Can You Teach a Cat to be a Lap Cat?

lap-cat

Every cat has a unique personality, and some cats are more independent than others. And while most of us want our cats to cuddle with us and let us hold them, it’s not in every cat’s nature to show affection by snuggling up on a lap.

Different cats, different lap preferences

Ruby was a total snuggle bunny. I called her my “velcro kitten,” because if she had had her way, she would have been permanently glued to me 24/7. She was like that pretty much from the time I adopted her, with the exception of her first few days in our home, when she was a bit more reserved as she was getting used to her new environment.She loved to be held and squished and kissed.

Allegra, on the other hand, was not a lap cat for the first two or three years after I adopted her. Every once in a great while, she’d grace me with some lap time, but usually only for a few minutes, and most definitely on her terms. Around the time she turned five, I began to see a gradual change. She came up on my lap more frequently when I settled in for some TV watching in the evening, and once she was settled, there wasn’t much that would dislodge her – not even Ruby trying to hone in on her lap time! Ruby did not like seeing Allegra on my lap, and sometimes she tried to wedge herself onto my chest while Allegra was sleeping on my lap. Much to my surprise, Allegra tolerated this, and it was usually Ruby who left first, with a great big huff.

Since Ruby died almost six months ago, Allegra has become even more affectionate. She now frequently comes up on my lap when I sit down to read or watch TV, and shes stays longer. She still does this very much on her own terms, and she most definitely won’t allow me to pick her up and place her on my lap, something I could always do with Ruby.

I did nothing to encourage Allegra’s change in behavior with regard to lap time. Even though I missed having a lap cat after Amber died (Allegra was an only cat for about a year after Amber’s death,) it never felt right to me to try to make her into something she was not.

However, there are things you can do to teach your cats to enjoy being on your lap.

Use treats

When you are relaxing in your favorite spot, arm yourself with a bag of your cat’s favorite treats. Initially, simply toss a treat on the floor next to you occasionally, and let your cat associate you being in that spot with something pleasant. Gradually move the treat closer to you. Place treats on the couch or chair next to you and pet and praise your cat when she comes up to get them. Eventually, place treats on your lap. Profusely praise your cat when she comes to get the treats, but don’t hold her down while she’s on your lap.

Move her favorite cat bed or blanket next to you

If your cat has a favorite blanket or cat bed, move it on the couch next to you. Place treats inside or on top to make the location even more interesting for your cat. Praise her when she sits next to you, but don’t force her to stay.

Ultimately, it’s all about trust

While not every cat will be a lap cat, almost every cat can learn to trust, and show us affection on her own terms. It is called unconditional love for a reason, right? And while I completely understand that it’s hard when a cat doesn’t seem to reciprocate the love and affection you shower on her in the same way, Allegra has shown me how rewarding it can be when a formerly reluctant lap cat changes her ways.

Is your cat a lap cat? If you had to teach her to become one, what has worked for you?

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker, Flickr Creative Commons

This post was first published November 2015 and has been updated.

26 Comments on Can You Teach a Cat to be a Lap Cat?

  1. Cindy Lou
    June 15, 2020 at 3:04 pm (3 months ago)

    My one cat, Seven, will only be in my lap if I have something hard for her to lay or sit on, such as my laptop. Treats don’t work because she doesn’t eat them and she won’t eat people food. She’d rather play with the treat. My other cat, Neo, will lay next to me and put his paw on my or reach out and grab my hand/arm so he can get petted. They are brother and sister cats that were rehomed to me. Knowing the people they came from, they were never held as kittens because of not wanting to get hair on their clothes.

    Reply
  2. Timmy Tomcat
    June 15, 2020 at 1:51 pm (3 months ago)

    Our Miss Fitz runs hot and cold on my lap. There is a lot of competition to sit close so she defers to Toby at the moment as he needs it more. Rumpy also is a needy cat where Fitz is very sure of herself. Due to age she will get her shot at the lap if she so chooses

    Reply
  3. Janine
    June 15, 2020 at 7:51 am (3 months ago)

    Nani was my velcro cat. She was always on my lap and cuddling beside me no matter what I was doing. Kiki is a lap cat but usually only at night when I am watching tv. Lulu tries to sit on my lap sometimes, but Kiki gets jealous and runs her off. Since losing Pono, Pele has started bonding with my husband and she is constantly on his lap when he watches tv and by his side at night when he sleeps.

    Reply
  4. Nancy Faulkner
    June 15, 2020 at 6:36 am (3 months ago)

    Ingrid,

    None of my cats are lap cats. Even with treats, or favorite things.

    Milo, Grayson, Hamish & Nan

    Reply
  5. Khadijah H
    January 22, 2020 at 6:18 am (8 months ago)

    Of my five cats, two are the hands down lap cats. Tiger was always into the lap, from the very first day I brought the family of four in. It was Tiger, his brother Blacky, his sister Booties and his mom Patches. I don’t know how old Patches was, perhaps 2 or 3? However, I did know that her kids were 3 months old. Patches was still nursing with I brought her and her kids in. They have been with me for 5 years.

