? Kitties prefer to seek you out. Being pursued is like having a predator after her. It’s intimidating. I know those late night requests for petting are very bad timing but late night is the time she fells most safe. Especially if you are sleeping! She is brave then because you are laying down and don’t tower above her. One technique I use is to lay on the floor with a treat on my tummy. I let kitty get the treat many times before I attempt to pet. Let her learn it is safe to approach you and she won’t be pushed into anything she isn’t comfortable with. Playing with a wand toy while laying down can also be used to draw her close to you. Allow this without trying to pet for awhile. With time and patience, you may find she starts to brush against you on her own. That can lead to more showing of affection on her part. She is still very young. Ignoring her at this point will confuse her. I know you can’t force petting but talking to her, playing soft music for her and finding other ways to give her attention will bring her to where she needs to be. At her age she should still be playful. I really do think a vet check for her might turn up something like parasites or UTI. I didn’t ask but what are her daily habits. Eating well? Litter box being used? Drinking enough? Sleeping a lot? Etc. Let her vet know the things you wrote here. There may be clues in your description that could point to something. I know it must be discouraging but please don’t give up on her. She comes to you the way she does because she sees you as her hope. She depends on you to help her through whatever is hurting her or making her nervous. It’s clear that you want to be able to give her snuggles and more attention. I feel sure there is a path to this for you both. Hang in there and please try some of the suggestions. Also, please post back. We are here to help. :alright:
 

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She is a normal cat. All cats need alone time, but some need more or less than others.

Cats do NOT like the feeling that they're being forced into a situation. They're small animals, and they know you're much bigger than them. Even if they know you love them, they still feel unsafe if they're not in control.

The best way to get your cat to come to you more for petting is to show her that you will listen to her, and that she's always in control. You know how to read cat body language, which is great, so respond accordingly and she'll have more faith in you. Don't pet her unless she signals that she wants it. If she signals that she doesn't like something, stop doing it. Cats naturally don't like a lot of eye contact or obvious attention either.

I also suggest that you try lying down in the middle of the day if you'd like her to come to you more for pets. Since that's what you're doing at night, she might prefer you in this position. My cat definitely does. It's a signal to her that she's safe. I had to take her to the vet a lot when I first got her, and she learned that when I was sitting or standing I could scoop her up, but when I lay down we were staying put. I'll lie down on the couch all the time and she'll climb on top of me multiple times per day for petting and love. She does crawl into my lap occasionally now if she's desperate for pets, but I know she prefers when I'm horizontal. Still, try to hug her or cradle her with both hands, and she gets anxious about the prospect of being confined and she leaves.

Something else she loves is to rub her head against my head, so I'll sometimes get into kind of child's pose if you know yoga (I discovered this doing yoga), and she'll walk around me rubbing her head all over. It makes sense, because the cat version of a hug is rubbing heads together.

Some cats have the instinct of fearing unwanted human touch very well socialized out of them, and some of them retain more of it. Your cat is never going to be the super cuddler that some are, but if you cater to her eccentricities a bit more, I think you'll get more petting time. I've also noticed that animals tend to get more cuddlier with age as a general rule.

She's not exploiting you. You don't have a transactional relationship. She's your pet and you decided to support her needs, and being more independent is one of her needs. That's often an advantage, because you can leave a cat like that alone for long periods of time and they don't get lonely. Sometimes having a needy cat is undesirable for people who are very busy with other things. If your cat is not giving you enough of a physical connection, you should probably adopt a second cat who is an adult with a known personality and proclivity for loving lots of human contact. Shelter volunteers can help you identify cats like that, especially if the cat lives in a foster home (note that cats in physical shelters are often attention-starved and can be extra cuddly in a shelter environment and a bit less so when they're home).
 

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I saw "kitten" but not an exact age. Kittens have ants in the pants to an incredible degree that slowly tails off a bit as they get closer to a year, and tails off even more so as they gradually get closer to 2. At the age where most people are still saying kitten, they are in go go go mode most of the time. Its quite common to only be able to pet a kitten when its finally ready to chill. Wholly avoiding touch at other times is probably a sign that the kitten thinks that you are going to try to force things. Don't put the kitten on your lap or carry the kitten if its not happy about it. Don't try to force petting on it either.

