Despite their reputation as aloof loners, it is possible to socialize a cat. The process of socialization refers to helping a cat get comfortable with interactions with humans and other pets. When done well, kitties can be an extraordinarily friendly and cuddly addition to your family. But before a cat become a well-adjusted family member, they first need to feel safe and confident in the space they’re in. The best way to make sure that happens is to give your kitty as much control over the socializing process as possible. Keep reading to for some tips on socialization, and later, a step-by-step guide on how to socialize your cat to new people and pets:
- Tips for Introducing a Cat to People
- Tips for Introducing a Cat to Other Cats
- Tips for Introducing a Cat to a Dog
- 7 Guidelines to Successfully Socialize a Cat
- The Cat’s Out of the Bag!
Tips for Introducing a Cat to People
As far as socializing goes, it’s usually easiest for your cat to adapt to people as opposed to other types of animals. Given enough time and space, a cat of any age or anxiety level will eventually warm up to the humans that live in their home and put food in their bowl. However, they might still need some help getting used to guests. Any person that the cat doesn’t see regularly will be seen as a stranger in their territory.
If you have guests over often, you’ll need to take some time to help your kitty get used to the fact that all these “strangers” are safe and friendly. Here are a few tips to make that easier:
- Establish a guest routine. Whenever a guest comes to your home, give them a small treat that they can offer your kitty. You can even give each person a small bag of treats that they can hand out whenever the cat approaches them throughout the night. The more your kitty associates new faces with free treats, the more likely they are to welcome those new faces!
- Start with your more low-key friends. If your cat is especially nervous around unfamiliar people, ease them into it by introducing them to your most calm, even-tempered friends first. Explain the situation to these friends in advance so they know not to pressure the cat into socializing. You just want your cat to get used to being in the same room as new people.
- Start slow. Avoid throwing any wild parties while your cat is still adjusting to the concept that guests are nothing to worry about. Invite just one or two close friends over to start. Ideally, stick to a limited circle of friends so that your cat will start to recognize their faces. When you see your cat acting more comfortable around these friends, you can start adding new faces into the mix.
- If introducing your cat to kids, talk with the kids ahead of time. Make sure they understand that they need to be patient and let the cat come to them. Monitor any playtime so that you can step in if your cat seems overwhelmed by your kids.
Tips for Introducing a Cat to Other Cats
Cats are naturally territorial creatures, which means that your current cat thinks of your home as their territory. Any new cats that they see in your home are trespassers on their land. To get around that, follow these steps to introduce them to each other properly:
- Set up a new cat base camp. Find a space in the house that your current cat doesn’t hang out in too often and that can be closed off (like a guest bedroom or laundry room). Establish this as your new cat’s base camp. It should include a covered space to hide (like a cat carrier), a food bowl, and a litter box.
- Bring your current cat into the base camp alone. After the new cat has used the litter box and gotten their scent on any blankets or toys, take it to a bedroom or bathroom and close the door. While the new cat is hanging out in the other room, bring your current cat into the base camp. This will let them get used to the scent and become aware that there is a new kitty in the house. Do this for just 5 minutes or so. Then, take your current cat out and let the new cat go back to their base camp.
- Repeat this a couple times. Depending on how tolerant the cats seem, you can repeat this again every couple of hours or every couple of days.
- Once they’re adjusted to each other’s scent, you can let them see each other. Move your current cat’s food bowl somewhere that’s in view of the new cat but still far away enough that they don’t have to interact with each other.
- Continue to allow each cat to have their own separate spaces until they take the initiative to get closer and interact with each other.
Tips for Introducing a Cat to a Dog
If your cat has never seen a dog before or has had bad experiences in the past, stress levels will probably be high when introducing a dog to your cat. You’ll have better luck if you had the cat first and are introducing the dog second, but you can still do it the other way around. Here are some tips:
- Follow a similar process to introducing a new cat to the family. Give the dog a separate base camp so that your cat knows where the dog will be at all times and can avoid that area if they don’t feel comfortable. Let the cat sniff around the dog’s base camp while the dog is out to get used to the scent before actually seeing the dog.
- If you have a puppy or an especially energetic dog, take them out for a long walk or a run in the park first to mellow them out a bit before meeting your cat.
- When you bring them into the same room together, keep the dog on a leash and keep a door open so the cat can leave if it’s not ready.
- Be patient and keep arranging these “meetups” where the dog is leashed and the cat can leave when they need to. As long as you never force it or make them stay in the room longer than they’re comfortable with, your kitty will eventually come around.
Whether you’re bringing a cat to your home for the first time or introducing a new family member to your current cat, you’ll need to follow some basic guidelines to make sure your cat doesn’t become anxious or overwhelmed during the process.
The best time to socialize a cat is when they are still a kitten, between 2 and 14 weeks old. Kittens are more receptive to new experiences than older cats. They’re also less territorial which makes them more open to new people or pets in their space.
