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SOCIALIZING YOUR CAT

Socializing Your Cat

Some people consider the phrase "socializing your cat" a contradiction in terms. The common view of a cat, stemming from her predatory habits, is of a solitary, often unfriendly animal with little or no interest in building relationships with humans, other animals, or even other cats. But if you have a cat, you probably have a different opinion of her social capabilities.

It is true that cats vary in temperament, and some cats will naturally be friendlier than others -- but the same can be said for dogs, or even humans. Cats that are exposed to loving attention, especially when young, will respond by building willing and friendly relationships. Even better, they may become sociable enough to adapt to new friendships throughout their lives -- to new cats or dogs, new humans, even babies.

Stories abound of the deep and lasting relationships that cats have formed with their owners, their owner's children, the new kitten, the dog, even the visiting grandmother. While it's true that a few cats, usually not socialized when kittens, are unable to form anything other than a barely trusting tolerance, most cats can and will respond to a warm, receptive social life.

Starting Properly

There's no question that the earlier socialization is started, the better the results are likely to be. British pet behaviorists studied the early socialization of kittens and found that kittens who were handled lovingly and exposed to other cats and humans from the ages of two to seven weeks were most likely to become social animals later. The behaviorists also found that kittens who were largely ignored during this time period were more likely to be withdrawn and unresponsive later in life.

Unless you know the specifics of your cat's early weeks, you may have to look for signs from your cat about her upbringing. Is she responsive, happy and playful when you pay attention to her, or does it seem to scare or anger her? If she's not responding as well as you'd like, it could very well be that she was ignored in the early weeks.

Even if she didn't receive the ideal amount of attention in those early weeks, you can still coax her into sociability. Keep in mind that the older your cat is, the longer it will take you to succeed.

With Other Cats

Introducing a new cat to a home with an established cat is tricky business, and it's a good idea to put some thought into it ahead of time. You've probably realized from your resident cat that cats are not the docile, sleepy creatures they are sometimes depicted to be. They have distinct personalities, complete with strong opinions, likes and dislikes. These personalities are affected by the age of your cat. A strong-willed young kitten may become more docile as she ages, but a quiet, shy, young cat may become more set in her ways as she grows older. Take the personality of your first cat into consideration when looking to add to your household.

Territorial issues are a major concern for cats. If you've had a cat for several years, she's probably established what she sees as her territory -- the couch for the morning nap, the kitchen chair for the afternoon snooze, the foot of your bed when you go to sleep. Her feeding bowl is just that -- hers. And let's not even mention that special, private place known as the litter box.

It's often recommended that in a household with an older, established cat, a kitten be brought in if a new cat is wanted. The younger cat won't have as many territory opinions to express, and the older cat can more quickly dominate and rule. Another reason for bringing the youngster in is that the older cat, particularly females, will give in to their maternal side when presented with a kitten.

With Other Pets

"Fighting like cats and dogs." That just about says it all, doesn't it? Yet cats and dogs can not only co-exist in borderline tolerance, they can often become good buddies. The same is true of other kinds of animals as well.

A cat raised around other animals during her early weeks is more likely to adapt quickly to a new species in her home, but even cats who were not exposed can adapt if you exercise patience and caution. Through her excellent sense of scent, your cat realizes immediately that she's not dealing with another cat, so her territory might not be in jeopardy. This isn't enough to create a long-lasting bond, but it's a step in the right direction.

If your cat shows signs of distress over this new creature who has no sense of rank in the household, take her side initially. Separate the animals at first until your cat has become accustomed to the scents and sounds of the new pet. When you allow them to visit together, don't leave them unsupervised, and keep the visits short. Even if the new dog is much larger than your cat, she has teeth she knows how to use. Never underestimate your cat's ability to find a way to climb up by the bird cage and bat at the terrified bird inside. Above all, don't allow any aggressive acts to erupt from either pet. The less they have to forgive, the more quickly they'll forget each other's differences.

With Babies

Bringing home a new baby to a home with an established cat offers some unique opportunities for preparation. Rarely will you have as much advance notice of a change as you do when expecting a baby! Take advantage of it -- every minute you prepare ahead of time will save you time and frustration after the baby arrives.

Remember that your cat's sense of scent is an important tool in the preparation. When the baby's room is ready, but before baby comes home, let your cat wander through the nursery, checking out its scents. Let her smell some of the things that will be common scents to her in the months to come -- baby powder, diaper ointment, even clean diapers. When the baby is born, bring home an unwashed sleeper for your cat to discover. Let her sleep near it, and leave it where she can find it. When the baby finally appears at home, the scents won't be so unfamiliar and disconcerting.

Above all, remember who was the baby first. Don't neglect your cat; she'll feel just as abandoned as your baby would if you ignored her. Try, whenever possible, to include the cat in a baby activity: if you're rocking the baby and your cat peers around the corner, talk softly and lovingly to her, so she associates the three of you as a pleasant gathering. For the same reason, don't put off attention to your cat until the baby is sleeping -- the cat will view the baby as an interloper who has stolen the attention that rightfully belongs to her.

Even if your cat seems content with the status quo, don't stop paying attention, especially when the baby starts to become mobile. It's amazing what a strong grip even a young baby can have on the tail of a frantic and angry cat. Your cat may scratch or bite the baby, who will cry, but if you scold your cat, she probably won't understand why. It's better to avoid the situation altogether, especially if your cat sees you watching out for her welfare.

With patience and vigilance, the baby will grow to be a considerate, loving friend to your amiable, adaptable cat. The credit will be all yours!

With Children

Children invariably adore cats, who make for great companions. You can teach older children how to play properly with and care for their cat. The very young, however, need some supervision when they interact with your cat because, despite their best intentions, they may insist on playing when your cat is not in the mood, or they may play a little too roughly.

Training children about the ways of the cat requires time, repetition and patience. But the rewards for doing so are ample: your children's nurturing instincts will be enhanced, and your cat will have no lack of loving, attentive playmates.