Saying “hello” to your beloved cat or introducing yourself to a new cat can be rewarding for both human and feline. What’s the best way to greet a cat so that both kitty and you get the most from the experience? It depends on several factors, such as how well the cat knows you, the cat’s comfort level with humans in general, and whatever may be going on at the time that could distract or disturb the cat.
Greeting a Cat with Whom You Have a Close Bond
Seeing a friendly cat face when you come home is one of life’s joys. When kitty welcomes you home and conveys, through body language, that he missed you, tell him that you missed him too. He may want to rub noses with you or give you a cordial head bump. To make it easier for him to engage in those bonding behaviors with you, consider getting down on your knees so you’re at his level. Of course kitty will probably appreciate some purr-inducing petting as well, but most likely you’re already well aware of that.
Try to make the greeting area someplace other than right by the door, so that your cat doesn’t associate fun times with the door to the not-always-great outdoors.
Greeting a Cat Who’s Accustomed to Humans
When meeting someone else’s cat for the first time, it helps immensely to ask if kitty likes to be petted, and if she has any preferences. In general, let kitty set the pace of familiarity. Let her approach you, rather than the other way around. Avoid direct eye contact; that may be perceived as a provocation.
The Finger-to-Cheek Introduction
A casual, non-invasive “How do you do?” gesture is extending a finger so that kitty can sniff it with her nose and rub it with her cheeks, thereby leaving her scent on you. Place your finger at about the height of the cat’s head and several inches from her, pointing toward her. If kitty is interested, she’ll make her way to your finger. The extended finger greeting is roughly the equivalent of offering your hand for a handshake. It may also simulate the nose-to-nose greeting that cats on friendly terms use with each other.
Offering Your Hand for Sniffing
Another way to introduce yourself to a cat is to offer your hand so she can check you out, scent-wise. The information revealed about us from this type of “palm reading” may be more than we realize; in any case it’s enough for kitty to make an assessment of whether she wants to proceed with the relationship at that point. As with the finger greeting, position your hand so that it’s convenient for kitty to sniff it, but give her some space; let it be her decision to approach you.
When to Offer Your Finger or Hand
Only engage in the finger or hand overture if kitty doesn’t seem too visibly upset with your presence. If she’s checking you out, perhaps gently rubbing against you, to claim you as part of her territory, then you can offer your finger. If her tail is up (content) or at least horizontal to the ground (deliberating, undecided), that’s a positive sign.
If she’s staring intensely at you, swatting you, hissing at you, running away from you, or otherwise showing her displeasure, postpone the finger greeting and keep calm. If she’s generally socialized to humans, there’s a good chance that she’ll warm up to you in time, especially if you maintain a relaxed, passive demeanor. Try to be cognizant of factors related to you—especially controllable ones—that might be off-putting for the cat. For instance, she may be disturbed by the scent of other cats on you, or perhaps you have a naturally loud or deep voice that she’s not used to.
Note that you can also use the finger greeting with your own cat. For example, if you’re on the phone and kitty walks by, you can extend a finger for him to rub—sort of like giving someone a quick but reassuring pat on the back.
If kitty accepts your finger or hand, you can try petting her. Remember to always ask the humans of the household if and how kitty likes to be petted. Proceed slowly and be prepared to stop if kitty doesn’t seem to be receptive. Watch her body language; that’s her way of saying “yes” or “no”—and note that it can quickly change from “yes” to “no.” Fixed stares are one common way that cats signal that they’re reaching their petting limit.
Greeting a Shy Cat
To make a shy cat feel more at ease, especially if she never met you, it’s important to remain calm and patient and appear non-threatening. One reason that cats often seek out people who are uninterested in cats is because those folks don’t try to force themselves on the cat. Some aloofness on your part—even if feigned—can actually be a good thing when around an apprehensive cat. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for the two of you to get to know one another.
Gentle play, at arm’s length, and employed judiciously, can often be an effective ice-breaker with a shy or fearful cat. As usual, try to first find out kitty’s preferences from a knowledgeable human. Does she like to play? Does she have any favorite games or playing styles?
There are two playing techniques that appeal to a wide range of cats:
- Chasing and pouncing on throw-toys. Try throwing one of kitty’s toys across the room, down the hall, or into an adjacent room, so that it heads away from her –which may stimulate her hunting instinct—and away from you, which relieves kitty of the need to come toward you in order to pursue and capture her toy. Continue this game as long as she is interested. In order to not invade her space, wait until she’s abandoned the toy before throwing it again.
- Stalking and swatting toys attached to a string and wand. Gently using a wand toy is an excellent way to non-invasively play with a cat. Make the toy at the end of the string subtly crawl on the floor, across kitty’s field of vision, but at some distance from her; you don’t want it in her face. The ersatz “prey” can also hide behind boxes and climb up and down furniture; this may intrigue kitty and awaken her hunting sense. Avoid sweeping arcs; better to manipulate the toy so it twitches and stealthily moves about. Some cats prefer that the toy fly through the air like a bird or insect, but for a shy cat, you’re probably better off having the toy be a ground-dweller. If kitty sneaks up on the toy, the game is on! Even if she just intently watches the toy’s actions, that may pleasantly distract her and calm her nerves. If your attempt at play seems to bother her at all, put down the wand toy.
Mix and Match Techniques
In general, “getting to know you” methods that are appropriate for timid cats or first-time meetings can also be used with cats whom you know well. For instance, if you’re busy working and kitty needs some attention, you can increase your dexterity by typing with one hand and waving a wand toy with the other.
You Can Never Have Too Many Feline Friends
If you “speak” to cats in their language and are respectful of their need for self-determination and a zone of privacy, you’ll likely be accepted into their world—and what an endlessly fascinating world that is. When getting to know cats, a combination of patience and knowledge can result in gratifying, long-term rewards. A simple finger-to-nose touch may be the start of a beautiful relationship. Good luck meeting new feline friends!