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Neurotic_David's avatar

How do I teach my cat to let me pet her?

Asked by Neurotic_David (2193points) July 20th, 2011

About 6 weeks ago, I rescued a 2YO cat from a shelter. It turns out she had been in a cage in the shelter for 18 months (!). Over the last 6 weeks, she’s adapted to having the run of a house. She seems generally pretty happy. When I’m home, she’s near me and purring. When I’m not home, she spends a lot of time looking out the windows, basking in sun rays, and doing the things cats do.

But she won’t let me touch her.

She’s really interested in me, but she stops at a certain distance. If I squat down like a catcher, she’ll pace back and forth like she wants to come up to me, but doesn’t. If I’m on my bed, she paces around the bed and eventually sits down on the floor near it, but never on it. I’ve tried to gently coax her, but that’s been futile.

When I quietly reach out my hand to let her sniff, she runs away. If I try and pet her when she’s within arm’s reach, she runs away. The few time I have managed to gently pet her, she looked at me as if to say, “Um, what are you doing? Why are you touching me? I dont get it” and quickly ran away. I got the feeling, based on her history and her reaction, that she had never been petted before, and didn’t realize she was supposed to enjoy it (and eventually, because she’s a cat, demand it, on her own terms).

The easy answer is to get another cat (who is more socialized) and that cat will lead the way. But that doesn’t work for me, and I think my cat likes having a quiet home to herself.

Any ideas on how I can teach my kitty to like being touched?


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16 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

Ply her with treats.

First start off by giving her a treat when she comes up to you. Then follow up by giving treats each time she lets you pet her for 10 seconds. Move it up to 30 secs as you become more successful.

With a shelter cat, you will need to build trust. Once she understands you will always give her food, water, shelter and love, she will willingly be open to showing you affection.

With some cats this process takes a few days, with others a couple of months.

We took in a feral kitten last Spetember. At the time, she climbed the windows trying to get out of the house. She now follows me everywhere like a puppy.

jm5225's avatar

I would say positive reinforcement is key, sounds like your doing that but taking it very slow and offering rewards might be a good idea. Especially if the cat was victim to animal abuse at any point. Perhaps try some cat food in your hands prior to touching her so they seem more inviting. Just some ideas.Rushing or forcing it though won’t make the situation better and will most likely cause more stress and fear in the cat. Maybe even try a routine like when you get home from work make it a point to pet her then leave her alone the rest of the day and slowly keep increasing the times when you pet her so she knows once it’s done she is free of the worry for the rest of the night. Eventually she may like it and come to you for it.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, time and positive reinforcement.

In my experience with adopting older cats, a year old or more most of them take a few months to really adjust to a new home and blossom into themselves.

I think you’ll be surprised at how she continues to change and acclimate over the next 6 mos. to a year.

My newer female has been here a year now and she was 10 mos. old when I adopted her from the shelter. She is still young and does not like to be held and cuddled, but, she is very affectionate on her own terms.

You can’t force cats in any way, all you can do is let them set the pace for interaction.

I can sling my kitty over my shoulder and she will hang out that way, but, if I try to cradle her like a baby she gets upset.

Younger cats, especially females are very active and rather squirrly, compared to males who tend to be mellower and get lazier quicker. lol

SpatzieLover's avatar

Younger cats, especially females are very active and rather squirrly, compared to males who tend to be mellower and get lazier quicker

@Coloma I have found the exact same to be true on my end. All of the males we’ve ever taken in become lap cats within weeks at the most. Girls: I never have to worry about their weight. Boys: Holy cajoly! Is it possible for a cat to get fat in 2 weeks?! Apparently so. ;)

@Neurotic_David Female cats tend to become “daddy” girls in our home. I hope you find the same to be true. Congrats on your adoption!

Coloma's avatar


It is so true!
My Marley that passed away in June became a TANK in the first few months I had him and was destined to be a very big and lazy guy. Sadly his life was cut short by FIP at 15 months.

gailcalled's avatar

The best and quickest bribe in our household is the juices in the bottom of canned tuna or salmon in water. MIlo starts to vocalize as though he had been fired from a canon.

“One caress, one sip” might work.

intrepidium's avatar

How about rubbing some catnip on your hand while you carry on doing what you do? (assuming she responds to catnip – I know it does nothing for some cats)

SpatzieLover's avatar

@intrepidium Cat nip also makes some cats especially the female ones I have want to bite ;)

Seelix's avatar

The others have given you good advice. Keep in mind, though, that some kitties just don’t like to be petted. One of my sister’s cats loves to hang out near people – he’ll sit beside you and purr, but if you try to pet him, he leaves. Try the advice others have given you, but if it doesn’t work, don’t be broken-hearted.

sophiesword's avatar

I think you should really get her to smell your finger first that really helps in building a bond because animals really rely a lot on smell.

Oh and by the way once she’s friendly with you try tickling her underneath the chin, female cats adore that she will purr your head off.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

When I was given a young cat that came from a farm, she was exactly the same way as yours. I tried the catnip, tuna fish, etc., and nothing worked. It just took time…a looong time. I’d come home from work and find her cowering under the bed. I’d just lay there and talk softly. Months later, she would eventually come out from wherever she was hiding and walk around the room, as long as I didn’t make any swift moves. It took at least a year before she would let me touch her.

Just keep trying different things, like the suggestions above, while having the patience of a saint. She’s very lucky to have someone like you in her life.

Neurotic_David's avatar

Thank you, everyone, for your replies and for your thoughtfulness. I’ve been taking the attitude that time and patience was what was needed. I figured by just being myself, she’d realize in time that I have a lot more to offer than just filling the food and water dishes, and cleaning her litter box. I just didn’t count on 6 weeks being too soon to start worrying, but your answers ameliorate that concern.

tan235's avatar

I just had the same experience with new kitty, she wouldn’t let me pat her either, it took about 3 weeks, she slowly came around, it’s a new environment and she is getting use to you, she just needs to feel safe where she is.
Just do what you’re doing but know she’ll come around, my kitty does, she still wont sit on my lap and she isn’t overly affectionate but every day she gets a bit closer – it’s very sweet.

nationsfairylee's avatar

I myself have a rescued cat and it really is difficult for them to be around humans but eventually he grew into it. He’s still very scared of people he doesn’t know and runs away frantically but he lets me and my mom touch him. The key is FOOD. If the cat knows the food comes from you, it responds better. Try to always be the one to feed your cat.—Stay there while she is eating. Then gradually try to pet her before giving her the food and after. My cat rubs up on me now if he wants food and allows himself to be petted especially before eating :)

Neurotic_David's avatar

As a quick update, it took approximately 12 weeks, but my cat is now asking for, and getting, petted every day. I could tell over the last few weeks that she wanted affection, but wasn’t quite able to overcome her fright. After I went away for three days over Labor Day, I came back to a more confident kitty :)

SpatzieLover's avatar

Thank you for the update @Neurotic_David! I hope she follows you around like a puppy soon :)

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