This morning I saw a headline that said something about socializing a kitten and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow, we spend so much time at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts talking about the importance of puppy socialization that we have not truly recognized how important it is for cats too. That’s probably because we have dog trainers at our facilities, and not Cat Trainers (is there such a thing?). Nevertheless, all domesticated pets that we share our homes with definitely need some type of socialization.
I had a cat when I was younger. She wasn’t really all that fond of any humans (or other cats, for that matter). She was aloof and independent. She never showed a preference for any of us in the household, although would sometimes rub my Mom’s leg as she was putting out cat food. Ankle attacks seemed to be the extent of her socialization. She had a normal “kitten-hood” and we did as anyone would with a kitten, petting her, holding her, and playing with her… but I wonder when she decided not to be sociable?
Last year one of our Trainers, Amanda, welcomed two cats into her home. The transition went smoothly, as her cats seemed to quickly establish relationships with their new human parents and furry canine siblings. Amanda says that she believes the reason for that is because the cats were so well socialized when they were kittens. Although socializing a young kitten is preferential, many people have been able to socialize senior and even feral cats with great success.
Dogs are highly social creatures. They are driven to socially bond with other beings, and it’s essential to their well-being. If you have friends over, more than likely your dog will place himself right in the center of the action. Cats, on the other hand, will often run and hide when strangers come into their home. Socialization is not a “natural” part of their psyche.
How Do You Socialize a Cat?
Wouldn’t it make sense to compare the socialization of a cat to what we want to accomplish when we socialize a dog? No doubt they are entirely different species, however, our goals for socialization would be very similar:
- We want to teach our cat that new experiences are enjoyable.
- We want to plan positive activities for them to participate in.
- We want to introduce them to other people in a calm, amiable environment.
A dog and a cat’s motivation and rewards system is different, but not as much as what we would think. Treats and praise work well with cats as they do with dogs. I have had many people tell me that their cat is not crazy about treats. In that case, the best time to work on socialization would be just before mealtime, when hunger and satiety create the perfect conditions. Instead of store-bought cat treats, try anchovy paste, deli meat, or tuna.
Socializing Cats with Humans
For a harmonious household, the most important socialization effort is probably going to be your cat’s associations with humans. If your goal is to socialize a cat towards people, here’s an idea… Get a couple of friends together and sit in a small room, preferably with no furniture (for the cat to hide under) and nothing else that could distract the cat from paying attention to you. Let the cat wander about the room and get comfortable in her surroundings. Don’t touch her or reach for her as it may create anxiety. You and your friends converse softly and move gently. Each of you holds your cat’s favorite treat. When the cat approaches you, calmly praise them and give them a treat. This could take a while, especially if you have an older cat. By nature, cats are solitary creatures who need time to adjust to changes. You may spend 15 minutes in your first go-round with no success. That’s okay. Try again later.
After your cat begins to feel comfortable…coming to you freely and accepting treats, slowly initiate affection by scratching around the head and face. Never force yourself on a cat as it will most certainly cause him to withdraw. Remember, our goal is to make their experience positive and enjoyable.
Socializing a Cat with Other Cats
Socializing your cat to other cats will most certainly take more time and effort. Cats are highly territorial and will probably consider other cats a threat. Tread lightly, as you don’t want to be in the midst of a catfight. It is recommended that you introduce the “smell” and “sound” of another cat before they actually “see” each other. Safely board them in separate areas, but close enough that they can get used to the scent of the other cat in the same household. Make introductions slowly. Don’t worry if they don’t like each other at first. Give them time.
Bringing your cat to Holiday Barn for cat boarding in Richmond, VA is a great way to acclimate them to being around, being cared for, and being touched by other people. The introduction of our staff members who understand cat behavior is truly helpful. In fact, cat boarding accomplishes all of our socialization goals: A new, enjoyable experience, positive activities, and meeting people in a calm, amiable environment.
Socializing a cat takes time and patience. It’s all about developing trust. And if you have a feral cat, it’s not easy. Be sensitive to your cat’s predisposition. WAIT for her as she learns to relax in your company. In the end, nothing feels better than the first time she chooses to nap in your lap or stretch out beside you on the couch, purring happily.