Tail wagging and sometimes protective, dogs have long held the title of man's best friend. Meanwhile, cats -- often silent and solitary -- can seem more like man's aloof neighbor. But if you introduce yourself properly, cool cats can become warm companions.
“People misunderstand cats simply because they are more independent than dogs,” says Pamela Reid, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and vice president of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Animal Behavior Center. “But cats can become very bonded to people and they can be extremely affectionate, depending on their personality.”
During the first few weeks of life, a kitten’s primary concerns are feeding, keeping warm, developing social skills and learning how to excrete on his own. In most cases, humans will simply watch the mother cat perform her duties. However, if the kitten in your care has been separated from his mother or if the mother cat has rejected her young or cannot produce enough milk, caring for him is up to you.
Like dogs, cats have very distinct temperaments and personalities.
“Some cats will want to be lap cats and will purr and want to be stroked,” says Barbara J. King, chancellor professor of anthropology at the College of William & Mary and author of Being With Animals. “Some cats want to play but not to be lap cats. Some want to sit near you but not with you. And some are interested in communicating across the room.”
Want to be the cat’s meow when it comes to bonding? These steps will bring you purrs and head-butts for years to come.
Hello Kitty Time
Kittens learn key social lessons between 2 and 9 weeks of age, so it’s a perfect time to bond to you and to have contact with other humans, cats, and dogs, in a controlled setting.
“Make sure they get a lot of exposure to different types of people and make sure those exposures are insanely positive,” says Jackson Galaxy, a Redondo Beach, Calif., cat behaviorist whose TV mini-series, My Cat From Hell, debuted on May 7 on Animal Planet.
Bonding with a kitten or younger cat depends on the animal’s personality and history. If it has had human contact, it’s likely to be relatively friendly and used to people handling it. Give the kitten a comfortable area to rest, such as a cat bed, and the basics - meals, treats, toys - and plenty of attention. Some enjoy brushing and grooming; others might not.
If the kitten appears timid or frightened, put it in a bedroom or small room where it will feel safe. Don’t force yourself on the animal. Sit quietly on the floor, read a book, and scatter treats to see if the kitten will come out of hiding. Petting or trying to play might be intimidating at first. But a laser pointer or toy on a long wand might work.