The Right and Wrong Ways to Greet a Cat

Petting cat on a chair
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Let the cat approach you first before you greet him.

How a person greets his or her own cat or an unfamiliar cat can affect the cat's perception and reaction to the person. In greetings gone wrong, a cat may panic and try to get away or may resort to defensive gestures like growling or scratching to end the interaction. When greetings go right, cats are more likely to offer mutual greeting and affection in return. 

Since all cats are individuals, there's no perfect method for greeting them. But there are certain greetings more likely to be perceived as unsafe or threatening and others more likely to be viewed as safe and friendly. 

Gestures like looking at a cat directly when meeting him or bending or reaching to pet or pick him up can often be perceived as threatening. There are some social felines who relish such greetings of affection, but they are often the exception. Most cats prefer a greeting where they can gradually assess a person and accept friendship at their own pace. 

Here are some ways you can help a cat feel safe and comfortable when you greet him:

  1. Let the cat decide if he wants to say hi. Immediately approaching and reaching toward a cat who either hasn’t initiated the approach or is showing fearful body language can set the stage for a bad interaction. Instead, only partially approach the cat. Let him finish the approach by getting close enough to you to give a friendly gesture like rubbing against your legs. Letting the cat seal the deal is important, as it can help avoid potential conflict like scratching or biting if the cat receives an unwelcome touch. It also allows the cat time to give his stamp of approval by rubbing against you with his body to distribute his own scent, both building his own comfort and showing acceptance of you. 
  2. Take your time if a cat is particularly wary of people. Ignore the cat, avoid eye contact and don't reach to pet or pick him up. Let him come to you. Once he does and feels comfortable, you can try to pet or stroke him gently on his head, neck or side as long as he remains relaxed.
  3. Pay attention to how you’re holding your body. Try turning to the side rather than directly facing the cat, avoiding prolonged eye contact and making yourself smaller by sitting or kneeling down. Avoid reaching out to pet or bending over the top of a cat to say hi. If a cat wants to investigate, try reaching out your hand or an object with your smell on it. Also, keep in mind that many cats do better saying hi if they are on a higher space, like a couch or perch. 
  4. Try doing a slow blink to show you mean no harm. Shutting your eyes, counting to three and then opening your eyes can be a helpful way to befriend a feline. It's a true compliment if the cat gives you a slow blink in return.
  5. Some cats need a little extra convincing that a person is safe and worthwhile to get to know. Dropping a couple of treats nearby, doling out canned food or bringing a cat close with a feather toy can all create a positive association of being near people. Additionally, avoiding things a particular cat dislikes, such as being picked up or petted for long periods of time, can also help build his comfort around new people.

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