BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Socialize a Cat: Feline Relationships Matter

Kitten hidding beacuse she is scared
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Cats are independent by nature; they like to do their own thing, at their pace, and in their own time. They may find it difficult to socialize and make friends with both cats and humans alike—especially when they have a shy, timid, or aggressive personality. While they may look like they prefer to be alone, lack of socialization will lead to a lot of problems as they grow older, which is why you should learn how to socialize a cat so you can help them develop meaningful and healthy relationships.

Your cat may be a bundle of joy and love around people she knows well, but as soon as you come in with guests, kids, or other animals who would love to acquaint themselves with your furry friend, she dashes away to hide. Worse, she might act aggressively towards your guests. You know there’s a kind and loving cat underneath that layer of thorns. We intend to help you bring out the best in your cat and put an end to her fear of socializing by pinpointing the issue and helping her overcome it.

An Unsociabile cat

In this article, we take you back to the rudiments of what socializing entails and how the stage of life your feline is in relates to how they socialize. We will also explain the causes of unsociability in your cat, the tools that will encourage socializing, and finally the steps to help socialize your cat.

Causes of Unsociability in Cats

Socializing means to mix socially with others—to be able to fit in companionship with others. One major reason we have pets is for companionship, and if you have one that is not fulfilling their purpose, then something needs to be done to help them open up to you. Just as no human is born evil, no cat is born hostile. It is the environment they grew up in that affected their way of thinking. Some of the most common reasons why your cat is abnormally unsociable include:

Fear

Fear can be caused by an unfamiliar environment, lack of care, little to no exposure to humans, and many more. Anxiety in cats can lead to bad behaviors like bladder inflammation, having potty accidents anywhere, etc. It can also lead to something we know as fearful aggression.

Fearful aggression happens when the cat is triggered by some external factors that make she go into survival mode. She may try to run away, but if unfortunately she is backed against the wall with no way of escape, she will have no choice but to get aggressive.

A cat hidding under something

Aggression is a harmful action or threat directed at other cats, person, or other animal species. Signs of aggression include hissing at your approach, biting, fighting, shrieking, and outright attacking you.

A cat that lives in fear will naturally be unsociable. She will see everything around her as a threat. The trigger for the fear that sparked this kind of aggression must be identified for the appropriate remedy to be administered. If you do not offer help ASAP, she might reach a state where she becomes unable to let go of the fear anymore.

Shyness

Shyness and fear are usually interwoven; a shy cat will often feel threatened as if the world is out to get them. They hide away under the bed. They withdraw into their own shell and wish that the world would just leave them alone.

A kitty sitting in someone's arms

Shyness could be a part of the cat’s personality, or it could be caused by bullying between cats. The runt of the litter is the one that shows this characteristic most often.

Birth Circumstances

There are two types of birth circumstances that often cause a cat to grow up to be aggressive:

  • Growing Up in the Wild: Being born in the wild or the streets where the cat has to fight for survival every day would spark the tendency to get defensive all the time, as stray cats need to learn how to protect themselves. Of course, not all stray cats are feral from birth. Some are created as a result of abuse. Abused cats have most probably lost their faith in humanity, and it will take a lot of patience to make them open up again.
  • Growing Up with Disability: A disabled cat faces many more challenges than normal cats. It’s not their fault, of course; they have a right to be frustrated. I once knew a cat who was both blind and deaf. Because she was unable to interact with the world around her, she became distant and unsociable. Cats that were disabled due to an accident may also become jaded. The loss of limb most of the time will affect the social capacity of the cat; therefore she will require help in getting over the trauma and overcoming the dent in her emotions.

Prepare the Tools for Socialization

Tools are needed in the process of socialization; although what kind of tool it is and how you should use them depend on the situation, commonly they include:

Treats

Nothing works it magic on cats like food and treats. Although not all cats are motivated by foods and treats, those that are will need a lot when you socialize them, so prepare a generous helping of healthy treats—although, don’t overfeed them.

Pheromones

This is a territory-marking chemical produced by the glands in the cat’s mouth, on their forehead, chin, and cheeks. You don’t have to harvest them from your cat since you can find artificial, synthetic versions in pet stores.

pheromones for cats

These pheromones can be used to minimize stress and aggression in some cats. You can find the pheromones in spray cans, diffusers, and so on.

Brushes and Wands

You may need a long-handled brush if you have a cat that hates to be petted or touched in any form; however, generally, cats like to be brushed. The wand also helps in petting. There are those with a feathered tip or feathers along the length of the wand. A feathered wand gives a light touch.

Gloves

Gloves are necessary to protect your hands when you are dealing with aggressive cats that can scratch, bite, or attack you and cause injury.

Aggressive domestic cat sitting on a window sill

This will also protect the cat from getting quarantined.

Patience

This is not a physical tool, but a vital one. Succeeding in socializing a cat has no universal timing. One cat could be transformed after four weeks while another may take four years. Those cats became anti-social or under-social for various reasons. That behavior was formed over the course of months and years, so it may take just as long to socialize them.

How to Socialize Cats

Depending on your cat’s life stage, the techniques and requirements for properly socializing them vary. This process is therefore segmented to cover kitten, adults, and senior cats.

Kittens

For a kitten, socializing is about introducing your kitten to new experiences, sounds, sights, and humans—just like how a baby takes in things while growing. The ideal time for a kitten’s socialization is between four to fourteen weeks when the capacity to learn and memorize is at its highest.

Socializing a kitten is the easiest and the best because it serves as the foundation to prevent relationship problems in the future. When a kitten is socialized properly at this age, there is no risk of the future problems except if the kitten becomes a victim of a traumatic experience.

