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Feed the cat his treat in a way that will help him to feel comfortable: Place the treat close to you, but at a distance with which he’s comfortable and ignore him while he eats, or have your girlfriend feed or place the treats near him. Another option is to place food in multiple bowls or scattered around the room and on perches, which creates a kind of hunt for the food; this turns the treats into part of a game and can help release any tension the cat is feeling. If the cat is relaxed by catnip, this also can be used to entice the cat to move closer to the area where you are sitting.
For cats that hide, place the special treat at the edge of the space where the cat lurks, such as by the bed, outside the closet or in the doorway of a favorite room. This teaches the cat to associate the smell, sound and sight of you in the house or apartment with tasty rewards, and can help relieve any anxiety or fear. Be careful not to force an interaction, though; instead, move away when the cat comes out to eat.
Whenever possible, be the one to feed the cat his meals or have your girlfriend serve him special meals, like canned cat food or low sodium broth, during your visits.
Once the cat is used to your presence, work on getting him to play with you. This will mark a major milestone in your relationship. Movement during play releases tension and builds a positive association with the human player. Feather and wand toys are ideal because they will allow you to interact with the cat from a distance. Use the toy as a lure to bring the cat nearer to you — but stop if he is unwilling to engage.
How you act around the cat will also affect your relationship with him. Use slow and predictable movements. Avoid making prolonged direct eye contact, which may be seen as a threat. Instead, watch him with your peripheral vision or frequently look away. Keep your body turned slightly away from the cat, rather than directly facing him. The cat may feel more comfortable if you sit at his level, either on the floor or the couch, or if he is up higher than you, such as on a perch.
For some cats, the more familiar you smell, the better — and the most comforting thing you can smell like may be the cat himself. Have your girlfriend pet or rub the cat with a towel. Then, disperse the cat’s scent on yourself by rubbing the towel on your clothing when you come in. It sounds outlandish, but this may help the cat view you as someone safe. You can also help the cat get used to your scent by having your girlfriend place something you’ve worn, like a T-shirt, next to the cat’s meal or a special treat; this will help reinforce the idea that good things happen when you’re around.
Sometimes cats become upset when routine is changed or the attention they normally get is diverted to someone else — like a new boyfriend. Help your girlfriend keep her cat’s life predictable while meeting all of his needs, including exercise, rest and socialization. If the cat has difficulty adjusting to your presence, seek out a veterinary behaviorist or a cat specialist that can work with your girlfriend’s veterinarian. Advanced behavior modification tactics may be helpful, or the vet may recommend supplements or medications to help ease the cat’s fear and make adjustment and learning easier.
Recently, I worked with Vetstreet editor Kristen Seymour onways to help her cat, Trixie,be more at ease around her feline-adoring husband, Jared. It took some adjustments, but now Trixie is much more confident and enjoys being with Jared.You can follow along on their journey here.
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