Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I bought a 4-year-old Persian cat about two months ago. She was born and raised to be bred. The owner got rid of her because she wouldn’t take care of her babies. I give her free roam indoors my house and she’s the only pet. She will not let me touch her. She will sit in a chair and sleep next to me but wants nothing to do with me! Not even treats will get her close. She eats well and uses her litter box … most of the time. What can I do to get her to want my affection?
Thomas: Oh, Hannah, we know how hard it is when you bring a cat into your life and she doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with you. But we do have a couple of tips that may help you and your kitty build your relationship.
Bella: First of all, we hope you can take heart in the fact that she wants to sit next to you and sleep next to you. Those are big-deal things with some cats, and if she’s willing to sleep next to you, that shows she trusts you.
Tara: It’s possible that your kitty may not have been very well socialized with people. If she was born to breed and that’s pretty much all she did, she may not have gotten a whole lot of human affection. That depends on the breeder, of course, because many responsible breeders go out of their way to make sure their cats get exposure to people.
Thomas: They do that because mom-cats that are used to people and comfortable with them will often raise their kittens to be comfortable with people, which is really important.
Bella: Our first recommendation is that if possible, you talk to the breeder and ask him or her how your cat was with people when she was living with them.
Tara: The breeder might have some tips for you on how to bring your cat out of her shell and be more affectionate with you.
Thomas: Another possibility is that your cat may be uncomfortable. She may need to be groomed or she may need to go to the vet.
Bella: Persian cats have unique and beautiful fur. But that amazing coat comes at a cost: Persians’ fur is very fine and mats easily. Mats can be very uncomfortable and cause a cat to be reluctant to move around much. They can even tear the skin if they get really bad.
Tara: Mats can even cause problems with litter box behavior, if they’re making it hard for her to assume the proper position or to clean herself after she uses the box.
Thomas: Persian cats can be prone to dental problems as well. Their short jaws can lead to malocclusion — that is, the teeth don’t all fit where they should — and this can contribute to dental disease. Even cats who eat well can have dental problems. I ate my food all the time, and Mama didn’t know until I went to the vet for a dental that I had eight teeth that were bothering me!
Bella: Poor Mama felt like such a bad cat-mom when she heard that Thomas had so many bad teeth, but the thing is that we cats are instinctively driven to hide pain and discomfort…
Thomas: And we eat even through our pain because we’re also instinctively driven to eat, unless the pain is so severe we just can’t do it.
Bella: With that in mind, the first thing we’d recommend is a trip to the vet, if you haven’t done that already. A full physical exam will rule out any medical causes for her behavior.
Tara: Your vet will also be able to tell you if she’s matted in places you can’t see. They can even groom her if you want them to.
Thomas: The most typical kind of grooming given to Persians is what’s called a lion cut. This will get rid of any mats in the fur on her back, under her front legs and on her tummy.
Bella: Then, after she’s been groomed, you can get her used to being brushed. You’ll have to brush her at least once a week to keep her free from mats. But if she’s still not ready for you to touch her, you may have to get her professionally groomed a few times to keep her mats under control.
Tara: We’d recommend that you ask the breeder about the tools he or she used to groom your cat, so you know what she’s used to seeing.
Thomas: Grooming may even be a way to help you bond with your cat … as long as it doesn’t hurt, of course!
Bella: So, Hannah, we’d suggest you get your cat to the vet for a full exam, have her groomed if she needs it, and then it’ll be a matter of time and patience.
Tara: Cats that aren’t well socialized need that time and patience to learn that people are good, hands give love, and that they’re safe.
Thomas: Don’t despair: she’ll come around eventually.
Bella: How about you other readers? Have you had cats that were not well socialized? Please talk about your experiences in the comments, and if you have any tips to help Hannah socialize her cat, I’m sure they’d be welcomed!
Tara: Do you have a Persian cat? Can you recommend any Persian-specific tips for socialization, grooming, feeding and care? Please share your thoughts, too.
Oh yes, my three babies now (Orange, Poof, and Princess) were all feral kittens when we had gotten them (not just stray, but full on feral). They had been captured from their colony from somewhere in the Pike National Forest area, with the intention of fixing them, clipping their ears, and releasing them back into the wild. And they did not like humans one bit. Hissing, biting, tearing skin, drawing blood, attacking other cats and humans alike. Apparently the cat-catchers had disrupted the colony so bad it had run off and the humans couldn’t find them, the trio had nothing to go back to. So I adopted them and brought them home! I didn’t have to worry about introducing them to one another, but my home was a different story.
