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From Scaredy Cat to Party Animal

By Stephanie Stephens

From Scaredy Cat to Party Animal

If your cat isn't a party animal, you are not alone. Many felines shun social events and seem to prefer solitude to human interaction, which they may fear. This behavior might ruffle your fur since all of us at times want our buddies to share in the fun and meaningful aspects of our lives. If your cat's first inclination is to run and hide, help is here from Suzanne Hetts, PhD, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist of Littleton, Colorado's Animal Behavior Associates.

Choose carefully
What you see in a shelter -- albeit with its stressful environment -- is likely what you'll get, especially if you choose a "feral-background" kitty. If you adopt this type past the age of ten to twelve weeks, it's probably not going to be a sociable, lap-sitting cat. "Characteristics that help a cat survive in the wild are different from those that make a good companion animal," says Dr. Hetts.

Genetics matter
Behaviorists have identified the trait of boldness, which, when linked to paternal parentage and combined with socialization, produces the friendliest cats. Dennis Turner, a Swiss behaviorist, found that the friendliest cats had the same father or sire. Kittens from bold fathers tend to approach unfamiliar objects, but they still need socialization. Heredity and environmental influences are both important.

Socialize soon
Good social skills begin early in life. Introduce your kitten to cat-friendly adults and children -- more than one new person once a week -- from a very young age. The sensitive period for socialization is between two and seven weeks. "This critical 'early socialization' should include gentle handling, including being picked up," Dr. Hetts suggests. "Every visitor should dangle your cat's favorite toy for a few minutes, or if your cat enjoys treats, bequeath a few choice morsels."

Safely widen kitty's world
Consider promoting supervised, confined outdoor time so your cat can cope with change in a more complex environment. A good start is to acclimate your cat as early as possible to a harness. You may also buy a cat containment system or a new "kitty stroller" to encourage environmental enrichment. Just be sure that your cat's vaccinations are kept up to date if you plan to safely introduce your kitty to the great outdoors.

Less is more
Try this training tip: Once you've played with or given treats to your cat, ignore it until it approaches you. "The one who's not trying to force appears safest to the cat," says Hetts. Don't try to pick up your feline at this point, but instead show it you know how to behave in "cat company" by using these greeting techniques:

  • Communicate like a cat Use proper cat greeting skills so you don't offend your cat's "social-abilities." Dr. Hetts explains, "Don't rush. Your cat will approach when it's ready. Curl your fingers in against your palm (a relaxed fist) and straighten your index finger. A friendly cat will come up and sniff, then process the scent through a special organ in its nose and likely sniff a second time. Next, it may rub against your hand, so reciprocate the rubbing but keep it on its scent glands -- on its cheeks and in front of its ears. You could run your hand lightly down its spine, but patting from strangers isn't usually welcome." 
  • Lure with treats If your cat is spooked out and doesn't make an appearance at all, utilize whatever your feline will come for, like bagged treats, food in a pouch or...dinner. Ask visitors to be calmly seated, then you can make familiar sounds, such as running the can opener or opening/shutting the cabinet door where treats are kept. Or lay a luring trail of treats from your cat's hiding spot into the party place, all the way up to your visitors' feet. Your cat may find that too irresistible to pass up.
  • Be kind Never give your cat a reason to be afraid of you or other people. Don't ever spank or hit a cat (or any animal). Why not try effective discipline delivered remotely and triggered immediately by the cat's own behavior, such as a SSSCAT? It's a motion detector that sprays a harmless mist in front of your cat when your cat jumps on it, leaving you innocently out of the picture.

It may take a while before your cat might be ready to party hearty, and certain felines -- similar to humans -- retain some of their loner ways. But try to be patient. Your cat is tuned into your feelings and actions, so if you are happy and relaxed, those good vibes likely will rub off on your scaredy cat.

, whose background includes television, radio and print work, divides her time between New Zealand and California, which is also home to her three cats.


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Posted on July 3, 2009

kerri says: just got this cat he is very scared is there anything i can do to help him adjust to his new home

Posted on October 30, 2007

Kim says: My female cat also walks around with a tiny toy in her mouth and howls! She usually only does it at night though when my husband and I are sleeping. She will keep howling until one of us sits up in bed and praises her for being a good girl. Then she will drop the toy and shut up. Sometimes she will even get into bed with us and sleep the rest of the night.

Posted on November 5, 2007

JANICE says: I HAVE TWO CATS. ONE, I HAVE HAD LONGER THAN THE OTHER. I DON'T LIKE PETTING THEM, BECAUSE BOTH DROOL A LOT IF I DO. WHAT CAN I DO?

