How to Encourage a Cat to Be More Affectionate

scared catAloof cats dislike being picked up, refuse to sit on an owner’s lap, and don’t spontaneously seek cuddles and pats. A formerly affectionate cat that suddenly becomes aloof may be suffering from a medical problem or reacting to a stressful event, whereas a cat that has always been under-attached was probably poorly socialized as a kitten, has a naturally detached personality, or both.

It’s beneficial to engage in gentle handling of kittens starting at around 2 weeks of age. Kittens that were not handled regularly or were handled roughly are more likely to be aloof as adults.

Unless they were mistreated as kittens, aloof cats are usually quite happy with their lives, but their owners may feel rejected and wish to establish a stronger bond.

How to bond with an aloof cat

There are a number of things that can be done to enhance the bond with an under-attached cat. In some cases, it’s possible to make the cat more affectionate. Not all cats have it in them to become cuddlers or lap cats, but the following approaches can improve the human-cat relationship:

    • Instead of one or two big meals per day, feed the cat a number of small meals or healthy treats (assuming the cat is not overweight or on a restricted diet) to increase positive contact.
    • Talk to the cat while preparing his food. Stroke him while placing the food on the floor and when he begins to eat so that he’ll associate being petted with the positive experience of eating.
    • If the cat has a favourite place, sit there and encourage him to come over. If he comes, reward him with a healthy treat while petting him.
    • Engage in interactive play with a string or wand toy rather than trying to force the cat to cuddle.
    • Try a little catnip – timid cats often come out of their shells and detached cats sometimes become friendlier under its influence.

Don’t chase the cat around the house and attempt to force affection on him. This approach usually backfires, making the cat even more avoidant. Only pick the cat up and hold him if he’s cooperating, and let him go as soon as he starts to struggle (young kittens are an exception to this rule; they are much more open to socialization and more mentally flexible, so you can hold them firmly to get them used to human contact).

It may be possible to build up a cat’s tolerance for being held by calling him over for treats or food, picking him up briefly, and then rewarding him directly afterward, extending the holding time as he grows more comfortable with the procedure.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

Reference: Bower, J., & Bower, C. (1998). The Cat Owner’s Problem Solver. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc./Andromeda Oxford Limited.

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