My cat doesn’t like being held

We often plan out elaborate schedules for socializing puppies.

Kittens, however, are on their own.

It concerns me that cats are lower class citizens than dogs, but simply put, they are valued less.

Cats are easily obtained, cheap to take care of, easy to give away. We put little or no thought into their needs, their health, their happiness.

You might argue that cats are independent creatures. They do what they want. They require no direction on our part. Many are indoor pets with little or no access to the “real world.” They’re not expected to do much, so why bother exposing them to anything new? A high percentage of cats never even see a vet.

But they deserve more.

Socializing a cat will give her a better life

I see a great need for socializing kittens to as much as possible – dogs, babies, other cats, car rides, trips to the vet, trips to a friend’s house, walks.

The majority of the cats I pet sit are pretty friendly, or at least indifferent to me being there – “Oh hi, lady.”

But some cats bolt for the nearest hiding place as soon as they hear me coming. Some cats hide for days when realitives visit over the holidays. They won’t eat. They don’t go to the bathroom. They just moan and growl and spit from under the bed.

And God forbid a dog visits for a few days! That’s about enough to give some cats a heart attack.

These are the cats I feel sorry for, the cats whose whole worlds are turned around just because something different happens. These cats are also more likely to end up surrendered to a pound or shelter. It’s not their fault, of course, only the owners are to blame.

If a cat has been well socialized, she is going to have an easier time adjusting to whatever changes she faces throughout her life. And cats live so damn long, they are going to face some changes – a new baby, a new spouse, maybe a dog or two, maybe a move across the country, a visit from a pet sitter, a stay at a boarding kennel, a night at the vet.

The more our cats are exposed to, the better off they’ll be.

My kitties – Beamer and Scout

Beamer the tan tabby cat sleeping closeup photo

In many ways, Beamer (tan tabby) and Scout (dark gray tabby) are complete opposites.

Beamer

Beamer is extremely well socialized.

Beamer seeks affection. He is laid back, relaxed and calm. He loves being picked up, cuddled and squeezed. He crawls into strangers’ laps. He loves going to the vet so he can search for crumbs and get attention.

Whenever I walk into the room, Beamer nods his head at me and lets out one short mew – “Wsup?” He would be a great candidate for therapy work because of his desire to connect with people and accept treats. He also has a loud purr and meows when you talk to him.

Nothing causes Beamer to jump or bolt. Our friend’s great dane might walk through our front door and Beamer will raise his head and yawn – “Oh, you.” He controls every dog that visits us by calmly claiming whatever space the dog wants. He is a very dominant animal without being aggressive.

We know very little about Beamer’s first year of life. But from there, Josh adopted him from the F-M Humane Society where Beamer went on to live as an indoor/outdoor kitty in a house full of college guys. Perhaps that alone explains why nothing fazes this cat.

Scout

Scout is my little gray tabby. At 9 pounds, he’s just over half Beamer’s size.

Scout is mischievious, playful, feisty.

He’s the kind of cat that opens cupboards and closets (child locks work well). He hides in boxes, plays in the faucet, retrieves toys. He crawls into every cabinet, basket and bag. If you’re playing Monopoly, he’ll reach his little paw up, knock over a hotel and walk away. When he wants attention, he scratches the couch, scratches the carpet, tips over water glasses.

No stranger can hold Scout without a fight. He seeks affection only if you are deeply focused on something such as writing a blog post.

Scout gets aggitated and stressed easily. It takes multiple handlers when he goes to the vet. He hisses and whines, tries to bite. Nail trims can be an event.

In many ways, I’m just like Scout. I am a quiet observer. I like to be with the group, but I need my own space. I’m offended by loud noises and obnoxious people. The last thing I want is someone grabbing my arm or hugging me.

But Scout really likes to be where the action is. When we have friends over (including dog friends), he is right there with us, watching. When I’m home, he follows Josh or myself from room to room along with Ace. We call Scout “The Creeper” because he’s usually hanging out in the background somewhere, staring at us.

Beamer never leaves the kitchen, but you never quite know when or where Scout will appear.

My cats are far from perfect, but I do my best to stretch their boundaries and comfort levels just as I do with my dog.

How can I socialize my kitten or cat?

1. Never rush or pressure your cat around someone new.

People in general are not very respectful of a cat’s boundaries. People want to hold cats tight and pet them, expecting a purr in return. But cats usually don’t want to be held by strangers. It’s unfair to expect affection from cats without giving them time to feel comfortable first. We’re lucky cats don’t bite and scratch us more.

