Animals that have not been properly socialized are unpleasant to be around. They can be aloof, fearful and even exhibit negative traits and bad habits if their behavior goes unchecked. When there has been a lack of human touch, cats become skittish, suspicious, and difficult to handle when taken to the vet or groomers. Entertaining guests also becomes difficult when a cat may be unpredictable and defensive. Whether you bring a new kitty to the home or you have adopted a senior cat, here are some tips on how you can encourage your pet to be more accepting of human folk. The key in this process is to create positive experiences, so that your finicky feline will be more at ease.
Tips on Socializing Cats
- Start early. Though the opportunity for training will vary in each pet owner’s circumstance, we know that kittens are most receptive to touch and handling when they experienced plenty of human attention in the first 8 weeks of their lives. However, if your cat hasn’t had that luxury, begin working with him as soon as possible so that he will recognize the relationship with you is much more involved.
- Handle your cat. Begin with whatever level of contact is acceptable to your cat. Maybe for some it’s a simple stoking the head, while for others it may be carrying, snuggling and playing with their paws. Start slowly if your cat seems shy or distrustful. Talk soothingly to him, and always give him a treat after an intentional handling session is over. Continue to do this several times a day, rewarding with a treat. With each session, progress a little further: hold or carry your cat, practice putting your finger inside his mouth and massaging his gums, or holding his paws and toes until he is completely comfortable. Doing this will allow your cat to become accustomed to how he will be handled by the veterinarian.
- Play with your cat. Use kitty toys, balls, feathers, wands, laser lights and remote mice to engage your pet with exciting new experiences. In playing with him, you will show your cat that you are the keeper of the toys and the fun activities, and that spending time with you is always a blast! If for some reason playtime is getting a little out of hand, or you have gotten scratched, and your fingers are becoming chew toys –correct this immediately. Be careful to train your cat to know what is acceptable and unacceptable during playtime. If scratching and biting occurs, say “No” and put him down right away. Socializing your cat will be pointless if he does not learn the right way to interact with humans.
In the midst of playing with your cat, bring him to new areas with different surfaces to walk on and explore. Keep the toys with you and watch him discover fresh surroundings. Your cat will not only become more at ease in new environments, but will also get good exercise and mental stimulation. Consider also providing him a healthy outlet for rough housing, such as a cat tree. When a feisty feline is able to exert energy in a healthy way, he will generally have better behavior around humans. The more play time, the happier your cat will be!
- Introduce your cat to new people. Have friends and family over to play with your pet. Let the cat approach them on his own terms, as gradually as he likes. Doing this will teach the cat that these humans have no wish to frighten, hurt or intimidate him. If he can observe them and come to them when he is comfortable, allowing a stranger to touch the cat will be much easier to achieve in future circumstances. This may take several visits to accomplish, and an erstwhile alley cat or especially fearful adopted cat may never be at ease around more than a few people. Remember that patience is key!
Socializing your cat may be a longer process than expected, but it is worth committing to. Every step you take will advance your cat’s ability to be calm when handled and held by groomers, vets, friends, and best of all, by you!