A female cat that was adopted as a feral cat and displays stranger behaviour.
Q: I have a spayed female cat with a variety of strange behaviours. I adopted her as a feral kitten a year ago. Sometimes she dribbles when touched, bites if petted for too long (without piercing the skin), and occasionally she sucks jerseys and my hair.
A: These behaviours are attributed mostly to being of feral origin or from being weaned too young. Many kittens that lose their mothers develop these behaviour patterns. The dribbling with contact is purely anxiety, which is based on the fact that cats have a much earlier imprinting period. This means that if the cat isn’t touched appropriately by humans before 10 weeks old on average, then it doesn’t have the ability to trust the tactile contact of any person. When the intimacy from your perspective exceeds the cat’s tolerance level it becomes stressed; releasing chemicals from the pituitary in the brain, stimulating the adrenal glands, inducing the freeze-fight-flight syndrome. Most cats with this nature will bolt away and seek refuge at a place of safety. Other cats have a threshold of tolerance towards being cuddled and petted and when the contact exceeds this level it can turn on you and bite out of frustration. The sucking of hair or wool is mostly from hand-raising kittens and allowing them to suckle on human clothing while they’re being hand-fed and cuddled. Having a depraved non-nutritional appetite is known as pica. They become obsessively conditioned to latching on and sucking material. Through your veterinarian there are certain anxiolytic and psychotropic drugs for these conditions. Ideally, leave the cat alone until it nags for contact then do it on your terms and stop before it dribbles or bites. With pica, the materials need to be hidden away, and hair covered to break the habit.