My Cat is not Cuddly, so What Can I Do?

Alana Stevenson, Cat Behaviorist, answers questions from Life with Cats readers.

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Q: “I have two Glorious cats, very different. Sam is two, very quiet and lovely Millie is one, and a rescue cat, long haired, she is very lively and playful, but won’t sit on my lap or let me cuddle her. What should I do?” – Clare B.

A: I’ve had numerous clients who have wanted to make their kitties more cuddly and believe it or not, you can. You have to start at your kitty’s comfort level. Knowing the personality of Millie and what she can and cannot tolerate is important. For instance, can she be held for a short period of time? Can she be picked up and placed on a bed, sofa or cat condo? Can you pet her, and on what parts of her body does she like to be petted? If you reach for her, will she run away?

Once you make a note of what Millie does and doesn’t like, you can gradually get her acclimated to touch by desensitizing her to it. Desensitization means to gradually expose Millie to your touch and approximations of being picked up at a level that is comfortable for her, meaning at her pace. Often people’s expectations of what they want from their pets aren’t realistic at the time they are wanting them. For instance, if Millie doesn’t like being stroked on her cheeks or doesn’t like being touched or held gently on her lumbar area  (the sides of her tummy/hips, below her ribs), she is more than likely not going to want to be held on your lap.

Begin where Millie feels comfortable and gradually acclimate her to touch. If Millie dislikes being stroked on her head, start at her tail. If she dislikes being touched on her tail, start at her shoulder blades. In general, cats like to be touched and stroked on the top of their head and forehead (in between their ears), massaged gently on the occiput (the little boney area/protusion at the base of the skull), on their cheeks, and along or under their chin. They also tend to like on the back of their neck and to the left or right of their spine around their shoulder blades and torso region. Cats tend to dislike being stroked on their lumbar region (sides of their belly area below their rib cage and above their hips). Cats tend to like the rump area at the base of their tail, and the base of their tail.

Leave Millie wanting more. In other words, if Millie walks away or pulls away after 3 strokes, touch or pet her only once or twice, then let her be. Stop petting her and touching her before she feels the need to get up, leave or walk away.

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Pair your touches with food. Feed her at the same time as you touch her, or immediately afterwards. If she enjoys special treats or wet food, use this opportunity, and place your hands on either side of her body and ‘scootch’ her to the food. This is an example of desensitizing her to being picked up. If she enjoys the food, gently lay or rest your hands on her lumbar region or pet her once or twice, then let her eat. Never continue to pet her after she is finished eating.

Begin to pick her up or lift her gently to areas she likes or enjoys. If she likes a window perch, pick her up and place her there when there is a bird outside the window. If there is a special, fluffy heated kitty bed available for her, pick her up and place her on it. Pair treats with your touches and pick ups. Make sure Millie develops a positive association to your touch.

Make your home environment kitty friendly. Cats love warmth and soft, fluffy sleeping areas. They also like cat perches and condos. See Tips to Have a Happy Cat. By providing your kitty with clean, warm, soft surfaces to lay on and providing your kitty with more vertical territory, your kitty will be happier and will likely become more ‘cuddly’ over time.

Lastly, if you are wanting your kitty to be more affectionate and cuddly, allow your kitty to sleep on the bed with you. Often, kitties who sleep with their people are more affectionate and bonded to them than kitties who are locked out of the bedroom.

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Copyright © Alana Stevenson 2013

 

Alana Stevenson can be contacted through her website www.AlanaStevenson.com. She provides consultations by phone and Skype.

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29 thoughts on “My Cat is not Cuddly, so What Can I Do?

  1. My beautiful Lola will never be a kitty who likes to be held. She just is uncomfortable with that. However, she gives head butts, purrs, and cuddles in bed. She just hates to be picked up. Your kitty might just have different needs. We have to adapt to them sometimes. Trust me, every day, I want to pick her up and snuggle her. But, it causes her to much stress. I have to get my snuggle fix from Oscar and Ellie, who love it.

  2. My cat that is a british shorthair does not interacts with me well it will somethimes just ignore when i cuddle it is there any othe lr advises?

    1. Hi Muhd Alif,

      It’s very hard to say without knowing more about your cat and your relationship with your cat. Cats enjoy quiet and they enjoy verbal attention. Every time you see your cat – either when you enter a room or your kitty enters a room, say his or her name and speak softly or in a high (cooing or baby-talking) voice. Your cat’s environment, health, and feeding routine can also influence your cat’s behavior.

