Spending time with pets is often a bright spot in every pet parent’s day. But with busy work and family schedules, constant distractions, and social obligations, quality time with pets can sometimes be hard to find.
Stereotypically, cats are seen as more aloof and independent than dogs. So, you might not think you need to focus on building your relationship with your cat. However, having more time with your cat can lead to a better lifetime bond if you do a few simple things, like play with them and observe their needs.
Do Cats Bond with Humans?
Experts say that yes, cats do bond with humans.
“There is, of course, a high degree of individual variability in the amount and type of attention that cats enjoy from humans,” says Dr. Marci Koski, a certified feline behavior and training consultant at Feline Behavior Solutions. “But even cats who prefer less attention can still share a bond with humans.”
What’s more, they do enjoy our company and are generally very social, albeit on their own terms, says Dr. Jill Sackman, owner of Animal Behavior Consultants.
How to Bond with Your Cat: Tips and Advice
Bonding with your cat doesn’t have to be a difficult process, though it will likely take some time up front to discover what your cat really enjoys.
“The best way to bond with your cat is to figure out what your cat likes and enjoys, then do that thing,” Koski says. From food and treats to the large variety of toys available, your cat likely has a preference. If these preferences are something you’ve never noticed, that’s a good place to start.
Just as important as things they do like, you should know what your cat doesn’t enjoy. Koski says that your interactions with your cat should be predictable and you should know things like where they like to be petted, and for how long.
“One important thing to keep in mind is that trust is a big deal to cats,” Koski says. “They need to know that when it comes to their humans, they have a choice of whether or not to interact with you, and when those interactions occur, they must be positive.”
You may love to pet and cuddle your cat while watching TV, but if your cat darts away after a short time, let them. Never force affection and interaction on your cat.
“If your cat doesn’t want to be touched, respect that choice,” Koski says. “When your cat is done being handled, let them go. That will give them a sense of choice, control, and trust with you.”
Easy Ways to Bond with Your Cat
Building on your cat-human bond doesn’t need to involve fancy, expensive toys. For the most part, it just takes some time for interaction—something many folks have in abundance during a worldwide pandemic.
“Cats know when you are paying attention to them—cats can follow your gaze, and know when you are talking to them,” Koski says.
Here are 6 ways to help improve a cat’s bond with humans:
Observe Your Cat
Both Koski and Sackman agree that the most important thing for the cat-human bond is doing activities your cat actually enjoys. Chances are your cat has a favorite toy, a favorite treat, a favorite place in your house to hang out.
If you’re not familiar with your cat’s preferences, now would be a good time to simply observe what your cat does all day.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn more about what they really enjoy,” Sackman says. “We have to get in their heads. They’re not little humans, they’re not little dogs.”
Make Time for Focused Play
Yes, everyone plays with their cats, but it might often be a more mindless activity than a focused one that benefits both parties.
“Cat families don’t spend nearly enough time, focused play time, with their kitties,” Sackman says. She suggests setting aside 10 minutes two or three times a day to play and just generally interact with your cat.
What toys you’ll use will depend on your cat’s play style. Many cats enjoy wand toys because they can play out a “prey sequence,” which is something they’d naturally do outdoors.
“The prey sequence consists of staring, stalking and chasing, pouncing, grabbing, and performing a kill bite,” Koski says. “If you’re using a wand toy, your cat is not going to associate you with prey but she’ll still know that you are the one who brings the prey out to be played with, and that can help build your bond with your cat.”
Offer Your Cat a Favorite Treat
Sometimes bonding with a cat can be as simple as offering food and treats.
“If you haven’t found a treat that your cat likes, it can be really fun to try and discover what tickle’s your kitty’s taste buds,” Koski says. “When you find something your cat enjoys, you can use that treat as a reward, or just any time you want to help build that bond with your cat.”
Offer Getaway Spaces
As we’ve established, cats generally do enjoy the company of humans. But just like humans, sometimes they need a little time away. Letting them have that time and offering the space to do so could help enhance your bond.
Koski says that homes should have spaces for cats to nap and be alone. However, she suggests using a space where cats can feel hidden but still be able to see the room so they know what’s going on around them.
“It’s important to respect that cat’s private space,” she says. “Designate certain cat caves and cubbies as ‘no humans’ zones and respect your cat’s space when she is in them.”
Pet Your Cat the Right Way
What’s the right way to pet a cat? However your cat enjoys it, and never for too long. Always watch for signs that your cat seems uncomfortable or is trying to get away.
Sackman says that many cats enjoy being petted around the forehead, face, and ears. The long strokes that humans often do aren’t something cats would do in the wild, she says.
Try Your Hand at Training
Pet parents often think about training dogs, but you should know that cats are trainable, too–and it can be a great way to bond with a cat of any age.
“Training strengthens the way a person communicates with their cat and is usually enjoyable by both parties,” Koski says.
To start, you only need something your cat considers to be a very tasty treat (for some, that could even be their kibble) and a clicker device or the ability to make a clicking sound with your mouth. The clicker or clicking sound will let the cat know they’ve done something you like.
Sackman recommends starting with a behavior your cat already does: “You want to have your cat offer the behavior and then recognize it, mark it, and treat it so they start to make that association.”
She says that most cats are food-motivated, so the best time for training is in the morning before feeding them breakfast or in the evening before feeding dinner. While many cats enjoy treats, Koski noted that others might prefer to be rewarded with praise, petting, or play.