We know you love your cat, but let’s face it: many cats aren’t the most affectionate creatures on the planet. Your feline friend might not like snuggling with you or being held, even if you’d prefer it. Don’t think that your cat will always shun your attention, though. From using interactive toys to giving them high-quality cat treats, there are a number of ways you can improve your bond with your cat and, hopefully, make him a more affectionate companion.
1. Be Relaxed
Try to bond with your cat when you’re in a good mood. Cats need to feel safe around their owners, particularly ones that have been in shelters or less-than-positive environments, says Carole Wilbourn, a cat therapist and co-founder of The Cat Practice, the first cat hospital in New York City.
“The more relaxed you are, the better,” Wilbourn says, adding that you don’t have to be Mary Poppins-happy around your cats, but it helps if you’re feeling at ease when you’re trying to build a strong bond. “Cats don’t understand words, but they understand body language.”
You can also try to meditate or do yoga near your cat. If the cat senses that you’re feeling more relaxed, he might be more likely to get closer to you. “As your body relaxes, it makes you feel good, and it makes them feel good,” Wilbourn says.
2. Give Your Cat Stimulation
Just like you go to the gym to help burn off stress, some cats need stimulation. If you own an adventurous outdoor cat, play with him outside to help get his energy out. Outdoor play should be done in an enclosed area, such as a catio, or on a cat leash and harness. If you’re the proud owner of an indoor cat, Wilbourn suggests placing a step stool near a window so he can look outside.
3. Try Brushing or Petting
Wilbourn suggests brushing your cat, as some find that to be soothing. Experiment with different things to discover what your cat prefers. If he doesn’t like to be brushed, perhaps he will like a tummy rub or a scratch behind the ears.
4. Give High-Quality Treats
You can try giving your cats high-quality treats, like small pieces of chicken or turkey, to keep and hold their attention. Make sure to avoid treats that are high in fat and monitor your cat’s weight with regular vet appointments, however, to ensure that he remains healthy.
5. Pay Attention to Your Cat’s Body Language
When you’re going through a trial and error period to determine what your cat’s likes and dislikes are, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your cat responds. When your cat’s tail is up, it usually means he is happy. When it’s down, your cat is probably unhappy. Wilbourn also says that purring isn’t always a sign that your cat is happy, so watch out for other clues that will tell you how he is reacting to something.
6. Talk to Your Cat
Wilbourn says some cats prefer to be spoken to instead of petted. Try talking to your cat to see if that sparks a reaction. Who knows? Maybe your cat will love hearing you talk about politics or the latest episode of Game of Thrones.
7. Buy Toys You Can Enjoy Together
If you want to deepen your relationship with your furry friend, try buying cat toys that you both can enjoy, says Jackie Ellis, a behavior scientist for Nestlé Purina. She recommends a wand with a feather attached. It’s an interactive toy that both cats and humans will enjoy.
8. Train Your Cat to Do Simple Tricks
Despite their reputations for being stubborn and independent, cats can be trained, says Ellis. In fact, training your cat is a great way to bond, she adds.
“Training a cat to perform behaviors on cue can often be more time consuming with a cat than with a dog, but this time together is exactly what you need to strengthen your relationship,” she says.
She recommends starting with simple tricks like a high-five. Select high quality treats to motivate your cat and keep training periods short and consistent.
9. Nap with Your Cat
Sometimes, it can help if you both snooze together, Ellis says. Figure out when and where your cat likes to nap, and join him. That way, you both can get some shut eye and quality cuddle time.
10. Associate a Phrase with Feeding Time
“When I was growing up, my mother would always yell ‘chow time!’ before feeding the cats. As a result, whenever she would use that phrase, the cat would come running from anywhere in the house,” Ellis says.
This use of classical conditioning can help you to gain your cat’s attention at any time (e.g., you can’t find him somewhere in the house), she says, but don’t over-use it without actually feeding him, for danger that he’ll stop responding.
11. Know Your Cat
Cats, just like people, come in all stripes. Maybe your cat likes to be held for hours. Maybe he just wants to be around you. Maybe your cat only wants to be held in short spurts. Whatever his preference, just take time to learn what your furry friend likes or dislikes when it comes to affection.
One of Ellis’ biggest tips? Don’t force the relationship.
“The best way to your cat’s heart is to figure out what your cat wants, and give it to him,” she says. “If you are able to observe the types and patterns of interactions that your cat initiates, and then pursue these types of interactions in the future, your cat will appreciate it and your interactions will likely be of greater value and longer in duration.”
Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.