Many cats enjoy playing with light, bouncy ping-pong balls or plastic practice golf balls. Keep a few on hand for your cat.read more
The right preparation can make cat playdates not only safe, but fun for you and your cat, too. “Cats are social animals and can have one or more select friends”, says Dr. Jane Brunt, a cat-exclusive veterinarian. “Cats that are properly socialised tend to be happier and enjoy their environment more”. Brunt offers her top five tips for helping your furry friend make friends of its own.
Tip No. 1: Start young.
“Kittens aged 7 to 12 weeks are the most suitable, since this is the critical time to shape positive behaviour”, says Brunt. “Many veterinarians recommend kitten socialisation classes where kittens are allowed to interact with each other”. During these classes, kittens are also introduced to handling, grooming and transport. Food rewards are given to reinforce positive actions and reactions.
Adult cats can also be socialised — they simply must be introduced to their new cat friends more slowly (see below).
Tip No. 2: Identify your cat’s personality type.
Cats may be loosely classified into four categories: bold and active, easy and affable, withdrawn and timid, and assertive. Your cat may be easier or harder to socialise depending on its personality.
“Cats that are fearful and easily aroused will require more patience and time using positive rewards for tiny improvements in calm behaviour”, says Brunt. The other three types will have an easier time in general. If possible, try to bring at least one easy and affable cat into each playdate pair. Avoid introducing a timid cat to a bold or assertive one.
Tip No. 3: Find a neutral territory.
“A neutral territory is a place neither cat has been”, explains Brunt. When neither cat has claimed a place as its own, you can expect less territorial and adversarial behaviour.
If a neutral territory is not a possibility, Brunt suggests choosing one room in your home. “Any room can serve as a playground, as long as you’re there”.
Tip No. 4: Make slow introductions.
“Always go slow!” says Brunt. Relaxed owners should introduce cats gradually — over a period of days or weeks. Begin with complete separation, which means that the cats are occupying different rooms in the same house. Then allow the cats to make visual contact.
From there you can move to free exploration of the same room, but only when the cats are supervised. “All cats should be ‘chaperoned’, preferably by at least two different people”, says Brunt.
Tip No. 5: Know your cat’s signals.
Your cat’s body language speaks loudly. “A ‘Halloween cat’, standing with its back arched and tail up, is exhibiting an aggressive stance and should not be further aroused, as it may exhibit extreme aggression”, says Brunt.
Darcy Lockman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. She grew up with a feisty tabby cat named Cleopatrick and later roomed with a couple of calicos.