New Cat Hissing and Biting

EchoGecko1

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Hi. Sorry this is a long one.

About 3 days ago we picked a stray female cat off the side of the road. When we first brought her home she started off being incredibly affectionate and sweet rubbing against us and our hands so that we could pat her and give her scratches. The only sign of aggression we noticed was that she would walk around growing periodically. It didn't seem directed at us in particular so assumed that she was generally just stressed and left her alone. Within a few hours she suddenly became defensive and angry, hissing and biting our feet when we were walking around. We specifically avoided her when walking but she would put herself underfoot or in doorways to hiss and bite/scratch.

We decided it would be best to confine her to one room so that she would have a chance to adjust and a place to hide and feel safe. A few times a day we come in and check her food/water and make sure she is using the litter tray (originally she was eliminating on the floor). After the first few visits she started coming out to greet us at the door rubbing against our legs and our hands while purring. This lasts until all of a sudden she will hiss and bite. When petting her I try to pay attention to her body language but her reaction is usually to quick for me to have time to back off. Rather than hide she will stay and bite our feet and knees (as we lift our arms out of the way).

We can literally walk in to the room and stay standing and she will rub against us while we are standing completely still and will still start hissing and biting suddenly so I don't think it is related to overstimaulating her via petting. We have also noticed that she doesn't seem to like it when we walk around so we have started giving her treats while walking around the room to try and change her association to become more positive. This seems to work although only while we have treats.

We try to avoid situations that cause these reactions but still need to walk around to access her food/water/litter and the lights. We now wear shoes and jeans while we come into her room and don't react when she bites/hisses and keep doing what we need to do. Sometimes when we visit she doesnt react aggressively at all. Even when she is aggressive and scratches or bites it usually will only just break the surface of our skin so isn't super intense although I still find it a little frightening.

I am struggling to figure out the cause of this because she chooses to seek us out for attention and pets but will suddenly react aggresively while doing this. We have wondered if it is to do with us/something else spooking her and then she reacts with aggression but arent sure.

I am worried as to whether or not this behaviour will curb as she grows more comfortable as while we would like to keep her if we can, I am nervous about forever having to dodge an aggressive cat as she will actively seek us out to bite if she can see us walking around. We have been talking about giving her access to the loungeroom (connected to her room) as well while wearing shoes and jeans and just ignoring the behaviour but I don't want to make the situation worse.

Some info - the vets said they think she is about 10 months old and has just weaned a litter of kittens. We could not find kittens anywhere in the area we found her so assume they had already left by that time. She has fleas and likely worms that we will treat soon. She has not been spayed yet. The vets said otherwise she seems generally healthy. They didn't do a proper check up, just briefly looked her over.

I appreciate any insight
 

FeebysOwner

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Hi. Did you previously have cats, or other pets, in your home? If so, she is likely picking on the scents left behind. It could simply be her picking up noises from inside or outside the home that she is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. At any rate, 3 days is a very short time to expect her to even remotely start to feel secure in her new environment.

You also don't know her background, and even though she is fairly young, she could have come from a home that was abusive, she might have been on her own for a while, or even semi-feral. See if you can use any information in these TCS articles to help out the situation.
A Feral Cat Or A Stray Cat? How To Tell The Difference – TheCatSite Articles
The Five Golden Rules To Bringing An Outdoor Cat Inside – TheCatSite Articles
How To Help A New Cat Adjust To Your Home – TheCatSite Articles
Why Do Cats Attack? – TheCatSite Articles
 

fionasmom

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You are very kind to have helped this cat. I agree that you are just at the beginning of working with her and that several things could be at play such as not being spayed yet, an abusive or frightening history, or time fending for herself. To be honest, you could not have picked up a true feral from the side of the road so she is either a stray, abandoned, or a feral who has the capability to befriend people.

I feed a TNRed ( not by me in this case) adult female cat at some apartments nearby. Someone who lives there made a nice bed for her in front of their door. Her history was spotty and I know that she did not have a regular source of food for a long time. She now allows me to pat her, in fact waits for it in the morning at the first feeding, and rubs around my legs and allows me to pat her ( I wear gloves) but suddenly she will turn and hiss and spit. I do not see this as overstimulation either as I know what that is.....it is almost as if she has "forgotten" herself and trusted me more than she should. But we are making a lot of progress and I see those behaviors diminishing over time. The other day she let me raise her off the ground and bring her over to her meal....not pick her up and frankly I would not do that yet, but actually raise all four paws off the ground. I think that you cat sounds very similar to this.
 
