I get this question a lot more often than I like. And no matter what behavior you put in the blank space, the answer is a most definite NO. Cats are completely incapable of the contextual skills necessary for holding grudges or engaging in spiteful or revengeful behaviors.
To behave in a manner motivated by spite, revenge or anger, a cat must first be angry about an act, then attribute the cause of that act to you, then recognize that a particular behavior of his is something that would cause you the same anger he’s currently feeling.
Cats simply don’t have the capacity for that kind of reasoning.
It is important for owners to realize this and take it to heart. As long as they believe their beloved feline’s behavior is motivated by such a negative emotion, they are likely to be hurt or angry themselves. Not only are they then guaranteed to miss – and therefore not address – the real trigger behind their cat’s behavior, they are likely to worsen the situation by treating the cat differently.
Many times, the owner will yell at or punish the cat in some manner. Because the cat will not (cannot!) associate the “punishment” with any activity other than the one immediately preceding it, punishing a cat in an effort to change a behavior is completely ineffective. Instead, cats will commonly associate the punishment with the punisher, and the person the cat has loved and trusted will be perceived by the cat as scary and dangerous. Understandably, this usually results in the cat becoming fearful of the owner. This additional stress will often result in an escalation of the unwanted behavior or the development of other unwelcome behaviors (in both the cat and the owner).
The owner suffers unnecessary hurt feelings, the kitty suffers from the original problem and then further through the owner’s subsequent behavior, the situation cycles and worsens, and the bond between them deteriorates.
All over a misunderstanding!
The solution, of course, is to discover the true motivation behind the cat’s behavior. To do this, you must view the situation from the cat’s perspective. Throw out any human-based motivations and look at everything from your cat’s point of view. Once you understand why a cat is doing whatever he’s doing, you will be able to respond appropriately, resolve issues more quickly and with less fuss, and protect and nurture the bond between you and your beloved feline.
Two real-life examples.
While reading the following, keep in mind that cats are both prey and predator and have the “worries” of both – they must constantly be on the watch for predators while also constantly on the watch for both food and for competitors…. a whole world of insecurities. As a result of this, cats *love* routine; they thrive on it. With routines, they have expectations, and when those expectations are met, it fosters a feeling of security. When that routine is disrupted, their security is jeopardized and they become stressed. More watchful and more on edge. Of course, this affects every cat to a different degree. Routine is good for all of them, but the level of stress they feel when the schedule is changed is individual. Close attention will help you understand your cat’s personal tolerance level.
Behavior: Your cat is eliminating on your new boyfriend’s clothes.
Motivation (NOT jealousy!): Your cat likely sees the boyfriend as an interloper, a competitor or both. His instinct in both cases tells him it’s necessary to communicate boundaries and this is done by covering the new person’s odor with his own. Your boyfriend’s presence is also a disruption in routine, causing the cat to stress; eliminating outside the litter-box is a classic reaction to stress of any sort and since your boyfriend’s interruption into your lives is the source of that stress, his scent will be covered in an instinctual effort to return things to normal.
Solution: Bring the new boyfriend into your lives more slowly. Have him approach your kitty on the cat’s terms – never force contact – and have him give the kitty treats every time he comes over. Once the cat is comfortable with the boyfriend’s presence, have him play with the cat regularly. By the time the boyfriend is leaving clothes around, the kitty should be looking forward to his visits as much as you do. :-}
(Note: Always rule out urinary tract issues with a vet visit when dealing with inappropriate elimination behaviors.)
Behavior: Your cat is upset when you come home late. He either won’t eat, or throws up shortly after he does, and he rebuffs your contrite hugs and loving kisses with hisses and claw swipes.
Motivation (NOT anger at you for being late!): The cat’s routine has been disrupted and he’s stressing. Both his refusal to eat and the regurgitation can be caused by that stress as well as a feeling of nausea brought on by the build-up of acid in his tummy from the expectation/anticipation of dinner (remember Pavlov’s dogs?). Stressed cats are hyper-alert, so touching or crowding them (getting up in their space and blocking their view/escape) is likely going to be met with resistance and may even increase their stress levels.
Solution: Don’t make a big fuss with the kitty when you get home; you can even ignore him for a few minutes to help deescalate his emotions. Then give your little buddy a small bite or two of something that will help absorb the stomach acid and take the edge off his hunger (100% freeze-dried meat treats are perfect for this purpose and contain no potentially irritating ingredients). After he eats that, feed him dinner, speaking to him warmly and encouragingly without touching him, and then give him plenty of space – go do your usual stuff (getting back on schedule) and let him come to you.
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It is my opinion that few animals are as beautiful and fascinating as the cat. But we do these wonderful creatures a disservice when we bring them into our homes and treat them as if they were little fur-clad people. Love them like family, yes! But do it from a place of understanding their species’ psychology. Your respect for your cat’s true motivations and needs will be well-rewarded. ♥