How can I make my cat love me?
You wanted the cat. You had to convince your boyfriend to get a cat. And now the cat prefers your boyfriend.
You love cats. You’ve been crazy about cats your whole life. But cats always seem to gravitate to your one friend who is allergic, or claims to “hate” cats, instead of to you.
Do you feel that cats don’t love you as much as you love them, or that even your own cat doesn’t love you as much as you adore him?
If so, this is the post for you. Read to find out more about what you can do to make cats everywhere, including your own, love you just a little bit more.
Cats are individuals, and they’re not dogs
There are always those “life-of-the-party” cats, the ones who run to the door when the doorbell rings to see whom they can meet next.
There are those cats who jump from lap to lap when you host a big gathering, or who gleefully play with your three kids under age five, and your two rambunctious dogs, too.
And then there are normal cats. (I’m just kidding, of course. There is a very wide range of “normal” cat behavior.)
But cats are cats, and there is a reason they have a reputation for being aloof and independent, even if that reputation is undeserved.
Cats are, in fact, very social animals. Research suggests that cats are actually as bonded to us as dogs or infants. Studies show that cats prefer interacting with people even more than eating or playing with a toy. Cats are sensitive to our moods and they know their names. In other words, cats are very connected to their people and very in tune with us.
But they are not dogs.
We cannot expect them to show affection the way dogs show affection, and we cannot expect them to enjoy the same kinds of interactions with us that most dogs seem to enjoy.
But there are behaviors YOU can perform that encourage a cat, over time, to show “love” in ways that many of us want.
If you want your cat to love you more, let him call the shots
Loving a cat can be a little bit like being in a middle-school relationship. Half the time you’re wondering if they like you, and the other half of the time you’re playing hard-to-get.
With cats, don’t go looking for an egalitarian relationship. Only one of you gets to decide the pace and depth of your connection. Guess who it is.
That doesn’t mean that getting a cat to love you is out of your hands. It’s completely in your hands! It’s all on you to learn cat psychology, to understand what helps build trust with cats, and to evaluate the feedback you’re getting from them, and act accordingly.
Here are some of the things you can do that will let your cat learn, over time, that you are trustworthy and pleasant to be around. You might not get everything you want out of the relationship (you’re never going to turn a cat who doesn’t enjoy a lot of physical contact into a snuggler), but who ever does?
Ignore your cat
I mentioned before that there’s a little bit of playing hard-to-get that is involved in getting a shyer, or more-timid cat, or a cat who just seems to prefer someone else in the household, to become more interested in you.
Chances are, if your cat likes your husband, or your friend with allergies, or your other friend who “hates” cats better than you, it’s because those people ignore the cat.
Of course, I don’t really mean that you should completely ignore your cat. You should, of course, feed your cat, and give her fresh water, and clean the litter box so that it sparkles. And you should be tuned in to any gestures she might make that involve approaching you for more intimacy.
So, if your cat ever unexpectedly rubs himself against your leg, that’s a good time to just stand there stock-still and allow him to do it. It’s also a good time to surreptitiously drop a little treat, if you happen to have one in your pocket. It might be a good time to very softly whisper to him what a handsome kitty he really is.
But a little “benign neglect,” which is what ignoring really is, allows your cat to observe you from a distance, and decide, on her own terms, when she is ready to approach.
By playing hard-to-get, your cat gets to control his interactions with you. He doesn’t have to hide under the sofa, because he’s afraid you might just swoop down and pick him up when he doesn’t want to be held. He doesn’t have to hiss because you’ve pet him just a little too roughly, or too long for his taste. He doesn’t have to escape to the back bedroom because you’re calling to him, repeatedly and loudly, and he’s highly sensitive to noise.
While we humans distinguish between people or make judgments about them based on a wide range of cues, including facial features and expressions, the clothes a person is wearing, and even his or her hairstyle, scent is everything in the cat world.
Cats have scent glands all around their bodies that allow them to leave their calling card wherever they go. They have scent glands in their paw pads, and on their faces and heads and on various places along their bodies. They spray urine containing scent, and even have glands in their rectums that apply additional scent to their poop!
