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Five Steps to Better Feline Friendship

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Five Steps to Better Feline Friendship

For weeks, Nicholas Dodman's family hardly ever saw their two kittens outside of meal times. That's because Dr. Dodman, DVM, director of the animal behavior clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, adopted kitties that had not socialized much with people before they arrived at his house. "With patience," he says, "they came around in a year's time."

He did it. And you, too, can learn to you coax even reticent felines out from under the bed, from the closet or other secret hiding spots for some quality time.

No Two Are Alike
To learn to bond with your kitty, you first need to understand that felines -- like humans -- have different personalities. Dr. Dodman, author of the feline psychology book, The Cat Who Cried for Help (Bantam), says that feline personalities can be divided along three main measures: alertness, equability and sociability. Cats that are active, calm and don't mind being around people are the easiest to win over. But there are ways to win over even the most reclusive, irritable or the lazy cat and make it your friend and companion.

"Never force a cat to do anything. Never bother your cat. And never punish your cat," warns Dr. Dodman. "But if every time you're around good things happen -- exercise, petting, food -- the cat will love you to death."

Here are five steps to cement a feline friendship:

Step # 1: Tempt them with treats The way to a cat's heart is through its stomach, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a professor at Texas A&M University. "A lot of cats are interested in people because people feed them," she says. Former strays, or feral cats, may not emerge when you put down the food bowl, but they may be encouraged to come closer over time. Feeding a cat simulates a parental role -- it's what mother cats do for their kittens -- and can help bonding. With Dr. Dodman's two cats, he waited until they were hungry and emerged from the attic before he slid a treat across the floor to coax them to come out in public. Every day, he moved the treats closer and closer to family members. The cats followed and eventually learned to enjoy the attention.

Step # 2: Frolic with your kitty Indoor cats need exercise. One of the best ways for your kitty to get active is by playing with you. Whether you drag a string in front of them or hold a toy out of reach, their curiosity may get the best of them. Anything that moves fast will spark that feline hunting instinct. The lion within may also emerge -- they may pounce or claw so be careful not to have your hand too near. "It's especially fun for an owner to get down on the floor and interact," Dr. Beaver says. During playtime, it may also be comforting to talk to your cat, providing you do so in a soothing tone.

Step # 3: Teach your cat new tricks Dogs aren't the only domestic pets that can learn to sit and raise a paw. Cats, Dr. Dodman says, are also trainable if an owner has patience. "You can teach a cat to jump up and jump down or how to run through a tube," he says. Popular methods for training cats include using food rewards or a handheld "clicker" device to make a sound when the cat does something correct. Dr. Dodman has heard of cats being trained by the clicker method to turn a light switch off or on by command. Even if your goals are simpler, such as getting your cat to give a high-five, training can cement a mutual appreciation.

Step # 4: Personal touch for your pet Many cats enjoy being petted down the back, scratched behind the ears or gently combed. You can usually tell what your pet enjoys once your little friend starts kneading with its paws, or purring in contentment. "It is said that the two things a mother cat does with its kittens is to groom them by licking with her tongue and to feed them," Dr. Dodman says. "You can take on this parental role by feeding and petting your cat." Don't scare away your feline by combing roughly or introducing static electricity, Dr. Beaver warns.

Step # 5: Break out the new toys Stores carry a wide variety of chase toys, stuffed animals and rod-and-reel lures. You can also make your own. "Anything on the end of a string that will bounce up and down is something the cat can bat at," Dr. Beavers says. "They also like little balls that will roll, or toys that the cat gets to chase." Invest in a variety of new toys. "Don't leave the entire collection of toys out all the time," she advises. "Mix them up so that they kind of become new toys for your cat all over again."

Elizabeth Wassermana Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on January 12, 2008

Bobbi says: Please take him/her to the vet. Posting on here is not going to get you an answer, and a cat who won't eat and is lethargic needs medical attention.

Posted on December 27, 2007

Sue says: Hello, I have a cat, he is seven month old. I feed him (twice a day) and clean his little box every day, however, he only kneads on my husband chest;. When I wake up every morning I lay down in the sofa in hope that he

Posted on January 6, 2008

Caleb Tacuri says: I just started an application to have a cat.I wanted to know what the main things are that i need for it so when the cat is retrieved it was a nice comfortable home.And it is a 7 month female cat.

