How To Handle A Socialized Cat
Illustrations by Susie Duckworth
|This How-To is intended to complement, not replace, appropriate training by a person experienced in handling cats. These tips are helpful only when handling socialized cats; a How-To in an upcoming issue of Animal Sheltering will provide advice on handling unsocialized cats.|
Handling a cat doesn’t have to be a hairy experience. Cats can be excellent mood readers; if you’re stressed, they may pick up on your jitters and become fearful themselves. The unfamiliarity of the shelter environment can be stressful for any cat, regardless of whether she has come from a good home or a traumatic situation. Be aware of the atmosphere in your cat rooms; avoid banging cage doors, and keep the volume down. (Cats’ musical tastes are probably far different from ours; if you want to hear some tunes, soft classical or jazz may be the most pleasing to them.) Keep your physical movements gentle, slow, and simple. If a cat has been evaluated and found to be socialized, she can be safely handledwith a little kindness, patience, and the following tips.
1. Hello, Kitty!
Begin by observing the cat in her cage. What is she doing? If she’s pressed against the cage walls and looking at the ceiling, she may be unsocialized or highly stressedand you should get some help from an experienced cat handler. But if she is lying in her litter box, she’s probably just a little nervous. Maybe she’s busily eatinga good sign that she’s coping well in her new environment. Or maybe she’s rubbing against the front of the cage; if so, she’s happy to see you and eagerly awaiting your attention. Learning about and understanding kitty behavior will help you determine your friend’s mood. Always approach the cage slowly, letting the cat adjust to your voice, smell, and presence. If you sense that all is safe, open the cage door and extend your finger or hand for her to sniff. Give her time to evaluate your petting potential. Take a moment to scratch her head or ears; then calmly stroke her.
2. Soothing the Scaredy-Cat
As you reach out to your new friend, is she leaning into your touch, or is she distracted by something else in the room? Is she hesitant at all? If you sense that she’s having trouble warming up to you, try to assess what’s bothering her. Maybe a litter pan or a water bowl is standing in the way of your budding relationship; move such items to create a path for her. If the cat is shy, try blocking her view of other people in the room by moving your body directly into her line of vision. Show the cat you’re her friend by straightening her blanket and talking to her in a low, soothing voice. Crumple up a piece of paper and roll it around in her cage. Keep a pen behind your ear or a back scratcher on hand; some cats might feel more at ease rubbing against these objects. If the cat hisses, crouches down, or flattens her ears against her head, or if her fur stands on end, she’s probably stressed out or unhappy. Stop and get some help from someone with experience handling highly stressed or unsocialized cats.
3. Need a Lift?
Being on the cat’s level both mentally and physically is important to ensuring the safety and comfort of both of you. If she’s in a third-level cage and you have to reach up high to retrieve her, you may have a feline fugitive on your hands; find a way to approach the cat from a comfortable vantage point.
There are two common methods for lifting kitties, so you might try each one out to see which feels most comfortable to you. One method (shown at right) begins with placing one hand under the cat’s stomach and the other hand under her rear as you lift her. Gather her close to your body with the hand that’s supporting her belly, and hold her steady against you as you support her rump with your other hand. Gently cross her front legs, and rub her chin as you move her face away from you.
The other method (shown at left) is great when lifting cats out of a cage or from a waist-high surface. If the cat’s body is perpendicular to you, simply reach around and along her body with one arm, with your elbow near her tail and your hand up around the front of her chest, and bring her toward you slowly. Lift her gently against your body, and delicately cross her front legs. Then comfort her with a chin scratch or an ear rub with your free hand.
4. The Cat’s in Your Cradle… . . . but you can’t cuddle forever.
There’ll be times when you need to get her into a carrier so you can clean her cage or get her ready for her new home. Cats are more comfortable being placed intoand removed fromtop-loading carriers, so try to use these whenever possible; make sure the carriers are large enough to keep the cat from feeling too claustrophobic. Once you have a carrier open, kneel beside it with your kitty load safely within your grasp. Place the cat gently inside the carrier and latch it shut. If you have a front-loading carrier, place the cat in tail first while you speak gently to her; this way, she won’t realize where she’s going and will be less likely to resist. To prevent injuries to either of you, never attempt to use gravity by standing a front-loading carrier on its end and “dropping”a cat in, and never get into a wrestling match with the cat. And remember that cats tend to “do the splits”to try to avoid being placed in unfamiliar surroundings; tucking their legs together will help prevent such splaying. If the cat resists, stop and get some help from a more experienced cat handler.
Once she’s snugly in place, drape a blanket over the carrier to lessen distractions. Even if you’re just putting the carrier aside briefly to clean out the cage, this little step will go a long way toward minimizing the cat’s stress.
5. Going Back for a Cat Nap
When your cleaning is done, kneel beside the carrier, unlatch it, and retrieve your kitty. Once you’ve picked up the cat, it’s time to place her back in her little room. Try to coax her gently out of the carrier; if she’s in a front-loader and is shying away from you, unscrew the top of the carrier and lift her out that way. When transferring her from your arms to a cage, hold her close to the cage to let her see where she’s going, and allow her to go in, face first, at her own pace. (Never “dump”the cat into the cage by holding the carrier up to it; although this might save time, it can be stressful and confusing for the cat. It also presents a poor image to the public and other staff members.) Make sure the cage you’re transferring her to is clean and cozy, so she’ll feel as safe there as she did with you.