Cats send and receive messages with scent. They identify members of their colony with scent. Cats use scent to make themselves feel safe and secure in their environment.
Your cat will get to know you through scent. Allow your cat to take your scent in at her leisure.
TV-famous cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy uses what he calls the “Michelangelo Technique” to introduce his scent to a cat. This move involves extending a softly pointing fingertip to a cat, but nothing more. The name refers to the famous “The Creation of Adam” painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, in which Adam lazily accepts the gift of life from God. Note that the finger isn’t stiffly pointing or jabbing. It’s kind of just hanging there, for the cat to decide to sniff – or not.
This is a nice move because it allows a cat to do what she needs to feel comfortable, which is to absorb scent, without being overwhelmed by the approach of the rest of the human body. It’s leisurely and relaxed. It doesn’t make any specific demands on the cat, and it doesn’t communicate nervousness or tension.
There are other ways to allow yourself to “be scent.” You could be sitting on the floor with your back to the cat. You could be reading a book on the sofa when the cat approaches for a sniff.
The main point is to “be scent” and nothing else. Don’t reach out to pet or grab a cat who has come over for a sniff. Don’t turn to face the cat and start talking to him.
With an unknown dog, you might offer the back of your hand for a quick introductory smell, and then reach out to pet the dog. Chances are, with a socialized dog, that’s going to be OK.
But if you’re trying to develop trust with a shy cat or a new cat, or a cat with whom you’d like to have a better relationship, just be scent.
Become a treat dispenser
Perhaps you’ve gotten off on the wrong foot with a cat you’ve had for a while. Or maybe you’ve just adopted a new cat who isn’t sure of you yet.
A quick and effective way to become a source of all wonderful things to your cat is to become a walking treat dispenser.
Fill a pocket with some kitty treats at the beginning of the day. And then find opportunities to empty that pocket.
Toss a treat whenever you walk past the cat. Just toss the treat, nothing else. Don’t call the cat to you to get the treat. Don’t stop and stare at the cat eating the treat, or walk closer to the cat. Don’t pet the cat because in retrieving the treat, he’s come close enough for you to touch him.
You want to become associated with pleasure in your cat’s mind, but not pleasure compounded by demands.
Look for opportunities to reward your cat for any gestures she makes that show growing trust. Maybe she usually keeps 10 feet of distance between you, but today, s came into the kitchen and stood five feet away. That deserves a treat. Maybe she didn’t dart under the bed when you came into the room. That deserves a treat, too.
Give the cat a reason to think about starting to follow you around the house, just in case you “accidentally” drop another one of those delicious treats.
Don’t be rude
Cats and humans do not view the same behaviors the same way. A gesture we think is polite or friendly, a cat might view as a challenge or a threat. Learn to understand how cats think, and act accordingly.
In the human world, it’s rude to NOT look at someone in the eye. In the cat world, staring can mean a whole host of other things, including the possibility that the starer is gearing up for a fight.
Keep any glances toward your cat soft and brief. Don’t stare back at a cat who is looking at you. And read this post, “Why does my cat stare at me?” for more information about staring behavior in cats.
If a cat trusts you enough to be close enough for petting, and you decide to pet the cat, keep it brief.
Every cat has her own petting preferences, and until you learn the preferences of the individual cat you’re petting, stick to moves that most cats enjoy. This means petting the cat gently on the top or back of the head, along the cheeks, and under the chin.
While some cats enjoy a long stroke down the back, it can be overstimulating for others, and it’s best to stick to tried-and-true maneuvers so that you don’t undo any of the hard work you’ve already done to win the trust of this cat.
Then, stop petting the cat before he’s had enough. Leave him wanting more.
Read this post, “How to pet a cat,” to bone up on this important skill.
Of course, you’re not shouting. But maybe your cat feels like you are.
Most cats don’t react well to loud sounds, and her idea of loud and your idea of loud probably differ.
There’s no need to use your voice at all as you interact with your cat. You can be completely quiet. But if you do use your voice, keep it very soft and very reassuring.
Read, “Noises cats love. Noises cats hate,” for more information.
