Years ago my mom was visiting me in New York. While mom was asleep on the pull-out sofa, according to her report, my cat walked up and bit her on the cheek. I always thought that this story was perhaps “embellished” by my mom, as she has a way of doing that. Why would my cat walk up to her and bite her, for goodness sake, on the cheek?! That story came back to me recently when I was reading The Cat Behavior Answer Book by Arden Moore (Storey Publishing, 2007). (Actually, the story comes back to me annually: “Remember the time when that awful cat of yours walked up to me and bit me on the cheek?”–each year the cat is slightly more demonic, and filled with more malicious feline shenanigans.)
Anyway, in this book full of kitty quirks, Moore says this about the phenomena of cats harassing the houesguests. (Looks like maybe my mom wasn’t embellishing after all!)
Cats crave routines. They become accustomed to a sedate, indulged life. They usually don’t enjoy surprises like the arrival of a strange-smelling person who may rudely commandeer the spare bedroom where they are accustomed to taking their afternoon naps. Too many changes, too fast, without proper planning, can trigger acute stress and unhappiness.
Even sociable cats can get annoyed or overstimulated by houesguests. How each cat reacts depends a lot on his age, health status, temperament, personality, lifestyle, and previous experience with unfamiliar people. Some cats become upset enough to mark their territory by urinating on the belongings of guests.
One thing you can do to make visits go more smoothly is to remind your guests about all of your furry roommates and describe any particular habits.
Plan ahead a few days if possible, before the arrival of your guests. Slowly relocate your cat’s bedding from the spare bedroom to a new safe haven that is off-limits to guests, such as your bedroom closet or a utility room or a small bathroom.
When guests arrive, strive to maintain as much of a daily routine as possible. That means cleaning out the litter boxes regularly and feeding your cats at the usual time and place. Spend at least a few minutes each day playing with your cats and devoting some time for cuddling. You may consider masking loud or unfamiliar noises (like your uncle’s loud snoring or your sister’s high-pitched giggles) by playing a radio or CD player softly in your cat’s safe haven space. Don’t force your cats to interact with guests.
If your cat does engage in inappropriate or other destructive behavior, recognize that he is signaling that he is extremely stressed and feels the need to mark his territory. Do not punish him because that can only heighten his stress.