4 surefire ways to bond with your cat and build the ultimate relationshipJune 14, 2022
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Those stereotypes that cats are aloof? Most of them aren’t true. Nevertheless, with more discerning felines, it may take a little work to establish real intimacy. After all, each kitty has a distinct personality, and it’s our responsibility as pet parents to respect that and aim to meet them on their level.
Mary Molloy, CCPDT-KA, is a feline behavior consultant at Behavior Vets NYC. She says bonding with your cat happens more successfully if you pay attention to:
Their communication style. Kitty is always trying to tell you something—from how they touch you to their meows and tail wags. We just need to watch and listen.
Creating interactions that build trust. When you give your cat enriching playtime and honor their natural instincts, you’ll create positive interactions that build their trust and confidence.
We have numerous tips to help you bond better with your cat and achieve a lifetime of snuggly goodness.
Do Some Cats Bond With Humans More Easily?
Molloy says a few cat breeds have reputations for being among the friendliest of cats. They include, but aren’t limited to:
“However, every cat is an individual,” she adds, and cites a 2019 study that identified correlations between genetics and certain behavioral traits. “They concluded that ‘substantial genetic variation exists within breed populations.'” In other words, your ragdoll might not be anything like a “typical” ragdoll, as any personality traits result from a combination of “genetics, the environment, and socialization.”
So is breed choice a sure-fire way to build a bond with your cat? Not necessarily.
“The vast majority of pet cats in the U.S. are mixed breed cats, of which there is no typical behavioral blueprint,” Molloy says. “A prospective cat owner would be best served by spending some time with the cat or kitten and meeting the father and mother if they’re available. That should give them a much clearer understanding of that cat or kitten’s personality and temperament.”
While this might be harder to do if you’re adopting from a shelter or rescue, there are other methods for getting to know your kitty and building a relationship with them.
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How Cats Bond With Humans
Interpreting the feline mystique isn’t that complicated when you tune in to their love language. From a purr motor in high gear to meowing at night, your kitty has distinctive ways to express feelings, wants, and needs.
If you want to get your cat to bond with you even more, their body language is a bright beacon of information. Molloy outlines some of the key expressions that provide a decoder guide to kitty’s unique signals.
Rubbing against you
“This is an affiliative gesture, and they’re also depositing scent. Cats use scent to determine who is part of their social group,” she says. “Their cheeks, foreheads, sides of their bodies, and tails are just some of the places cats have scent glands. If your cat rubs against your legs when you come home, it’s a greeting, but it’s also because you smell ‘off’ when you’ve been out for too long.”
The proper term for when your cat is headbutting you is “bunting.” This is a very affectionate gesture—and yes, they’re depositing scent again to let the world know who you belong to!
“This is when you blink very slowly and then turn your head just slightly away,” Molloy says. “If you’re lucky, your cat will slow-blink you back, which means they’re comfortable in your presence, and they trust you.”
Rolling on their backs and exposing their bellies
Yet another greeting behavior that shows trust. Just don’t try to pet their bellies! “Most cats dislike having their bellies rubbed, and they will let you know it,” Molloy says. “Better to give cheek and forehead scratches and avoid the stomach altogether.”
Sitting/lying on you or next to you
Any time a cat chooses to be close to you, they show how much they trust and like being near you. “Since cats are a selectively social species, that’s saying a lot!” See? Not aloof, but discerning.
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4 Specific Ways to Bond With Your Cat
To create a bond with your cat doesn’t require magic—it’s more science-based than anything. By considering the world from your cat’s point of view, you can provide enriching activities that reinforce to kitty that, for a human, you’re not that bad after all and worthy of all the head bunts!
Molloy shares these tips for better bonding and to help your kitty thrive.
1. Make your home their happy place.
Along with having their basic requirements met, kitties benefit from an environment that includes:
Safe, warm spaces, with plenty of nooks for hiding and places to get up high, like cat trees.
Multiple, well-spaced resources, such as food, water, and litter boxes. This is especially important if you have a clowder (or group) of cats. “You’ll want to have the number of cats plus one of each of these items, and you should space them out so that one cat can’t claim all the resources or keep the others from accessing them,” Molloy says.
Cater to a cat’s excellent (and sensitive) nose. “It’s essential for them to always have things with their scent on them, so don’t clean all their items at once,” she adds. Also, cats can find strong smells such as cleaning products and air fresheners unpleasant and even stressful, so use unscented whenever possible.
2. Play games that let your cat be their most catlike.
Scratching, climbing, jumping, chasing, and pouncing are your cat’s natural species-specific behaviors. And they need the ability to do those things. “Our indoor-only cats don’t have a natural way to express their innate predatory behavior. The best way we can provide that is through interactive play,” Molloy says.
Her advice? Use a wand toy with a “bird” or a “mouse” on the end, made to move like the actual animal it represents, so your kitty can practice their entire predatory sequence in a fun way for both of you.
Also consider building a catio with plenty of perches and catwalks.
3. Do a food puzzle together.
Molloy says working together on a food puzzle is another great bonding activity. In fact, training is another way to bond, and yes, cats are very trainable!
4. Create consistent and positive cat-human interactions.
“This is crucial to a cat-owner bond,” she adds. Here’s what to remember:
Allow your cat to have control over social interactions, and also allow them to approach or retreat as they feel comfortable.
Ask your cat before handling whether or not they’d like to be touched, and then check in with them frequently to see if they’re still enjoying the interaction. The answers are in your cat’s body language.
No punishment. “It may stop undesired behavior at the moment. If you spray water at your cat, the chances are excellent that they’ll stop doing what they’re doing and run away,” Molloy says. “But what a cat learns from these interactions is that humans are unpredictable and occasionally dangerous.”
“You can’t teach a cat that any behavior is ‘wrong’,” she says. “But you can encourage desirable behaviors through reinforcement and training.”
RELATED: 8 Tips to Get Any Cat to Like You More
How to Bond With a Kitten vs. an Adult Cat
Molloy says your approach is much the same, using all the tools above, as long as you keep in mind that most kittens have much more energy and curiosity—and adjust your expectations accordingly!
“This is also the time to instill good habits and desirable behaviors before your kitten has an opportunity to develop unwanted behaviors such as scratching furniture or destroying houseplants,” she adds. “It’s also crucial to teach them to play with toys and not hands or feet.”
Bonding With a New Cat
When you adopt or foster a feline friend, you’re overflowing with excitement and can’t wait to demonstrate all your affection. However, most kitties need some personal space and time to adjust.
“Any change in routine or environment can be very stressful for a cat, and we’re doing both when we adopt them and take them into our homes,” Molloy says. “It’s essential to start them in a smaller space, like a bedroom, with everything they need, and let them decompress and adjust at their own pace. Don’t force them to explore—let them do it on their own when they’re ready.”
She recommends bonding with your cat gradually using these methods:
Spend time with them by offering opportunities for play and interaction. However, don’t force interactions on them.
“While you’re still getting to know one another, it’s even more important to ask the cat if they’re comfortable with petting or being held at that moment and respect the answer, even if it’s ‘no’,” Molloy says. “This is a fantastic way to build trust, which is the foundation of any bond.”
If kitty is particularly shy or nervous, you can play with them with a toy under the door, even if they’re not ready to get close to you.
Another way to let your new cat get used to you is to just hang out together. “Don’t do anything to or with the cat—let them stay where they feel safe, whether that’s on your bed or under it. Choose a place some distance away. Put on some gentle music and read a book. Then, simply ignore your cat,” she adds. “This lets them get used to your scent and presence in a non-confrontational way that doesn’t force social interaction before they’re ready.”
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