(note: as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases)
Playing with your cat can solve multiple problems at once: it can help keep your cat mentally engaged and physically fit, and it can also help build a connection between you.
The best play activities are those that activate a cat’s natural predatory drive. While your cat is busy being a hunter, he might forget about his shyness or his fears.
The best toys to play with are those that allow a cat to participate in every phase of the “prey sequence,” which are the steps a cat who is catching her own dinner would advance through during a hunt. The prey sequence is 1) staring, 2) stalking/chasing, 3) pouncing/grabbing, and 4) killing.
A fishing-rod toy is a great way to interact with your cat in a playful way that mimics a hunt. Some cats like laser pointers, too, but always finish with something real and physical to catch so the game isn’t frustrating.
The difference between playing with a cat you have an established and healthy relationship with, and a new cat, a strange cat, or a cat you are trying to rebuild trust with, is how you approach the game.
If you’re trying to build trust from the ground up, that cat has to feel like it’s his choice to approach you and join the fun.
You can dangle the toy some distance from your cat. You can look for all the world like a fishing-rod toy is the most fun you’ve had ever by yourself. But it has to be his choice to come over and play.
Don’t chase the cat with the toy. Don’t dangle it in her face. Don’t call the cat over. Let her decide if she wants to come over and play with you.
If, mid-play, the cat hisses, growls, swats, or bites, you may have moved to fast or gotten too close. Try to key in your cat’s body language to catch the early warning signs that the game is no longer fun. You want to back off before it gets to the point that your cat feels like the only option he has left is some form of aggression:
- Ears – watch for twitching, flattening. (And read this post, “Why do cats put their ears back?”)
- Tail – Is the tail swishing, lashing, or wrapped tightly around her body? (Read, “Why does my cat swish or wag her tail?”)
- Eyes – Is your cat looking away?
- Body – Is your cat moving away?
Make sure she has a few escape hatches. A box or bag on the floor will allow her to remain in the room with you, but feel safe and “invisible.”
Elevated perches will give him a place to get up, up and away from it all, while viewing all potential threats safely from above.
Do not “correct” your cat to discourage a behavior you don’t enjoy. You might not like it if your cat hisses at you, or swats, or even bites, but that is on you. If it seems like your cat became “aggressive out of nowhere” she probably didn’t. You may have failed to see the warning signs.
So, do not yell at your cat, spray water on your cat, or lay a hand on your cat, except in love and kindness.
Cats only learn one thing from punishment, and it’s that you can’t be trusted.
Take it slow
I know you wanted to be best friends with your cat yesterday. But the way to get there fast is to take it slow.
Let the cat set the pace of the development of your relationship. Let him decide how much interaction he wants.
An important study on human-cat relationships uncovered an important fact: the most successful interactions between cats and humans were those that cat initiated. Let your cat take the lead.
Over time, because you let your cat take the time he needed, you will begin to see tiny signs of growing trust between you. Look for them and give yourself a little pat on the back (quietly, and when the cat isn't looking).
You might also be interested in reading:
Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Landsberg, Gary M., and Sagi Denenberg. “Social Behavior of Cats - Behavior.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/behavior/normal-social-behavior-and-behavioral-problems-of-domestic-animals/social-behavior-of-cats.
 Vitale, Kristyn R., et al. “Attachment Bonds between Domestic Cats and Humans.” Current Biology, 23 Sept. 2019, https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)31086-3.
 Shreve, Kristyn R. Vitale, et al. “Social Interaction, Food, Scent or Toys? A Formal Assessment of Domestic Pet and Shelter Cat (Felis Silvestris Catus) Preferences.” Behavioural Processes, Elsevier, 24 Mar. 2017, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376635716303424.
 Rieger, Gerulf, and Dennis C. Turner. “How Depressive Moods Affect the Behavior of Singly Living Persons toward Their Cats.” Taylor & Francis, 25 Apr. 2015, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/089279399787000066.
 Coates, Jennifer. “Curing Your Cat's Boredom in 3 Easy Steps.” PetMD, PetMD, 5 Mar. 2015, https://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2013/dec/curing-your-indoor-cats-boredom-31169.
Levine, Kristen, "5 Ways to Say I Love You to Your Cat."