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How to bond with your cat

Bonding with a cat can be a rewarding but challenging experience. Cats, while domesticated, still have a limited understanding of human behavior.[1] Communicating affection towards your cat can therefore be difficult. However, many owners are able to form healthy, happy relationship with their cats. If you understand your cat's body language, respect her boundaries, and give her affection on her terms you should be able to form a solid bond with your feline friend.


Getting to Know Your Cat

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Learn cat body language. In order to bond with your cat, you need to be able to read her emotions. The first step is learning the basics of cat body language.

  • A confident cat moves with eyes wide, back slightly arched, head forward, and tail upright. If you notice your cat walking in this way, she's likely in a good mood and now would be a good time to interact with her.[2]

  • When relaxed, a cat will stretch out on her side or back. Her ears will be up, whiskers held to the side, and her paws may flex in contentment. She is probably approachable at these times, but be careful with petting. Cats position themselves in a somewhat exposed way when relaxed and may interpret physical contact as an attempted attack.[3]

  • If your cat has puffed up her fur, arched her back, flattened her ears, and dilated her pupils while swishing her tail she is behaving aggressively. For whatever reason, she feels threatened and needs space. Do not attempt to interact with your cat until she calms down.[4]

  • When your cat is anxious, she will try to look small by hunching down and wrapping her tail around her. Her limbs will be poised to run if necessary with her pupils enlarged and her ears held sideways. You should not touch your cat if she is behaving like this; she is nervous and needs space.[5]

  • When a cat is defensive, her ears will be flat, her teeth might be displayed, and she will be rolled on one side displaying her paws and claws. A cat is likely to lash out when engaging in this behavior and you need to give her space to cool down. She is likely to scratch you if she's behaving aggressively.[6]

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Use your eyes to convey you are not a threat. Cats communicate with people through eye contact. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this and often mistakenly intimidate cats through staring. Know how to show your cat your intentions are friendly.

  • A common complaint about cats is that they're drawn to those who dislike them. People who dislike cats tend to ignore them. Since cats hate direct stares (as it is a display of a threat), the cat feels less threatened and will approach to explore[7]

  • Lie down near your cat when she is relaxing. Look at her until she looks back and, when she does, slowly close your eyes and then open them a few times. Wait for your cat to do the same.[8]

  • If your cat turns away, this is a good sign. It means she does not see you as threat and feels no need to intimidate you. If she does not turn away, break the gaze so she does not think you're trying to challenge her. It may take several attempts at a slow blink before your cat is comfortable enough to look away after eye contact.[9]

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Get a sense of your cat's personality. Unlike dogs, cats are not very dependent on humans. While a relationship with an owner may be an important aspect of your cat's life, it is not as intense as it might be with a dog.[10] Cats vary in the amount of socialization they need. To bond with your cat, you need to understand her personality.

  • Some cats are very affectionate and will want to be near their owner often. Other cats, however, may spend hours a day in a hiding spot. Do not push your cat to interact with you if she does not want to. Cats are very independent and their personalities are not subject to change.

  • Similarly, desired physical activity varies between cats. Some cats love to play and crave activity often while others show disinterest in toys. Once again, don't push it. While certain behaviors, like scratching and biting, can be trained out of a cat the fundamentals of a cat's personality remain fairly consistent over time. However, you should push your cat to get 5 to 10 minutes of exercise a day to maintain a healthy weight.


Establishing Contact with Your Cat

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Allow the cat to come to you. You should never immediately pet a cat without an invitation. Cats do not respond well to this and may interpret it as an affront to their personal space.[11] Cats needs to take the lead when it comes to social interaction.

  • Allow your cat to invite you in. When she's ready to interact with you, she'll let you know by displaying certain behaviors. She may rub up against you or rub her cheek on you with her tail held upright. Cats have scent glands in their cheeks and sides, and rubbing these areas against you means they're scent marking. This is a sign of affection and camaraderie and means your cat is ready to interact with you. [12]

  • If your cat approaches you, hold out your hand to see if she's interested in contact. Allow her to sniff your hand before you attempt to touch her.

  • Do not push it. If you simply sit in the same room with a cat long enough, she'll come to you when she's ready. Premature contact may cause her stress and result in a major setback of your bonding with her.[13]

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Understand your cat's responses to contact. Once your cat is open to being petted, you need to make sure she's relaxed and happy. Cats will convey comfort or discomfort through body language. Make sure you understand what your cat is trying to communicate.

  • Cats, unlike dogs, do not twitch or wag their tails when happy. If your cat wags her tail when being petted, you're doing something wrong. You should pet her in a different area or change the direction or pressure of the petting.[14]

  • Cats convey pleasure and trust in a variety of ways. Your cat may knead her claws in and out of a soft object or even your clothing. Cats sometimes lick and gently nip to show affection. She may bump her head against you or scent mark with her cheeks and side.[15]

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Avoid petting your cat's stomach. Sometimes, your cat may roll over onto her belly. While some cats might enjoy or at least tolerate being touched on the stomach, most cats do not like humans to have contact with their underbelly. If you're interacting with a cat you do not know well, it's best to err on the side of caution.

