How to bond with your cat? Is something wrong?

I am revisiting a page that I wrote about 12 years ago. The question in the title (which I have subsequently amended) asked how a cat owner can bond with their cat. Internet users ask the question sometimes. The implication is that they feel that they are not bonding with their domestic cat companion. So, something might not be quite right.

When You Believe Your Cat Has Emotions You Are More Attached to Her

Companionship. Picture in public domain

Perhaps the caregiver has expectations which are unrealistic or they are not managing the relationship adequately. Before I go on, it’s worth saying that in some instances a cat owner can be imprinted upon their cat’s brain as if they are their mother. This happens sometimes when a person raises a newborn kitten. They are attached to the person as if they are their genuine mother and not a surrogate mother. This creates a very strong bond for obvious reasons. It doesn’t happen that often.

Expectations

Expectations are important. Cats are not dogs! Maybe sometimes people view cats as if they are dogs and expect dog-like behaviour in which the animal looks up to their human master. You don’t get that with cats. One should accept that. It may give the impression to some people that there is a lack of a real bond but I would not describe it like that. The bond is there between cat and person but it is different to the bond between dog and person.

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Surrogate mother

The domestic cat views their human caregiver as a surrogate mother. That automatically means that there is a good bond. It also answers the question how to bond with your cat. If you provide for your cat in the best possible way a bond will be created. This means providing a secure environment, a warm environment, a stimulating environment which activates your cat’s mojo. It means providing high quality cat food and plenty of cuddles and playtime. If you do all this with love and with the best of intentions, the outcome will be guaranteed: your cat will bond with you. Depending on her character, she may follow you around and talk to you. She will make demands on you but that is what you want if you want to bond with your cat.

Routines, rhythms and emotional warmth

An emotional warm and stable environment is what domestics want. They like routines and rhythms and a calm environment. Ideally it should be quite a quiet environment. All these factors help to cement a bond between cat and person. I’ve talked about what the person does to build a bond but it is of course a two-way street.

Domestic cats are individuals

Domestic cats behave instinctively. You can’t tell a cat how to improve the bond between themselves and their human caregiver. They are reactive to what the human caregiver does. And their reaction depends upon their character. Some cats, for example, are more predisposed to being lap cats. When a cat sits on your lap it helps develop the bond. It is a sign that there is a bond. If a domestic cat does not want to sit on their owner’s lap, the owner might think that there is a problem with bonding.

Fake lap for clingy cat

Fake lap for clingy cat. Photo: Alex and Rebecca May.

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The thought may be misplaced. It might just mean that the cat is not a lap cat and prefers to be a little more independent and not quite so connected to their human companion. This is a character trait. Each cat is an individual. The degree of confidence or timidity in a cat certainly affects the bonding process. A more confident cat will come forward and instigate an interaction. More timid cats might not do this. They will be more reserved and tend to hold back and retire to high vantage points or hiding places. This may lead to the person thinking that they failed. That also would be a misplaced thought.

RELATED: What sort of human personality does a domestic cat prefer?

Adopting from rescue center

Clearly, if you adopt a cat at a rescue centre, selecting a more confident cat who wants to interact is going to help promote the bonding process. That said, I always feel that one should go to the frightened cat at a shelter because they need your help. Also, cat behaviour at shelters can be misleading as we know. Shelters are difficult places for cats. It’s unnerving to them. They might not demonstrate their normal behaviour. If you can bring the timidity out of a cat and provide them with confidence it is a very rewarding process and liable to cement a great bond.

Cat interacting with owner

Cat interacting with owner. You can feel the bond. It is the kind of bond which encourages the cat to initiate an interaction. Photo in public domain.

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Owner’s demeanour, mood and handling

Domestic cats pick up on the mood of an individual. If the cat owner is fractious, short tempered and irritable and occasionally loses their temper with their cat, clearly this will loosen the bond between them. Conversely, if a cat owner is very stable, has a sound temperament, is able to cope well, has plenty of time to devote to their cat thanks to their work routines and practices, a bond will flow from these qualities provided the interactions are always gentle. Respecting your cat and being gentle with your cat are obviously fundamental prerequisites to caregiving.

Owner’s lifestyle

I have to touch on the owner’s lifestyle. Sometimes a person’s lifestyle is simply unsuited to having a domestic cat companion. If they are not there are enough or their work takes them away from cat caregiving too much and so on, these are all factors which will interfere with the relationship between cat and person and loosen the bond. The cat owner’s personal circumstances are a major factor on how the bond develops between cat and person and whether it is solid and remains for the long term.

The ‘love her and what flows approach’ – This was my first attempt at answering the question about 12 yrs. ago.

Have you seen the film “Camelot”? I think it has the actor Richard Harris singing in it playing King Arthur. He does a good job and he declares that the best or only way to deal with a woman is to love her. This is correct! Very true. The answer to this question is then to love our cats. Love them as equals. See them as equals. There are no fancy methods required in answering the question, “How to Bond with Our Cat?”. Personally, I would reject any cat behaviorist who has devised some fancy training scheme or some such method. Bonding will arrive naturally just as it does between people if the underlying behavior encourages and builds it.

This does, though, require the right attitude from us. The world is divided about the domestic cat. Some people can relate to cats and some can’t. Provided the cat is a normally socialized cat, if we can’t bond with our cat, it is most likely to be because of us. One last point. If we adopt a feral or long-term stray cat there may be a need first to Tame Wild Feral Cats and Kittens before we bond.

If we love cats, this will naturally motivate us to do what cats like best:

  • To be fed really nicely – always buy decent cat food and find out (gradually) what their preferences are. Cats like humans have their own individual tastes. For instance, my Binnie likes biscuits and loves above all else prawns (ideally fresh! but normally cooked from frozen) and boiled fish. Timmy also likes prawns but any good cat food will do him but not biscuits.
  • To be stroked gently. Men have a tendency to stroke too hard. Always gently. This is what the mother cat would do and it reminds our cat of that.
  • To be combed gently. This is a very tender loving process. Using a flea comb as an alternative will also allow us to discover fleas and to kill ’em, the horrible things. Gentle flea combing around the neck area will pleased our cat, she’ll feel good and so will we.
  • To be played with. Cats can get bored indoors. A bit of play goes a long way.
  • To be catnip zapped. A bit of this from time to time will zonk her or him out and he will like us for that.
  • To be spoken to in a nice voice. Eventually our cat will understand the tone and our body language and know what to do. This is a form of cat training.

Above all else, love her or him gently and she or he will bond beautifully. And as the years roll by the bond will grow into a special form of true human to cat love.

How to Bond with Our Cat — Update: It is occurred to me that there may be an expectation issue here. What we expect to achieve in terms of bonding with our cat may not be realistically possible. Cats and humans can live nicely together as companions but the relationship is different (but not less good, perhaps better for some) to a relationship with a person or a dog. We should expect that. And, of course, what I have said here is based upon a normally socialized cat. Some cats are going to be badly socialized, in which case it will take longer to bond but time and tender loving care will produce a result, nonetheless.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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