Posted on December 14, 2007

Deisy Magana says: My cat Garfield has been acting really weird i think he is sick but i don't know how to check if he is, because he is an outside and inside cat but can you see if you can help me i'm really afraid of him.He also likes flirting with female cats but he also likes bitting on them and making them bleed!!!!!!CAN YOU HELP ME??????

Posted on December 11, 2007

Daniel says: My Cat will not come out of my room when our Dogs are with the family. How do you get your Cat to be a people Cat? And not be afraid of the Dogs?

Posted on December 11, 2007

kelly says: my cat isn't very social, and in heat,but were taking on a should I introduce the dog?can I get them to be friends?will the dog try to hurt the cat?

Posted on December 10, 2007

Tamara says: Diane -- My 3 year old cat has just about gotten over that, she used to do it all the time. From what I've read about all you can do is try and find ways to gently refocus their attention -- to a toy, or to being petted. Its because he's substituting you for his mama -- if he's anything like mine you'll probably end up with a VERY devoted kitty if you can put up with it until you've been able to redirect the behavior! Clipping claws helps...

Posted on December 12, 2007

Linda says: We just got a 1 yr old female Persian yesterday. The woman who gave the cat to us said that the cat wouldn't take up with her, but liked her kids. The cat likes my husband, but doesn't act too fond of me. (The cat even showed signs of affection with my husband...rubbing against his leg and laying on her back, showing her stomach.) I hold the cat sometimes and pet it and I talk sweetly to her...but she still doesn't take up with me. She tries to get away not too long after I start holding her. She has been hiding most of the time since we got her and won't even eat. It's strange for a cat to not like women. I guess she wasn't around any women when she was little or maybe abused by a woman at some point in her life. I wonder if treats and catnip toys could help any. She is so lethargic. I think she is depressed. I hope it's just because of her new environment. I so want her to start being friendly and affectionate towards me. Any advice? Linda

Posted on December 2, 2007

nancy says: Our two year old cat doesn't like any company. She hisses and growls and has to be put up. We've never had a cat like her. She won't just go away but wants to be with people but is awful. What's up?

Posted on December 2, 2007

diane says: I just got 2 male cats that are 10 months old from a shelter. One of them keeps kneading & sucking on me. What does that behavior mean & how can I get him to stop?

Posted on December 7, 2007

Alice says: We also have a cat (male)that Kneads&Sucks the blankets or pillows all the time. Usually at bed time or nap time and we would like it to stop ....The cat is fixed and is now 1 yrs.old . we thought perhaps it may have been weaned to soon ?. What can we do

Posted on December 8, 2007

Rosemary says: I have a 3 month old that when you go to pet him all he want to do is bite. I know longer no what to do or how to handle this problem. He sleeps with me at night and I am not even able to put my arms or hands out from under the cover because of this problem. Help

Posted on November 22, 2007

Betsey says: Mariana, Look for rescue groups in your area. In the Sunday paper there should be listings for adoption days. Usually they have a phone number, call them, they will help. If that doesn't work go to and look up rescue groups as well. You have a tough situation and to avoid it again always spay and neuter. Good Luck

Posted on November 26, 2007

alicia says: thank you.these tips helped me a lot with my cat.

Posted on December 1, 2007

Tim says: I have a problem with my calico cat. To me she is so loving and warm. SOmetimes I think she gets playfull and bites me (hard) but it is very rare. HOWEVER when I have company she insists on greeting them and wants attention, to shich she purrs and is loving, then suddenly she bites VERY HARD sometimes drawing blood. and advise?

Posted on November 19, 2007

Mariana Grin says: Hi, I don't knw what to do. Two of my female cats got pregnant at the same time, and now I have 10 cats/kittens in my house! And I just gave birth to my first baby, so I don't know what to do. It's driving me insane. I already called all the shelters I could find and they are not taking any cats, and if they do take them, because they don't have any space for them, they just turn them away to another facility where they kill them. I am torn. I love these cats, and I don't want them to die. On the other hand, I have my own little baby who is at risk of getting sick from being around all these cats all the time. Please help me!

Posted on July 25, 2011

Bryce says: I'm giving my cat Smarty Kat brand toys but she doesn't use them all from her catnip bag but she can't get it open

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