I just spent three days at a pet bloggers’ conference where I met five cats — and about a bazillion dogs, and even a few ferrets. Now I’m visiting with my sister, who is the proud slave of two gorgeous cats, one of whom has a thing for being shaved. Having met all these new cats got me thinking about the importance of proper introductions. Here are a few tips on how to make a good first impression.
Sit on the floor. Think about it: You’re five to six times taller than a cat, and anybody would have cause to be nervous in the presence of someone so big. You’ll be less threatening if you make yourself smaller.
No, not that finger. Reach your hand toward the cat with your index finger slightly extended and allow her to come to you. The first thing she’ll probably do is sniff the end of your finger. This gesture is similar to the nose-touch that cats do to introduce themselves to one another.
The cat might next rub her head on your hand. That indicates she’s feeling safe with you — so far. Don’t rush to pet her, though; if you move too fast, you may scare her away.
Remember when your mother told you not to stare at people because it’s impolite? The same thing is true for cats. In cat language, staring is a sign of aggressive confrontation. Don’t be afraid to look at the cat, but don’t maintain eye contact for long periods of time, either.
Each cat has places she prefers to be petted and places she’d prefer not to be touched. Keep an eye on subtle gestures including tail motion, stares, or rapid head-turning. These might indicate that the cat is becoming overstimulated. A cat that gets too wound up may claw or even bite to make the uncomfortable interaction stop.
If you’re visiting a friend who has cats, ask that person about the types and locations of touching the cat prefers. Observant cat parents understand their cats and will give you tips to help you to make a good impression.
Even if you’ve met the cat before, you might need to reintroduce yourself. You might smell different, look different, or act different, so kitty might need some time to find out that you’re a safe person. The cat might have changed, too. The first time I met my sister’s cat, Pedro, he was all over me. On this visit, though, he’s been more circumspect. Instead of treating him as though I’ve known him forever, I’m taking the it slow.
Sometimes a cat won’t want to interact with you at all. Don’t force the issue, and don’t take it personally. The cat doesn’t hate you; it’s just that for whatever reason, at that time, the cat would prefer that you stay back. If you respect these wishes, the cat is more likely to approach you with a positive attitude and a feeling of safety.
Every cat comes equipped with a personality, and as long as you understand and respect a cat’s wishes about how to be approached and where and when to be touched, you’ll have a much better relationship. Whether it’s a quick fling at a conference, a vacation visit with a friend, or even a first date at the animal shelter, follow this advice and you’ll be a cat friend for life.