Cats have countless cute traits and quirks that make them one of the two most popular household pets across the world. It’s undeniable, however, that some of their quirks can be… problematic.
Here to exemplify this fact is the six-pound-heavy cat from Altoona, Pennsylvania – Jordan. The mischievous feline has decided to devote his life to the art of thievery.
Every night, after his owners fall asleep, Jordan sneaks out of the house, jumps over the tall wooden fence, and goes scouring around the neighborhood looking for shoes to steal. Then, when he finds the “right” sneaker or flip-flop that satisfies his kleptomaniac urges that night, Jordan bites it and carries it back home. And to make matters even more hilarious – he often returns for the second shoe to “complete the set.”
Jordan’s escapades have been going on for so long that his owner BJ Ross attached a GPS to Jordan’s collar and set up a night-vision camera to monitor his “activities”. The thief’s family also created a Facebook group for the neighborhood so that they could return the stolen shoes to their rightful owners.
The GPS maps make it pretty clear that Jordan is a very adventurous cat and isn’t satisfied with just one “hunting ground”. Instead, he views the whole neighborhood as his own kingdom.
Fortunately for the cat burglar, his owners are loving and understanding so they didn’t punish him but instead turned him into an internet sensation, while trying to return the stolen treasures to Jordan’s victims. Well, they also shamed him with a scolding “interview” but it’s doubtful that he gave that much thought.
Is such feline kleptomania a common problem?
Yes and no. Most household cats don’t exhibit such acute kleptomania for various reasons – their owners don’t let them wander outside in the middle of the night, they get plenty of playtime before bed, they have other feline or dog buddies to keep themselves occupied with, or they satisfy their hunting instincts in other ways.
And it’s precisely the cats’ hunting instincts that sometimes drive them to thievery.
Dr. Aimee Simpson, the Medical Director of VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia explains the behavior like this:
“[It’s] A mix of that want to have the hunt, and because they’re not getting all of that stimulation they normally would get as outside wild cats.” Dr. Simpson says. “We recommend that people keep their cats indoors for a healthier longer lifespan, [but] without all of that stimulation, they’re left to their own devices and they do get bored. Boredom and lack of environmental enrichment is kind of at the heart of the stealing issue.”
Another reason why a cat may fall into a life of crime is to get your attention. When cats are bored for long stretches of time they start looking for innovative ways to grab our attention. When rubbing against our legs and mewing from the hallway prove ineffective, they start coming up with tactics that are sure to get us out of the chair – scratching their claws on the new sofa, pushing glasses off the counter, or stealing stuff. Because, while we’re irritated that we have to get up and look all around the house for our missing headband, socks or wallet, for our cat the whole activity is basically a game of “hide and seek”.
And in cases like Jordan’s where the cat isn’t stealing your things but is bringing you other people’s items, it’s also interpreted as both the satisfaction of a hunting instinct and an attempt to get your attention and receive your admiration.
All this makes cat kleptomania a bit different from that in humans where it’s an impulse control disorder and from kleptomania in birds like ravens, magpies, and others where it can be both just a game and a mating ritual.
Is feline kleptomania a big problem?
That depends on the situation – if your cat is healthy, if it’s not ingesting the things he or she is stealing, and if the thefts are not a problem in and of themselves, then the habit is likely harmless. However, there are reasons to be wary of such a behavior. Here are several things to keep in mind:
- Is your cat eating the stolen objects? Many of the things cat steal can be small enough to consume but indigestible and problematic. Dr. Simpson shares that she once had to remove 50 hair elastics from one cat’s intestines and an entire bathing suit top from another cat’s stomach.
- Is your cat stealing other people’s stuff? Jordan’s neighbors turned out to be favorable toward the four-legged thief but others may not be so benevolent.
- Do you live in a “tough” neighborhood? Aside from the thievery annoying the neighbors, if your cat is sneaking out at night, this can get it into problems with cars, stray dogs, other cats, or the nighttime wildlife. That’s why it’s always recommended to keep your cat as a strictly household pet and not let it out. Plus, there’s all the ticks and other insect pest problems you’ll have to worry about.
- Kleptomania in cats can also be a symptom of other issues. As we mentioned, the most common reasons for kleptomania in felines is boredom and an unsatisfied hunting instinct. However, it can be more than that too. The cat may be anxious or depressed because of a recent change, for example. An even bigger problem could be a physical illness and pain which the cat copes with by “keeping busy.” As Dr. Simpson explains it:
“Any deviation from the normal for a cat could potentially be a red flag that they’re not getting what they need at home or could be an indicator for a medical condition. Cats are great hiders of illness.”
What to do if your cat is developing this habit?
Aside from putting a GPS on his collar, setting up a camera in the backyard, and turning him into an internet sensation? Well, the obvious thing you shouldn’t do is punish the cat or beat it – cats never respond positively to punishments and physical harm. The cat will be much more likely to continue the behavior either to spite you or to continue trying to get your attention.
What you can do instead, however, is any of the following:
- Hide the objects that attract the cat’s attention somewhere it can’t get them. When possible, do so when the cat’s not nearby so that it doesn’t take it as an invitation for more “hide and seek”. If the cat is stealing from your neighbors as Jordan does, it’s recommended that you stop letting it go outside.
- Give your cat extra attention. Cats may not be as active and playful as dogs but they still need at least a couple of solid “play sessions” per day. If your cat is exhibiting any such unwanted behaviors, chances are that it’s bored. And, if your cat is on the other extreme and doesn’t want to play at all, it’s almost certainly bored to the point of being lethargic.
- Satisfy your cat’s hunting insticts. This can be done in many different ways. When you play with your cat you can use “fishing rod” toys which stimulate your cat to run and chance the toy at the end of the rod. You can also teach most cats to play fetch with small rubber balls. Another alternative is to get a puzzle feeder your cat – these are feeders with various mazes or puzzles the cat has to solve to get its dry food. This is great both for keeping the cat engaged and mentally satisfied as well as to help it eat slower.
- Get a second cat. Most owners of two or more cats will tell you that two is the magic number when it comes to felines. Having a second cat almost doesn’t increase the amount of work and care that’s required of you – just more food and a couple of extra vet visits per year – but it gives your first cat the best possible buddy to play with. This eliminates any risk of boredom and attention-seeking mischief. Dogs and kids can also serve that role too.