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What’s on that cat’s mind? Closely bonded owner wonders if neutering worked on him
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a 6-year old Bombay, also known as a "mini-panther." He is very intelligent. I have been told that my cat and I have what is called thought transference. My problem is he begins mating gestures on the bed when I'm there. He never does it when my husband is on the bed. He is altered and I took him to my vet to be checked to make sure the operation was successful. My vet said he was all right and suggested I call...[an animal behaviorist in Philadelphia]. When I told them my problem, they just laughed at me and said they knew dogs did it, but never cats. I hope you may have an answer for me. Thanks for listening to me. Sincerely, B.B., New Castle
Dear B.B., Not only have I heard of such behavior, but my own cat exhibits it as well (as do many other male cats). He, too, is a neutered male. While neutering does decrease the prevalence of sexual behavior in male cats, it often does not completely eliminate it. The age of neutering is important. Six months is generally recommended for neutering, with good reason. The idea is that if you neuter them before they reach sexual maturity, then they will not have an opportunity to mate and further the overpopulation problem. When it comes to sexual "behavior" (regardless of the outcomes... mating, pregnancy and birth), the same theory generally holds true. That is, if a male animal has not begun showing signs of sexual behavior, then eliminating the source of testosterone (through castration) will dramatically decrease the probability that it will begin showing such signs. The problem, however, is that sexual behavior usually begins long before it is actually used in attempts to mate. Animals begin to display bits and pieces of sexual behavior before reaching sexual maturity (and often before six months of age). Once it starts and the animal has learned that it likes the feel of it, the behavior will often persist even after eliminating the hormonal driving force. But still, why is it that he only chooses to do it around you in the specific circumstances you've cited? Your comment about "thought transference" is probably more telling than anything else. While I have never experienced thought transference myself, you may recall a column I wrote several months ago entitled, "True believer or skeptic? Telepathy with pets fails to pass real-life test." I have met a fair number of people who believe they have. Regardless of whether such phenomena exist, the real significance in your comment lies in the fact that you obviously have a very strong relationship with your cat. Cats tend to bond very strongly with a single individual. And it is in that individual's singular presence that they feel most relaxed and comfortable. When other people are around, they feel less comfortable and are less trusting. My cat is particularly trusting and relaxed around me. This is why I can hoist him up onto my shoulders and walk around with him sitting comfortably up there for extended periods of time. He will let me flip him head over heels while picking him up or putting him down, and I can hold him belly up. This is also why he at times will go from lying beside me completely relaxed to grabbing hold of my wrist with a firm, unrelenting bite (which would be followed by an attempt to mount my arm if I allowed it... but I don't!). When he exhibits that classic unambiguous bite (it has no other meaning), I slip my pinkie behind his fangs and put pressure in the angle of his mouth. This causes him to release his painful bite from my hand, and as long as I don't try to pet him for five minutes or so, he forgets his urge and everything's back to normal. So, B.B., your cat's behaviors are neither unheard of nor unnatural. If you can tell when he's about to start, usually through dilated pupils, higher pitched purring, and then that painful bite, you should immediately stop petting him. If he pursues the matter further, you can always toss him off the bed. Don't be disturbed by this behavior. After all, when it comes to neutered male cats and sex, they only hurt the ones they love.