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Has Your Cat Ever Gone Through a “Jerk” Phase?

My tortie is dishing out bad attitude and behavior via hisses and paw-smacks for no clear reason.

Heather Marcoux  |  Aug 10th 2015


She was once a tiny little fluffball of a kitten, but now that she’s more than a year old, my not-so-little Specter is more gruff than fluff. The cat who was once our adorable baby kitten is now a teenage kitty, and an angsty one at that. Our tortie girl is dishing out some serious attitude these days, enough that I’ve dubbed this part of her adolescence “the jerk phase.” As someone who was once a teenager with a bad attitude, I feel for Speck, and I can only hope that she gets through her jerk phase quicker than I did.

Speck open mouth

“Mom! Don’t tell people I’m a jerk! You just don’t understand me!”

Speck definitely sleeps like I did as a teen, and she’s already got the black outfit, but instead of the typical teen eye-roll, she’s been giving her human family some surprising swats. Eighty-five percent of the time we can walk past her cat tree in the dining room with no repercussions (sometimes she’ll even stand up and ask for a head butt) but sometimes when we walk by her carpeted perch, our little girl reaches out with a lightning-fast paw and takes a swat at whatever unsuspecting human dares to get too close. It’s total jerkish behavior (and something my older kitty, Ghost Cat, would never do), but it’s always a swat — not a scratch —  and you can tell Specter thinks it’s pretty funny to catch us of guard.

"You shall not pass. The dog and I are guarding the living room."

“You shall not pass. The dog and I are guarding the living room.”

If I turn to her to ask why I got swatted, she just looks up at me with her big green eyes and an expression that seems to say, “I didn’t even do anything. I’m just chilling here.”  It’s like she wants a little bit of attention, but not too much.

Another weird habit Specter started is hissing at people (although thankfully I have been spared this treatment so far). The first time it happened I wasn’t around to see it, and I didn’t know what to think of my husband’s account.

“I walked into the kitchen and that little jerk just hissed at me!” he said.

I laughed, and advised my spouse that he must’ve scared Speck because I’d never seen her hiss unless she was frightened.

Does this sweet face look like the kind that would hiss at her humans? (um, yes)

Does this sweet face look like the kind that would hiss at her humans? (um, yes)

A few days later, we had a kid over at our house, and this time I was told Speck was hissing at the 10-year-old child, not my husband. Apparently the kid was all the way across the room and Speck just kind of hissed out of nowhere. This episode made sense and didn’t make sense. Unlike my Ghost Cat, Speck has never been a huge fan of kids. She likes it when they’re gentle and when they dangle cat toys for her, but she’s not a big cuddler like Ghosty, and she doesn’t like to be picked up. If rambunctious kids come over, Speck will typically head off to a quieter part of the house for a nap and some solitude while Ghosty basks in the attention. That said, this particular kid has been part of Speck’s life since she was a wee kitten. And, at 10 years old, this kid is also past the age that Speck tends to run away from. She literally hangs out with this kid on a weekly basis and often sits next to her on the sofa. I thought the whole thing was weird, especially because my husband and the kid said it came out of nowhere and that they were at least a dozen feet away when it happened.

The kid and Specter used to be good friends.  The 10-year-old is always gentle.

The kid and Specter used to be good friends. The 10-year-old is always gentle.

I didn’t know what to make of it, so I assured them both it was probably a weird one-time thing and suggested everybody give Speck the space she was obviously telling us she needed. However, Speck’s next hissing episode couldn’t have been about personal space — it was just possessive jerk behavior.

About a week after the initial hissing-at-the-kid incident, I sat on the couch with Speck on my belly (a rare cuddly moment for her), when the kid came into the living room to ask me something. The poor child was all the way across the room, but as soon as Speck saw the kid in the doorway she lifted her her furry little head and hissed before promptly resuming her cuddle position.

“See?” said the kid. “Specter hissed at me again!”

“What the hell was that?” I asked my cat.

I swear, a smirk played across her face before she jumped off my belly and ran to her cat tree.

Since then, Speck has left the kid alone but has hissed at my husband a couple of more times, so he is threatening to make Speck get a job and pay rent. The hissing is kind of funny because she was supposed to be his cat when we adopted her, but I guess she has daddy issues.

"I'll show you real attitude!"

“I’ll show you real attitude!”

I would be worried about the hissing, except that she’s not doing it when she’s near those she’s hissing at, and she’s not lashing out at anyone. Also, she’s not hissing at me. To be honest, it makes me happy that Speck is still (sort of) sweet to me — at least by comparison. I think she knows that I am the keeper of the wet food and the catnip toys and wants to keep me on her side. I admit that I’m probably guilty of spoiling her a little bit extra these days — I figure I must make an effort to protect my position as Speck’s favorite. Like many teenagers, she’s playing her parents against each other. I just don’t know what her endgame is, and I hope she doesn’t turn on me one day.

I don’t think there is much we can do about Speck’s jerkish behavior for now except wait it out. I know I’ll never have my sweet little kitten again, but I do look forward to the day Speck graduates to kitty adulthood and stops trying to shock everyone with how bad she can be. She’s definitely a terror of a teenager, but weren’t we all? I know I was, and I think I turned into a pretty nice lady eventually. At least I don’t hiss at people.

Has your cat ever gone through a jerk phase? What did you do?

Read more by Heather Marcoux:

About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten,GhostBuster the Lab and her newest dog, Marshmallow, make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +