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