While it can be tempting to rush towards your friend’s adorable new kitten to say hello or keep Fluffy from diving behind the couch by picking him up to be pet, every cat has a different way of greeting new people and may not welcome such a direct approach. Get the details on how to help houseguests learn the right way to be around your cat, below.
How do Cats Greet People?
Every cat has its own unique personality and genetic makeup that will impact the way they respond to new people or changes in their environment. Some cats will run to the door and greet visitors just like a dog would, while others will want to run away or hide behind a piece of furniture. In some, less common cases, cats will respond to new people with fear-based aggression like hissing and swatting, according to Katie Watts, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA adoption center.
There are a several reasons behind a cat’s greeting behavior, Watts said, namely genetics and socialization. If your cat is the offspring of a line of feral or wild cats, she said, they might be genetically disposed to fearful behavior. How your cat was socialized as a kitten will also impact how they respond to new people, as cats with exposure to a variety of different people will probably be more comfortable around visitors in your home.
“If a cat has only known one or two people they may be less apt to handle stimulation like lots of people or noises,” Watts said. “It’s really a combination of how they’ve been socialized as well as their genes.”
What Behaviors Frighten Cats?
A fearful cat may have trouble greeting visitors on its own, but the issue can be compounded if those visitors behave in a particularly intrusive way to the cat. Most people tend to treat cats like they would another person, Watts said, which can be a mistake in a lot of cases, especially with a fearful cat.
“When a cat is afraid, your instinct is to walk directly up to them and tell them they’re okay, which can be even more threatening to an already fearful cat,” she said. Approaching a cat head-on and looking at them directly can be particularly threatening behavior to an uncomfortable cat, she added.
Children tend to exaggerate these same adult behaviors which, combined with their awkward movements and sudden noises, can be very unsettling to a fearful cat, Watts said. Any sort of forceful behavior, like pulling a cat from a hiding place, can also be scary to cats that are trying to retreat from an uncomfortable situation.
Tips for Guests and Pet Owners
Modifying your cat’s guest-greeting behavior and working with visitors to help your cat feel comfortable in their presence will take a bit of work but can be done. Watts offers the following tips for making interactions more pleasant for everyone involved:
-Keep it down—be mindful of the noise level when you have guests over. While you can’t control every sound of the party, you can set the tone of their visit by asking your guests to enter quietly and act calmly around your cat.
-Give it time—the one guest who claims not to be a “cat person” usually gets the majority of your cat’s attention. Why is that the case? Because they let the cat come up to them on their own time. If you want a fearful cat to approach, don’t directly reach for it and give it space and time to feel comfortable around you and greet you when they’re ready.
-Have treats handy—keep bite-sized treats or toys on hand and give them to your guests when they arrive. Ask them to sit down quietly with the treat and coax them over to say hello or play for a few moments. Cats will be much more receptive to this form of interaction than a direct approach. This will also work with children that want to say hello to your cat.
-Take it slow—if you know you’re going to have a big party, start small and have just one or two people over before the big event. Let your cat get used to being around a few new people and, depending on its response, take it from there.
-Let them have space—if your cat doesn’t want to interact with your guests or continues to be uncomfortable around new people, make sure they have a place to retreat to (like a bedroom) or high place to perch. “The more you try to force a cat into a situation, the more likely you are to see aggressive behavior or fear worsening,” Watts said.
-Get help—if your cat develops aggressive behaviors, it’s important to talk to an expert to get to the bottom of the issue. Seek out a certified animal behaviorist to determine the best course of action for you and your cat.
Tell us: Does your cat like houseguests? How do you make them feel comfortable around new people?
Photo courtesy of the ASPCA. Teresa is a 7-year-old cat who has been waiting far too long for a home of her own. You will find her frequently (and loudly) asking for attention, but she also lets you know when she has had enough. This sensitive kitty loves to explore, but should be in a single-cat household so she can be queen of her own jungle! Learn more about adopting Teresa here.