    Every one has his or her own personality. Even though all three little ones have been in the same environments, their personalities are all quite different. Even the day I brought them in from my yard, it was clear that Booties had a very strong independent streak. From the first day, Tiger always wanted to sit on my lap. His brother, Blacky, wasn’t into that! He would instead try to hide away. But, I would abduct him and put him on my lap once every day for a month. At first it was brief. However, it gradually became longer and eventually, he wouldn’t try to hide when I sat on the chair. In fact, towards the end of the month, he even started hopping up on his own for lap time. On the last day of the month, Blacky hopped up and even fell asleep on my lap.

    Meanwhile, Patches and Booties were both like “oh HELL NO!” to the idea of the lap. However…Patches does it once in a while. Like if she is DESPARATE for attention! It is interesting, how a feral cat that, at one time, wanted nothing to do with me, could be like “give me attention…NOW!!!” She’ll sometimes hop on if I am laying on the sofa. Tiger and especially Blacky love to join me on the sofa.

    Booties sometimes gets on the lap. Often, if I grab her, she’ll stay for a bit, but never long.

    Tabby, after 1-1/2 years with us, still shows absolutely no interest in the lap. However, he has, in the last few months, taken up getting on the bed in the morning. If I’m already up, he wants some attention before breakfast; or if I’m not up, he wants me to get up.

    In my family, we only had one cat before, Tiger, Senior. But, for many years after he passed, we didn’t have any cats till this family of four came in.

    Reply
  6. Anita Botman
    August 5, 2016 at 2:18 am (4 years ago)

    Bibi always curls op in my arm, next to me. Snoes, the cat I had before her, had huge trust issues. She couldn’t relax in the same room in the beginning. She never became a lap cat, but after a year or two she lay on the same couch, even on her back, very relaxed and she slept in my bedroom, in her own little bed. For me that was huge. She changed, and she changed me. I learned to understand her and we developed a very strong bond, even though she never sat on my lap. I always thought I needed a lap-cat, but she showed me there were other ways to bond and to enjoy your time together. She died this year and I still miss her a lot, but now there’s lots a love again from another great tortie who has her own way of showing affection.

    Reply
  7. Wendy
    December 1, 2015 at 8:06 am (5 years ago)

    One of my cats is a total smooch & will let me pick him up,hold him,carry him like a baby,or even in one arm,& often climbs onto my chest & washes (licks) my hair.
    Th otha one didn’t start as a lap cat, but he learnt to b, by me putting a board across my knees,which gave him a more solid,steady surface to jump onto. After about 6 months of repeating putting th board on my knees,he gradually started jumping onto my lap without it & now does it all th time. He kinda taught himself,I just figured it was worth tryn & repeating it. And it worked.Hopefully,other cat owners can try & have success with this method. He doesn’t like me holding him either,but last night he actually let me,coz he was distracted by smelling my coat hanging up beside him, progress,lol. šŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2015 at 8:10 am (5 years ago)

      What a clever idea to entice a cat to use your lap, Wendy!

      Reply
      • Wendy
        December 5, 2015 at 6:26 am (5 years ago)

        Thanku,but i cant take th credit for it, i had th board on my lap just incidently & Spike took it upon himself to jump onto it, he taught himself really,lol. Just like he taught himself to fetch.When he was younger he wld keep bringing me his toys & i wld just throw them off th bed-it actully took me a little while to figure out he was doing it on purpose, lol.
        My cat is th clever one. šŸ™‚

        Reply
  8. Ilse
    December 1, 2015 at 7:48 am (5 years ago)

    Love it. Sure, you can entice an animal but ultimately, the choice should be theirs. As Iā€™m working with my own cats, Iā€™m finding myself more and more just tuning into their rhythm instead of trying to force the pace with too many tricks – and it has deepened my understanding, appreciation and my bond with my pets.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2015 at 8:09 am (5 years ago)

      I so agree with you, Ilse. Even though not every cat may be exactly how we think they should be, working with the challenging ones can result in an even closer bond.

      Reply
  9. Debi
    November 30, 2015 at 11:38 pm (5 years ago)

    Funny, all my kitties over the years have been lap cats. Always used the “buddy system” so usually had two cats at a time, one on my lap and one on my late husband’s lap. When we wanted to get up, but didn’t want to disturb the kitty, we’d say we had a catastrophe! Many times I’ve stayed sitting way longer than I wanted because there was a cat on my lap…lol! And loved every minute!