You can still convince an older cat to make new friends. It will just take more time and patience the older they are. It also gets more difficult to introduce an entirely new element as they get older. A cat who’s never been around dogs before is not going to enjoy suddenly meeting one when they’re ten years old, but with the right process and a bit of patience, anything is possible.
2. Get to Know an Older Cat Before Adopting
If you’re adopting a cat who’s over a year old, socialization is still possible, but they will be a little more set in their ways—just like older people! Because of this, it’s best to spend more time with an older cat before adopting so you can get to know their personality and temperament.
Whatever that cat’s personality and preferences are right now are likely to remain for the rest of its life so it’s better if you choose one that’s compatible with your own personality and home environment.
For example, a cat that spent most of its life with a single owner or in an adult-only home might find it hard to get used to your kids. Likewise, a cat that grew up around children might feel under-stimulated in a home full of adults that spend most of their time at work.
Think about how the cat’s personality matches yours. More outgoing and sociable owners will pair better with more energetic and active cats. Meanwhile, more introverted owners will pair better with a mellower, more relaxed cat.
3. Decide What Your Cat Should Get Used To
When socializing your new furry family member, take a minute to figure out exactly who and what they have to adapt to. Are there young children in the house? What other pets do you have? Do you have friends and family over to visit often? Do you play loud music, use power tools, or have any other noisy hobbies?
Make a list of what your kitty needs to get used to so that you can help them adapt to each experience, one by one. If you just throw a cat into the midst of loud noises and a ton of new faces, they’re likely to get overwhelmed and become anxious.
4. Provide a Cat-Only Retreat
Even if you introduce the things on your list one at a time, your kitty is still liable to get overwhelmed in the moment. Allow them to adapt at their own speed by creating a safe space that only your cat can retreat to when they need a break.
This safe space might be a cat carrier, a cat house, or even just laying a soft blanket under your bed. The key is that when your cat retreats to this place, everyone should leave them alone while they’re there. Don’t let any puppies or other pets follow your kitty and don’t try to lure them out. Just let your cat have a quiet break and come out when they feel ready to try again.
5. Let Your Kitty Lead the Way
Cats are generally more independent creatures and prefer to feel in control of their own territory and social interactions. Instead of trying to force your kitty to be more sociable, let them steer any social interactions.
Giving your furry friend space and freedom to explore their new home and new family on their own terms will give them the confidence and comfort they need to feel safe and happy around you.
Instead of showering your cat with attention like you might with a new puppy, just go about your business and wait for your cat to approach you. Instead of locking your kitty in a room with the new dog, keep the dog in a designated area and allow the cat to scope out the new family member when they’re ready.
If they feel in control of the situation and know that they can leave the second it gets to be too much for them, they’ll warm up much faster and be much more likely to trust you in the future the next time you introduce them to someone new.
6. Use Proper Cat Body Language
A lot of the body language we use to show friendliness to each other can feel threatening to your kitty—direct eye contact, big teeth-baring smiles, hugs, higher-pitched voices. What you might think of as welcoming and friendly gestures might make your cat feel like they’ve just been kidnapped by a lunatic.
Instead, adapt your body language to mimic how cats show friendliness to each other. Here are the best ways to do that:
- Avoid direct eye contact. Glance at them to show you’re aware of their presence and then return your attention to whatever you were doing before.
- Get down to their level. Sit or lie down on the floor so that you’re a little less of a towering giant in comparison to your cat.
- Blink slowly. This is a key signal of trust in cats. Those slow, sleepy blinks you might have seen from your cat means that they trust you. You can lay the groundwork by blinking slowly around your kitty to show that you trust them.
- Hold out your index finger. Cats greet each other by bopping their noses against each other. Putting your face in theirs might feel threatening but holding out a harmless finger is a good substitute. Wait for your kitty to bop their nose on your finger a few times. When they rub their cheek against you, they’re ready for petting.
- Respect negative feedback. If you reach over to pet your kitty and they move away or bat your hand away, consider that a no and stop. By respecting negative feedback, you’ll build trust with your kitty. When they trust you, they’ll come to you when they’re ready.
7. Create a Routine
It will be easier to gain your cat’s trust and make them feel comfortable in their new home if you establish a consistent routine with them. Feed them at the same times each day. Come home at the same time after work if you can. Be in the same room with your kitty as much as possible (without pressuring them to interact with you).
Do this consistently and your cat will gradually warm up to you and realize that they can rely on you. Depending on their particular personality and age, this will take more time for some and less for others. Either way, the key is to be patient and let your cat initiate any social interactions when they’re ready.
The Cat’s Out of the Bag!
Regardless of who you’re introducing your cat to, the key is patience and space. Your kitty needs to feel like they can always leave any situation that gets too overwhelming. Once they know that, they’ll start to feel more confident about exploring their environment and any new faces that are in it!