I regard my current 7 month old kitten as very typical. She is very bonded to me, and will often chirp for attention when bored. However, she doesn't understand the lap yet, and will enjoy being picked up only for about 15 seconds. She mostly ignores being petted, but at times will come near me (not on me) for petting. She does love it when I go on my bed, and will come up there, and may be a bit more likely to allow some petting. Still, if she is too energized she will get bored with me pretty quick and attack the covers or something. I know from experience that as long as I don't force her, she will either become a lap cat in time, or at least we will develop clear spots where she likes petting and I'll be able to summon her there. We have already started that, and I will scootch over on the recliner and signal her. Sometimes she will squeeze into that space and get petted.
 

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I saw "kitten" but not an exact age. Kittens have ants in the pants to an incredible degree that slowly tails off a bit as they get closer to a year, and tails off even more so as they gradually get closer to 2. At the age where most people are still saying kitten, they are in go go go mode most of the time. Its quite common to only be able to pet a kitten when its finally ready to chill. Wholly avoiding touch at other times is probably a sign that the kitten thinks that you are going to try to force things. Don't put the kitten on your lap or carry the kitten if its not happy about it. Don't try to force petting on it either.

I regard my current 7 month old kitten as very typical. She is very bonded to me, and will often chirp for attention when bored. However, she doesn't understand the lap yet, and will enjoy being picked up only for about 15 seconds. She mostly ignores being petted, but at times will come near me (not on me) for petting. She does love it when I go on my bed, and will come up there, and may be a bit more likely to allow some petting. Still, if she is too energized she will get bored with me pretty quick and attack the covers or something. I know from experience that as long as I don't force her, she will either become a lap cat in time, or at least we will develop clear spots where she likes petting and I'll be able to summon her there. We have already started that, and I will scootch over on the recliner and signal her. Sometimes she will squeeze into that space and get petted.
All of this!

I have to remind myself of this sometimes.

Luna is 10 months now. She is still very much a kitten. She too, does not like being messed with for the most part, other than on her own terms. She doesn't mind if you pet her head or under her chin and if in a chill mood, *maybe* her belly. Will let us pick her up for short periods but gets antsy fast. But, she is very attached to me specifically and is nearly always by my side (right now, she's napping about 6 inches from me on the couch). She follows me all over the house and sleeps over my head on a pile of pillows every night.

So she clearly likes my company but, again, on her terms. We try hard to respect her need for physical space. We know the parts of her body that she absolutely will not tolerate being touched on - hind quarters are a big NO - this will generate a bunny kick/bite/grab response from her. Thankfully we know how to deal with this (push towards her which will make her release and start licking us - never try to pull away because that will make her grab on and bite harder). This is challenging for grooming purposes, being she's long haired, but we're working our way to ways of managing this.

FYI - it's not always because a kitten didn't get enough socialization when young that they dislike being touched. Some just are that way as their personality. Some, are just more sensitive to it. Our cat, was raised underfoot by a breeder and got a ton of attention from the family, came to us very well socialized (incredibly so) and at 15 weeks until around 4-5 months was very cuddly. Once she hit about 6 months, that changed. Teenage years I guess? Telling us she's not a baby anymore? Well she's not a big girl yet either, but we do see glimmers of a calmer cat in her already and look forward to the day when she's more chill. She may never be a lap cat, which is fine, none of ours have been - but being a side-by-our-side cat is just perfectly good too!
 
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Renne

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I avoided the forum for a while, because I was worried that I'd see people telling me that nothing can be changed and it can't be helped... Yeah I can be silly sometimes :)

Allow me to address all posts at once.

First things first, she's been to a vet multiple times. She had worms and allergy towards an unknown cat food component (right now we think it's herring). Worms we've dealt with. Otherwise she's healthy, has a great appetite, drinks a lot, and plays vigorously a lot. So I don't think that her behavior is connected to health.

She's 5 months old now.