The first week, I didn’t even know I had cats. Princess would flatten herself out, so that she could squeeze under my dresser, only about two inches from the ground. Orange and Poof (the two boys) were always together, and they liked to hide in one of the cubbies offered by their cat tower. They scampered anytime someone came into the same room, and if you followed after you would expect loud growling, and if you still didn’t back up, you got claws and teeth (I still have a few scars, but I bare no ill-will, they were terrified). I’d find piles of poo everywhere, and the entire apartment reeked of pee. I was so scared mom was going to make me get rid of them. I asked the internet what to do, and found Jackson Galaxy. He taught me how to get my scent close to them without scaring them, the “slow blink”, toys that would help, and it helped tremendously! It took two months, but soon enough Orange and Poof were acting almost domestic. They would still bolt for the door every time it opened, and if a bird was outside they would start yowling at the nearest window, but they would let you pet them, they would climb up on your bed or on the couch and demand lovings, they had even started meowing (which I am told they don’t do in the wild), they are absolute sweethearts, you almost wouldn’t believe they were the same cats. Princess still hated everyone and everything. The only progress she had made, was she would now climb out of her hiding spot and stare at you if she was hungry. She had realized that human=food. But I didn’t give up.
I left my scent everywhere, I used towels, clothes, blankets, pillowcases, stuffed animals, everything with my scent on it, and put it where she would hide, in the cubbies, under the beds, under the dressers, by her food and water dishes, next to her toys (not that she had any interest in them) the house looked like a mess, but it had a good effect. She would attack my stuff. Approach a shoe with an arched back and puffed up tail, swipe at it a few times, jump when it moved (because she swiped it) and then come back, sniffing and wagging her tail at it. After she realized it wasn’t going to fight back she would carry it like prey, grabbing it in her mouth and carrying it as far as she could. (I remember freaking out when she left one of her baby teeth in my shoe) I didn’t really do much for a few weeks, aside from playing with her brothers, just because she was being stubborn doesn’t mean they don’t need love and attention to. The red dot laser terrified her, it was a monster that she couldn’t touch, smell, or hear. But she was also protective of her brothers. If Orange was sun bathing and I made the dot sneak up on him she would charge forward, tail raised, and pounce on it. I would turn it off as soon as she had “killed” it, and my goodness did she look proud. I feel this really boosted her confidence.
About five more months down the line, which seems like a really long time, Orange and Poof were fully domesticated fat cats, Princess was still working on it. They all ate and drank water, they all used the litterbox properly (though Princess refuses to squat so sometimes she missed), and Orange and Poof let everyone in the house pet them, Princess only let me pet her. My vet said it was probably because I had made the most effort and had left only MY scent in her hiding spots. Princess was a scare-dy cat when anyone else was around, still hiding or acting like she may bolt at any second. (Key-word: acting, she wasn’t actually running away) but when it was just me and her, she was an entirely different cat. She would come into my room and just sit and stare at me. She still didn’t meow, and I had never heard her purr, but it was progress, and I was content, I realized that she may never be as social as her brothers, and could just be a shy baby.
Fast forward to the present (a little over two years after we got her and her family), Princess has come a long way. I am still her favorite human, but she meows, purrs, and seeks out affection. She enjoys pets, but we have to let her come to us, if we try and pick her up we get claws and anger. She is still shy, and doesn’t like loud noises or being chased (but who does?) but she loves games, petting, and toys where she gets to feel like a mighty hunter in the wild.
Over all, if my wall of text is too much for anyone, boost your cat’s confidence, be patience, keep your distance if that is what they desire, but also give them attention. KEEP TRYING, take baby steps or leaps if they are ready, talk to your vet, your friends, and the internet. Don’t try and force anything, and reward frequently. It doesn’t have to be a treat, but some praise works well, cats can sense the change of your voice. Also, Princess has a “cheat button” as I like to call it. If I scratch the base of her tail, she goes full on kitten, rolling onto her back, paws in the air, purring super load, and she will be like that for a few minutes. Of course the dignified kitty will climb right back up, and just sort of stare at me like, “You will never speak of this to anyone.” It doesn’t work for her brothers, but it might work for other people having this issue. Patience and understanding are the key, at least for me.
I’ve found that with most cats–the more that you get, the more that they return. I had a semi-stray cat once and she was only truly affectionate with me, by lying up against my leg and only sitting in my lap in old age.
Here’s how I acclimated my cats to being held: Never chase the cat, simply gently scoop up cat, put paws on shoulders facing back and gently stroke, then if purring continues/starts: pet, then gently release. They enjoy being held, sitting in my lap and being petted enormously. They associate being picked up and held with petting, therefore they love it! They also go crazy for the brush!
A simple wire brush is best for my cats, I have a Furminator, but I only use it for my medium hair kitty, and only gently because it can hurt their bones if used too vigorously. I alternate between cat while brushing (nobody gets jealous) and give them lots of chin rubs with the brush.
Types of affection cats give and we give: talking to, rubbing, stroking(In order of least to most preferred): paws, tail base, back head, chin) sitting in lap, lying against, kneading, grooming(can also be a dominance behavior) and of course the “slow eye blink”, which is best returned briefly and then looking away. Avoid staring at a cat without blinking as it can be perceived as a threat.