Posted on May 17, 2008

Annie Poole says: We adopted our cat from a humane society 2 years ago. She was born in a foster home. When we brought her home, she was very shy but by the next day she was playing and soon was a happy, playful kitten. When she was 10 months old, 2 of our grandchildren came over. For some reason, she hissed at them & would not play. She was fine with my other grandchild and my daughter. A friend brough her grandchild over about a year ago and the cat hissed at her. Now she hisses and growls at everyone, especially children. I have a 10 month old grandson & he started crawling toward her. She did a horrible growl & when I tried to pick her up, she hissed at me and almost bit me. If she is afraid or doesn't like people, why doesn't she just hide? She gets in the middle of everything and won't go away but will hiss & growl. I'm afraid for her to be around the baby now & we don't know what to do with her. We are going to take her to the vet but I've read that there isn't much that can be done. I was told to just remove her from the situation but that isn't easy. She wants to be where everyone is even though she turns mean. She is used to being home alone with me all day and my husband when he gets off work. We're going on a trip next week & my daughter has come over and fed the cat and played with her before but now no one wants to be around her. What can we do?????

Posted on October 18, 2007

Arlene says: My cat is no longer grooming herself, routinely that is. I can't think of anything that has changed except I quit smoking and now I wonder is she is going through withdrawal with me... Any thoughts on this or has anyone had any experiences like this. She seems to be in good health otherwise. Help.

Posted on October 25, 2007

shari777woods says: i have 4 cats one mother and 3 of her offspring. why does the momma cat walk around with a tiny toy in her mouth and howl? it's nerve wrecking.

Posted on October 17, 2007

Katie says: I have had 2 female cats for 6 years that tolerate each other, I just got a new male main coon cat about 1 1/2 years old, we have had him about a month and a half and he has been terrorizing one of my cats, any time my older cat is in the house he attacks her and traps her under a bed, my older cat is constantly hissing and growling at him whenever they are the same room, I have tried a water bottle and it stops the fighting for a min. but the younger new cat just continues. The new cat gets along with my other cat. I am worried about my older cat and not sure what else to do, any suggestions??? Thanks, Katie

Posted on October 17, 2007

Crystal says: My cat love's me and anyone who is allergic to cats! Stange but i just moved in with my boyfriend and my cat hates him. He tries to be loving with her and play with her but all she does is hiss and growl at him. And i guess she gets so freaked out that she will poop. When he used to visit me before we lived together, she was cool with him and now, she only comes out when i come home and hides all day when he is there alone with her. I know he has never done anything to her. He loves animals just as much as i do. Is there anything that i can do to make her at least tolerate him? Help please.

Posted on October 18, 2007

Bill says: Why would a cat sleep in his litter box all of a sudden when he normally does not do it. He seems to be out of sorts lately and this is only a 1 of many wierd behaviors he is exhibiting in the past 3 months.

Posted on October 6, 2007

William McFadden says: We bought our ragdoll she was 6 weeks old she is now 4 years she is not a lapcatshe wont let us hold her she bites all the time she lets pick her up only when we come home she knows she will get her teats we love her but i have had three bad infections why does she act this way the breeder told us she was 8 weeks old but our vet said she was 6 was she taken away from her mother to soon we welcome your advice thank you

Posted on October 6, 2007

Carole says: I have two cats that have lived together peacefully for 9 years. Recently the older of the two (neutered males) attacked the other cat and I have had to keep them separated now for several weeks. The aggressive cat still hisses when he knows the other cat is on the other side of the door that separates them. I have had them both checked out by my vet and neither of them has any physical ailment that would cause this behavior. I do not know how to remedy this behavior. Any suggestions?

Posted on October 15, 2007

Natalie says: My cat goes upstairs into my daughter's closet and brings down items of clothing (one at a time) and lays them in a line throughout my house. It usually occurs during the nite. She sleeps with me, but must get up during the nite for a little adventure. Any thoughts on why she does this?? Thanks for your help.

Posted on October 16, 2007

Michael and Fancy says: Our 2 cats tend to eat electric cords and the carpet.. also they have taken to eating paint off the baseboard. What should we do????

Posted on May 12, 2012

Lexy says: I dont get it. My female siameese cat is obsessed with my lighter, it keeps bringing it to my room every night where she sleeps. If Im in bed she will carry it in her mouth and drop it in my bed EVERY NIGHT. Has this happened to anyone else

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