How to socialize a cat – Teaching your cat to be friendlier

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“Ow! Son of a-! Stop scratching me! You need to put this thing in a cage. I don’t know why you had to have a cat.” 

Scared cat with ears back

When I first brought Mio home, it was just her and me. When we were alone, things were great. However, at the time, I was also dating someone who wasn’t a cat person. He had a miniature dachshund who, in his eyes, could do no wrong, even as it peed all over my house.

I couldn’t do much about his dog’s lack of training, but I could do something about Mio’s behavior. In this post, I will be showing the process I went through on how to socialize a cat.

Why is it essential to socialize cats?

I have always been my cat’s primary person, and that can lead to possessiveness. It can also lead to a cat who is very insecure in its surroundings. A possessive, insecure cat will develop behavioral problems such as:

  • Urinating or defecating somewhere other than their litter box
  • Fighting or bullying other pets
  • Biting and scratching people; even their primary person
  • Hissing and growling
  • Decreased appetite
  • Running away and hiding
  • Guarding food
  • Hypervigilant – they don’t rest comfortably and are constantly tense

To avoid these kinds of behaviors, you need to help your cat develop confidence. A confident cat is a cat willing to socialize or at the very least tolerate others in their environment.

When is it too late to socialize a cat?

It is never too late to socialize a cat. It does not matter if your cat is a kitten from a domestic home or an older feral who has never lived with humans. As long as you follow your cat’s lead and respect its initial boundaries socializing your cat will be a breeze.

Remember, a cat who has not been socialized before has experienced trauma, or is older, is going to need more time. Take it slow, don’t force anything, and you may be surprised at how your cat warms up to the idea.

Another thing to remember is no two cats are the same. Even when fully socialized, not all cats will want to crawl up into your lap and cuddle. Nor will all cats readily approach strangers and other animals.

Mistakes when socializing a cat

Let’s start with some common mistakes to avoid when you socialize a cat.

Assuming your cat will “just get used to” anything

Cats need time to acclimate. However, your cat may never get used to you, other people, or other animals without positive reinforcement. While you want to ignore most of their unwanted behaviors, it’s best not to ignore your cat entirely. Keep this in mind with socialized cats already in your home.

Coddling your cat

According to The Spruce Pets, “When trying to socialize a new cat to an existing environment, some well-meaning owners go too far in one direction; either over-praising and coddling the new arrival, or treating the established cat with kid gloves, fretting about how they’ll get along with the new cat.

It’s not easy to find the balance, but if you have one cat acting jealous, chances are, you’re neglecting it in favor of the other. While you have to work to help the new cat acclimate, make sure to set aside some one-on-one time with your current feline housemate.”

Allowing your cat to stay in its hiding place 

Cat hiding

Some people assume that if your cat comes out of hiding, they won’t retreat. Wrong! Another thing they believe is that feeding your cat in their hiding place is OK. This will only prevent your cat from being socialized. 

As your cat comes out of hiding, block off the entrance to their hiding spot over time.  Please don’t do it right away, as this could stress your cat out too much. Make it a gradual process day by day.

Using food and treats, lure them out of their hiding spot. If you’re dealing with a cat that needs an enclosed space initially, such as a feral, provide them with the one you can control, such as a small crate. When feeding your cat, do so outside of their hiding spot.

Changing your routine completely

According to Hill’s Pet:

“Cat socialization is easier when she can rely on the casual nature of others right from the start. This allows her to find security in knowing what to expect from guests and other residents of the home. “

How to socialize a cat

Be patient

As in all things, this will take time. If you are calm, your cat will pick up on that. If you become frustrated, your cat will pick up on that too. Keep your voice soft, and your body language relaxed. The older your cat, or the longer it’s been without human interaction, the more time you will need.

Let them take the lead

Do not try to handle your cat right away. Instead, get down to your cat’s level and be still. If they approach, put out a finger for the cat to sniff. If your cat walks away, let them. Offer treats, such as greenies. This may take many tries before your cat allows any touch.

Touch your cat gently

You want to start with small amounts of gentle touch on the head or face. Start with just a fingertip touch and eventually move onto a full body caress.

Be observant. If your cat starts showing signs of agitation, such as a twitching tail or sounds of annoyance, it’s time to stop.

As your cat allows you to touch them for more extended periods, move into touching their paws, ears, extending their claws, and running your finger across their gums. This will get your cat used to handling similar to vet visits and grooming. If your cat engages in rough play, stop touching them immediately and firmly say, “No!”

As your cat gets used to your touch, pick them up, holding them close to you gently. If your cat resists, put them down.

Cat jumping after a feather wand

Play with your cat
Cats are predators, and they need to stalk and hunt. Encouraging them to chase toys such as a feather wand or other cat toys will fulfill this need. This will help reduce their anxiety and prevent misdirected hunting behavior, such as ankle attacks. Playing will also help you bond with your cat.

Introduce your cats to strangers

Once you have your cat’s trust, you can start introducing them to other people. Remind these people to keep their voices soft and to allow the cat to come to them. Do not try to force your cat to interact with someone. Have a specific treat on hand that is only given to your cat by guests. This allows your cat to associate other people with something they see as positive.

A confident cat is a social cat

As times go by, you may find that your cat will approach you and others more. While it’s not guaranteed, your cat may even become a lap cat. Don’t place all your hopes on this. Some cats will always be somewhat distant. Respect that, and you will develop an unbreakable bond with your cat.

Black and white cat looking directly at viewer

Do you have any questions about or experience with socializing cats? If so let us know in the comments below!

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