Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
It’s always been just my cat Leo and myself, but recently my brother has been coming and staying for long periods of time. When my brother is here, Leo hides all the time. He won’t go downstairs to use his box because my brother stays down there, so I had to put another box upstairs. I thought he’d eventually get used to my brother, but it’s been about nine months and no change. How can I get him to trust my brother and not be such a scaredy cat?
Siouxsie: Well, Kristine, I can certainly see how the arrival of a new person could shake up a cat who’s used to just you.
Thomas: The thing about male humans is that they’re bigger, they have heavier footsteps and deeper voices, and their bodies move in ways that female humans’ don’t.
Bella: All that can spook a kitty who’s only known life with a woman.
Siouxsie: We remember when Mama’s brother would come to visit her, we’d run for the hills, too. We didn’t want to get in the way of those great, big feet, after all!
Thomas: The best way to get Leo used to your brother is to make him the source from which all good things flow. When he’s visiting with you, have him feed Leo and play with him. Leo’s confidence will rise if he gets the chance to exercise his hunting instincts with a play toy wielded by your bro.
Bella: You can try some happy-kitty pheromones, too. Mama’s used Feliway Comfort Zone plug-ins during stressful times in our lives, and it really helps. In fact, our vet clinic has Feliway in all the exam rooms, too.
Thomas: A lot of times, people who don’t have much exposure to cats don’t understand that we have a completely different preferences about touch and affection than, say, dogs.
Siouxsie: You know how dogs like being roughed up when you pet them? Cats don’t. One time a person came up to me while I was holding court at Mama’s office and started petting me like a dog. She even patted — not stroked — my sore hips! Ouch! Mama intervened before I had to growl at that person and gently explained that cats need different kinds of petties.
Bella: Encourage your brother to step softly and speak quietly around Leo, and help him learn to “speak cat.”
Thomas: Here are some great lessons in saying “hello, I love you” to a cat, courtesy of our very favorite cool cat daddy, Jackson Galaxy of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell.
Bella: Another reason Leo may feel scared is because he doesn’t have enough places to watch your brother from a distance. Make sure you have at least one tall cat tree and a bunch of other vantage points from which Leo can watch your brother hanging out and doing his thing.
Siouxsie: Even with perspective and safe zones, tt may take quite a while before Leo feels comfortable around your brother, even if he does all the feeding.
Thomas: We’re sure you wouldn’t have your brother in your house if you didn’t feel he was safe to be around or if you didn’t feel he was safe with your cat, so it may just be a matter of time and effort.
Bella: But your brother can become friends with Leo as long as he understands the basics of cat behavior … and doesn’t pet him like a dog.
Siouxsie: We hope this helps, Kristen. Please let us know how things turn out.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Do you have some ideas for helping Kristine to help Leo get used to her brother? Please share your tips in the comments!