My cat Scout will run and hide if he’s overwhelmed, such as when an unruly dog visits. I always allow Scout to hide for a half-hour or so. This helps him re-group and get used to the smells and energy of the dog. But after a certain amount of time, if Scout doesn’t come out on his own, I bring him out. I calmly set him somewhere where he can feel safe but still observe such as on top of the piano or book shelf.

For a cat that’s visibly stressed and making a lot of hissing and whining noises, it’s best to let him retreat to his “safe area” until he feels more comfortable.

2. Introduce your cat to a variety of different people.

If your cat is unsure of new people, then you should have more friends over! You want your cat to get used to people coming and going – men, women, kids, people in hats or coats, drunk friends, loud laughing, the sound of the doorbell, etc. Encourage people to play with your cat and to pet and hold him as long as he’s comfortable. Use your cat’s favorite toys to get him to interact with different people. Cat nip usually helps 🙂

3. Introduce your cat to other cats.

Sooner or later you might get another cat. If your kitten has been exposed to other kittens and cats he will have an easier time living with and playing with other cats. I may sound like a crazy cat lady, but I have definitely set up kitty play dates for both my cats. It’s good for them to be around other cats in addition to one another. Plus, I’d like to foster a cat this spring 🙂

4. Introduce your cat to kids of all ages.

If you have a kitten, get him used to being handled by young kids. Kids are loud, they move quickly and they throw things. That’s a lot for a cat to handle, but he’s probably going to have to deal with kids at some point. So, expose him to kids as often as you can.

5. Take your cat on “walks.”

My cats love to go outside. They aren’t allowed to roam, but we take them outside in the summer when we can supervise. Flexi, retractable leashes work great for cats, by the way! Make sure your cat wears a collar with ID tags just in case he gets away. Scout is a ninja and can slip through any collar or harness. It’s a good idea to get cats microchipped, too.

6. Take your cat on car rides.

Scout absolutely loves the car. When he was a kitten, I lived in Jamestown, N.D., and he and I would make at least two trips a month to Fargo (a 90-minute drive one way). He loves to sit in the passenger seat and look out at all the traffic, but usually he has to ride in his crate where he’s much safer. He also loves his crate because he spent a lot of time in it as a kitten. Yes, you should kennel train your kittens too, folks!

Car rides actually do stress Beamer out because he never rode in a car when he was little. We’ve been taking him on more and more road trips, and he’s slowly becoming more relaxed in the car.

7. Take your cat to other people’s houses.

Scout and Beamer enjoy exploring my parents’ house in Wisconsin and watching all the birds and squirrels in their yard. My cats almost always go along for these road trips. It’s an easy way to expose them to new environments, other animals, other people, etc. I’m lucky to have family members who tolerate and even welcome my animals.

8. Take your cat to the vet when you don’t have an appointment.

Scout is scared at the vet and tries to attack the vet techs. I’ve thought about bringing him to the vet’s office once a month just to sit in the lobby for a few minutes and help him get used to the smells and sounds. Beamer loves going to the vet because he associates it with getting treats and attention.

9. Take your cat to pet friendly stores.

Stores like Natural Pet Center in Fargo are very welcoming of dogs – but cats can come too! Just make sure your cat is on a leash and that you keep him safely away from the dogs on Flexi leashes. If your cat is really freaking out, then take him back to the car and try again another day.

10. Introduce your cat to dogs.

Whether they like it or not, most cats will have encounters with dogs at some point in their lives. The vet can be less stressful if your cat is used to dogs, for example. If any of your friends have a calm, well-trained dog, tell them they are welcome to bring their dog along next time they come over. The two animals don’t even have to interact. It’s just important for your cat to be around dogs and realize they aren’t always a threat. Check out my post on how to introduce dogs and cats.

How social would you consider your cat?

Scout the gray tabby cat outside walking in the snow

25 thoughts on “My cat doesn’t like being held”

  1. I’ve blogged about my cat before, but she is very unusual. She came up to me in the front yard and told me that she wanted to adopt me. Which eventually I did. I didn’t expect her as a stray to be socialized, but it wasn’t long before she was rubbing up against the dogs and jumping on my lap. I tried to keep her as an inside only cat, but in her younger days, she had to check out the neighborhood. As she is getting older, she seldom likes to leave the house.

    She could not be more affectionate. She follows me and on her schedule demands attention and affection by jumping on my lap or the computer keyboard. She likes other people, but I am her favorite.

