But first, find all the kittens in this photo:
Found a cat? Good! Now it’s time to introduce yourself.
Introducing yourself to a cat isn’t difficult, but it is different than introducing yourself to a dog or an extrovert. It is, in fact, a lot like interacting with the introverted, up to and including the bit where the subject hisses if you attempt to invade his space too quickly. (I’ll cover Things Cats Say and Why in a future Feline Friday post.)
To introduce yourself to a new cat:
1. Play it cool.
So first, your memory I’ll jog,
And say: A CAT IS NOT A DOG.
Here’s a tip straight from the Cat Whisperer’s Secret File: when a cat is drawn to the least cat-liking person in the room, it’s because that person is the one who is least interested in the cat.
This isn’t because cats are perverse little jerks (though sometimes they are). It’s because, like introverts, cats prefer to hang out with people who will let them do their own thing. Dogs love to know all the attention in the room is focused on them; cats, however, will make the raised-eyebrow Spock-face in an instant.
Therefore, when you first meet a cat, play it cool. Let the cat know that you accept his presence and won’t try to hurt him, but don’t get all up in his business.
Instead, make eye contact with the cat, blink slowly, then look away. Cats do this with one another to signal “hey, I’m cool, you’re cool, coolness is cool.” Don’t squash your face up when you blink; make it calm and relaxed. The blink tells the cat that you’re safe to approach and that the next move is his. Both messages put the cat at ease and make it more likely he’ll want to get to know you further.
2. Get down.
You bow, and taking off your hat,
Address him in this form: “O CAT!”
-T.S. Eliot, as reinterpreted by Broadway
Would you want to be accosted by someone who weighs ten times what you do, is ten times taller, and communicates with loud, unintelligible noises? Neither do cats. When meeting a new cat, sit down or crouch so that you’re closer to his eye level. If you meet a cat while he’s sitting on a table, wall, or other item, you don’t have to crouch, but you may want to bend over if you are particularly tall.
Don’t bend or crouch directly over the cat; instead, lower yourself about an arm’s length away. You’ll need that space for the next step.
3. Make an offering.
And you might now and then supply Some caviar, or Strausburg Pie, Some potted grouse, or salmon paste– He’s sure to have his personal taste.
-T.S. Eliot, out of context
When not suspicious, scared, or angry, cats greet each other by sniffing one another’s heads and noses, and perhaps trading a cheek-swipe or two.
You don’t have to offer bises unless you are French (in which case you already do everything more elegantly than I do, including introducing yourself to les chats), but you can mimic feline introduction etiquette in one of two ways:
a. Offer your hand or closed fist.
Stretch out your arm, holding your open and or closed fist (cats are generally cool with both) at the cat’s eye level. If the cat wants to carry the introduction further, he’ll approach and sniff your hand. If not, the cat will stay put or flee.
If you want a fruitless chase followed by hissing, scratching, or angry yowls, follow the cat. If not, resume whatever you were doing before the cat appeared. Some cats will assume by this that you’re cool and approach; others will keep fleeing.
b. Offer your nose.
I don’t recommend this method when meeting utterly unknown cats or strays, for two reasons. One, there’s a slim but non-zero chance the cat will smack you in the face with five (or more) razor-sharp claws. Two, there’s a much larger chance with strays that they have ear mites, rhinotracheitis, or other diseases and/or parasites, many of which they can and will share with you should you mash faces with one another. Offer hands only to strays, barn cats, and similar outdoor varieties, and wash with soap and water after.
With a healthy cat or one you’ve greeted previously, however, you may also introduce yourself by placing your hands behind your back and extending your nose. Friendly cats will lean in to sniff noses with you.
Because the nose-sniff is more similar to the cat’s usual greeting “language,” a cat that nose-sniffs back is almost always okay with further petting or other attention. The particularly enthusiastic ones may head-butt you in the face – something to consider when deciding whether or not to trade a nose-sniff.
4. Continue to be cool.
Take your cues for further interaction from the cat.
If the cat bumps or rubs against you, that’s a pretty good sign that further petting or skritches are in order. If the cat is indifferent, respect his indifference. If the cat ignores you or runs away, let him.
On a first introduction, do not pick up a cat. Even cats that enjoy being picked up by their own humans aren’t always cool with being picked up by someone they’ve just met. (Would you be?) But break this rule, of course, if kitty is in danger or has some other urgent need and picking him up is the only way to solve the problem.