cat snuggling with man in office

Our feline friends are renowned for their independent nature and charmingly aloof tendencies. But for many owners – that simply isn’t the case. If you have a furry little shadow who won’t leave your side, you might be confused – why is my cat so needy?

A demanding cat or clingy cat, or a cat that wants constant affection can be cute, right? The meows and pawing and snuggles are great if you love nothing more than hanging out with your kitty 24/7 – but what about if you need to leave? And what about in the middle of the night, when you’re trying to sleep?

Plus, you might be worried about why your kitty is exhibiting this clingy cat behavior, and what the underlying causes are of why they seem to need so much support. That it perhaps might mean they are bored, lonely or underconfident. 

To help you get to the bottom of needy cat behavior, we’ll be doing an in depth look at the possible causes common, as well as answering some FAQs for specific situations where your kitty becomes clingy. 

What Causes Needy Cat Behavior?

ginger cat laying on ground with paw on face

Needy cat behavior is caused by one or more of the following issues:

  • Feeling unwell or needing help
  • Change in routine or environment 
  • Conditioned responses
  • Boredom or under stimulation
  • Loneliness 
  • Lack of confidence
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Early trauma or insecure bonding 
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Age
  • Personality

Let’s look at this in more detail. Starting with – what is attention seeking behavior in cats?

Signs of Attention Seeking Behavior

Of course we all love a cuddle and a playful conversation with our fluffy kitties, but when it comes to normal behavior there’s some common signs that your cat is too clingy. That their behavior has moved from normal affection to excessive attention seeking.

These signs include: 

  • Following you throughout the house, even waking from naps to follow you
  • Unable to eat or drink without you in the room
  • Excessively rubbing against your legs
  • Excessive kneading 
  • Always trying to sit on you, or what you are using (ie: laptops and counters)
  • Meowing loudly or incessantly when you are out of sight or leaving the house
  • Meowing loudly when you are engaged (ie: working on your laptop)
  • Destructive when left alone or unable to reach you
  • Demands to be pet constantly 

Clingy vs Demanding:

It’s important to look at your cat’s behavior and determine if they are clingy or demanding, because these are two quite different things

For example, a clingy cat is lacking in confidence and feels anxious — so leans on you for support. So you’ll find they seem upset when you are not around, struggling to eat or drink and rest during these times. 

A demanding cat, however, is excessively attention seeking as they are often frustrated, bored or understimulated. They may also have been accidentally conditioned to constantly seek attention, if they were previously rewarded with food for doing so. A demanding cat will be more aggressive in their pursuit of affection — meowing loudly, jumping uninvited into your space and perhaps becoming aggressive if you attempt to remove them. 

How to Handle a Very Needy Cat

1. Visit Your Veterinarian

The first step here is to determine if your cat’s behavior is being caused by any medical issues, especially if the change in their personality has been a sudden occurrence. While some cats hide when unwell, others will flip this and become very vocal and needy in order to try and communicate their discomfort. 

Your vet may also be able to inform you about the hormonal fluctuations cats undergo as they grow, and if they become pregnant, that can elicit this kind of behavior. 

They may also put down your kitty’s neediness to age, as both very young kittens and senior cats can be much more needy by nature. 

So to ease your worries, eliminate the possibility of an illness and get treatment if needed, visit your vet first of all. They may also be able to help you find a cat behaviorist if no medical, hormonal or age-related issue is present.  

2. Determine The Possible Cause

Observe your kitty’s behavior and see if you can begin to understand whether they are clingy or demanding, and what might be the root cause of this. This will help you treat the cause of the behavior correctly and see much better results. 

To help you determine this, here’s a further breakdown of common causes of neediness in cats:

Clingy Cat Behavior Causes:

  • Change in routine or environment – Cats can feel unsettled in a new space or new routine. This may cause them to feel a little anxious and stressed, which could lead to them leaning on you more to feel safe.  
  • Anxiety or stress – There may be another factor that has increased your cat’s anxiety or stress. Perhaps a new family member, or a new pet has been added to the family? Changes like these can change a cat’s personality. 
  • Early trauma or insecure bonding – A cat may also have a naturally higher level of anxiety if they have experienced past trauma, such as abandonment, loss or abuse. This may make them cling to you for a feeling of security and safety. 
  • Lack of confidence – A new rescue, or feral cat with this kind of traumatic background mentioned above, may simply struggle with low confidence, leading them to seek out the familiarity and safety of being near you. 
  • Loneliness – If a cat is routinely being left alone for longer than 6-8 hours, it’s understandable that they will be over-exuberant when around you, and also dread you leaving!
  • Personality – Some cats are just naturally clingy! Especially if they bonded very strongly with you as a young kitten. However, it’s still important to train them to be more independent, and to establish some healthy boundaries. 

