Training a Cat to Accept Holding and Touching

These training exercises are to ensure that your cat will never react badly when touched, handled or restrained. Begin the training exercises when your cat is relaxed and content. Start off by handling your cat in ways that it already finds pleasurable, such as scratching the top of the head or on his back at the base of the tail. As the exercise proceeds, the stroking, touching and petting should become more vigorous and include more of the cat's body. All the time the cat remains relaxed, praise him profusely. Work slowly and gradually increase the area of the cat's body that is touched.

Your ultimate goal is to train your cat to enjoy being touched and handled so she doesn't feel threatened, defensive or irritated. Start the lessons when your cat is relaxed. Begin by handling her in ways she finds pleasurable. Scratch behind her ears and stroke the top of her head. Lengthen the strokes to include more of her body. Stroke down her back, down the hind legs and tail. Stroke along the side of her body. See if she will roll onto her side or completely roll over to accept a tummy rub. Use plenty of praise, reassurance and an occasional food treat. Work slowly and gradually increase the area of her body that may be stroked.

Within a very short handling session, you will be able to locate your cat's sensitive spots that will require additional careful attention. Usually these are the mouth, paws, ears and tail. When working with sensitive areas, touch your cat for just one second and immediately reward him with his favorite food treat. Then touch him for two seconds. Gradually increase the time of contact required for a food treat. Your cat will eventually learn to happily tolerate prolonged contact in these areas.

Gently take hold of your cat's paw, scratch him behind the ear and give him his treat. Then let go and ignore him for awhile. Repeat this routine several times. Your cat will soon look forward to having his paw held. Carefully try to spread his toes. Continually praise and stroke him with your other hand as long as he appears relaxed. Examine each toe and nail then immediately reward him with another of his special food treats. Facing your cat, scratch her behind her ear with your fingers, and use your thumb to gently fold back her ear to examine inside. Similarly, when examining her mouth, continue scratching behind the ear and with your thumb, gently flip up her upper lip to expose her teeth.

Remember, with all cat handling exercises you should work slowly and gently, always rewarding and praising your cat for good behavior.

When your cat is in a playful mood, incorporate handling and touching with a play session. Convince your cat that being touched is all part of the fun and games. He should not be able to distinguish between play and grooming or between affection and restraint (hugging).

If at anytime kitty objects to these exercises, you simply deny the treat or stop the play session. Eventually your cat will learn to enjoy being touched and handled. This will happen extremely quickly with a kitten. It will take more time with an adult cat and even more time and patience with an already fearful cat.

Work on developing your cat's trust and confidence in yourself. Then you can slowly introduce your cat to adult strangers, and eventually children but only under your direct supervision.

Questions from cat owners
about their cat accepting touching and handling and... strangers:

Dear Gwen,
My newly adopted 10 month old cat bites me and won't let me pet him. When I try to show him affection, he just runs away. I feel disappointed because I wanted a snuggly cat. When he first arrived, I think I might have scared him by accidentally grabbing at him a little too roughly. He likes to play and will always greet me when I come home. He will rub his face against mine for a moment, but if I try to prolong it or initiate contact, he lightly bites me or runs away. Could this be his nature or do you think I ruined our relationship from the start? Can you train a cat to like being petted?
signed, Lonely Lynne

I doubt that you ruined the relationship from the start since your cat is happy to see you when you come home. He is telling you that he likes you when he rubs his face against yours. By running away, he is also telling you that he likes his space and doesn't want to be forced into being cuddly. On the other hand, maybe he is running away in an attempt to get you to play and chase him. He is still a very young cat with lots of energy.

Some cats simply do not like being petted or touched; others can be taught to accept and even enjoy handling. If his ways can be changed, here's a plan that has worked with most of my cat/owner clients with similar problems.

1. Completely ignore Kitty. Pretend he is invisible. Take care of his physical needs (food, water,litter box, etc) but do not talk to him, play with him or even look at him. When he greets you when you come home, ignore him; just walk by as if he wasn't there. After anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks of this, he should be craving your attention, affection and touch. He should be following you around, pestering and begging you for attention. Withhold your attention until he is craving it.

2. Begin to give him extremely small doses of affection. When he sits on your lap, stroke him 2 or 3 times, then get up and walk away. Gradually increase the amount of affection you give him, but always end the session with him wanting more. If you give him more than he needs or wants, then he will end the cuddle session on his terms (running away or biting to make you stop petting him). If you always leave him wanting more, then he will value it and look forward to it more.

meows, Gwen

Dear Gwen,
I'm going on vacation for two weeks and my cat has never been out of my house except to go to the vet. He is very dependent on me and I'm worried that he will be depressed and not eat when I am gone. When I leave, he sits by the window and waits for me. When I come home he greets me at the door and follows me everywhere. A neighbor is going to care for him while I'm gone. Is there anyway I can assure myself that he will be OK when I'm gone?
signed, Worried

Begin as soon as possible to prepare him for your trip. Ask your neighbor to come over as frequently as possible when you are there to spend time with him. Let your cat see that you approve of her. Let her feed him, play with him and escort him to his litter box. It is also a good idea for him to see the two of you coming home together from the window. Maybe you can arrange to pick your neighbor up around the corner before driving up to your house. When you cat looks out the window, he will see both of you and begin to identify your neighbor as someone he looks forward to seeing.

Then try letting your neighbor spend some time alone with your cat. See if she thinks he feels comfortable and secure with her. Will he take treats from her? Will he cuddle or sit on her lap when you are not there? If you have the right answers to these questions before you leave, then I think you will be more assured when you are gone.

meows, Gwen

Training a Cat to Accept Holding and Touching

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