Cats can be quite independent creatures who 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 we would like to socialise with, and entertain them, as much as we want to work for them.
The best is to try adopting cats from a young age. Their socialisation period is between two and nine 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 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, like 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: the kitty will probably allow (and enjoy) a nice scratch at this time.
Some cats, though, can be quite fractious and run away the moment you touch them. 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 or enforce handling as they will not trust you easily again.
Cats are known to jump on to the lap of someone who is not particularly fond of cats. I think cats sense they will not be touched, poked or prodded by these people and will be left alone, undisturbed, to have a nice catnap.
Sometimes offering treats, or bribery, will get their attention. Always use cat-specific treats and food, not human food. Catnip is a magic herb that some cats totally go crazy for, whereas other cats do not seem to respond to it at all.
If your cat is one of the responsive ones, catnip can be a great tool to introduce then to new baskets, toys, or cat stands. Just remember to give it in moderation as some cats really go hyper on it - they get widely dilated pupils and go into an almost drug-like trance. Do not worry though - 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 or feels trapped, this will very quickly make them scared.
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 cat’s 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. Personally, I hide behind doors, call out, and run up and down the passage being chased by my “Booby” - my 10-year-old tabby. He will try to ankle tap me like a prime hunting cheetah, while I try to 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 when she’s there.
There are lots of toys which 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 which 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 there are sturdy branches to accommodate a cat’s 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, 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. Older cats’ bowls should be easily accessible - on the floor or in places where they are not expected to jump up. These cats often suffer from arthritis and will end up eating less because they cannot get to their food.
Also remember that cats are quite fussy about their toilet habits. Make sure there are at least two litter trays per cat, and clean these daily - they do not like to use dirty trays. The actual litter substrate can be important as well. We often see cats who are messing in the house and changing the type of litter you provide can help.
Always make sure 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 examined by a vet every year and, in cats older than 10 years, we often 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 angrier 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 force them to become more sociable. Lastly, remember that cats are not small dogs. They were once treated as gods and have not forgotten this.