She isn't a shy kitten and wasn't mistreated. I say this because she'd shown herself as a very well-adjusted kitten when we brought her home. Unlike many other kittens, it took her only about 15 minutes to become bold in a new place and start exploring it. And in one single hour she was already playing with toys with abandon! She didn't show any fear of me or other family members, although we were strangers, she even played with my long skirt by jumping on it and swinging around on it! I believe that these are the signs of a very well-adjusted kitten who doesn't have issues with human beings and was not mistreated or scared by them or anything else.

But I think it's true what some people suspect, that she shyes away from contact because I bother her too much and that feels intimidating. I say this because she didn't shy away from contact quite that much before. She didnt' like it, but she didn't duck away so much. Dammit she's just so cute, and I want to pet her so much that's it's been an irresistable urge!

I thought about that, too. But my contemplations always eventually suggested that if I stop trying then she'll just get used to not having physical contact at all, and so I should persist while she's still a kitten. Besides, I've seen some good results! For example, I taught her to tolerate being in my arms during her 'petting mood' by forcing it on her. At first, she'd only tolerate that for a couple of minutes and wriggle away. But I persisted, hoping that for the sake of being petted during her 'petting mood' she'd learn to lie in my arms. And she did. She'd eventually learn to lie in my arms, being petted, for 20 minutes until her 'petting mood' is gone. That's progress if I've ever seen any!

Another thing I taught her by enforcing it is to tolerate being taken up for short periods of time (outside of her 'petting mood'). At first she wouldn't allow being taken up for even a few seconds. So I'd take her up, wait for a few seconds (as much as she'd tolerate) and immediately let her go. Eventually she discovered that there's nothing horrible about being taken up, and now she allows me to take her up for half a minute or so.

And yet I do agree that she considers me intimidating and bothersome. I've obviously overdone it, and now she bashes her tail around even if I just call her sweet names, without touching. She's worried that any sign of my attention means I'm going to physically bother her. Thanks you all for helping me understand that.

So how do I make sure that I'm behaving in a balanced way? I don't want to lose all progress I've made, but I understand that I need to back down.

P.S. Btw I'm not sure why people suggest me to teach her to come to me? She already does that. When I call, she runs to me from another room like mad and in good spirits, no problem. I think she does it in hope that we're going to play or because she's curious. We socialize very well during playtime, and she loves it. So I don't think calling her and letting her come to me would make any difference as far as petting is concerned, she's already happy to come whenever I call. She just doesn't want to be touched.

Oh and there's another thing that confuses me. Sometimes when she's resting and I pet her, she actually likes it and starts purring. It happens rarely, maybe 1 out of 50 times or rarer. I think that she just discovers herself to be in a petting mood coincidentally. This is one of major reasons why I keep trying to randomly pet her, I hope that she'll discover that random petting can be pleasant. But I guess the positive reinforcement is undone by all the other times when she discovers that it's far from pleasant. So I guess that means I should quit trying to randomly pet her in hope that she'll be in the mood?
 
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di and bob

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Just pet/hold her for a short time, 20 minutes is forever for a cat, mine would lash out too. Try to let her come to you, if you approach her have a treat in your hand, that helps. Many cats, especially females are not real cuddly. Overstimulation is a problem too. If she has this and lashes out you have to find out where her stopping point is. A lashing tail, dilated eyes, hissing, and growling mean leave her be, she will be provoked into an attack if she is forced into doing something she doesn't want to do. Cats are much more solitary than dogs, They are regal, independent creatures that demand respect and want attention on their own terms. They have been hunted, tortured, shot and trapped for thousands of years and have learned to be wary and independent. She loves you in her own way, and it will get better in time/\.
 

ArtNJ

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When tired or chilling is almost always when kittens allow petting first, nothing surprising there.

Yeah, I've heard a few people say you can train a cat to be handled by forcing it, and it doesn't shock me that you had some success with it, but it seems like its counter-productive more often than not. I've not had a cat that didn't become affectionate with patience, and letting the kitten be the boss of the progress. I said "affectionate" on purpose - some will never tolerate the lap or like being picked up. But you can build rituals with those cats. They might like you to pet them on the armrest, on the chair behind your head, on the bed or in various other spots where you chill together. You might be able to summon them to the spots, maybe add other spots or even summon them generally for petting, if they are in the mood. It can become quite a lot over time.
 

sivyaleah

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I'll agree to shorter petting. A stop by pet :) Like, maybe she's in a cat bed, relaxing? Come over, give her a 15 second scritch. That's it, Some nice words, short and sweet. A little treat for her so she associates the pet with an even better thing she loves (I assume she likes certain treats?). Then, walk away. Leave her be to relax again. Or come by, and talk to her, don't touch her. See if she stretches out, makes eye contact, seems to try to elicit engagement from you before you touch her. Then it's on her terms.

