Have You Ever Had Trouble Bonding with a Cat?


I watched as our cat Abby walked back and forth on the table while my husband petted her.

“Are you as bonded to Abby as you are to the rest of our pets?” I asked.

My husband looked surprised. “Of course,” he said. “Aren’t you?”

The truth is, I wasn’t, and it had been bothering me for a long time. Somewhere in my mind, I had hoped that the fault lay with Abby. That somehow she was a difficult animal to form a bond with. But I finally had to face the truth: The problem was all mine.

It was such a strange predicament to be in. From the time I was very small, I loved the animals in my family with every fiber of my being. Every pet I had had as an adult had wormed its way into my heart in a matter of moments. What was so different with Abby?

Abby came into our lives shortly after our cat Molly passed away. Molly was tiny but she had a huge personality. Devastatingly, she had been born with a congenital heart defect. There was no surgical treatment available at the time and so we managed her condition as best we could with medication. She lived to be four, much longer than anyone had predicted. Still, when she died, I was crushed and in utter disbelief that a cat who loved life so much could be gone.

Molly’s littermate Ripley was equally lost. They were constantly together, grooming one another, sleeping next to (and on top of) each other. He was present when she died and let out a heart-wrenching yowl. For days after, he would roam the house searching for her, meowing mournfully.

Desperate to ease his and my grief, I decided to adopt another cat. My husband thought we should wait but I was determined. At an adoption fair, I met Abby. She was sweet and laid-back. Perfect!

After proper introductions and some sorting out of territory, Ripley accepted Abby into the fold. But to his and my dismay, she wasn’t the cuddly type. If he tried to snuggle with her, he was rebuffed. Eventually, they learned to lie on the bed near each other but she always kept him at paw’s length. It made me sad for him and equally sad for me that she wasn’t a cuddler. She loved to be petted but unlike Molly (and Ripley) she didn’t enjoy being held. I achingly recalled the days when I would scoop Molly up and snorgle her soft little belly while she purred away.

As I look back on this now, I realize how terribly unfair this was to Abby. I rushed to adopt again before I was emotionally and mentally ready. In doing so, I found myself comparing Abby to Molly in ways she could never live up to. If I had waited, I would’ve been better able to accept and love Abby for her own wonderful traits.

Once I started putting the pieces together about why I had difficulty bonding with Abby, I made the decision to do something about it. I tried a lot of things but the following are the ones I think were most helpful:

1. I started petting her more

As I mentioned above, Abby isn’t a cuddler. Beyond that, she won’t even sit still while you pet her. She’s always moving around. For some weird reason, this irritated me and I found myself not touching her at all. So to overcome this, I made the conscious decision to pet her more. (Honestly, I do know how strange that sounds. Who has to make themselves pet their cat?) At first, I was actually uncomfortable. But I kept at it and what do you know? The simple act of literally reaching out and touching her brought us closer. Now I love petting her and we have many lovely moments communing with each other during these times.

2. I started playing with her more

At her last checkup, our vet couldn’t get over that Abby is 13 years old. He said if I had brought her in as a new patient, he would have pegged her for about half that age. She’s in great health and has no idea that she’s a senior. She’s still quite playful, often entertaining herself for long periods of time. To help strengthen our bond, I decided to take advantage of her inner kitten and play with her more often. Dragging a toy around for her always brings a smile to my face and I can’t help but be impressed by her grace and athleticism. I honestly don’t know, between the two of us, who has more fun, but by spending quality time with my cat, I’m definitely getting the better end of the deal.

3. I started taking her picture more

I take about 87 gajillion pictures of my pets. I love capturing everything from them being silly to sleeping peacefully on the couch. But one day as I was looking back through my photos, I realized that I had far fewer shots of Abby than our other pets. So I made up my mind to turn my camera on her more often. My husband always likes to say that Abby is the perfect little tabby cat. And she really is. She has the cutest little triangle ears and the most precious little pink nose. And those eyes! They’re soft and warm and when she does that slow “I love you” blink, it just melts my heart. By looking at her through my camera lens, it made me see her in a whole new way.

4. I focused on what makes her special

Both Molly and Ripley (who left for the Bridge a couple of years ago) had ridiculous, over-the-top personalities. In the circus of life, they were definitely the clowns. Abby is the yin to their yang: quiet, reserved and totally laid-back. For the longest time, I actually thought she was boring compared to the Crazy Twins. Then one day I made out a list of some of Abby’s greatest qualities: sweet, smart, affectionate, loving, calm, accepting, curious. All qualities, I realized, that I strive for within myself. She’s like having my own personal live-in life coach, reminding me always of the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person I should be. Nowadays, if I’m feeling rattled or untethered in life, all I have to do is look at Abby to find my center.

The fact is, I still don’t the same type of bond with Abby that I have with our other pets. My relationship with them is like that of a mother and child, whereas Abby and I are more like dear old friends. What I have learned, though, is that one isn’t better than the other — just different — and that sometimes the best relationships are the ones you have to earn.

Your turn: Have you ever had trouble bonding with a pet? Tell us about it in the comments.

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About the Author: Amber Carlton is owned by two cats and two dogs (all rescues), and is affectionately (?) known as the crazy pet lady amongst her friends and family. She and her husband (the crazy pet man) live in colorful Colorado where they enjoy hiking, biking and camping. Amber is a freelance copywriter and blogger for hire and also acts as the typist and interpreter for her dog’s musings at Mayzie’s Dog Blog. She encourages other crazy pet people to connect with her at her business website, on Twitter or on Facebook.

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