How To Bond With Your New Cat, According To Experts
With any new furry friend you adopt — whether a cat, dog, or other little critter — bonding can be super important. Science has shown animals do, in fact, have personalities, thoughts, and emotions. So, like you would with a new human friend, you should take time to get to know your new animal companion, establish a trusting relationship, and learn more about their unique temperament.
While connecting with a puppy may seem easy, bonding with your new cat may stump you. Cats often get this reputation of being aloof, emotionally unavailable, and apathetic animals (unless, of course, food or catnip is involved). However, Samantha Bell DiGenova, the cat behavior and enrichment lead at Best Friends Los Angeles, which maintains a network of adoptable cats throughout the U.S., tells Bustle this isn't the case — in fact, cat often form special bonds with their owners.
"Cats really truly care. It's very evident that they have their person they bond to, and this is especially true with shy cats," she explains. "They find that one person they can trust, and that person is their world."
If you've recently adopted a kitten, senior or stray cat, or even a cat that's shy, you may need some advice on how to best connect with them. Here are 10 ways to bond with a new cat.
1. If You Adopt A Kitten, Scoop 'em Up
Science has found that people can't resist the urge to cuddle and gawk at baby animals — like kittens — because they remind of us of human babies with their big eyes and infant like features. Fortunately, the best way to form a relationship with your kitten is to, well, basically treat them like a baby.
"When bonding with kittens, you want to handle them, hold them, let them look at you and see your face," says DiGenova. "You want to have as much contact with them visually and tactually as you can so that they grow up understanding that's how they should interact with people." She explains that simple things like holding and hugging them while you watch Netflix can make them more sociable and friendly.
2. Give An Older Cat Some Space
It may be tempting to smother your cat with attention, but DiGenova says if you truly want to bond with a newly adopted adult cat, be sure to give them a little space. "If you adopt a cat that's four months or older, let them make the decisions," she explains. "When you first bring them home, all you want to do is hold them. But, if you are able to resist and allow the cat to come to you when they want affection, and let them show you that they want to interact, the bond you create will be so much stronger."
Like people, cats need alone time. If you want to bond with your cat, give them space to adjust to their new environment, surroundings, and you.
3. Pay Attention To Their Body Language
If your cat is not in the mood to be pet, held, or touched at all, they will communicate that to you with their body language. Dr. Ryane E. Englar, an assistant professor and clinical education coordinator at the University of Kansas College of Veterinary Medicine, told Pet MD that signs of an unhappy cat include, "flattened ears, an aggressively twitching tail, and super dilated pupils."
Essentially, by respecting your new feline friend's boundaries, they will become more comfortable with you. As DiGenova says, "let your cat call the shots," especially if they may have had a traumatic or abusive past.
4. Let Them Hide
DiGenova says that "hiding is actually a form of enrichment for cats," meaning, it's important to your kitty's wellbeing and mental health. So, make sure you provide your new cat with their own little home. "I always suggest that if you set your kitty up in a spare room, set up a cat carrier with a cozy bed, toys, and some catnip. Let them think of that cat carrier as their safe spot," she says, explaining this is especially crucial for shy or nervous cats. By helping them feel safe in your home from the get-go, the better chances you have a bonding with them.
5. Get On Their Level
Usually stooping to someone else's level is a bad thing. However, Abigail Geer, the co-founder of Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary, wrote in a 2013 article for Care2 that, "The lower you are, the less threatening you will come across, so rather than tower over [your cat], get down on her level and sit quietly, allowing her to approach and greet you at her will."
6. Keep A Routine
If you want to establish trust between you and your cat, DiGenova says, "Have a consistent routine. All cats love routine, but it's most important for senior cats. Try to have a certain time of day you always feed them, and go to bed."
In fact, routine is so important to a cat's health, that a 2011 study discovered even healthy cats will act sick if their routine is interrupted. So, when you adopt a new feline friend, try to quickly establish a routine to not only to bond with them, but to keep your cat healthy.
7. Simply Spend Time Around Them
The Human Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) explains in a fact sheet that "if the cat [you adopted] is very fearful, spending time in the room talking, singing or reading aloud can get them used to you being in their space. Take your laptop in the room and surf the internet for a while, this alone can help the cat to understand that you’re safe." By respecting a cat's boundaries, and not overwhelming them in their new home, you can build trust.
8. Feed Them
Okay, so maybe the stereotype that your cat will love you more if you feed them treats is a little bit true. DiGenova says that, when you first bring home a new kitty, make sure that, "you are the source of nothing but pleasant and delicious things, like good food." She suggests if your cat is shy and still spend most their time in their carrier, just feed them some tuna, and walk away. She says, "That way, you cat knows that when they see or hear you, they'll receive something yummy that doesn't scare them."
9. Make Accommodations
Animals are sentient beings who can tell if you're making an effort to make them feel happy and safe. That means, for cats with specific needs, you may need to make accommodations. "Make your home comfortable for your cat," DiGenova says, explaining that senior cats may need cat stairs to get onto your bed, or you may need to raise their food bowl so eating is easier on their joints.
Further, for cats with disabilities and blind kitties in particular, "consistency is important." DiGenova also says, "Stray cats are usually the ones that are afraid of dogs. So if you do have a dog, and you're bringing home cat that used to be a stray, make sure your cat has vertical territory," like a cat tree or a book shelf.
10. Use A Wand Toy
"Cats are both predator and prey, but they feel more confident when they feel like a predator. One way to help them feel like this is by using a wand toy, because you're not coming towards the cat with your hands, or body," explains DiGenova. "Wand toys are interactive, so it's a great way to boost their confidence, and also have them look forward to spending time with you."
Most importantly, remember that cats truly do have their own personality traits, and that's it is necessary to keep this in mind when figuring out the best way to bond with your kitty. If you respect a cat's boundaries, needs, and wants, they can be the best of friends.