Kitten Socialization Rule #1: Mother Teaches Best

The training a mother cat gives her kitten is invaluable; she knows how to discipline her young ones lovingly. The bond between siblings also helps your kitten develop social skills.

A mother cat cleaning her kitten's coat

A kitten is usually part of a litter so she has no opportunity to be alone and must learn to cohabit with other kitten and cats. However, as we have mentioned, the runt of the litter could become unsociable due to ostracization. Times like these, you may need to step in.

Kitten Socialization Rule #2: Petting is Important

Babies need to be touched, carried and cuddled for them to be emotionally healthy. The same principles apply to kittens. For them to be socialized properly, you should carry them often, pet, and touch them frequently to a point where they feel comfortable being held and not struggle when carried. If the socialization is successful, the kitten will seek to be petted and to cuddle with you on her own after a while.

Kitten Socialization Rule #3: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Expose her to different people, sounds, voices, and scents.

Three kittens hidding outside

This will expand her world, as well as keep her curious and eager to explore the world. A properly socialized kitten will grow confident and fearless in her innocence.

Adults

For an adult cat, there may be a need for re-socializing particularly after a traumatic experience that has scarred the cat in one way or the other. Re-socializing a traumatized cat isn’t easy because you have to work past her demons and create a new world that’s separate from the one she has experienced in the past—but it’s not impossible. This section is targeted at cats in the adult stage of life who are socially inept, aggressive, feral, shy, or fearful.

Adult Socialization Rule #1: Frequent Physical Affection

There has to be consistent touching, petting, and show of affection. Touch their foreheads, ears, back, and everywhere you can.

Scottish Fold cat is playing with a ball of thread with his owner on tne sofa.

Pay close attention to the places they enjoy to be petted. You can wrap them in a blanket while you show them love.

Adult Socialization Rule #2: Use an Open Enclosure

Most feral cats like their space, so put them in a place that will allow them to retreat if they wish but will still give you access to reach them to continue the touching sessions.

Image of a gentle and playing cat

While the unsociable cat is in the enclosure, you can also let other cats wander around the confined space (outside, not inside. You don’t want them getting into a fight). That way they can see each other and socialize without one feeling like they are under threat.

Adult Socialization Rule #3: Hand-Feed Food and Treats

Food motivates all cats as long as you feed them while they are hungry. You can open a can of tuna to bring out shy cats, or put some baby food on a wand and call out to a feral cat. Entice the aggressive cat with a chunk of meat.

When you have become more familiar with each other, progress by using your hands to feed your cat. This works by using what they love (food) to get them to be comfortable with what they do not like (humans).

Owner giving a treat to his cat

With other cats or other animals, hand-feeding is not possible, but you can get them to feel comfortable in each other’s presence simply by letting them eat in the same space. Don’t make them eat from the same bowl—just putting the bowls on opposite corners of a room should be enough.

Adult Socialization Rule #4: Talk Soothingly

Talk often to your cats. Keep your voice soothing and calm. The tone will reassure your cat that there is nothing to fear. Also bring your cat to gatherings of people, friends, and family where there are chatters, laughter, and endless happy conversation.

Adult Socialization Rule #5: Use Pheromones

Sometimes you may need to start with this step first if you have a wild cat on your hands. Keep the cat in a room that has pheromones diffused to keep the cat calm.

Feliway Multicat is a pheromone diffuser that plugs into a wall outlet, so it's easy to use.

Use the right pheromone to redirect your cat’s behavior successfully. You can test them first if you’re not sure which pheromone works best on your cat.

Seniors

Senior cats also have different social needs that should be met at that stage of their cat life. Because of their age, health needs, and reduce energy level, senior cats more often than not would rather hang out with elderly cats and mature middle-aged individuals.

They may not be able to cope with the activity levels of younger cats or the energetic adventures of young children. Especially when they are newly adopted or introduced to a new home or environment, you will want to treat elderly cats with care to assure them that they have nothing to fear in your house.

Senior Socialization Rule #1: Replicate Old Routines

Old cats are usually set in their ways. To make it easy for seniors, try and replicate the daily routine that they are used to, and it will make them settle into their new home or life without many hitches.

Image showing an old cat

Do your part in finding as much information as you can of their previous lifestyle. If things are off kilter, you may see your senior furry friend withdraw into her shell or feel confused half of the time.

Senior Socialization Rule #2: Private Litter Box

If your senior cat is living with other cats, then she deserves her own litter box where she can do her thing without having to cope with the scents of younger kittens. This way she will feel safer, and it will help prevent bathroom accidents or health problems

Senior Socialization Rule #3: Supervised Interaction

In case there are other cats in the house, before introducing them to each other, keep them separate and play with them in their separate rooms. Let them get familiar with each other’s scent through you.

Man scratching head of old cat

Supervise their first meetings until they get comfortable without any conflicts or incidence. Your elderly cat may never be tempted to join your kitten’s rambunctious playtime, but at least after you’ve socialized them, they will respect each other’s space instead of getting into a fight.

Senior Socialization Rule #4: Go at Her Pace

Elderly cats need to be treated at their own pace. You can’t rush her. Socializing a senior may take longer than it would an adult cat or kitten, but if you do it with patience, she will eventually fit into the family.

Wrap Up

The steps do not have to be restrictive to each life stage of a cat as stated above. You can be flexible and use whichever brings out a positive response from your feline. After all, your cat, no matter her age, past experiences, scars, and history, is worth fighting for.

Woman holding a cute ktten

Don’t give up on her and push her out of the home. As they say, time changes everything. Your cat can only get better. If it becomes too much for you to handle, call in a professional that will work with both you and your cat.

What do you think is the reason behind your cat’s unsociability? Do you want her to become more sociable with humans or other animals? Which one of the methods above elicited the best reaction from her? Share your experience and opinions with us in the comments section below!

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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