Feline Socialization 101
December 24, 2010 Leave a comment
With time and patience, a kitty that’s been undersocialized can become a loving companion
With all the cats available for adoption, it’s easy to choose the cute kitten playing with its littermates or the gentle adult that comes readily to the cage door.
The challenge lies with the cat who has come from a situation of neglect or abuse: she’s the one who is pressed to the back of the cage or hiding under the blankets. Worse yet, she’s been on her own for Lord knows how long and has been hanging around your yard. With cold weather coming, you don’t think she’ll survive in the rain and snow.
When the decision is made to bring this little outcast into your life, a plan is needed to make her feel comfortable and secure in her new home.
• Once she is vetted and brought home, confine her to a small room. Provide several cardboard boxes where she can hide, but avoid inaccessible areas. A Feliway diffuser may help with calming.
• If she is afraid to eat in your presence, put down the food near a hiding place so she feels comfortable, then leave the room. Work up to the point where you’re sitting at the doorway or outside the room.
• Tossing out some yummy treats makes for a positive association with you.
• Get her used to your presence and your voice by sitting quietly (if you’re on the floor you’re in a less threatening position) and reading a children’s book aloud. The sing-songy nature of the prose can relax you and her. Classical music or soft jazz playing in the background can also help to calm her. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t want to pussyfoot around too much because she does need to get used to the sounds and the routine of the household.
• Talk to her in a soothing voice and tell her she’s doesn’t have to be afraid, that she’s beautiful, that she is safe, anything lovey-dovey and reassuring.
• Watch her body language. As she calms down, her eyes should be normally dilated, tail curled around her, ears forward, head raised. Do “kitty kisses” – the soft blink that communicates friendliness, then turn away. Let her initiate the interaction.
• Leave around clothing or towels that have your scent.
• Once you see that she is relaxing, approach slowly. In conjunction with a treat, use a pompom on a dowel to stroke her or the eraser tip of a pencil with your scent. Something with a rough texture such as an emery board or pumice stone can mimic the texture of her own rough tongue. Then move up to where you can extend your index finger in the universal cat greeting; it will pique her curiosity and she should sniff it. Consider it a bonus if she rubs her cheek against your finger. She’s marking you with the scent glands in her cheek.
• Clicker training can be used to initiate and reward positive behavior. Click! and the cat will learn to expect something good, in particular a meal or a treat. Keep in mind that that a loud click may startle her so just click with your tongue or muffle the clicker in your pocket.
• Be patient. If the kitty becomes startled or frightened, you’ll have to back off a bit. Keep in mind that it’s important not to react if she swats at you – she’ll learn that her fear aggression doesn’t get her anywhere.
Indeed, socializing a neglected or feral kitty may sound like a full time job, but with time she should become a loving member of your family.