Demanding Cat Behavior Causes:

  • Boredom or under stimulation – Cats are active, social and intelligent. They may become needy if their enrichment needs are not being met, and they are seeking engagement or playtime. 
  • Conditioned responses – Needy behaviors such as excessive meowing, constant cuddling and following you around like your shadow are cute to begin with, so by responding to these with affection, treats or praise you (or their previous owner) may have unintentionally taught kitty that humans like these things, or that it pays to be like this. Over time, these behaviors become rehearsed, normal and over-emphasised by your cat.
  • Loneliness – As with the above, a cat left alone for too long will naturally become demanding of affection and exhibit clingy behavior also. 
  • Personality – Some cats are just sassy! If they like cuddles, they might feel they deserve them 24/7, 7 days a week. And as with a conditioned response above, they may have learned that their sassiness pays. 

3. Apply Relevant Strategies

The most important steps here are to make sure your cat isn’t being left alone excessively.

If you need to be out of the house for 6-8 hours or more, find someone to drop in and play with your kitty for a bit. This can help to reduce any loneliness-induced attention seeking behavior. 

If that doesn’t apply, and if your cat is clingy, you can try applying some of the following steps to help:

cat snuggling with man in office

Clingy Cat Strategies

Start with security

Start by addressing any unmet needs in your clingy kitty. So make sure they feel safe and secure, perhaps by arranging your cat’s living environment so it’s as close to you as possible. Like placing its bed next to yours and taking some time off work to help them settle into a new place or really bond with them. This will increase its feeling of security, which will begin to allow you to build confidence.

Encourage confident behavior

You could start with small steps here. Such as setting up a situation where you are out of sight for a brief period, and quickly rewarding your cat for not following you or vocalizing. You could also practice feeding your kitty and taking a few steps backwards each time, until they can eat with you out of sight. This method of counterconditioning and desensitization is great for building confidence. 

Nighttime

If they are a needy cat at night, start by really tiring them out in the day, and implementing the above steps with their bed. Slowly moving their sleeping spot further away from yours, even if it means sleeping on the floor in the house for a few days. Gradually, you can make progress towards them sleeping on their own. 

Follow a low-key routine

If you can, having a solid routine can help your kitty to feel more confident. For example, if you leave and return at roughly the same times, your cat will begin to understand that alone time isn’t forever. When you leave, don’t overly fuss your cat and keep entries and exits as low key as possible to reduce excitement or nervousness. 

Introduce other people

While you’re around, it can be a good idea to ask family members, friends or a sitter to come play with your kitty, so it learns to feel secure with other people.

Reward confidence

If you find your cat chooses to hang out on their own, or exhibits a confident behavior you like, reward them so they’ll be more likely to make these choices in future. 

Be patient

It can take a long time to help a cat feel secure and confident to be happy in their own company, especially if they have struggled with abandonment in the past. So be patient and kind throughout the process, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by even small steps of progress. 

Seek help

If you are struggling to see any progress, then don’t be afraid to reach out to a registered behaviorist, who can help you work towards a happier, more confident kitty.  

How to Satisfy a Demanding Cat

If you have a demanding cat, try applying the following: 

  • Increase enrichment – To tire your kitty out and stop them looking to you for entertainment constantly, why not try increasing their daily activity? You could train them in a harness and enjoy some Leash Walking together. If they are in a smaller space, use our guide on Apartment Living to ensure they have some brain-engaging toys and lot’s of energy filled fun.
  • Redirect – If you need some space and your cat is insisting on invading it, you can try redirecting them, perhaps with a puzzle toy or into a Cat Training session. You can also gently, and without any attention, place them on the floor beside you, eventually they will get the message that now isn’t cuddle time. 
  • Be consistent – Be consistent with a new approach to training your kitty out of attention seeking. Reinforce the actions you like, such as playing on their own or giving you space. If your needy cat won’t stop meowing, importantly you need to ignore this. This can be hard, and a loudly meowing cat isn’t easy to ignore – but you need to start undoing any conditioned responses. It will get easier!

Answering FAQ’s

  • Does my cat have separation anxiety?

If you know “my cat cries when I leave” or they are excessively destructive when left alone, they could be suffering from separation anxiety. Especially if this is combined with leaving an accident around the house and vomiting. In this case, it’s best to seek help with a registered behaviorist, to help ease your kitty’s worries, as if left untreated separation anxiety will usually increase with time. 

  • My old cat wants constant attention

As we mentioned, older cats can naturally become needy as they age. Many crave more attention and affection from their family as they get older, but if this change happens suddenly do check in with your veterinarian to make sure there’s no underlying medical issue. 

  • Does my needy cat need a friend?

If your cat is clingy and demanding, you may see an improvement if they have a friend to play with and snuggle next to when alone. However, this isn’t a quick fix, and won’t be the magic bullet to improving your cat’s behavior. In fact, for more sensitive, clingy cats a new pet could bring greater stress. If you are considering a new pet to keep your existing kitty company, it’s best to check in with a behaviorist to see if this strategy will be effective.

We hope this article helps you and your fur-baby live in harmony together, and these steps help to increase their confidence and general wellbeing. 🙂

Do you have a needy cat? How do you handle their clingy ways? Let us know!

The Fluffy Kitty

The Fluffy Kitty blog inspires cat owners around the world to live a more adventurous and eco-friendly life with their cats. Read more about our story on our about us page.

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