  • Cats expose their stomachs for a variety of reasons. When in a face-off with another cat, exposing of the belly is a threat. Your cat is poising her back claws for defense, signifying her intention to attack.[16]

  • However, a cat may also display her belly to convey trust. A cat's stomach is delicate as many valuable organs are located in the stomach. Showing the stomach communicates your cat trusts you and feels safe enough in her environment to expose a vulnerable area. This is not, however, an invitation for contact.[17]

  • Many cats go on the defense when their stomach is touched, and may instinctively claw and attack. It's best to avoid touching the area, especially when dealing with a cat you don't know very well.[18]

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Brush your cat. Many cats enjoy the feel of being brushed, as it's similar to being petted and creates feelings safety and comfort. Brushing is also healthy as it helps a cat's coat stay free of debris and skin flakes while encouraging blood circulation.[19]

  • With a short hair cat, use a metal comb. Move from head to tail in the direction of the cat's fur. Concentrate on one section at a time and brush the whole body, including her chest and abdomen.[20]

  • For a long haired cat, you might need to groom more often as fur can become tangled. You should start with the abdomen and brush upwards towards your cat's neck. When you brush the tail and back, make a part and brush out the fur on either side. If there are any knots, there are cat-safe de-tanglers and powders you can buy at a pet store.[21]

  • When grooming, it's not a bad idea to check your cat's skin. Watch for bumps, bruises, or scratches, especially if you have an outdoor cat. Look for fleas and ticks. You can sometimes see evidence of fleas, if not the fleas themselves, by the small bloody scabs fleas leave behind.[22]


Bonding in Other Ways

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Play with your cat on a daily basis. Playing with your cat is another great way to bond. Your cat will learn to associate you with positive moments as is more likely to be affectionate and friendly towards you.

  • Bird games are games that involve dangling a feathered toy in the air and allowing your cat to chase and jump at the toy. This simulates hunting instincts from the wild and is a great way to exercise and entertain your cat.[23]

  • Some toys are laced with catnip, an herb that simulates excitement in a cat. Catnip laced mice, rabbits, and balls are a good investment if you have a cat who's disinterested in playing.[24]

  • Early morning and late at night are the best time to play. These are the times of day when a cat has the most energy and playing with your cat at night could encourage her to sleep. You might not have time to play during these hours, but you can always buy your cat small toys she can play with on her own.[25]

  • 5 to 10 minutes of daily play is recommended to keep your cat healthy and at a good weight.[26]

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Teach them basic tricks. Cats are trainable with time and patience. They are not as motivated by praise as dogs and do not seek to please owners as readily, but can be trained with some time and patience. Teaching a cat tricks is a great way to strengthen your bond.

  • Use treats, but only treats your cat likes. There are many different types of cat treats and cats can be somewhat picky about food. You might have to experiment with different brands before you find a treat your cat is willing to work for. Buy a variety of cat treats as a supermarket or pet store and see which kind your cat prefers.[27]

  • Start by looking for specific behaviors you want your cat to perform on command. When you see your cat performing these behaviors, state the name of the trick, praise the cat, and follow up with a treat. For example, say you love it when your cat stands up on her hind legs and would like her to do this in response to the command "Beg." When you see your cat standing up, say "Beg," praise the cat, and give her a treat. Eventually, she'll make the connection between the command and the behavior.[28]

  • Once the cat starts performing the behavior on command, practice. You want to solidify the connection between the command and the trick. Only attempt to teach one command at a time and limit practice sessions to 10 to 15 minutes.[29]

  • Use a clicker, a small device that makes a clicking noise when a button is pressed. Use this while using treats to reinforce the behavior. Eventually, you can cut down on treats. You want your cat to learn to perform without the constant expectation of food as a reward.[30]

  • Once one command is mastered, move onto another. You can teach your cat to sit, lie down, stay, speak, and even more complex command. Some cats, for example, can be taught how to walk on a leash. Get creative.[31]

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Keep your cat comfortable in your home. Cats are more likely to bond with you if they feel comfortable. Make sure you provide your cat with a warm, loving home so she'll feel safe and secure.

  • If you have an extra room, make it the cat room. Put her toys, litter box, food, water, and bed in this room and allow her to come in and out as she pleases. If you cannot dedicate a single room to your cat, at least make sure a certain section of your home, such as a corner or closet, is a cat friendly area.[32]

  • Cats enjoy having places to hide. This doesn't necessarily mean they're frightened. They might just want some alone time. You can buy them a kitty condo or make your own condo using cardboard boxes and duct tape.[33]

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Ease your cat into any transitions. Cats do not do well with change. If you have to make any adjustment to your living situation, do so gradually.

  • If you're having a new person move in with you, allow them to meet your cat a few times before making the move. Make sure your cat is comfortable with the new person and that they respect and understand the cat's boundaries.[34]

  • If you're moving in with someone else or changing locations, take the cat to visit the new home on a few occasions if possible.[35]

  • Introductions to new pets should be slow. Separate your cat from new pets initially, only allowing interaction through a door. After a week of door play, allow supervised face-to-face interaction. If there is any fighting, stay calm. Transitions can be difficult and it may take a few weeks before relationships stabilize.[36]

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