When it comes to companion animals, cats and dogs are like comparing apples and oranges. Generally speaking, dogs are known for wanting to please and being eager to receive attention. It’s a running joke that dogs have masters and cats have slaves. Generally speaking, cats are known for their independent nature and devil-may-care attitude! They come to you when THEY want to come to you
This does not mean all cat owners are doomed to be ignored until their kitty decides it’s time to acknowledge them.
Success socializing your cat will vary depending on the cat’s personality and genetic makeup, and the amount of socialization it received prior to nine weeks of age.
Cat socialization does not need to be time consuming.
The more handling the better, but even short sessions of 15 minutes a day will help gain your cat’s trust and ease her transition into your family.
It’s best to start YOUNG if you have the chance.
Ideally, kittens as young as a few weeks old should have regular human interaction. This includes petting, playing, talking, touching, holding and introducing them to a variety of human beings. A kitten who is used to being around different people and being handled likely will grow up to be a well-adjusted cat.
But what if it’s an already-grown cat that is joining your family? And what if that cat is shy, frightened of humans and hides constantly?
Limit Their Space
Limit their space initially to a small room. Let your cat adjust to its surroundings in this one room, Make sure your cat has a bed, a place to hide, a litter box, and food, water and toys.
Once the cat is comfortable with the space, let it explore the home, but on its own. Give your cat space as he or she assesses its surroundings, allowing access back into the original small room.
Cats who have not been properly socialized can be suspicious and fearful. They might communicate this fear by biting and scratching. You need to acclimate your cat to handling so that it knows nothing bad will happen when this happens.
Start SLOWLY. Pet the cat in areas where it enjoys being petted – like the top of the head. Then try stroking other areas with your fingers, always watching for signs your cat is becoming agitated. As you touch your cat, speak to it softly in a calm voice. If your cat becomes agitated, end the session and leave it alone.
If your cat engages in rough play during the session, tell her a firm “NO!” and put her down.
After a “touching” session, give your cat a treat. Continue to do this several times a day, extending the length of the sessions as your cat grows comfortable with you.
When you feel your cat is ready, extend the sessions to include handling of the feet and toes, including extending the nails. If you are feeling very good about how things are going, open your cat’s mouth and run your fingers across the gums. Stroke its ears.
Screaming at your cat or hurting it will only increase the fear and distrust. Always approach and handle your calmly and speak in a low soothing voice.
The ultimate goal of socialization is to have the cat come to you when it wants affection or attention. Reward your cat when this happens. When your cat comes close and rubs against you, pet them and then reward them with a treat.
Having trouble getting them to come close? Lure them with a toy or treat but don’t reach out to pet them as soon as they’re within arm’s length. Allow them to feel what it’s like to be near you with no pressure to interact. Don’t force anything. Let them take the lead and you follow.
Introduce Your Cat to Strangers
Be sure your cat trusts you BEFORE you introduce it to any strangers.
Once your cat seems comfortable and is approaching you, introduce new family members one by one. They should not approach your cat but instead just hang out with it. Sharing the same space quietly will signal to your cat that you don’t mean it any harm, which will start to build trust.
Make sure they know to keep their voices low and calm, at least until the cat is comfortable with them.
Let your cat come to them, and don’t force interaction. It may take a couple of visits before your cat is comfortable with people it doesn’t know.
And some cats may just be inherently shy and hide when people come to visit.
However, you can encourage your cat to be more outgoing by showing them that their world — your home — is a safe place. It goes without saying, but never yell at or hit your cat in frustration or anger, this will just make them more frightened and timid.
Engage in Play
Cats are predators by nature and love to hunt – even if it’s only with a catnip mouse, laser toy or wand. Learn what your cat’s favorite types of toys are and USE THEM.
Make it a goal to play with your cat at least once a day for 10 – 30 minutes. This allows you to interact with your cat in a removed way. It channels their energy toward the toy and makes it so they look forward to time with you.
Follow playtime with mealtime — this way your cat associates hunting with eating, just like in the wild.
Play sessions can reduce the amount of misdirected predatory behavior (ankle attacks, etc.) in which your cat engages, and will help the two of you form a close bond.
As with the touching sessions, you should not reinforce bad behavior. If she attacks you during play, tell her “No!” and end the session.
Socialization takes longer with some cats than others. Some can be very well socialized but still lash out with nips and scratches from time to time. Others may be inherently anti-social. And still others may be like Velcro, wanting to be wherever you are and on your lap!
They key is to be understanding and patient. Respect what your cat is trying to tell you and NEVER force interaction or attention. Your patience will be rewarded. Continue to reinforce good behavior and discourage unwanted behavior.
Sometimes it will take years to fully complete the process, but you’ll be rewarded at the end with a furry friend who enriches your life!