Dealing with a Mean Cat

How Can I Make My Mean Cat Happy?

Bombay cat, Black cat
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Imagine the following scenario: Your 10-year-old cat Mischief always seems so angry. Your niece calls him "mean kitty" because he is always hissing at people. 

Your 95-year-old father died, so you and Mischief moved in with your Mom who has dementia. The move wasn't fun for either of you, having to combine two households. Mischief's two siblings are living outdoors as well as another drop-off.  You have tried to bring the other cats indoors.

 Mischief's brother likes to come inside and will sleep with you, so now Mischief won't. Before he would only sleep at the foot of the bed, but with no closeness, no cuddling -- ever. Mischief tolerates his brother's presence. You have managed to get the other two cats inside against their will on occasion. He'll hiss at them sometimes but can tolerate them for the short term they're inside.

Your niece lives in an apartment adjoining your living space. Her very active 4-year-old wants nothing more than to have Mischief like her, but all he does is hiss at her (and her father who hates cats). It seems he is calm around calm people and hissy around everyone else. 

You try to get kissy and huggy with him, but if you're not careful he will hiss, scratch or bite. He’s not at all affectionate. He just always seems angry. Once your mother passes (she's currently in a nursing home until you can see if she can be brought home with homecare) you want to take all four cats with you as indoor cats.

You love them all so much. You want them all to be happy and safe because they are your family. Is there any way you can find out why Mischief seems so distant and how you can possibly make him be happier? He hates to be held for more than 30 seconds. What can you do?  He doesn't need more already had to put him on a diet because he had gotten so heavy.

Does he need a pet shrink? 

How to Make Your Cat Happy

You obviously love Mischief and the other cats very much. The living situation surely has been stressful for you, your human family members and the cats. The H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers, can be helpful to understand what’s going on with Mischief. 


Cats can become withdrawn when they don’t feel well. A health check is always a good idea when a cat’s behavior changes suddenly.


Cats are creatures of habit. They also learn what is safe and what is scary very early in life. Anything “new” such as a strange house or people, can put their tails in a twist when they feel uneasy or even frightened. 


The stress of living in a new place, with strangers and an altered schedule, often can cause upset kitty feelings and a change in behavior. Cats that have a close bond with their human owners also can be sensitive to YOUR feelings of stress and act accordingly.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

You have a couple of things going on here. Mischief (and you!) have a right to feel stressed. Has the cat ever been around a 4-year-old human child before? If he grew up around adults, Mischief very likely doesn’t recognize a toddler as human -- because your niece smells different, acts and moves different, and sounds different than adults.

The best way to have a cat accept a toddler is to ask the child to sit still on the ground, and have the cat come to her. Mischief needs to feel like he controls the interaction and can get away from your niece and the reaching hands that might accidentally pull a tail or fur and hurt. 

You also may not be interpreting Mischief's behaviors in an accurate manner. Please read this article on how cats show love and affection in ways that humans don’t always understand. 

In a similar way, humans show love and affection in very distinct ways that cats don’t understand! Humans are primates. We hug, we touch and cuddle, we want to be near to each other. But to a cat, a hug feels like being smothered! Remember that Mischief is much smaller than you, and a hug is a confining and scary sensation to cats.

Especially when a kitty already feels under stress, he’ll want to control the interaction. So instead, show Mischief love in ways he'll appreciate.

If Mischief fears you’ll scoop him up and confine him, he’ll keep his distance. A hiss actually is a warning and sign of fearfulness, that Mischief wants you to keep your distance. Your cat needs to learn to understand what you mean, and you need to learn some basic cat communication.

I suspect that Mischief isn’t nearly as unhappy as you think. Give him some space, protect him from the highly-active 4-year-old child, and let him approach you. A cat sleeping on the bed, even without touching you, is a clear sign of affection and trust -- and he wouldn’t do that unless he was happy with you.