Let’s be honest, family members can be annoying from time to time, and cats are no exception. From sitting on your lap while you use the bathroom to staring at you while they knock things off your desk, cats have their quirky ways of getting your attention.
Attention-seeking behavior often starts as instinctive behaviors that, because they get a reaction, develop into repetitive and annoying habits. Cats that engage in frequent attention-seeking behavior might be bored and need more mental and physical stimulation. Attention seeking is sometimes the sign of a medical problem, so schedule a checkup with your vet before trying to eliminate the behavior.
Attention-seeking behavior often starts as instinctive behaviors that, because they get a reaction, develop into repetitive and annoying habits.
Cats that engage in frequent attention-seeking behavior might be bored and need more mental and physical stimulation.
Attention seeking is sometimes the sign of a medical problem, so schedule a checkup with your vet before trying to eliminate the behavior.
We love them anyway, but this attention-seeking behavior can be a source of frustration, even for the most patient among us. Let’s look at some typical ways your cat might try to get your attention, why they might be doing it, and what to do about it.
Feline Attention-Seeking Behaviors
Cats have several tried and true ways of getting attention. Some of the typical ones are:
- Knocking things off surfaces
- Meowing (vocalizing)
- Jumping up to your level
- Sitting on your laptop or book
- Begging for treats
- Following you about
- Sitting on you and purring or kneading
- Pawing at you
- Scratching at doors and furniture
- Eating non-food items (pica)
- Aggression such as biting and clawing at you
Causes of Attention-Seeking
We’ve briefly looked at what sort of patience-testing tricks your cat may be up to, but why is is your cat attention-seeking? Here are some common reasons:
1. Learned Behavior
Attention-seeking activities often start as instinctive behaviors that, because they get a reaction, develop into repetitive and, dare we say it, annoying habits. Have you, for instance, ever tried to sit at your desk to work, only to find your cat joining you and smacking various items onto the floor? Or perhaps your cat likes to act as a personal alarm clock and knock things off your bedside table.
This tactic is guaranteed to get your attention because not only is it noisy and distracting, but it can also be dangerous.
This behavior stems from your cat’s natural prey instinct. Think of the eraser on your desk as a mouse. Your cat needs to investigate, bat it around a bit, and see whether it’s something they want to kill and eat or whether it might be dangerous. Cats are also very curious by nature, so any new object on a surface needs to be investigated and perhaps played with.
While knocking things off surfaces probably started out as an instinctive, mentally stimulating behavior for your cat, they soon made a connection between this action and your reaction. We often unwittingly encourage these behaviors because some things just can’t be ignored.
Even just glancing over to see what your cat is doing can be enough of a reward. Cats love it when we pay attention to them, so once they’ve learned a quick and effective way to get a reaction from their favorite person (yes, even a negative one!), they’ll stick with it.
Affection is the number one reason cats seek attention. Your cat loves you and has learned some surefire ways to get your attention. That’s not to say she doesn’t normally get attention from you, but rather that she has learned some ways to get extra, on-demand attention. The behavior becomes repetitive because your cat simply can’t get enough of a good thing!
Cats need mental stimulation. Excessive attention-seeking behavior can be a sign that your cat needs more environmental enrichment. Ways to mentally stimulate your cat include:
- Scratching posts
- Cat trees
- Food puzzles
- Offering a variety of toys (particularly toys that encourage chasing)
- A catio (a fenced-in outdoor area)
- Obstacle courses
- Places to hide (tunnels and cardboard boxes are often popular)
- Teach her some tricks
Your cat may seek you out for comfort when they are ill. Although many cats will hide away when sick, some crave a little extra contact and body warmth. Vocalization can also be a sign of illness like urinary tract problems, hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), or cognitive dysfunction (dementia).
But how can you tell the difference between attention-seeking behavior and illness? It’s not always easy. The key is to look for changes in behavior and any other signs your cat may be sick such as lethargy, poor appetite, and frequent visits to the litter box.
If your cat’s behavior is out of character or if your cat is showing any signs of being unwell, ask your veterinarian for a health check to rule out illness.
5. Stress or Anxiety
For some cats, being anywhere other than right by their favorite person causes anxiety. So, while their behavior may be a little frustrating, you may need to gently address the underlying stress and anxiety issue.
Changes to your cat’s surroundings, such as moving house, or additions to the family like a new pet or baby, can be stressful and result in a cat seeking extra attention. Of course, it’s not always possible to eliminate these stressors, but you can help minimize their impact by gently making introductions, ensuring that your cat has their own space if needed, and providing plenty of interaction on your terms.
If you think your cat might be attention-seeking due to stress or separation anxiety, they could benefit from calming aids like pheromones or even anxiety medication. Have a chat with your veterinarian for advice on how best to manage stress in your cat.
How To Deal With Attention-Seeking Behavior
So you’ve ruled out any underlying health or anxiety issues and ensured your cat has an enriched environment. What now? Well, prepare to be patient and consistent!
Discouraging attention-seeking behavior is all about rewarding your cat with attention when they are not engaging in these frustrating activities so that you effectively teach your cat that they get attention when it’s not demanded of you.
More specific tips for decreasing attention-seeking (and your frustration levels) include:
- Provide plenty of environmental enrichment, even if you don’t think your cat is bored.
- Use bitter apple spray to discourage chewing and eating non-food items.
- Have set routines to manage expectations for feeding, playtime, and lap time.
- Invest in an automatic feeder to rule out genuine hunger if your cat is pestering you for food.
- Try to preempt changes in your cat’s environment that could be stressful, and use a calming pheromone spray or diffuser before the event.
- Find out what your cat’s favorite toy is and initiate playtime on your terms.
It’s also important to mention that some breeds (Orientals and Siamese in particular) are renowned chatterboxes. If you have one these, be prepared for the fact that you are unlikely to be able to change their talkative ways!
Attention-seeking antics can be endearing or even funny the first few times, but they inevitably start to wear a bit thin. As frustrating as your cat’s behavior might be, it may help to know that they are not trying to annoy you.
Your cat is communicating with you and most likely trying to get your attention because they have a strong bond with you. However, try to figure out if there is an underlying problem, such as a health issue, separation anxiety, or boredom, as these will need to be addressed directly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get my cat to stop being so annoying?
Although it's easier said than done, discouraging attention-seeking involves ignoring the behavior and ensuring that you reward your cat when they are not demanding attention. Environmental enrichment is also important, so make sure you provide plenty of other things for your cat to do like food puzzles, climbing frames, and scratching posts.
Also try to establish whether there could be an underlying problem, as this will need to be addressed first. Could your cat be sick or stressed? Is this a change in behavior? The best place to start is an appointment for a health check with your veterinarian.
Why does my cat do things to annoy me?
As frustrating as your cat's behavior might be at times, they are not actually trying to be annoying. They are trying to communicate something to you. Most likely, your cat loves you and enjoys your attention, but they might be bored and need more mental stimulation, or they might not be feeling 100% and need a checkup from the veterinarian.
How do you get a cat to shut up?
This can be tricky! Firstly, check all your cat's needs are met, such as a full food bowl and access to a litter box. Also ask your veterinarian to check your cat over to rule out a medical reason for the excessive meowing.
Once these things have been ruled out you can start by trying to avoid giving your cat attention for meowing. This is easier said than done, but be consistent and give attention only when your cat is quiet.
It's also worth noting that some breeds like Siamese are particularly talkative. If your cat is chatty by breed, there may be little you can do other than try to enjoy the conversations!