“Handling Cats Correctly: Proper Feline Etiquette is Essential”
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret)
Chelsea & Vixie (ARK rescue)
The feline species is truly an enigma. One minute these fluffy balls of fur are incredibly appealing while they sit in your lap purring up a storm. However, the very next minute, with no apparent reason, their claws may have a death grip on your hand. Obviously this behavior makes it perfectly clear that the cat is upset or doesn’t want anything to do with you. Perhaps this is why some people regard cats as mysterious creatures?
There are cats who are love bugs. They cling to their owners like velcro. On the other paw, many other cats display behavior that can resemble a “split personality." However, even if we don’t understand what they are trying to tell us, cats always have their reasons for how they behave. Learning more about the feline nature helps to start unravel their puzzling behavior - making it easier to get along with them.
For example: You are visiting a friend who is owned by a gorgeous kitty. The cat strolls into the room and starts rubbing your legs but is taken aback when you reach down to pick her up to pet her - she growls at you. Why did this happen? It’s because this cat doesn’t know you. You have inadvertently approached her incorrectly.
According to feline behavior expert, Karen Becker, DVM, “There's a right and a wrong way to greet a cat, especially one who is unfamiliar with you. This approach almost always falls into the "wrong way" category."
What’s more, if you're owned by a cat, when guests come to visit and they try too quickly to interact with your kitty, your cat may head for the hills - hiding under the bed for the duration of your friends' visit. If you don't recognize the reason your cat made that quick retreat, it is due to stress; in an effort to comfort her you may even disregard proper kitty etiquette and compound the situation by dragging her out from her hiding spot and holding her tightly for too long.
In her article about Feline Etiquette, Dr. Becker shared, “According to a survey conducted by Cats Protection, a feline welfare organization in the UK, more than half the people surveyed said they try to calm their stressed cats by cuddling them, which is actually the opposite of what kitties want and need when they're feeling anxious or fearful."
In fact, being stroked or held too long can be very stressful for kitties. Cats aren’t people and they don’t respond to being comforted in the same way we do. In fact, being stroked or held too long can cause cats anxiety. What they really need is space and quiet.
A cat's behavior is molded by both genetics and their socialization process. Kittens who are exposed to and handled by a variety of people during the crucial socialization period (between 2 to 7 weeks of age) are likely to be more outgoing. Those who lived in shelter situations with minimal contact to people probably won't be comfortable with unfamiliar guests. Kittens born to stray or feral cats may have a genetic predisposition toward fearful reactions.
However, no matter what caused their timidity, helping your cat feel more comfortable with unfamiliar guests in your home can be accomplished by teaching your guests a little about “feline etiquette.”
If your kitty is shy, proper feline etiquette is to ignore the cat at first and avoid making eye contact. Let the kitty come to them. If she does come out, try gently stroking the cat’s head with an open hand and speaking softly to her. Dr. Becker recommends “touching the cat only on her back, shoulders, neck, and the top of the head – the paws, tail, and tummy are off-limits."
Forcing contact with a kitty is very poor etiquette. The cat will be frightened and any desired trust will go out the window. Most importantly: your company allows your kitty to do things in her way. A happy cat is one who is confident, feeling in control of their immediate environment, and permitting the cat to set the tone of all interactions.
Do you have a “scaredy cat?" What do you do to make your cat more comfortable when unfamiliar company visits? Let us know below.