One question I’m commonly asked about is whether it’s possible to turn a reluctant cat into a lap cat. Many people have visions of sitting in a comfy chair by the fire with a sleeping kitty curled up on their lap. Are some cats born to be lap cats and others aren’t? Well, there is something to be said for genetics and kittens of friendly, social feline parents may be more inclined to view a person’s lap as a welcoming place. Additionally, kittens raised by friendly mother cats tend to have an advantage when it comes to social behavior.
There’s also an important socialization period for kittens from 3-7 weeks of age where frequent, gentle handling by humans can help build trust and increase the chances of those kittens being comfortable and more sociable as mature adults.
Not every cat wants to be a lap cat though and some, despite your best efforts would prefer to sit next to you rather than on you, but you know what? That’s perfectly ok. It may not be exactly the way you want it but rather than be disappointed, enjoy the unique and loving ways your cat does show affection and trust.
If you want to try to entice your cat into becoming a lap cat, here are my seven tips, but keep in mind, even if this doesn’t turn her into your constant lap buddy, it can help strengthen the bond between the two of you.
Tip 1: Create a secure environment for your cat
In order for a cat to let her guard down and relax, her living environment needs to represent safety and security. If your environment is stressful or chaotic, she won’t feel she can put herself in such a vulnerable position. If it’s a multicat household, she may not feel it’s safe to come out of hiding and be visible on your lap. Evaluate the living conditions to ensure it provides consistency, security and comfort. It could mean you need to start by first installing a cat perch, cat tree or a few hiding places in the room so the cat feels comfortable enough to stay in the same area as you.
Tip 2: Provide a calm, trustworthy presence for your cat
If you want your cat to settle on your lap, there are some “pre-lap” preparations you should do. Start by making sure the ringer on your mobile phone is off and that your phone isn’t wedged in your pocket. You don’t want to be wiggling around in the chair to retrieve a phone out of your pants pocket at the moment your cat just gets comfy on your lap. Also, if you do talk on the phone or if you talk to other people in the room, keep your voice soft and comforting. A sudden loud laugh or shout will surely send your cat flying off your lap.
Trust and consistency are also important here. If you want your lap to be a place your cat finds comfortable, then it’s crucial that you be the person a cat wants to be around. If you’ve physically punished your cat with your hands for unwanted behavior or reprimanded her for being on furniture, she’ll be understandably reluctant to come in close physical contact with you. If that’s the case, your job is to rebuild that trust through consistent, positive training. If your cat displays unwanted behavior, figure out the underlying cause so you can create a more acceptable alternative that doesn’t involve punishment. You’ll find numerous articles on our website here at Cat Behavior Associates that deal with training methods that build trust and minimize stress, whether it relates to the litter box, scratching, biting, attention-seeking and so on.
Spend time engaging in interactive play sessions with your cat so she forms a positive association with your presence. Interactive playtime is one of the best ways to rebuild a damaged bond.
Tip 3: Make it rewarding for your cat
It may take a little bit of bribery to entice your cat to come close to your lap. If you’re working with a very reluctant or timid kitty, choose a sofa to sit on instead of a chair. This way, your cat will feel she has more control as she inches closer. If you sit in a chair with high arms, she may not feel comfortable about being so enclosed or trapped.
Keep a supply of treats in your hand and gently toss them, one at a time on the floor in front of you. If your cat responds positively, toss a treat on the couch. Work up to inching closer until you can put a treat on your lap. During this time, don’t reach out to pet your cat or grab hold of her. Even if she does cross onto your lap, let her feel she has complete freedom. This is an important step in trust-building if you ever want her to feel safe enough to settle on your lap in the future.
Tip 4: Make sure you correctly interpret your cat’s body language
It can be easy to assume that the cat who approaches you is looking to snuggle but she may actually be trying to communicate something else. If she’s vocalizing or pacing back and forth in front of you, she may be requesting food or playtime or some other form of attention. Your cat may be in play-mode and not affection-mode.
If your cat tries to settle on your lap but becomes restless or displays behaviors such as tail flicking, skin twitching, meowing or her ears shift to a position that resemble airplane wings, she may be getting irritated. In your happiness over having the cat in your lap you may have started stroking her and she might not want to be petted or she may have reached her tolerance level. Petting-induced aggression can easily occur when the cat is trying to nap or simply doesn’t want to be stimulated by repeated petting. Even if your cat doesn’t display petting-induced aggression, if she clearly doesn’t want to be petted, she’ll bolt from your lap and may be reluctant to return.
Tip 5: Petting your cat the right way
If your cat does enjoy petting and affection, keep it very positive by paying attention to preferences she may have. Pet to relax your cat and not to stimulate her. Some cats prefer long, gentle strokes and other like shorter strokes that don’t go down the entire body. Observe whether your cat is uncomfortable when you stroke near the base of the tail. For many cats, this can be a sensitive spot. If your cat stretches out of your lap, avoid the temptation to hold her paws. Cats generally prefer to have their paws left alone.
Tip 6: Never trick your cat
If you’re trying to teach your cat that your lap is a safe and comfortable place to be, the last thing you want to do is trick her when she jumps up there by using that time to administer medication or trim nails.
Tip 7: Always give your cat the freedom to move away
If your cat starts to get wiggly or attempts to move away or jump down, don’t restrain her. If she knows she has the freedom to come and go as she pleases she’ll be more likely to return to your lap next time. If you hold her there against her will, she may no longer view being close to you as a positive experience. Even if your cat only comes onto your lap for a few seconds, keep the experience positive and relaxed and she may stay a few seconds more next time. That’s a great start.
Need more information about cat behavior?
For more specific information on cat behavior and training, refer to any of the books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available through your favorite online retail sites as well as in bookstores everywhere. You can also purchase books through our website here.