Kitty Anger Management

Do you tempt your cat's wrath with teasing?

I really hate being teased. It makes me short-tempered and snappish. So I totally get that most cats don’t like it either. Some people are just the opposite – they delight in poking fun at a cat’s natural (and sometimes exaggerated) dignity. But the truth is that while cats can be funny and entertaining, they don’t have a great sense of humor when it comes to themselves (just like some people I know … very well). When you tease them, you are asking for trouble.

Take my tortie Binga, for example. She has a very short fuse. When she gets mad, she lashes out at the easiest target, which isn’t always the irritating party. If I am holding her and my fiancé starts grabbing her feet (a big no-no in Binga’s world), she’ll turn around and try to bite me! She is usually good-natured about wearing Halloween costumes, but if she doesn’t like an outfit, she will take it out on the nearest cat.

Other than my fiancé, the other resident here who walks on the wild side when it comes to teasing Binga is Sparkle. Like any other normal cat, Sparkle has absolutely no sense of humor about herself – but she will lay it on thick when it comes to Binga. At breakfast time, when Binga is starving and demanding to be fed, Sparkle will go right up and rub against her and headbutt her. It is not a show of affection, however, she is doing it purely to get on Binga’s nerves. And it always works. Binga turns right around and whaps her if she is not quick enough to dodge. Many years ago, when I had to board the three cats because our old house was being tented for termites, one of the caretakers of the cat hotel called Sparkle “the instigator,” and I knew she had been needling Binga – and Binga had been taking it out on Boodie.

While all this sounds funny, there are definite limits I set when it comes to upsetting my cats. Cats are, after all, only as domesticated as they choose to be and anyone who lives with cats is sharing their home with creatures that are, at their very core, wild. Binga is an affectionate, friendly cat, but I know if I were to push the right buttons, she would become overstimulated and lash out without a second thought. So I look for signals that indicate she has had enough of my bothering her – a flippy tail, purring loudly with her ears back, small, growly mews of complaint – and I back off.

I got my training in kitty anger management from the cat before Sparkle. Harlot was a fluffy calico with a hair-trigger temper. She had the sweet face of a Disney character and the soul of gangster. I soon learned that some of her ire was just show – when she hissed at me for telling her no, she couldn’t do something she wanted to do, it meant about as much as a teenager’s sassing. But if she ever was overstimulated or felt physically threatened – and all that took was putting my foot in her path or rubbing her the wrong way for too long – she struck out with the full intention of doing damage. There was a big difference between her hissy complaints and her true feline fury – and I kept a wide berth when I saw the latter.

While a lot of people enjoy dressing up their cat or pulling the occasional practical joke on her, it’s good to remember that often the laughter is one-sided and to show respect for your kitty’s temperament – and temper. Isn’t that the least you would do for a friend?

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