Can you teach an old cat new tricks?

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Cats of any age can learn “new tricks,” and it’s truly sad that many older cats are not adopted from shelters due to the misperception that they will come with bad habits that cannot be broken. All cats are highly reactive to their environments. What a cat might have done out of anger, fear, frustration, or boredom in one household, he will not do in another where he is well cared for and where the people speak his language.

That is actually the key to teaching a cat of any age the behaviors you encourage and those you’d like for him to drop. Because cats are solitary predators, they are highly observant of their surroundings. They communicate with one another via body language, and they pick up on ours very quickly. This is why some people say their cats will try to “comfort” them when they are sad. The sounds humans make when we cry are, to the cat, very like those of a kitten in distress.

With older cats, it’s important to respectfully assess the animal’s personality traits. This means no direct eye contact in the opening days of the relationship as the cat checks out its new surroundings and gives you a good going over. Cats do not like to be startled, and most appreciate a nice hiding spot that is also a good observation post.

Show the cat where its litter box is located, be consistent with meal times, use his name in praise only, and let the cat dictate the rest. As you get to know him, you may be able to teach him tricks that are simply extrapolations of its own curious behaviors. Regardless, however, do not assume that mature cats come ready made with bad habits or that they cannot learn new “tricks” in a new home.

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