    I can’t imagine that someone had put so much effort into socializing a kitten and then abandon her.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl

    Your cat kind of sounds like my Scout. Neither of my cats really acknowledge Ace, though. They all like to sleep in front of the fireplace, but they will never be touching! The cats cuddle up together all the time on the couch or by the fire or in a chair or wherever. If Ace tries to lie next to them, they either smack him in the face or they go sit somewhere else. I think I’ve seen Scout rub up against Ace maybe four times in four years. One time Ace tossed a tennis ball at Scout and then stared at him as though he would throw it for him. It didn’t work out the way he planned.

  3. Interesting comparison you make there about you and Scout being similar, both of you being the quiet and observant type. I guess it’s important to socialize any pet you have, well except maybe fish, they don’t need it! I had to laugh about Scout wanting attention when you are deeply focused on something, like writing a blog post. Cute pictures!

  4. Hi. This is a very interesting post. I have a cat that wanders around my block and every day I take her inside, feed her, pet her and sometimes play with her if she wants to. Whenever she wants to go back outside she’ll just sit in front of the door, waiting. If you’re not paying attention to her, she’ll come to you she’ll meow and then head back to the door. I like to consider her my cat, but it’s everyone cat actually. All my neighbours love her, so I can say she is quite social. We take good care of her, and we also take her to the vet every now and then.

  5. Great points! We have four cats sharing our house with the three dogs. Socialization is important. All but one of our cats are social. The one, a Calico that was born under a mobile home and was the last of the litter to be caught. She has been skittish since. We are able to pet her every day and she lets my wife brush her on occasion but she will not let us pick her up. This is mainly because of when she was caught. She lost out on human interaction during that critical learning period.

    Contrary to what a lot of people believe, cats can be trained. Each of our know their names and will come to us when called. Well, three of them anyway. They also know the “off” command for those times when they get into places they shouldn’t be.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl

    Awww, glad to hear you have four cats. You and your wife are so patient with your little calico. And yes, cats can be trained! Teaching them No and Off are very important! 🙂

  7. I should bring Millie over for a play date sometime! She hasn’t met another cat since I’ve had her, but I think she would do just fine. She’s a very social cat, she enjoys visitors and is usually an attention hound when we have people over. She’s not a fan of being picked up, or car rides, but other than that she’s a confident cat. I’ve yet to see her run and hide. She will even chase, pounce on and cuddle with the dog. This summer I would like to get her outside more often for exercise, but so far she’s been content with staying indoors.

    It is interesting how owners treat their dogs and cats differently. For instance, my cat doesn’t like car rids or being picked up so I avoid doing those things with her. The dog didn’t like the vacuum at first so I worked on him getting used to it. I should work on things with my cat too; it would provide mental stimulation and allow her to become an even more socialized cat.

    On another note; in a neighborhood I used to live in a father and son would take their cat for a walk around the same time every evening. I thought that was awesome, and the cat seemed to enjoy it!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, we should do a kitty play date! Scout would freak and Beamer would probably be indifferent. 🙂 Millie sounds like a very friendly and confident cat. I tried to train Scout to walk on a leash when he was a kitten. I gave up pretty quickly.

      I have taken Beamer for walks. One time I took him to Gooseberry park when we lived in Moorhead. I drove there and he walked very nicely until I wanted to head back to the car. Then he did not want to go back! I had to carry him (while he was getting pissy and hissing at me) and then the cross country team ran by as I was carrying my cat on a leash. It was pretty embarrassing.

  8. My old (18) kitty likes to be very close to me. He always has to be in the room I am in and on my bed when I am sleeping. He doesn’t mind being held every so often but I have had him since he was 6 months old. My two younger guys (4) on the other hand thing that humans are going to kill them. In fact, when I have held one he urinated all over me. They only want you to feed them and MAYBE give them a quick head rub.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I wonder if your younger cats will eventually come around or if they will be leery of people all of their lives. I’m glad you gave them a good home.

  9. Yes! Cats need socialization also. My cats have been trained to walk on a leash. They have regular trips to the pet store. They like people, and will do tricks for strangers.

  10. At some level, you can only provide the right occasions and try your best to socialize your cat. Some cats are simply opposed no mater how hard you try. I have had mean cats, I have had shy cats, and I have had some of the friendliest cats on earth. I found their personality is going to shine no matter how attractive it is to me as a human.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, thank you for mentioning that. My cat Scout will always be more of an introvert no matter how many people he meets. That’s just part of who he is. I’m an introvert as well, so I can relate! Some cats are naturally more playful, friendly, affectionate, etc. It’s important to consider each cat’s unique personality.

