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How to Socialize an Older Cat


Use patience and positivity to help socialize an older cat.

If you are adopting an older cat that isn't well-socialized to people or if you'd like to work on the social skills of your own older kitty, know that it is possible.

Cats have a reputation for only doing that which is their idea and not being particularly amenable to change, but with patience and time, you can help an older cat be more confident and friendly with people.

Why Are Some Cats Less Social Than Others?

First, it's important to understand why an older cat might not have great social skills in the first place. Many things can cause this, including:

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  • Events related to people in the cat's past that were frightening or painful.
  • Naturally shy disposition of an individual kitty.
  • Lack of socialization to people as a kitten.
  • Being removed from the mother cat too soon, before proper socialization with littermates could occur.

The best window in which to socialize a cat is early kitten-hood. This is the time when your cat's behaviors and brain patterns are being developed. If you have a kitten, be sure to expose her to lots of situations with loving, playful people to encourage comfort around humans.

There's room for two atop the Command Center Cats scratch for excercise, and for sheer pleasure.

Tips for Helping an Older Cat with Socialization

Here are some ways you can help an older cat learn to like people. Remember to use time and patience; don't expect too much out of your cat too soon.

  • Host a low-key gathering. Invite one or two cat-loving people who have calm demeanors or to hang out. Before the event, talk with your friends about your cat and how you'd like to get her more used to people. Give your friends each a handful of treats that you know your cat likes when they arrive. Instruct them to ignore your kitty unless she comes to them to investigate. If she does, they can speak calmly and give her a treat, but they shouldn't try to pet her right away. If she keeps her distance but is watchful, your friends can toss her treats periodically to help her associate people with good things.
  • Use a small room. If you are bringing a new cat home, start by having her in a small room. Shy cats can be overwhelmed by too much space, and getting used to a small area will be easier for them. Be sure to provide clean litter boxes, food, water, toys, and a scratching post. Visit your kitty when you can, being calm and quiet and allowing her to come to you rather than pulling her out from under the bed and forcing a cuddle session. Providing hiding spots for your cat to hang out in can also help her feel more secure. Cardboard boxes can be perfect, and you may also consider a cat cave.
  • Provide high spots. When cats are nervous, they like to get to high spots where they can look down on things and interact with them only at their own pace. Providing a prominent, high spot can help keep a cat from hiding, allowing her to get used to sounds and sights without withdrawing. Consider a tall cat tree or built-in catwalks up high.
  • Use Feliway. Feliway is a synthetic compound that mimics the calming pheromones that a mother cat puts out to keep her kittens peaceful. It comes in spray or diffuser forms, and using it can go a long way toward helping a shy cat feel better about interacting.
  • Increase confidence with hunting games. Your cat is a hunter at heart, and successfully stalking and pouncing on prey can increase shy cats' confidence and allow them to interact with people more easily. Go slowly, and use wand toys that your cat can pounce on. Remember, be patient and not too "in your face" with your cat, especially at first. Just make the wand toy move a little from across the room, slowly getting closer as your cat shows interest. You may also use an automatic cat toy such as the Dart Duo or Bolt, which can provide hunting simulation for your cat without your direct involvement. Treat-dispensing toys like the Go Cat Go Play-N-Treat can also help your cat practice hunting and increase confidence.

Remember, the two main things to keep in mind when helping a shy older cat learn to trust people is that it will take time and you must always use patience and kindness.

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Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.