The Art of Greeting a Cat

12/31/08 - by TheCatCoach

Cats have evolved an elegant and formal protocol for greeting each other as well as greeting members of other animal species. Respecting and following these protocols when meeting a cat for the first time and when greeting a cat that you haven’t shared company with for awhile will encourage pleasant interactions and build trust.

Unfortunately many adults and lots of children do not follow the greeting protocol. Sometimes cats are chased in misguided efforts towards friendships; sometimes they are grabbed and picked up. This usually results in a cat avoiding the human or if cornered sometimes scratching or biting the perpetrator. Cats prefer a traditional, formal greeting that will allow them to find out something about the greeter and to build trust.

Properly greeting a cat is simple. First, never chase or try to pick up a cat. Instead extend your index finger towards the cat at about cat-nose level. Anywhere from 1-5 feet away from the cat will work. The initial greeting distance depends on the individual cat and their circumstances. If you know the cat, and the cat knows you, the distance can be decreased. If you are both strangers to each other, the distance should be increased.

It’s now up to the cat to make the next move. When she’s ready to say “hello” she will walk up to your extended finger and touch it with her nose. Next she will move her head so that your finger is on her mouth and then she’ll move her head so that your finger is on her cheek. If she wants to continue with the meeting, she will rub your finger and your hand with her cheek, marking you. Cats have scent glands on their cheeks that produce “friendly pheromones”. This is similar to us shaking hands. After she marks you, you can now gently pet her under her chin, on the side of her head and then on top of her head.

Try it with your own cats. Extend your index finger towards your cat buddy and say hello.

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