How to bond with a new cat

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If you’re a first time cat owner, or you just have a new cat that’s not quite settling in, then these tips will be a good starting point to get you bonding with your cat.

Give them space

Cats are very independent animals and like to have their own space. We’ve discussed why cats like to sit in boxes previously, and similar instincts apply here. Cats like a nice, confined and safe space to call their own.

Don’t worry though, it’s just a starting point when you bring your new cat home. It’s the equivalent of showing your house guests to their new room and giving them the tour of your house. You don’t want to immediately exposure your cat to a scary new and unfamiliar environment, so take their carrier and place it in the area they’ll be sleeping. After this, leave them to explore your house on their own – you don’t need to force them. Cat’s love to explore on their own, so they’ll eventually find their way to you. Remember to make sure they always have access to get back to that sleeping area.

When they do come to you, go down to their level

In time, it’s likely your cat will be comfortable enough to jump all over you (whether you want them to or not!), but they may be more timid initially. Instead of trying to coax them on to your lap, sit down on the floor and pet them at ground level. You wouldn’t want to jump into a strange person’s lap, so there’s no reason your cat will!

Again, this is really just to avoid scaring your cat when it may already be a bit uncertain about the change of environment. As they get to know you better, they are much more likely to jump up of their own accord.

Play with them

As they settle in to their new environment, spend some time playing with them with and be sure to try out a variety of different toys to see what they like. They may still be a bit too timid or unsure so don’t force it, particularly if they seem uninterested or wary of the toy.

Over time though, you want to build an association between you and fun, so when you find activities they like, roll with it.

Pet them

You can check out our article on where to pet a cat here, but in general you want to keep an eye out for positive cues (e.g., purring) and be wary of negative cues (e.g. scratchy scratchy!).

Establish rules early on

This is really important, particularly for younger cats (older cats may be a bit more stuck in their ways). The behaviours you establish here are the rules your cat will follow throughout your relationship with them and might be difficult to change at a later date. You can do this by encouraging positive behaviours and discouraging negative ones. For example:

  • Will the cat be allowed on your bed? If not, then place them back on the floor if they jump up.
  • Are they scratching the furniture? If so, then move them and place them at their scratching post.
  • Are they painfully biting you? Feign an injury and end the activity for a bit. This is important – as cats get older, their bite and scratches get stronger and more painful, so they need to learn where the limit is. In general, if the bite would hurt a small child, then it’s too strong.
  • Are they begging for food a lot? Consider getting an automatic cat feeder to schedule regular feeding times – this is particularly helpful if you’re out of the house some of the time.
  • Do they drink dirty water (puddles, streams, etc)? Cat water fountains are low cost and provide clean water – great for encouraging better drinking habits!

You can also establish positive behaviour through regular routines (like feeding time). If your cat knows they are getting fed at the same time each morning, then they follow your lead in that activity. However, if feeding times are erratic, they might come to learn that they get fed when they make noise. That’s not a good behaviour to learn as it means that you are no longer leading the relationship.

The early weeks and months are important for kittens

Young cats learn their behaviours early on in life, so get them used to the behaviours and activity that you would expect to continue throughout their life. A kitten that’s had a lot of attention may have more problems being left alone for longer times in later life. Similarly, a kitten that’s had less exposure to humans, may be less friendly towards them as they age.

Read the signals

You’ll get to know your cat very quickly, but initially it’s good to pay attention to any signals it’s sending your way. For example:

  • If your cat is nervous when you approach it, back off and let it come to you.
  • Don’t keep petting if the cat is showing aggression.
  • Don’t force the cat on your lap if it keeps jumping off.

Have fun!

The main thing is – enjoy your time with your cat. They’re wonderfully affectionate animals and if you set your relationship off on the right foot, you’ll have years of enjoyment from your feline friend’s companionship.

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