Pyjama Swipe

Oscar is a puzzle – a charming, warm furry puzzle. Long ago I decided that part of this comes from being loved as a kitten but also at some time being treated less than well by a person. He becomes unsure and scared with some movements – approach from the front or even petting from above. You can see it in his eyes – or I can see it in his eyes now that I know him. It’s an imperceptible shift from happy bonding to ‘why did you touch me like that?’ and suddenly he is threatened.

It’s been weeks since I’ve seen any half-considered bite attempt. I think there were 4 total in the time he’s been with me. All of them (other than the first when he was coming-out-from surgery and anesthetic) were half-hearted and confused – like he didn’t know how to communicate with a person. I can see the confusion – he knows he trusts me but something makes him feel strange and uncomfortable. And each time I scolded him for it, he cowered back and hissed… a protective rather than angry stance. This was a learning process for him… and he’s done so well. He doesn’t like to be approached head-on – maybe a sad story there, but time will teach him differently.

The new thing is the pyjama swipe. It’s not every day, but it happens to both J and myself – maybe a total of 10 times so far. You are standing with him and interacting and suddenly there is a claw swipe at the back of the pant leg. I’ve got 2 minor scratches from it – and he gets scolded each time. He cowers down and away and looks so guilty that you want to give him a treat. (Of course I can’t – that would just be a cruel, inconsistent training error).

What on earth is this? J thinks it’s the movement of the pyjamas. I think it’s a confused way to try to get attention, since it always happens to me when he’s literally underfoot and I’m working on giving him his food, fresh water and puttering at the sink. It seems to happen when he’s clingy and wants attention. To be consistent, he gets scolded and then we leave the room. He’s learned that a slightly raised voice and ‘NO’ means that he’s in trouble, and he’s realized that it doesn’t mean he will be hit or harmed. So his fear is diminished.

I know how to train around it, but I still don’t know what it is. Any ideas?


Oscar in ‘paint’ (aka Natasha plays with the computer)

4 thoughts on “Pyjama Swipe

  1. Hi there,
    I have a similar problem with my MJ – a cat we took in from the street. She has made a habit of sitting on my bedside table just staring at me – but if I turn over and face her with my hands UNDER the blankets – she swipes at me – lightening fast. But if I turn over and she can see my hands, no problem. The same is true when on the couch – if she sees my hands under a blanket she is wary and frightened. Weird. I have just made a habit of avoiding this when I can and making sure she can see my hands… Perhaps you should try other pyjamas!

    • Have I said how awesome you are to take in MJ? A wise person told me that with ferals, changes are slow – they come over weeks, months and years. MJ and Oscar are both strays not ferals, but they do revert to some feral behaviours when they are outside for a long time. Hopefully consistent human reaction over time will change these unfounded fears.

  2. Harvey does the pyjama swipe too, so I think it’s got something to do with their experiences outside. I try not to scold Harvey for any of this seemingly “anti-social” behaviour. Instead, I try and distract him with something I know he likes instead. I save up my “scolds” for when he’s visiting with The Team. I think that there is a lot of “prey vs. predator” instincts in Harvey from living so long on the outside. It’s difficult to “socialize” it out of him because it is those are the very instincts that enabled him to survive outside.

    Of course, I understand it’s different for Oscar because you are trying so hard to make progress him to “adoptable” status. I think it’s perhaps a tough sell on people who don’t understand these special cats and their behaviours.

    • I’ve been wanting to write to you, but I’ve lost the ability to send messages from Nuala’s page. How strange, but Oscar has not done any pyjama swipes since I wrote this! I don’t know why or how. However he’s ripped a hole in my carpet (where the door to the bathroom is). I get it that he wants to spend the nights in our room, but this is not possible. I won’t lie: it’s a challenge living in divided spaces and having Oscar . My spouse was not particularly for this plan ever, and he’s getting frustrated. I can’t blame him.

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