  3. I rescued my kitten at 8 weeks old as she was thrown out of the window of a moving vehicle. She is now just a yr old but doesn’t like being cuddles or picked up. She will lay on my bed in the mornings with me but then for the rest of the day she comes nowhere near me or my son. How can I make her more friendly

      1. As someone who has adopted and rescued strays for over 30 years, I definitely would NOT leave her in one room. (By the ID of “P****Smasher69,they might be an animal abuser.) Have you tried playing with her in her room or paying attention to her where she is? You also may want to try putting some Feliway diffusers in the other rooms where she never visits. It is a synthetic version of the cat facial pheromone. When the cat senses the Feliway, her brain gets the message that she is in a safe, stress-free environment. (Feliway comes in a diffuser which is a plugin that you plug into the wall or as a spray that you can spray on objects in the house.)

  4. My cat doesn’t mind petting but she only gets really cuddly when she knows that I won’t feed her because it’s only been an hour since her meal. Anything I can do about her being an adorable yet manipulative little shit? Not really, eh? I thought so….

    1. I have a rescued cat that was abused before I got him. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time, several years with my tuxedo cat. But now he love to cuddle, but not a long time. When he want down I immediately let go. Now sleeps right next to me in the crook of my arm or on my chest/abdomen.

        1. Catlover, I think Julia was referring to Maria.

          Maria, you need to enjoy her cat as she is. Every cat has their own quirks.

  5. My cat has been coughing but the vet said it was OK…now he’s coughing every day (my cat, not the vet!) and I hate to see him in distress…anything I can do for him, or should I go back to the vet? He’s an indoor only cat and will be 13 in December.

  6. I had a cat that loved to sit in m lap or sleep on my bed near me, but would only let anyone pet him 3 strokes. Any more that that got you bit or scratched! What he DID love, was that if you could grab him, pick him up and flip him over onto his back, he would let you walk around the house carrying him football style or like a baby without a complaint!

  7. A few things – some of which will be taken as heresy:

    In general, cats DO NOT LIKE to be held. Keep mind that they are top-of-the-food-chain predators, and that being held can be perceived as a threat. KITTENS enjoy being held and KITTENS will often let their curiosity overcome their common sense and investigate laps, shoulders and other ‘cuddly’ options. This is not to suggest that cats are not affectionate, do not like to sit on laps or sleep on stomachs or other very close activities. But being lifted off the ground and held in a confined way is not cuddling. We tend to kittenize our cats and expect that level of affection and cuddling forever. Not necessarily so.

    Male cats *tend* to be a bit more affectionate than females to strangers or larger families in general. Females tend to be exceedingly loyal to their families, often to only one or two individuals within a family. So, if cuddling is wanted, it may be easier with a male. If an only cat or only person, it may be easier with a female. Operative word here is *may*.

    Cats enjoy rough play if they call the shots. And such play can help them relax and bond with their people. We sometimes play with our younger cat (3 year old Maine Coon mix at 17 pounds) using a long over mitt and a slicker brush. He loves being brushed, but when he gets stimulated, he wants to grab and bite. We let him while wearing the oven mitt (but never otherwise), and he has learned that when the mitt comes out, he has free reign with kicking, biting and grabbing. And when he stops, we know that he will NOT kick bite or scratch until the mitt comes out again. The older cat (7 year old purebred Maine Coon at 20 pounds) would not scratch or bite even if abused, he is so gentle. But he too, enjoys a bit of rough play, with specific reference to getting his tail pulled (his way). I hold up my hand, he runs under it until I grab the base of his tail, and then he drops and rolls to put his weight on the grab. When he is done, he rolls back and takes the weight off.

    Every cat is different, and every cat needs to find his/her comfort level with people and that special person, Take your cues from the cat, and be prepared to adapt to its needs so that it may adapt to yours. They are acutely sensitive to emotion, and if they stay close to you, even if not on you, it is because they genuinely want to be near you.

    Ever wonder why cats tend to go to that person in a room that does not like them? It is because that person usually is quiet and does not try to get the cat’s attention. And THAT makes them attractive, Don’t try so hard!.

  8. I adopted a brother and sister pair of kittens – Ragdoll/Siamese. The girl looks Siamese and is very playful and sweet. She will sleep on my bed, allow me to pick her up, but will only sit/sleep next to me on my chair. The boy looks like a brown Ragdoll is very aloof. He is content watching us play. He is a hunter by his behavior. He sleeps on my bed also but doesn’t like to be picked up and no lap for him too. Now 9 months old. They were introduced to drinking from faucet and now they are always in the way when I brush my teeth. I miss my last cat. He would even get under the covers ( the cat cave ) to warm up for a few minutes before sitting on my chest for a few minutes then to the foot of my bed for the night.

    1. Jamie, I too miss my last 2 cats. One lived 11 years, the other 20. They would sit in my lap and sleep in my bed. One of them would even lay by my side as I slept. I was in cat heaven. I wanted to make sure that I would get another cuddly kitty, so I bought a rag doll kitten from a breeder who bragged about how cuddly my kitten was. She is 15 mo. old and has never once sat in my lap. I try to tempt her with treats she likes and she’ll jump up to grab the treat and then down again just as quickly. I’ve never seen such an aloof cat. We don’t see her for hours and hours on end, she just wants to be by herself. When she was a small kitten I was her play buddy and would play with her all during the day. Now it’s like we don’t even have a cat. It’s very depressing and sad.

