Why Doesn't My Cat Like My Friends and Family?
There are many reasons why your cat might not like a person. It’s important to recognize that bringing guests into your house changes your cat’s environment. Visitors introduce new scents, sights, and sounds that can disrupt your cat’s baseline environment. Because of this, understand that your cat will respond to the change in a way that attempts to restore their comfort.
How your cat reacts to strangers can vary depending on numerous factors. These factors include:
How well your cat was socialized
Whether your guests seek out your cat
How your guests interact with your cat
Your guests’ demeanor and actions
Your cat’s noise sensitivity
Previous stressors to the cat
Your cat will attempt to increase its distance from your company if it feels uncomfortable. Some may run away or become reclusive when there is company over, while others may exhibit defensive behaviors such as hissing.
Socialization forms the basis for how your cat responds to others entering its home. If a cat was not exposed to other people or animals during its socialization period, it would likely be hesitant to accept new people, or fearing them altogether.
With their acute senses, even slight changes to the environment can be uncomfortable to cats. While you might not be offended by a visitor’s perfume or cologne, your cat might be if they are sensitive to smells. Your cat might also become unnerved by certain voices or articles of clothing such as hats. Things that are commonplace for you might feel completely foreign to your cat.
Take note of how your guests interact with your cat. Do they request to see them? Do they initiate contact with your cat or is it the other way around? Do your guests try to pick up or hold your cat? Cats can be fairly particular in the ways that they like to be pet or handled. Cats typically prefer to be handled by people that they are comfortable with. While your cat may allow you to pick them up, they might not enjoy when others do it.
Beyond how your guests interact with your cat directly, your cat might be affected by the way your guests act or interact with others. Some cats become intimidated by the actions or demeanor of certain individuals. The energy level of a guest can have surprising effects on a cat’s environment. If a guest is loud and boisterous, your cat might feel threatened by their presence. Your cat might even pick up on the stress-level of you or others in the house. They might be more likely to distance themselves from a guest if they sense higher levels of tension.
If you have many guests over at once, your cat might become overwhelmed or overstimulated by the commotion. Many cats will find a quiet place away from the noise because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Parties can introduce a lot of stress for your cat, even if your guests are calm and relaxed. They bring major changes to a cat’s environment, which can be difficult for a cat to cope with.
Before any of your guests come through the door, your cat might be stressed and overwhelmed. In preparation for company or a party, you might vacuum, rearrange furniture, or put up decorations. This makes it harder for your cat to tolerate your guests, because they are already in a state of elevated stress. Even hearing your guests ring the doorbell or knock can elevate your cat’s stress levels before they ever even see your guests.
What to do
If your cat is wary of guests and you’d like to help your cat be more comfortable around them, here are some tips to help boost their confidence!
Allow the cat to approach first
Empower your cat to decide when and how they interact with people. If your cat isn’t seeking interactions, have your guests avoid initiating physical interactions with them. Having a cat-centric approach to guest interactions allows the cat to be more comfortable and more likely to be present when company is over. Your cat should feel that they are in control of how they interact.
If the cat approaches your guest, have them open their hand while maintaining a passive and non-threatening body posture. The guest should not reach out to the cat, but rather offer their hand to the cat. Your cat may then rub against your guest or sniff them. Continue to allow the cat to lead the interactions.
Don’t force them to interact
If your cat is hiding, it’s likely because they are stressed. It’s best to let them remove themselves from the situation and relax. If you allow your guests to find the cat in its hiding place, your cat will learn that their current method of increasing distance from stress is not working. If they learn that their hiding spot is not secure, then they will seek a safer place, or more effective ways to increase the distance between them and their stressors. This might include negative behaviors, such as hissing or scratching.
Start with Cat savvy friends/family
When first starting to get your cat used to other individuals, it can be very helpful to start with your cat savvy friends and family. Choose individuals who will respect the cat and follow a plan that you discuss with them. If your cat has issues with children, select a calm child and talk through the plan with them, explaining the needs of the cat.
Talk to friends and family before they get there
To make the most out of your guest interactions, talk to them before they arrive. Set some guidelines and expectations for your guests. Your cat depends on you to be their advocate. Talking to your guests before they ever knock on the door can help with your training progress and help to create a comfortable and safe environment for your cat.
When introducing your cat to new individuals, take your time. There is no need to rush the introductions. Allow them to go at the cat’s pace. As usual, introductions should not be forced, but rather on the cat’s own will.
Encourage play over petting/holding
To help your cat begin to trust a particular guest, try having them play with your cat instead of petting them or holding them. This is an effective way to bond with and build a relationship with a cat, because it can be done at a distance, and is fun.
Have your friends or family play with your cat with toys that your cat enjoys that don’t require direct physical contact with the cat. String teaser type toys are great for this, because the guest can be seated while using them, which makes them appear less threatening to the cat. Assuming a more passive body posture, such as calmly sitting can help the cat warm up to your guests.
During the process of helping your cat acclimate to guests or a particular individual, incorporate positive reinforcement, such as high-value treats or play, into the interaction. Exactly how this would look depends on your cat’s specific needs.
To come up with an individualized plan for using positive reinforcement, contact us!