How to stop a cat from excessive attention seeking

Is your cat constantly demanding your attention? Does it get tangled between your legs, meow at you each time you sit down, or head-butt you until you start to pet him or her?

Black cat meowing and staring into camera
Meowing and staring into the eyes are most the common attention-seeking behaviors in cats. Photo by David J Laporte, cc

It might be flattering, but it can sure get on your nerves when done too much. In this article, you are going to learn the most common causes and solutions to constant attention-seeking behaviors in cats.

Why cats seek attention

Attention seeking can be expressed in different ways: meowing, following, staring into your eyes, knocking objects off furniture, sticking his or her face into yours or butting into your face and even biting you. It also can serve different purposes, such as wanting to be petted, taken into your lap, or talked to. Other related behaviors, such as food demanding or wanting to get out, can also be considered cries for attention.

Why does this happen? There are several possible causes.

Medical and anxiety-related problems

Cats may seek their owner’s comfort if they are in pain, stress, or anxiety. If your cat shows unusual desire for attention, visiting a veterinarian is the first thing to do. Excessive attention seeking is also a sign of a separation anxiety disorder, which requires serious attention. IMPORTANT: Visit a veterinarian to make sure your cat is okay.

Cat demands attention, because it provides attention

It sounds too obvious, but there’s one thing you need to understand. If your cat learns that demanding attention achieves a desired result, your cat is likely to do it more.

Hank the cat is enjoying Tuna.
If you feed your cat each time he or she meows, it’s no surprise your cat won’t stop. Photo by Robert W. Howington, cc

The problem is that even negative attention, such as shooing or scolding your cat, can have the reverse effect, making your cat even more insistent. This is because a cat prefers any attention to no attention.

Instead, pay absolutely zero attention to your cat’s demands. Once your cat calms down, wait for about a minute before paying attention to your cat. If done right, it becomes a reward for being calm. If done too soon, it rewards attention-seeking behavior.

IMPORTANT: You must be consistent with this. If you ignore your cat’s meows except on Sundays, it won’t work.

This does not mean you must accept destructive behaviors. You can intervene when your cat knocks glasses of the table one by one. Just pick your cat up and–this is important–without showing emotion, place your cat somewhere else. By the way, here’s a great tutorial how to keep cats away from undesired furniture tops.

Attention deficit can cause a cat beg for attention

If your cat is demanding your attention often, it may signal that the overall level of attention your cat is receiving is inadequate. Of course, you can’t grant your cat constant attention 24/7, and your cat does not require it.

Whenever you can, and whenever your cat is calm, provide him or her with some attention in different forms. Play, especially play that resembles hunting, is very important, as it lets your cat express his or her natural behavior.

Other forms of attention, such as petting, brushing, taking your cat into your lap, or just talking to your cat can also be effective. You can provide attention to your cat in many ways. You will find ideas to keep your cat entertained here.

You don’t have to dedicate hours to it. Short but frequent attention bursts are completely satisfactory for cats.

Cats need to express other natural behaviors

Kleo the cat jumping off chimney ledge
The ability to jump and run helps to reduce attention seeking in cats. Photo by NNelumba, cc

In the wild, cats exhibit a large variety of behaviors, such as hunting, meowing, walking, sniffing, chewing grass, climbing, marking, scratching wood, and interacting with other pets and people. Many domesticated cats have limited access to most of these.

If your cat can’t climb, is not allowed to meow, or is not getting playtime, his or her only remaining option is to follow you everywhere. The solution is obvious: Provide a variety of stimuli to your cat’s environment, including enough places to climb, plenty of scratching posts, and cat toys. Providing places to nap are seemingly minor improvements, but they are not.

For example, if your cat is up on a cat tree, not only you are more likely to reach your cat and pet him or her, your cat will also be able to observe you doing everyday tasks, which gives your cat some sense of involvement. All of these changes go a long way when combined. You can learn more about enriching your cat’s environment here.

Inconsistency disrupts cats and makes them seek comfort

Cats are creatures of habit, and even tiny changes can disrupt them, such as litter box location changes, moving to a new home, or, worse, changing feeding time. Inconsistent house rules, such as letting your cat into your bedroom one day and driving him or her way the next, can make your cat feel sad.

To make your cat more comfortable, you should improve the predictability of your cat’s life. For example, feed your cat at the same time every day. Make it a habit to play with your cat or pet your cat right after you come home every day after lunch. You can also feed your cat an hour after you wake up, not at a random time whenever you happen to think about it.

Over time, your cat will see patterns in these little things and won’t be so persistent in trying to get your attention. If your cat knows he or she will have time to interact with you after you eat, your cat will be less demanding compared to receiving attention whenever he or she meows slightly louder than usual.

Besides, it’s all likely to help with other behavior problems of your cat, if any exist.