      1. Pam You’re thinking of what you’re needing, not what your cat is needing. You said you bought her, maybe there was inbreeding or the breeder not reputable. Maybe she needs a companion animal. Maybe she is depressed and sad because she’s not getting what she needs. Is she still playful? Are you still playing or just expecting her to cuddle with you? Cats need attention and affection from us, but it might not be the “cuddling” expectation everyone puts on them. Try to figure out what your cat needs instead of what you need.

  9. I have a question; one of my cat’s, Tevy, does not like being held at all and doesn’t like being pet on the head or anywhere on the face really for that matter and I was wondering if there’s anything I could do? Does he not trust me?

  10. My 7 year old British Blue Cat used to love playing every morning and evening but she has now stopped completely, why?

    She is slightly overweight and is on a diet now, she purrs and sleeps a lot now.

    All attempts to play with her has failed

  11. I adopted 2 siblings (male and female) about 3 months ago. They were in the Humane Society and were confined to a large cage. They are almost one year old and obviously were very scared at the beginning. But, after 3 months in their new home they are extremely comfortable with everything except me. As soon as I start approaching them they run away. I’ve been able to lure them with little treats and am allowed to get an occasional and very brief petting. I had a 14 year old male cat that was the center of my life and I his; he was extremely affectionate, slept with me, hugged me and we just had such a special connection. So, I was hoping to build a relationship with these 2 little cuites, but have been frustrated with the slow progress. HELP!!!

    1. Stephanie, how wonderful that you adopted a pair. The challenge may simply be patience on your part. You had a wonderful relationship with your other cat, but these two have had who-knows-what happen in their lives. Try sitting in the same room with them and just talking or singing to them. Do the treats. Try some toys, but try to do something every day. They will come around. Observe them quietly when you can. Watch where they like to hang, what they are exploring, where, how, and with what they play. Those will give you both clues and insight. They may never be cuddly, but as the three of you become more comfortable with one another, a connection will happen. Patience can be the hardest part,,,especially for you.

    2. Stephanie,

      Wondering how it turned out with your two. I have a new 9 month old rescue and this description fits him exactly. Did your cats change much since the time of this post?

  12. I’ve had my female since she was 5 weeks old, she will be 8 in July. For the first couple of years she always wanted cuddles but now doesn’t seem to like them. It was always just me and her until 2.5 years ago when we moved in with my partner, she tolerates him and may get a single stroke but doesn’t allow anyone else near her (especially children). I’m the only one who can pick her up, kiss her, stroke, cut her nails etc (because I’m her mum). She’s slept with me every night since she was 6 months old but I really miss her cuddles ?

  13. mY NEWEST CAT DOES NOT PURRR, WHY ? NO MATTER HOW MUCH HE IKES TO BE PETTED, STILL NO PURRING
    hE WAS FOUND OUTSIDE AND i ADOPTED HIM THROUGH THE LOCAL SHELTER.

  14. Hi and thanks for the article! I am currently researching a lot about making a cat like me and how I can cuddle with it since my girlfriend got a cat 2 months ago and it doesnt like me a lot… 🙁 I stumbled upon your article because I am thinking that once I can make it cuddle with me, it will realize that I am not a threath and therefore like me more and more after time. I definitely like the way you explained how I need to pay more attention on what is cofortable to the cat…I never thought of it that way and maybe I overhwlmed the cat a bit at the start.
    You didn’t mention the following point and, sure it’s a bit of a different topic, but what do you think about playing with the cat in order to strengthen the bond? This article: https://thecasualcatblog.weebly.com/blog/how-do-i-get-somebodys-cat-to-like-me-5-proven-methods says that it’s great to share a bit of playtime with the cat, even if you don’t know it that well. I know this blog post isn’t directly about making the cat like me, but I thought the topics are quite similar, right? I would love to play a bit with my girlfriend’s cat, as it is quite young and plays a lot. But I am unsure whether the source is reputable and I feel like I have one shot of making the cat like me. What do you think, would that show the cat that I am a friendly person in addition to the things you have listed? Or would you rather not do that because I don’t have enough trust build up in order to get so close to the cat? Would love to hear your opinion on this.
    Thank you so much and best regards from Germany:)

    1. You are on the right track, Rudolph. Playing with the cat will definitely help. It’s like any relationship work having…it takes a bit of work. Don’t lose hope and keep trying. We might suggest you checkout Jackson Galaxy’s YouTube page, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCheL-cUqfzUB8dfM_rFOfDQ. He has lots of great recommendations for all different kinds of cat challenges. VIEL GLUCK!

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