A veterinarian gives his insight into the mind of your feline friend.

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Introducing a new pet to your home is a momentous experience. Cats often need time to adjust but you want to start building a bond with them, which is healthy for both of you. "Establishing a bond with a new feline friend varies from cat to cat," explains Kurt Venator, DVM, chief veterinary officer at Purina. "It's important to keep in mind the life stage of the cat when building a bond with them."

An older cat, for example, may need more space in the beginning, while you can start showering a younger kitten with affection right away to help socialize them to humans. "Give [older cats] the independence to explore their new home and come to you when they are looking for affection. This will lead to a stronger bond over time," he adds. But, for kittens, the "visual and physical contact is very important because it not only establishes a loving bond between the cat and cat owner, but also teaches your feline friend how to interact with people." Talk to the foster parents or animal rescue to find out more about your cat's history, and how you can make them feel safe and comfortable in your home.

But if you follow the cat's lead, you can develop a rewarding, lifelong friendship. Here's how to do it.

cat laying in womans lap
Credit: Getty Images

Establish a Routine

"When you bring your cat home, keep a routine. All cats love routine, especially older cats," says Venator. "Try to quickly establish a routine to not only bond with them but also to keep your cat healthy." That means a consistent daily schedule of meal time, play time, alone time (particularly, if you work outside of the home), and even time dedicated to brushing, if needed.

Serve Their Regular Meals and Treats

Food is often a great motivator to cats, so it's important to choose the right food for them. It should be highly nutritious, as well as appropriate for their life stage or health needs. Kittens, for example, should be fed kitten-age food until their first birthday. Older cats may need food to help with their urinary tract health, manage diabetes, reduce hairballs, or promote better dental health. "Feeding your cat is a surefire way to build a strong bond with your cat," says Venator. "Cats will quickly associate their owner with something positive like yummy treats or a filling meal."

And if anyone in the household has a cat allergy, there are dietary options that can reduce the allergens in a cat's fur, as well. "When it comes to feeding your cat—if you adopt a cat and discover that someone in your home has cat allergen sensitivities, you can help manage them by feeding your new cat Purina Pro Plan LiveClear ($21.58, chewy.com), the first and only cat food shown to reduce the major allergen in cat hair and dander," he says. "Not only are you feeding your cat a nutritious diet, you're also creating a comfortable, stress-free home for them and your loved ones."

Enjoy Play Time Together

Games and activities are another way to build a strong bond. Cats need to expend their natural energy for instinctual hunting, so provide toys and games that let them act out on their impulses. "It could be an empty box that they can play hide and seek with or a wand toy that boosts their confidence and has them look forward to spending time with you," says Venator. "By scheduling regular playtime, you will not only create a healthy routine but ultimately build a strong, loving bond with your cat for years to come."

Signs of a Better Bond

Cats can often be more subtle in their affection than dogs, so pay attention to their nonverbal cues: "If your cat follows you and chooses to spend time with you, that's a sure sign that they are feeling connected. Other important signs that you're successfully bonding with your cat include the cat sleeping on your lap or napping in areas where your scent is strongest," says Venator. "It may sound odd to the uninitiated cat owner, but headbutting and cheek rubbing represent classic feline behaviors that are learned and expressed during the kitten years. These are behaviors that help cats build bonds and affection with other animals and their human companions."

Other signs that your approach to bonding is working is that the cat will watch you and perform a slow blink, or the cat will purr when rubbing against you, sitting in your lap, or getting soft pets on their heads. Does the cat seek you out? Cats will generally let you know what they want and what they are comfortable with, so pay attention, ask a veterinarian if you aren't sure, and be patient with your feline friend.

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