Socialisation usually happens when cats are young kittens – unless they’re born feral, they spend plenty of time being around people and being handled by them. In fact, many cat shelters have volunteers that are specifically there to socialise kittens by playing with them, picking them up and touching paws, ears and mouths, all the things that would happen at vet visits (what a great job!).
Sadly, some cats aren’t properly socialised as kittens, or are particularly nervous around new people and new situations, so you may still have some work to do when it comes to socialising your cat.
Why Socialising your Cat is Important
Strengthening social behaviour in your cat is very important, both for your cat’s emotional growth and because it makes life easier for both her and you. Overcoming stranger anxiety is important, so when you have people over to visit it’s less stressful for your cat, and a properly socialised cat makes visits to the vet much easier!
It’s not just being socialised to be around human adults that’s important, it’s helpful to make sure your cat is socialised to be around children and other pets too. Do you want to be known as the crazy cat person whose crazy cat bites and scratches people’s children?
It’s much easier to do when cats are kittens, because at that age they’re constantly learning about life and won’t have had bad experiences with people or other animals, where an un-socialised adult cat might have. Although it’s much harder trying to socialise an adult cat, it can be done, and here’s how.
Tips for Socialising your Cat
- Give her plenty of opportunities to socialise – don’t ban friends and family from bringing their children or dogs over just because you know she’ll be nervous, but do make sure that any meetings are controlled until she is fully socialised.
- Handle her regularly – get her used to being gently picked up, having her paws held, her mouth opened to look at her teeth and her ears and eyes examined. These are all things that will happen when she goes for a vet check-up, and will make her much more comfortable about being handled by people in general.
- Make sure new people know ‘cat body language’ – this means talking softly to her, not waving arms around or picking her up when she’s nervous and avoiding direct eye contact (which is seen as a threat to your cat).
- Give her high ‘hiding’ spaces she can retreat to when you have visitors – it lets her get used to the sights and smells of new people without actually having direct contact with them until she’s ready.
- If she’s still nervous around you, try hand feeding until she starts to connect being fed tasty treats with human interaction – she’ll soon see interacting with you as a good thing!
- For socialising with other animals, take it very slowly. Keep her apart from any new pet at first, swapping their rooms so they can exchange scents and get used to one another.
- Ignore unsocial behaviour and reward social behaviour. What motivates your cat? Whether it’s food, petting, grooming or playtime, when she displays positive social behaviour, be sure to reward her.
- Give her time – it may take her a while to become fully socialised, but as long as you keep going, it will be worth it in the end.
Was your cat properly socialised as a kitten? Or do you have a cat who is still nervous around new people and new situations?