Ask Amy: How to Make a Cat Friendly

Ginger domestic cat in sunshine
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Pita, a five-year-old spayed cat lives with Brad and Patti, and three other neutered cats (seven-year-old Gizmo, six-year-old Harley, and five-year-old Hugger). "Pita absolutely loves Harley and plays with Gizmo. Pita and Hugger are fighting most of the time when they are not ignoring each other," says Patti.

They found Pita at an overseas embassy and flew back to the US with all the cats two years ago. Her last vet check was two years ago when she received vaccinations in preparation to return to the US. "Since the very beginning, Pita has been very unsocial, won't let anyone touch her," says Patti. "She will come to me for food when we're eating, but won't get close.

If she is in the litter box when we get up from the living room to go to the kitchen, she runs. When we have people over, she hides. I tried to sit with her when I first brought her home to get her acclimated. However, she hid behind wardrobes and never would let me touch her."

Amy's Answer:

Cats' fear and antisocial behavior can be caused by a variety of things. I like to use the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers, to try and figure out the reason behind a particular behavior.


Although you say Pita has always been a scaredy cat, her health may also influence sociability. Since she's not had a health check by the vet since coming to the US, a lot could have happened in that 24+ month period.


It is a normal cat behavior to be cautious. I call this the stranger danger caution, because anything a cat has not had a good experience with she'll automatically assume it's scary. The prime time for kitten socialization happens between two to seven weeks of age. Beyond that time, cats can still learn to accept some things, within reason. But if Pita was not properly socialized to being near people, she will always have a hard time accepting people as friends - even those she lives with.


The stress of wrangling with Hugger may also influence Pita's behavior. In some cat families, one kitty controls much of the interactions between favorite humans. Does Harley demand your attention? Or perhaps the other cats get petted or lap-sitting time? If Pita is the cat on the bottom of the social ladder, they may be keeping her away.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

I probably sound like a broken record, but it is very important that the veterinarian checks out Pita. Health problems can make cats feel bad and they can react with fear or defensive behavior. If the veterinarian gives your cat a clean bill of health, then you can address potential behavior issues.

Please be aware, though, that a percentage of cats (just like humans) are simply born less social than others. Some kitties are perfectly satisfied being near to people but prefer not to be touched, picked up, or handled. That she will approach you during meals for something to eat tells me she does have an interest in and a degree of trust in you. For Pita, that may be an absolute declaration of love and devotion, it may be all she's capable of giving. Treasure that, and meet her on her own terms.

Since she runs when you move, find a place to be stationary and invite her to come to you. Use the treats/foods that she likes and make it worth her while to be near. Start by tossing tidbits some distance away so she knows they come from you but she doesn't have to come too close. Over time, something this simple can entice her to come closer and be more willing to interact.