Six Ways to Socialise Your New Cat
Socialising a cat into a new family takes patience. Even an adult cat adopted from an animal shelter may be frightened, shy or unsure of their new housemates, no matter how welcoming they are at heart. Here's how to give your new companion plenty of time and space to become acquainted with their new home and the people who live there.
1. 'Map' It Out
Your job during cat socialisation is to see things from your cat's point of view: frightened and in a strange environment inhabited by "giants" (you and your family) who always want to hug and scoop them up. This can be overwhelming, especially for timid cats. With this in mind, instruct your family to keep a safe distance as your cat makes their way around the house. Your new cat needs time to smell, investigate and ultimately identify safe places to escape to if needed. This allows them to develop an internal "map" of the house by learning whose room belongs to whom.
2. The Gentle Giant
At the very beginning, everyone should sit quietly or go about their business. If your cat comes to you, place your hand down slowly to allow it to be sniffed. Moving quietly, start petting your cat on the back. If allowed, stroking cheeks is also a fine way to greet as your cat will rub their scent onto you, thus marking you as their property. Watch the tail for signs of distress or affection; cat tails can tell you how they're feeling.
3. There's the Rub
If your cat has been hidden away for a while, or hasn't seen certain people for some time, they may be fearful around them as if they're new again. Make sure your family and friends let them sniff them at their leisure—cat behaviourist Marilyn Krieger suggests extending an index finger to start. It may take a few minutes to connect (or reconnect) that scent with a special ally. Nonetheless, you will know when the connection is made when they rub against you, purring, or giving the happy welcome-back "chirp" that some cats give when saying hello to someone they haven't seen in a long time.
4. Offer a Safe Place
Cat socialisation should always include a safe place to go if frightened—not just when new to the home. You should leave their crate or carrier in the room at the start so there is a place to retreat if startled. Place a towel or something soft inside to snuggle up in. A cardboard box with a door cut out for easy entrance and exit is also a simple refuge to help a socialising cat develop confidence in you over time.
5. Reward Social Behavior, Ignore the Rest
When your cat comes out to investigate you and your family, greet with praise, treats and gentle strokes. If hiding, just ignore instead of chasing after your cat. It's important to reward desirable behaviour and simply ignore undesirable responses during the cat socialisation process. The more receptive you are to affection when they are ready to give it, the less shy they'll be.
6. Gain Trust through a Routine
Cat socialisation is easier when they can rely on the casual nature of others right from the start. This allows them to find security in knowing what to expect from guests and other residents of the home. Create a routine of petting and feeding as you host relatives who visit regularly. This can make strangers more approachable and easier to remember. Feeding at regular intervals will show that you can be relied on, which in turn will make them feel less vulnerable. Food, as you can imagine, is a great motivator when building a healthy relationship.
Spend as much time as possible around your cat without directly interacting; don't pressure to play or come to you. Watch television in the same room or read a book. As long as you stay in common places, they'll be confident enough to come and join you eventually.
It may be cliché, but take it slow. Cats are like people in at least one way: They can be outgoing, shy, aggressive, and passive. Depending on your cat's unique personality, they may warm up to the family quickly or it may take several days. Let your cat set the pace, and never force to accept your affection. If you have other pets in the home, read our article about introducing a new cat to other pets.
Jeanne Grunert is a freelance writer, blogger, and book author. She's the guardian of six adopted cats and one adopted dog, and writes extensively about pet care, gardening and other lifestyle topics. Learn more about Jeanne and her writing on her author website.