By Katie McHenry
When I was growing up, my family and I adopted numerous neighborhood strays into our home; sometimes, we’d visit the shelter to adopt a furry family member. A cat we adopted actually gave birth to kittens, one of whom we kept along with his mother! Throughout life, I’ve bonded with cats of all ages and never noticed a difference between my relationships with the cats I’ve adopted as adults and the cats I’ve known since they were kittens.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I first heard the rumor that the only way to fully bond with a cat is to adopt one as a kitten, which has no basis in fact. Are my bonds with some of my cats closer than others? Sure, but that has nothing to do with the age of the cat when I adopted him. Rather, it usually results from whether the cat was socialized as a kitten, how well our personalities match and the events that unfold around us: whether the cat has a chronic illness that needs to be nursed, or if he’s the furry shoulder I cry on after a breakup.
Additionally, the home environment of where the cat lives can affect his bond with humans. For instance, an overly active home with a shycat might mean that the cat never feels comfortable enough to bond with his human. Some semi-feral (not fully socialized) cats can learn to bond with a human, but it’s usually just one person. One of my fosters, Mitzi, spent the first two years of her life in a cage at a pet store, which meant she was never socialized as a kitten; she learned to trust me eventually, even occasionally sitting on my lap, but she never bonded with anyone else. (For another story about bonding with an older cat, see “Patches: The Cat Who Loved Everyone.”)
So how can you make sure that you develop the closest bond with your cat?
Remember that the strength of your relationship with your cat has nothing to do with whether you adopt him as a kitten or not! First and foremost, make sure the cat you adopt complements your personality, lifestyle and home environment, then do your part to engage in bonding behaviors:
1. Make sure that you and your cat are a match.
Too often, potential adopters inquire about a cat based on his looks rather than his personality, which is understandable. We are all drawn to cats who are beautiful or who remind us of a cat from our childhood. But it’s more important to focus on whether the personalities match, and because our cats are in foster homes, we can tell you all about each cat’s unique nature!
For example, if you love black cats but also want a cat who will cuddle with you every night, it’s still better to choose an affectionate orange, white, brown, grey, calico or tortoiseshell cat with a Velcro personality than it is a more detached black cat, even if black cats hold a special place in your heart. Just as with humans, you cannot change a cat’s innate personality, and a cat that might remind you of your favorite childhood pet likely won’t have the same disposition and quirks that you might remember from the cat you had as a child.
Additionally, if you have an active home environment, you’ll want a lively, social cat who will thrive in the commotion rather than a shy cat who needs peace and quiet.
2. Play with your cat every day.
Think of this in the same terms as parents playing catch with their children in the backyard: playing with your cat – using a laser pointer, Da Bird or other interactive toy – will not only ensure that your cat gets exercise and fulfillment, but also, it will give you important quality time with your kitty.
If my two boys, Biscuit and Tony Atlas, spend at least 10 minutes a night chasing their laser pointer followed by a small snack, they’re more likely to let me sleep through the night – which means I’m more likely to wake up to them cuddling my feet at 7 am (rather than attacking my feet at 3 am)!
3. Learn your cat’s language.
If your cat is in the mood to be petted, he will give you clues, such as jumping into your lap and rubbing against your legs. However, if your cat doesn’t want you to pet him, he will also let you know via flattened ears, a twitching tail or even nipping your hand! (Additionally, some people mistake a cat showing his tummy – a sign of confidence in his surroundings – as a request for a tummy rub, but most cats actually don’t like having their belly touched.)
Additionally, familiarize yourself with the “slow blink,” or one of the ways cats say “I love you.” World renowned feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy explains this method in three steps: A. Soften your gaze toward your cat as you think the word “I.” B. Close your eyes and think “love.” C. Open your eyes and think the final word, “you.” It might take multiple attempts, but chances are, your cat will respond to your slow blink with a slow blink of his own!
Again, as long as a cat is socialized as a kitten – regardless of which human is responsible for socializing the cat – and your personality and lifestyle match the cat’s, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to form a close bond, regardless of the age of the cat upon adoption. And if you’re looking to adopt a cat with a specific personality, just ask us, or better yet… Fill out our Meet Your Match form!!