  11. My cats are extremely well socialized too. To me, and to other adults they like. Smith is the center of the universe, so he is the first one to greet a stranger. Cautiously. He then immediately begins training the stranger, if he thinks the person is smart enough, by showing the new person where his treats are kept. He accomplishes this by repeatedly clonking the drawer pull. Incessantly. Until I tell the new person what is expected of him/her.

    Micah on the other hand will peek around the door frame into the living room, and slowly slink in, skulk around the edges of the room using furniture as cover, and might show himself openly after an hour or so. But you arent touching him. That might happen after your 6th or 7th visit.

    Both are very affectionate cats, Micah is a total love bug, but he has been shy and startled easy from the time he was tiny. Smith has always been the center of the universe.

    Timba, on the other hand, is not social at all. I think he is autistic. He doesnt make eye contact, doesnt play nicely, when he bites to play, he bites too hard, he shows no understanding of the feelings of others. He will walk on Smith trying to get a lick, or sit on him, instead of snuggling up like Micah would. And they were all raised in the same environment, by the same person, exposed to the same amount of others. Timba gets a little extra work, because he needs it. I just think cats are very individual. I think their personalities pretty much come with them, and you work with what you have. Dogs are pack animals, and so their social skills are more uniform and bred into them.

  12. Lindsay Stordahl

    Micah sounds like my cat Scout.

    Your three are all very unique! I’m sure it’s fun watching them interact. Thanks for sharing a bit about each one.

  13. I have just adopted a one year old Burmilla cat. He is great with me but no matter what he doesn’t allow anyone else to touch him. He sleeps in my bed and follows me anywhere I go but he doesn’t allow me to pick him up. He sits next to me not to my lap never. I don’t know how to encourage him to socialize with my roommates. He haven’t been fixed. And my roommates really want to play with him. They are really trying. :/ Oh and he doesn’t like treats at all. It has been about one and half month since he is here/ He was very timid at the beginning(even worst than this) he is improving. I am a college student I am gonna move a lot I want him to adopt things easy :/ I don’t know what to do. Maybe I should try this leash walking thing.

  14. Lindsay Stordahl

    Just take it slowly. Some cats are just not interested in socializing with new people, and that is OK. He will probably gradually become more friendly to your roommates. My cat Scout doesn’t like to be picked up and held by anyone, especially strangers. You can get your cat to be a bit more tolerant by picking him up for a few seconds here and there every day and just slowly getting him to at least tolerate it. If others are comfortable they can do the same. But don’t expect him to enjoy being held.

    A lot of cats like to chase those laser pointers, so you could see if he would play that game with your roommates. And have you tried catnip?

  15. We have a cat that we found at six wks old in a car engine. Took her in
    And spoiled her rotten. She has everything she could ever want but
    seems unhappy to me. She is strictly indoor and has two litter boxes in
    separate rooms. Yet she sometimes pees in the floor or on my daughters bed
    which is disgusting. She sleeps with my daughter every night but that is about
    the only affection anyone sees. She stays sway from us and if she decides to come
    in the room with us gets on the opposite end of the sofa. Vet has checked and she
    is perfectly healthy although a little overweight. Any ideas in what is going on
    with my cat?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sounds like your cat is a normal cat to me! 🙂

      My cat Scout was having some litter box issues this summer and fall, but thankfully I fixed the problem. I realized he doesn’t like litter boxes with covers over the top. He likes open boxes. So you may want to just try a few different types of litter or litter boxes for your cat. Worth a shot, anyway. And I would have your daughter keep her bedroom door shut during the day and the cat out. I had to block off access to certain rooms when Scout was having litter box issues. Now he has full freedom again, thank goodness.

      Other than that, I would just be patient. Don’t force her to be social. Try to get her to play with string-like toys and use catnip. Some cats are friendlier than others. Some just don’t like to be held. Some are shy. Some are more independent than others. I think your cat is just being an cat.

  16. I’ve been fostering kittens for animal rescue groups and ended up being a foster fail. My partner and I ended up keeping two and they’re both extremely social and not afraid of anyone or anything. They headbutt, give kisses on command, come when they’re called and love people. I think they’re that way because they had an older foster cat showing them the ropes when they were younger. They’ve returned the favour to the many foster kittens that have passed through our house.

    The no fear issue can be a bad thing, so I do keep them inside only – I imagine they’re the type that would just walk over to a house and ‘accidentally’ get adopted.

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