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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?
Image: Alan Huett / Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr.
Jean Dion says
This is great! I volunteer at a shelter with cats, and while we do work with kittens on socialization, we do the same for older cats, too! It’s amazing to watch a formerly fearful feline learn to trust people, and that progression happens pretty quickly in a shelter, since there are so many people working together. Always something new to sniff and a new fear to overcome.
As for my own cats, they’re pretty well socialized!
Ellen Pilch says
Great post! I am still trying to socialize Snowball after a year and a half. She was in a shelter for 2 years and lived with a hoarder prior to that.
The Swiss Cats says
Mum is not very well socialized herself, but she wish she could have socialized us better as we’re a little bit shy and wild with strangers. We come after a while to see if they are kind, but we first go away and watch to make up our mind. Purrs
Sharon Seltzer says
Thank you for sharing this important information. Too many cats end up in shelters because they aren’t properly socialized. I had to socialize a litter of four feral kittens who were old enough to be a bit scary with their hissing and biting, but young enough for me to work with them. I spent hours gaining their trust through games and touch and ultimately they are a great group of cats.
I wish I would have worked on socialization more with Cinco when he was a kitten. He is a very shy guy. It’s not that I necessarily did anything wrong, but when he suddenly started being afraid of people, I should have done more to counter act that. It would be nice if he wasn’t so afraid of visitors and other people. It is much harder to deal with these things with an adult cat though.
Donna Smith says
Cats are pretty great animals! I love their independent way of depending on you! Ours is getting used to a puppy that arrived at Christmas.
Fur Everywhere says
Part of my volunteer work is socializing the kitties in the shelter! It is a pretty fun job. 🙂 You have some great tips in this post.
Dolly the Doxie says
Mom could always tell if a cat had been socialized as a kitten because of how they behave as adults. Its hard to overcome a cat that isn’t well socialized thanks for the info.
Any tips for un socializing? Cat bro Bert is so dog like, we can’t get him to be shy in the least and we wish he would tone down a bit!
Athena and Marie says
Athena is a rescue cat. I adopted her from a cat shelter when she was just over 10 weeks old and I could tell she was already socialised there. She fitted in at home at once and I had no issues with her regarding meeting people. She doesn’t like other cats though.
I was super-socialized as a kitten… and it shows! I go out to cat shows often, and I’ve even been on a plane and I handle all of it very well. My human tries to keep me going out too, so I stay in practice.
Sometimes Cats Herd You says
Socialization needs reinforcement. As our house has gotten more quiet and rarely sees visitors, we are nowhere near as socialized — or as social — as we used to be with strangers.
When the cat is away says
Thank you for this very informative post! I’ve actually bookmarked it, because I’ll probably need it. One of my rescue cats is very shy, but at the same time dominant. She hates other cats as well. I’d like her to accept other cats, and to overcome some of her shyness. I don’t know what happened to her, as she was a stray cat.
I can probably get her tomorrow from the shelter, and I’ll see if she’s different at my place. I hope she won’t feel so threatened, when she’s feeling safe and loved.