How to make friends with your cat

Everyone knows the saying “ cats work for money – if you want loyalty get a dog”. Cats can be quite independent creatures that treat us mere humans with total disdain, especially if we are late with their dinner!! However there are some ways to encourage our feline friends to understand that we would like to socialise with and entertain them as much as we want to work for them.

The best is to try adopt cats from a young age. Their socialisation period is between 2 and 9 weeks of age and this is when they most easily form a bond with their new owner. They are also naturally more inquisitive so play behaviour is easier to encourage.

Older cats can be more difficult but with the following information you will likely have some success – or not – depending on the cat...or its mood... or just because...........

Cats DO NOT like excess attention especially if it is not on their terms. Do not try to interact with a cat as soon as you see it. Allow it to acknowledge you and decide if it wants to engage with you.

Coming down to a cat’s level i.e. lying on the floor will encourage the cat to at least recognise your effort and it may be something new and exciting that no-one has tried with them before!! When cats want to engage with a human they may rub up, jump against or try to lick the human – if this happens move very slowly and not suddenly – the kitty will likely allow (and enjoy) a nice scratch at this time. Some cats though can be quite fractious where the moment you touch then they run away – just be patient and they will understand you are not trying to hurt them. With these specific cats DO NOT try to pick them up of enforce handling as they will not trust you easily again.

Cats are well known to jump up onto a lap of someone who is not particularly fond of cats. I think cats sense that they will not be touched, poked or prodded by these people and will be left alone undisturbed to have a nice long catnap.

Sometimes offering treats – bribery – will get their attention. Always use cat specific treats and food – no human food. Catnip is a magic herb that some cats totally go crazy for whereas other cats do not seem to respond at all. If your cat is one of the responsive ones, catnip can be a great tool to introduce then to new baskets, toys, cat stands etc.  Just remember to give it in moderation as some cats REALLY go hyper on it – widely dilated pupils and almost drug like trance!! Do not worry as this is NOT detrimental to your cat’s health and  - no - it is not addictive. 

Never force interaction with a cat in a space where the cat is concerned of feels trapped – this will very quickly make them scared and scared cats become spiky cats really quickly!!

Purring also does not always mean they are happy – sometimes cats will purr when stressed. Be aware of the situation around the cat before deciding that the purring is because they are enjoying your potential torment!!

Some cats meow a lot especially around food time – these cats are great to meow back to as a way of interaction as well ( yes i did say meow!!)

Body language is a very important means of communication in cats.  There are some really cool images on the internet describing cats behaviour and body language so have a read. Some behaviours can be quite subtle and will take a while to see and understand.

Cats are naturally curious so stimulating their curiosity is a great way of encouraging interaction. I myself will hide behind doors, call out and run up and down the passage being chased by my ‘Booby’ - my 10 yr old male tabby. He will try ankle tap me like a prime hunting cheetah while i try sprint past him. My little female Simone can’t resist a freshly opened cupboard door – even if she was in the cupboard yesterday it will be like a whole new world today– I just have to remember not to close the doors.....

There are lots of toys that will naturally stimulate a cat’s curiosity as well. Playtime stimulation of both the mental and physical senses is very important. Furry or feathered toys especially those that make noises or crinkle will stimulate a cat’s hunting instinct. Most cats love a ‘snaky’ type toy as well – flicking it just like a long tail will often encourage play behaviour. Cat stands and jungle gyms give cats an opportunity to climb – even trees outside can be trimmed so that there are sturdy branches to accommodate cats climbing behaviour.  Indoor aquariums can provide stimulation for cats, almost like cat TV – just make sure they can’t actually go fishing. There are even cat TV channels and videos on You-tube which can be utilised as well – mainly American channels though– (no surprise).

Another important aspect of befriending a cat is to allow them an environment that is safe and secure. Think about where their food and water bowls are placed. Anxious cats should have a quiet low traffic area for their food and water areas. Older cats should have their bowls easily accessible on floor or in areas where they are not expected to jump up – these cats often suffer from arthritis and will end up eating less because they just cannot get to their food.

Also remember that cats are quite fussy about their toilet habits – make sure there are at least 2 litter trays per cat and clean these often i.e. daily – they do not like to use dirty trays. The actual litter substrate can be important as well. We often see cats that are messing in the house and a simple change of the litter type can help them.

Always make sure that your cat is healthy because illness is one of the most important reasons for cats not being as sociable as normal. Make sure their annual vaccinations and deworming are always up to date. It is also a good idea to get your cat checked out every year and in cats older than 10 years we often will recommend blood health profiles as well. If there is a sudden change in behaviour get your cat checked out immediately. Cats do not suddenly become less sociable or more angry without good reason.

In a few rare cases some cats will just be very independent and not highly sociable as a rule. It is best to accept these cats as they are and not try and force them to become more sociable. Time is often what most of these animals need.

Lastly – remember that cats are not small dogs - they were once treated as gods and have not forgotten this.


About Valley Farm Animal Hospital 24-hour Specialist Referral Centre

Valley Farm Animal Hospital in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, is one of the biggest veterinary practices in South Africa. In addition to general veterinary care, the practice offers a 24-hour on-site veterinary team for emergencies and in-patient monitoring. Valley Farm GP veterinarians are supported by specialists in medicine, surgery, anaesthesia and radiography.

Valley Farm provides Pretoria pet owners with high quality veterinary care, pet grooming and a well-stocked onsite shop. They also provide pet owners from all over South Africa with specialist care for their pets which are referred to the Hospital.

The practice offers world class facilities including CT Scanner, video endoscopy, Sonar, dedicated soft tissue and orthopaedic theatres, high care facilities which are used to aid full diagnostic work-ups and to operate and treat sick patients. Additional services are stem cell therapy for arthritic pets, dentistry, physiotherapy and acupunctur

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