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EchoGecko1

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Hi. Did you previously have cats, or other pets, in your home? If so, she is likely picking on the scents left behind. It could simply be her picking up noises from inside or outside the home that she is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. At any rate, 3 days is a very short time to expect her to even remotely start to feel secure in her new environment.

You also don't know her background, and even though she is fairly young, she could have come from a home that was abusive, she might have been on her own for a while, or even semi-feral. See if you can use any information in these TCS articles to help out the situation.
A Feral Cat Or A Stray Cat? How To Tell The Difference – TheCatSite Articles
The Five Golden Rules To Bringing An Outdoor Cat Inside – TheCatSite Articles
How To Help A New Cat Adjust To Your Home – TheCatSite Articles
Why Do Cats Attack? – TheCatSite Articles
We have a few parrots but haven't had anything else. We rent so there is every chance she is picking up the scent of animals from previous tenants. It also definitely could be noise, I notice that she gets bothered by distant dog barking but that usually elicits a growl. I was mostly hoping that it was just because it's early days and she is learning to be comfortable in a new place. She definitely seems to have been on her own for a while and I am unsure if she had ever used a litter box before as it took her a few tries to get the hand of it.
Thank you for the articles I will see what I can use.
 
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EchoGecko1

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You are very kind to have helped this cat. I agree that you are just at the beginning of working with her and that several things could be at play such as not being spayed yet, an abusive or frightening history, or time fending for herself. To be honest, you could not have picked up a true feral from the side of the road so she is either a stray, abandoned, or a feral who has the capability to befriend people.

I feed a TNRed ( not by me in this case) adult female cat at some apartments nearby. Someone who lives there made a nice bed for her in front of their door. Her history was spotty and I know that she did not have a regular source of food for a long time. She now allows me to pat her, in fact waits for it in the morning at the first feeding, and rubs around my legs and allows me to pat her ( I wear gloves) but suddenly she will turn and hiss and spit. I do not see this as overstimulation either as I know what that is.....it is almost as if she has "forgotten" herself and trusted me more than she should. But we are making a lot of progress and I see those behaviors diminishing over time. The other day she let me raise her off the ground and bring her over to her meal....not pick her up and frankly I would not do that yet, but actually raise all four paws off the ground. I think that you cat sounds very similar to this.
We live somewhat rural so are thinking she may have been abandoned. It's encouraging to hear that you have been able to make progress. I completely understand it may take a while for her to adjust and feel comfortable/ trust us, I was just worried that she may not move past the hissing/ biting. It sounds like she may just need a lot more time to settle. She does sound similar to your cat although I think she was probably socialised as a young cat and abandoned sometime after as I was able to pick her up when I found her and hold her still in the car while we drove to the vets. I think I could probably still pick her up now with a little fuss although am not going to try haha. I wonder if it does have something to do with 'forgetting herself', although I am also unsure if we are just moving a little in a way that spooks her and elicits an aggressive response. At one point I came in to change her litter and she was was perhaps startled by the bag I brought in, as she hissed and batted with her paw, but once I sat down to do the job she settled next to me to see what I was doing.

At any rate, it is good to hear that progress was made the female you feed, as I am hoping that we can do the same.
 

fionasmom

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The fact that you could hold her in the car shows that she knows that people can help her, probably did have a home, but is now hyper wary about what could happen. Some people put cats in bag and drive them to a dumping off point....you don't know what she saw or what memories she has.
 

koolimy

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Hi, I'm a cat owner of 1 year (of a stray and feral cat) so take my comments with a huge grain of salt but here are my thoughts:

It seems to me that there are 2 problems, something is causing your cat stress and your cat's response to that stress. Thus I think you should tackle both issues for the best result.

Your cat obviously is in a lot of stress because she is in a new environment. This stress will go down as she begins to feel more comfortable in your home and starts to claim your home as her new territory. You can help her by providing scratch posts, furniture, beds, boxes, etc., that she can use to claim her territory and feel more comfortable (catifying).

There also could be stress from smelling the scent of a previous cat, as mentioned in this thread. Maybe you could get a black light to see if there are any accidents that have not been adequately cleaned up?