    Reply
  10. Monica Ackerman
    November 30, 2015 at 7:14 pm (5 years ago)

    Lap sitting is a sore subject in my house. When I had three indoor cats and was taking care of two outdoor cats, the outdoor cats where the only ones actually sitting in my lap and purring. I loved it. BUT when I sit at the computer, my 3 “housecats” (that’s what my mother called them) know to stay away from me until I get up. These other two had not been socialized to that yet so pushing them off my lap or getting up always made me feel sad. They are both gone now but my housecats are still sitting next to me in the chair or on top of my legs in bed. Charlie will sometimes use my lap as a stepping stone from the floor to the back of my chair where he will sit and purr. On his way down he will occasionally stay on my lap but never to lie down, just standing there. He will let me pick him up and briefly hug and kiss him. Chelsea will not. Go figure.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 1, 2015 at 6:59 am (5 years ago)

      They’re all so different, aren’t they, Monica. How interesting that the outdoor cats would sit in your lap.

      Reply
  11. Ann
    November 30, 2015 at 1:47 pm (5 years ago)

    All but one of my rescued feral kitties all became either half-lap or full lap cats, and all but that one ornery gal were rescued as adults. So I believe that it’s a personality issue, and/or an ability to pick up on behavior modeled by whoever was with me when they were introduced. The half-lappers would begin by sitting next to me, and gradually over time came to put both paws or front legs on my thigh as they snuggled in. Everyone slept somewhere on the bed — either on a pillow or somewhere else next to me.

    Reply
  12. Lisa Barrett
    November 30, 2015 at 1:04 pm (5 years ago)

    Terrific post, thank you!

    Reply
  13. Aimee
    November 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm (5 years ago)

    Our cats are not lap cats, unless the lap is of a person lying down to sleep! I sometimes think they don’t want laps unless they’re sure the person in question will really commit to it. Only lying on a sleeping person ensures at least a few solid hours šŸ™‚

    Reply
  14. Missy Frye
    November 30, 2015 at 11:55 am (5 years ago)

    My Max is definitely a lap cat. As he ages he demands more and more of my attention – mostly in the evenings when I’m watching television or reading. Simon is more independent, but when he wants attention very little will get in his way. He’s been known to wedge himself between me and Max which results in Max running off in a huff. Of course, when d’Artagnan was still alive no one tried to nudge him out of the way. He had a strong personality and I miss him every day.

    Reply
  15. Sue Brandes
    November 30, 2015 at 9:53 am (5 years ago)

    Mine aren’t really lap cats either. Sometimes they will decide too which is really nice.

    Reply
  16. Claire
    November 30, 2015 at 8:48 am (5 years ago)

    Our first cat wasn’t a leap cat at all. He snuggled bedside me, often when I was sewing, and he’d climb onto bed and fall asleep at your knees, but in eleven years he never really tooko sitting on people and it never occurred to us to change that.

    His successor hadn’t been home for 24 hours before she was sitting on my knee purring happily. She’s not wild about being picked up and hugged, but if I’m sitting didn it’s an open invitation to settle on Human Pillow.

    Reply
  17. Janine
    November 30, 2015 at 8:45 am (5 years ago)

    One of my cats surprised me last night and stayed on my lap longer than she ever has. I felt so loved. Usually she only gives me 5 or 10 minutes. But this time it was probably over half an hour.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 30, 2015 at 5:01 pm (5 years ago)

      That’s such a gift, isn’t it, Janine?

      Reply
  18. Patty
    November 30, 2015 at 8:34 am (5 years ago)

    Both our cats love to lay on our laps. Mary Read is like a rock and will not move no matter how much I shift my position. Turnip, on the other hand, will leave if I move around too much. He’s a very high energy cat, so when he finally settles down I try not to disturb him by moving around a lot. The things we do for our little cuties!

    Reply
  19. Fur Everywhere
    November 30, 2015 at 5:06 am (5 years ago)

    Neither one of my cats is really a lap cat. Carmine will grace me with his presence from time to time when I’m on the computer, but mostly he enjoys laying right next to me instead of on me. I’m okay with that. šŸ™‚ Milita isn’t a lap cat, but she would hug you alllllll day long if you let her!

    Jewel was definitely not a lap cat. She liked to hang out near us on the floor, in one of her cat cubes, or in her pink bed. I do think a lot of it had to do with the fact that her former owner never, ever, ever picked her up or held her. She was a good kitty. She didn’t show love in the “traditional” sense, but I could tell that she loved us nonetheless. <3

    Reply
  20. Summer
    November 30, 2015 at 3:04 am (5 years ago)

    I’m a more of a lie-behind-you-on-the-chair-and-nap-there kind of cat, and my human is fine with it. She prefers having her lap free so she can come and go as she pleases.

    Reply
  21. Marci
    November 30, 2015 at 1:24 am (5 years ago)

    My Lucy is a tortie and is the latest of several cats I have had over the years. She was one of several kittens at the adoption center and was not the first one I chose to look at but she was the last! I kept looking at her… She is very exotic… Split facial coloring and all! Whe I picked her up, she nuzzled her little face into my hand and purred! that did it! She has been nuzzling ever since. She often shares my lap with her ” brother”, 11 year old Yorkie, Reagan. She is a darling girl and is as sweet as her predisessor, Sundance, who nuzzled in for 17 years. we miss him but are so happy that Lucy has filled the gap left by his passing.

    Reply

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