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How To Get To Know A Cat

October 14, 2012

Photo courtesy Natalie Barletta

When meeting a new cat, it’s important to remember that first impressions count. No matter if you’re getting to know your recently adopted cat, saying hi to a friend’s cat, or volunteering at a shelter, you’ll want to take some best practices into account so your relationship starts off on the right foot – and paw.

Start by making yourself less threatening. You’re several times larger than the cat, which can be quite intimidating, so do what you can to get down to her level. If the cat is on the floor, sit on the floor. If she’s sitting on a couch, crouch down next to it.

Hold out your hand and let the cat sniff you. If you’re not familiar with the cat, you’ll want to do this slowly in case she has socialization issues and wants to swat you. Your goal is for her to sniff you.

Some suggest holding out your index finger, others suggest holding out your whole hand. My go-to gesture is to hold my hand in a fist, and extend my index finger out, while keeping the tip bent in, almost like the letter X in American Sign Language. I do this in case the cat bites or swats at me. (Can you tell I volunteer with ferals and those with socialization problems?)

If the cat backs up or looks uncomfortable, odds are you’ve crossed a line. Pull back and give her some time. If she comes forward or rubs her head on your hand, she’s basically telling you she feels comfortable around you. That said, you still don’t want to rush things.

While petting the cat, watch her body language. Take things slow and follow her lead. There may be places she doesn’t like to be touched, and she’ll likely let you know by avoiding your hand or swatting at you. Other trouble-indicating signs include sudden flicks of the tail, staring and other rapid movements, like head turning. 

If you’re around someone who is familiar with the cat (his owner, roommate, another volunteer), they may be able to tell you where the cat likes, and doesn’t like, to be pet. This can be helpful as you can avoid any unpleasantness with your new furry acquaintance.

And sometimes, a cat may not want to interact with you. This can mean that a once personable cat is acting nasty, or maybe he just got up and walked away. Don’t take this personally, simply leave the cat alone and try again at another time.

Photo courtesy ihasb33r

Other tips

Some cats are prone to getting overstimulated. That means, as much as they may like attention and affection, it becomes too much for them; it overwhelms them. That usually results in negative behavior like biting and swatting. Keep an eye open for the negative behaviors above.

Even if you’ve met a cat before, you may have to reintroduce yourself. This happens often with the cats (especially kittens) I volunteer with. Just take the process slow. This time around it should go a bit more smoothly since you’re more familiar with the cat.

Staring is considered rude to cats – it’s a sign of aggressive confrontation. That said, you can certainly look at the cat, but don’t maintain eye contact for too long, especially if you notice the cat’s body language becoming defensive.

One Comment leave one →
  1. annie permalink
    October 15, 2012 1:00 am

    Interesting now I know why my cat bites me. Not my ch cats.. also I’ve been feeding a feral cat for 3 years and he still wont let me near him. Wont eat the food until I walk away. He might be a hopeless case. But he’ll always get a free meal from me.

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