Also it seems like your movement and walking around causes her stress. Maybe she is less socialized, or maybe she has bad memories with regards to people moving around? I have a feral cat that still to this day gets spooked if I get too close or walk like my normal self. I have tried to mitigate this issue by walking slower and announcing to her that I am walking towards her, so she can be aware of my presence and move away. I have found that when I walk the floor literally shakes, so I could see it being a problem for a small cat.

While I do think getting rid of her stressors will help, I think you may also want to consider helping your cat modify her reaction to stress.

You talked about your cat receiving pets before suddenly hissing and biting you. I have had a similar incident with my feral cat, who was rubbing her head against my hand before she suddenly spooked herself and hissed and swatted at me. I do think cats who lack socialization have a bit of a conflict between trusting this person who seems nice to me vs. defending herself from a huge predator. Maybe the switch changes suddenly, even in the midst of a pleasurable activity, and we pay the price lol. I do think this will get better with time as your cat trusts you more. In the meantime, maybe you can have the pet sessions, but dramatically shorten them? Just so that your cat gets the pleasurable interaction and socialization, but it doesn't end in a bad memory. In my opinion short sessions more often > longer sessions less often. As she gets more comfortable in her surroundings you can try lengthening the petting sessions.

This last bit of advice may put you in a bit of harms way so you may disregard it. With regards to biting behavior, I think you need to let a cat know that 1) it doesn't get what it wants through biting, and 2) it gets a good thing when it does what you want it to do. Your cat seems to have trouble with your presence and you moving around. However, you still need to move and walk around. So you need to teach your cat that you will be a bit more respectful to her fears by walking slower, letting her know of your presence, but you will still move, and she needs to start living with that.

You said you try to ignore her when giving her food, etc. Does she persist with the biting, or does she stop after a while? If she stops after a while, I would give her a treat after she has stopped and gotten into a more relaxed state. Don't give her a treat immediately after stopping, as that could give her the wrong impression that she got the treat for biting you. Also, whenever she doesn't bite you while you are moving around, I would give her a treat. I would especially look at her body language, and if she shows good body language (ears forward, eyes not diluted, body in a resting position, whiskers relaxed and to the side, tail not twitching much, etc.), I would give her a treat. This is basically trying to reward her for being calm and allowing you to do your thing. If you are giving her food, I would give it to her after she has calmed down. Of course, your safety is paramount so please ignore this advice entirely if it is not safe for you to do so.

Finally, I would try to give her toys and see if you can play with her. A lot of problems seem to happen when cats have a lot of energy, so getting any energy out will help a lot. It will also help her bond with you and help her feel more comfortable in her new environment, so it is a big plus all the way around. Of course, she may not start playing with you until a few weeks have passed, but in due time I think it will help a lot. A lot of biting/aggression issues in other cases actually are cats trying to play with us in an inappropriate way. If your cat seems like she is biting your legs and feet to play, the best thing to do would be to remove yourself calmly from that situation, so she does not get to have fun playing with your feet.

TL/DR:

1. She's in new environment, a lot of issues are related to being in new environment. Some problems will go away with time.
2. Help her get used to new environment by catifying and playing.
3. Find and get rid of potential stressors like cat odor, noise, etc.
4. Train her to be calm while you are doing your thing, while being safe.
 
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EchoGecko1

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Hi, I'm a cat owner of 1 year (of a stray and feral cat) so take my comments with a huge grain of salt but here are my thoughts:

It seems to me that there are 2 problems, something is causing your cat stress and your cat's response to that stress. Thus I think you should tackle both issues for the best result.

Your cat obviously is in a lot of stress because she is in a new environment. This stress will go down as she begins to feel more comfortable in your home and starts to claim your home as her new territory. You can help her by providing scratch posts, furniture, beds, boxes, etc., that she can use to claim her territory and feel more comfortable (catifying).

There also could be stress from smelling the scent of a previous cat, as mentioned in this thread. Maybe you could get a black light to see if there are any accidents that have not been adequately cleaned up?

Also it seems like your movement and walking around causes her stress. Maybe she is less socialized, or maybe she has bad memories with regards to people moving around? I have a feral cat that still to this day gets spooked if I get too close or walk like my normal self. I have tried to mitigate this issue by walking slower and announcing to her that I am walking towards her, so she can be aware of my presence and move away. I have found that when I walk the floor literally shakes, so I could see it being a problem for a small cat.