FYI you don't need to be touching her all the time to have her bonded to you. Play time is bonding. Feeding her is bonding. Talking to her is bonding. Meet her where she is emotionally.
 

molly92

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Something that I like to remind myself of often is that cats have some ways of showing love that are counterintuitive. If they're sitting in the same room as you with their back to you-that's love! They feel safe enough not to keep an eye on you, and they could choose to be in a different room, but they're not. They're with you. Cats are very deliberate. They don't do things by accident.

Training a cat to tolerate being handled (usually with treats) is good for brushing, nail clipping, vet visits, etc, but for general cuddling, I still think your best bet is to let her come to you. She won't swear off petting forever. She needs her daily snuggles! The night time visits are proof of that! She'll get starved for attention soon enough and demand it.

Right now she's probably weighing the risks of getting her petting in and getting trapped when she wants to leave. Be patient with her, and teach her that she can come to you for pets whenever without worrying about getting trapped, and I think things will improve.

Believe me, I understand the urge to scoop up that adorable fluff ball! I admit that once in a blue moon, when I've had a very bad day, I'll scoop Delilah up for a hug for a few seconds. She lets me because I do it so rarely and I think she can tell I need it. But it's taken a lot of trust building and understanding each other to get to that point. Being able to understand each other and know what the other one needs emotionally is incredibly rewarding and well worth the patience.
 

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I've noticed very few cats go for full body stroking. If I try to do full body stroking with Neko-chan, it's over in seconds and she walks away. If I just pet her head and scratch under her chin she'll often purr then fall asleep next to me
 
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Renne

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Yesterday and today I didn't randomly touch her at all anymore, and I can already see some progress: she keeps closer to me than usual. I guess she kept further away because she was worried that I'd start petting her any moment. Right now she's at her once-favorite resting spot: on the table next to the monitor. :)

A few minutes ago I decided to finally touch her a little. First, I called her name, and she stretched out, made eye contact, and laid back. I petted her on her head for a few seconds, and she didn't seem to mind. Then she lifted her head again and turned to look at me, and I misinterpreted that as asking for more. So I stretched out my hand to pet her on her head again when I noticed that her tail started moving rapidly. I stopped my hand and her tail stopped moving, too.

P.S. Oh and during the night she woke me up after 4 hours of sleep for her petting time. I decided not to refuse her, only to fail to fall asleep afterwards. This happens all too often.
 

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You are learning her limits and warning signs, good job! My cats often wake me up about two hours early, I stroke their head once or twice and turn over. That usually gives them a hint. Don't sacrifice your sleep, maybe try petting once or twice and ignoring her. You would think that sooner or later she would learn. I think her waking you up just reinforces the notion that ignoring them usually brings their attention! Now if she can just be taught WHEN to approach you....
 
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Renne

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I'm so glad that I posted my question here! The kitten is much more friendlier now, even friendlier than yesterday when I said she was friendlier, haha. She spends all her time around me again, really close, like when she was younger. She sleeps in my computer chair again and she only sleeps in my room rather than in the hall. It's like time rolled back and we're back in the past!

She comes for petting more often, too. Four times today. Three of the four times I took her into my lap and she tolerated it and even stood up and licked my hair in response.

I think we're doing great :) I just need to respect her limits, it makes her feel better, and her feeling better makes me feel better, too.

I will try to randomly pet her once or twice per day, very briefly. Maybe that will teach her that there's nothing to fear, and then we'll see what else can be done.
 

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some people are more touchy feely others not. same with cats. mine also has strict rules on lapsitting (no arms or hands to overwhelm) petting (in her place of choice while in petting mood) and touching base (alert mode, just a head bump or a finger graze). when you let them, they teach you. And human flirtation rules also apply.
 
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