If you’re a cat lover, chances are good that you want to meet all of the cats you come across. Some people are lucky to have an ingrained sense of how to communicate with cats (we call these people “cat whisperers”), and may naturally act in a way that establishes trust without even thinking about it. Others may need a little guidance to successfully befriend unfamiliar cats.
If that sounds like you, you’re in luck. Whether you’re trying to be friends with your brother’s cat or a stray, here are the 8 steps you’ll need to take.
#1 – Move slowly
Cats startle easily, and one is even more likely to be spooked by sudden or quick movements if she isn’t quite sure about you. Slow, gentle movements will put her at ease.
#2 – Speak softly
Cats have very fine-tuned senses of hearing and they can pick up signs of anxiety and anger in your voice, and will in turn feel anxious themselves. When approaching an unfamiliar cat, be deliberate about the way you speak. Use a soft voice with an even tone.
#3 – Hand sniff
When it comes to identifying threats and enemies, cats rely heavily on their strong senses of smell. Sit or crouch down on the floor near the cat (or as close as she’ll allow you), and hold your hand or finger out towards her. Don’t stick your hand in her face or wave it in front of her. Simply hold it out and let her sniff.
#4 – Don’t stare
Cats can interpret staring as a form of intimidation, which isn’t exactly the message you want to send to a cat you’re trying to befriend. Making occasional eye contact is fine, but keep it short, sweet, and non-threatening. This is the wrong time to engage in a staring contest. If you do find yourself locked into an intense stare, be the one who looks away first (which will show your friendly, submissive side).
#5 – Slow blink
Has your cat ever slowly blinked at you? Cats will keep their eyes open and alert if they feel unsafe in their environment, so you can take it as a sign of trust if a cat dares to close her eyes or slowly blink in your presence. Slowly blinking at a cat (or completely closing your eyes for a few seconds at a time) can communicate that you’re comfortable and trust her, and that she is welcome to trust you too.
#6 – Let the cat come to you
You should always let an unfamiliar cat initiate the first physical contact. When she smells your hand she may deem you safe right away and begin to rub her cheeks or head on you. Later, she may rub against your leg. Consider the rub to be a seal of approval.
#7 – Respect boundaries and feelings
When meeting an unfamiliar cat, it’s important to pay attention to her body language. You can learn a lot about how a cat is feeling by noticing how she’s holding her ears or tail, for instance. Never try to pick up or pet a cat whose body language is saying “back off”. Even if you can’t pet her that time around, you’ll establish a better long-term relationship if she can trust that you’ll respect her feelings and boundaries. Pushing to pet her when she doesn’t want to be pet is not only dangerous (a cat who feels threatened is more likely to lash out), but it also leaves her to associate you and your scent with that bad experience.
#8 – Bring treats
Cats are reward driven creatures. You can vastly improve your chances of friendship by sprinkling a few treats down after she has given you the sniff test.