While I do think getting rid of her stressors will help, I think you may also want to consider helping your cat modify her reaction to stress.

You talked about your cat receiving pets before suddenly hissing and biting you. I have had a similar incident with my feral cat, who was rubbing her head against my hand before she suddenly spooked herself and hissed and swatted at me. I do think cats who lack socialization have a bit of a conflict between trusting this person who seems nice to me vs. defending herself from a huge predator. Maybe the switch changes suddenly, even in the midst of a pleasurable activity, and we pay the price lol. I do think this will get better with time as your cat trusts you more. In the meantime, maybe you can have the pet sessions, but dramatically shorten them? Just so that your cat gets the pleasurable interaction and socialization, but it doesn't end in a bad memory. In my opinion short sessions more often > longer sessions less often. As she gets more comfortable in her surroundings you can try lengthening the petting sessions.

This last bit of advice may put you in a bit of harms way so you may disregard it. With regards to biting behavior, I think you need to let a cat know that 1) it doesn't get what it wants through biting, and 2) it gets a good thing when it does what you want it to do. Your cat seems to have trouble with your presence and you moving around. However, you still need to move and walk around. So you need to teach your cat that you will be a bit more respectful to her fears by walking slower, letting her know of your presence, but you will still move, and she needs to start living with that.

You said you try to ignore her when giving her food, etc. Does she persist with the biting, or does she stop after a while? If she stops after a while, I would give her a treat after she has stopped and gotten into a more relaxed state. Don't give her a treat immediately after stopping, as that could give her the wrong impression that she got the treat for biting you. Also, whenever she doesn't bite you while you are moving around, I would give her a treat. I would especially look at her body language, and if she shows good body language (ears forward, eyes not diluted, body in a resting position, whiskers relaxed and to the side, tail not twitching much, etc.), I would give her a treat. This is basically trying to reward her for being calm and allowing you to do your thing. If you are giving her food, I would give it to her after she has calmed down. Of course, your safety is paramount so please ignore this advice entirely if it is not safe for you to do so.

Finally, I would try to give her toys and see if you can play with her. A lot of problems seem to happen when cats have a lot of energy, so getting any energy out will help a lot. It will also help her bond with you and help her feel more comfortable in her new environment, so it is a big plus all the way around. Of course, she may not start playing with you until a few weeks have passed, but in due time I think it will help a lot. A lot of biting/aggression issues in other cases actually are cats trying to play with us in an inappropriate way. If your cat seems like she is biting your legs and feet to play, the best thing to do would be to remove yourself calmly from that situation, so she does not get to have fun playing with your feet.

TL/DR:

1. She's in new environment, a lot of issues are related to being in new environment. Some problems will go away with time.
2. Help her get used to new environment by catifying and playing.
3. Find and get rid of potential stressors like cat odor, noise, etc.
4. Train her to be calm while you are doing your thing, while being safe.
Thank you for taking time to make such an in depth reply. We are currently in the process of moving her into our study as she is now fully litter box trained, where there is more furniture and space for her to make her own and feel safe. One thing that has completely slipped my mind is that when we moved in about a month ago, we bought furniture from my sister who does have cats so are thinking she may be picking up their scents and that this could be causing her to be a little agitated.

We also noticed just the other night that a tom cat is actually disturbing her and trying to break into her window! We definitely think this could be causing her quite a bit of distress as well so have arranged for her to be spayed in a few days. She is currently rubbing against absolutely everything including us constantly so think she may either be feeling like her territory is threatened or might be in season which could be another aspect to consider.

We have reduced the length of the petting sessions although partially that is out of necessity as she is reacting aggressively quicker now than she was before. We honestly think that it may be related to feeling braver and a bit healthier then she was before so she is quicker to show how she is feeling.

She is also definitely getting better when we are walking around. We do take it quite slowly and have started saying 'excuse me' when we need to walk close to her or get past her so that she will learn the phrase and have some warning. The closer we keep our feet to the ground, the happier she seems to be. We cannot wear bare feet around her at all as she will absolutely attack them as soon as she sees them, but wearing shoes around her makes us feel a little more confident anyway lol.

When she bites us when we are doing our things, she will settle down after a bit. I am pretty confident it is a fear/ stress reaction because she isn't sure what we are doing and doesn't know if she is safe. But when we don't react too much or just give her a little space she does calm down. She has never been very violent despite all the biting and hissing, it is actually quite gentle so that makes it easier (It will usually leave a mark and bleed a little but not enough to make me feel unsafe or to really hurt). Obviously we won't push it, as she is definitely capable of doing worse if she feels strongly enough. I don't think she really wants to hurt us, I think she is just unsure of any other way to express how she is feeling/ defend herself. I think she is constantly fighting with herself, she really wants the attention and company but everything is also very scary. She is always, always under our feet and follows very closely everywhere (she chooses to do this) so I think when she gets scared she feels cornered because of how close she is and that is probably why she attacks.
I think partially she is trying to keep an eye on us and where we are going/ if we are touching her stuff, but is also asking for treats/ food haha. She is very food motivated to the point where we have to be a bit more selective of when we give her treats because she will literally try and climb our legs our grab our hands with her claws to see if we have any.

So far she hasn't shown enough interest in toys to play with them. Some of them are scary and some are mildly distracting but not tempting enough for her to chase or play yet. I think that will come as she feels more confident and comfortable. We have taken to letting her out of her room for short periods of time (She is always escaping when we go in anyway haha), so that she can spend a little energy exploring her new house. We always manage to put her back on a positive note and almost always avoid any hissing or biting in these scenarios so far. I think having a lot of space to hide probably helps but we are also very slow and cautious to not spook her as well.

She is definitely making progress so we are very pleased. Originally I was a little nervous that she might have been somewhat feral but I think she is just probably lacking a little socialisation and due to her aversion to feet and nervousness around hands, think she may have experienced some sort of abuse in her past. We do live in Australia, and feral/ stray cats are definitely not perceived very well as they can have a major impact on our environment, so there is no telling what she has experienced.
 

koolimy

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I agree that it is quite good news that she is getting better in such short time. From what you said in your post, a lot of things clicked and made sense. She is in a new environment, which is a huge stressor, it has the scent of other cats, which is also a huge stressor, she is in heat, which makes her affectionate but sensitive, and there is a tomcat trying to get to her, which adds to the stress! It also makes sense that she doesn't attack you when she is in the bigger area vs when she is in the small room. Her first instinct should be to run, but maybe she doesn't feel that she has places to run to in her normal room. As she gets more acclimated to your living situation and as she gets more free reign of your house things should get better.

You have a good grasp of what her stressors are, so with time she'll probably get a lot better. Of course, if she had abuse in her past you may have to train her to become desensitized to the movement of your feet and hands. I'm sure there are videos on youtube (I think Jackson Galaxy may have a few) that show you how to deal with cats with abuse in their past, so with a little help I think you'll find a way to have her live a happy, affection filled life with you.

It's also reassuring to hear that she doesn't bite or swipe at you hard! It sounds like she likes you but is a bit unsure of everything. She just wants time to get comfortable with you and her new surroundings. It is great that she is food motivated because her stomach will be the way to her heart.

It sounds like as she acclimates and as you desensitize her to your movements, she'll become a sweet, affectionate kitty! I agree that the spay will help her mellow out a lot.
 
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EchoGecko1

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Just giving an update on our little kitty (Pyro). She has come along absolutely wonderfully, with a particularly strong behaviour change after being spayed. She now has free roam of the house but is still learning to feel comfortable in some of the areas. She has taken up residence in our t.v. unit and has decided it is way better than any of the beds and cat stuff that we have bought for her haha.

We are for the most part able to walk around and past her without getting bit/scratched although very occasionally she will trail in front of us and get spooked. After getting spayed she has adjusted to giving us more space when we walk around and we are then able to make sure we give her plenty of space to avoid any aggression.

In the last two weeks her personality has really started coming out and she will play with a wand toy and sprint around knocking things over at night 😂

We have booked her in for another vet appointment on Monday to get a behavioural assessment done as despite all the progress she is still incredibly anxious at times and is really struggling to settle at some points. She is actually apparently about 3 years old, and we think she has had some really bad experiences in the past that have had a huge influence on shaping her behaviour around people now. We are hoping the vets are able to give us insight on where to go from now.

Thanks for all the help 😊
 
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