Cats are territorial creatures that are wary of newcomers. So how you approach a cat for the first time will dictate your relationship.

You don’t want to scare the cat. You want to become best friends!

First, you need to understand that cats and dogs are very different.

Dogs work to earn our trust. But with cats, we have to work to earn theirs.

Be patient with cats and take your time. Respect the cat’s boundaries. Don’t be tempted to rush this process.

Cats will remember you so you want to do it right the first time.

Here’s exactly how to approach a cat for the first time:

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1. Get down to the cat’s level immediately

Standing is intimidating. And the cat will probably run away when you start walking toward the cat. Especially if it’s your first time meeting.

kitten poofy tail
  • Sit on the floor so you are closer to his size.
  • Let the cat come to you on her terms.
  • Never stare at a cat. Staring is intimidating.
  • If the cat is shy, sit in silence and wait.
  • “Ignore” the cat once he enters the room.
  • Take your phone out and pretend to be busy while the cat checks you out.
  • No sudden movements. Quick movements will send the cat running.

This first step is crucial. The cat will not come up to you if he’s intimated or scared.

Getting down to the cat’s level can help take the edge off. You’ll seem less threatening if you’re closer to the cat’s size.

Sit like a statue if you have to.

If the cat comes up to you right away, congratulations!

Tip: Sweeten the interaction with some healthy cat treats or organic catnip.

Now your new friend will associate you with a yummy interaction.

Cats are more likely to approach you if they think you are unaware of their presence.

2. Offer a gentle hand for the cat to sniff

Offer your hand for the cat to sniff if he’s walking up to you.

how to greet a cat let him sniff you first

Cats know their way around through scents. The cat’s sense of smell is about 40x stronger than ours.

  • Offer a loosely closed fist to sniff if you feel the cat may be aggressive.
  • Offer the back of your hand.
  • Make sure there is nothing for the cat to grab, just in case he bites.
  • Let the cat sniff you on her terms.
  • Continue your statue pose.

Cats love to sniff.

All of my cat sitting visits and meetings start with the cats sniffing the inside of my shoes. Jericho does it when I come home too!

Seriously. The cats stick their whole face in my shoe and get a good whiff!

Your new friend getting a kick out of your scent is a good thing.

Tip: Improve this step with fun wand toys. Cats love interactive play!

Many clients have said to me, “my cat isn’t interested in playing“. But I’m always able to get their cats to play!

The cat wants to know where you’ve been and what you’re about. So they want to smell you to get to know you first.

3. Speak gently and say the cat’s name

Maybe the cat hasn’t come up to you yet. That’s ok!

introduce yourself to a cat cat cuddling in bed with human

Say hello and introduce yourself out loud if you know the cat’s name.

  • Speak calmly.
  • Say how happy you are to meet her.
  • Say thank you.

Cats will learn your voice.

This will help down the road if the cat is hiding.

Eventually, they will come to you when they hear you.

I’ve had many cat clients that hid under the bed when they heard me opening the apartment door. But they came running to me as soon as they heard my voice.

Tip: Cats are sensitive to loud sounds. It’s important to stay calm and speak in a low, friendly voice.

Cats are more likely to approach you when they know that you are safe.

4. Only pet cats when you get a nudge

It’s tempting to start petting once the cat is in your presence and sniffing your hand.

Don’t pet just yet or you may get a swat.

cat licking human's face

Again, we have to do everything on their terms.

  • Cats will let you know it’s alright to pet them when they nudge you with their head.
  • This could be a head bump or a rub using the side of their face and chin area.
  • They may also rub on other things that are nearby like the corner of the wall or your leg.

Let the cat sniff your hand.

The cat may nudge you after some sniffing and investigating. This is permission to further your contact.

Stick with light pettings on the head only.

Cats will let you know when it’s time for petting. But stick to light pettings on the head the first time you meet.

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5. No staring or full-body petting

Staring at cats is very intimidating. Do not stare at the cat.

how to greet a cat cat cuddling on my lap

Instead, offer a very slow blink. Or keep your eyes closed completely. This will show the cat that you trust him.

Your first few pets should stay around the cat’s head.

  • Cats love chin and head scratches so this is always a safe bet.
  • Cat faces are very sensitive, and they have many feel receptors here.
  • They love chin and head scratches because this provides stimulation.
  • Some cats can get overstimulated.

Watch for certain queues so you don’t catch a nip or swipe.

Pull your hand back and take it more slowly if the cat pulls his head away or turns around quickly.

You don’t want to force anything.

Especially if the cat is still unsure about you.

Tip: Check out how to pet a cat (with pictures).

Offer slow blinks to show you trust the cat. And watch for overstimulation queues when you pet a cat.

6. Never pick up a cat

Most cats don’t like to be picked up. I’ve had 400+ cats in my personal and professional life.

Only one of those cats actually wanted to be picked up.

introduce yourself to a cat cat squirming to get out of being held
  • Only pick up cats when it’s an emergency.
  • Keep their legs secure if you absolutely have to pick up a cat.
  • The best way to hold cats is to keep them close to your chest.
  • Hang the front of cats over your shoulder.
  • Use one arm to keep cats tight to your chest and the other to hold their back legs.

Cats prefer to have all four paws on a flat surface because it makes them feel secure.

7. Never touch the cat’s belly

The stomach is the most vulnerable area for everyone. So most cats don’t like belly rubs.

Save the belly rubs for doggies.

cat showing off belly

However, if a cat shows off his belly to you it means he trusts you.

Your cat may enjoy belly rubs once he gets to know you and feels comfortable with you.

But never go straight in for belly rubs when you’re approaching a cat for the first time.

Cats like to roll around and show off their belly when they are happy and comfortable. But it is not an invitation to pet the cat’s belly.

8. Be patient when you approach a cat for the first time

Some cats will hide from you for days, months, or longer.

Be patient.

cat cuddling in my lap

I had one client whose cat stayed under the bed every time I visited. Visits were twice daily and quite frequently.

Here’s what I did to become friends:

  • I checked under the bed to make sure he was there.
  • I said hello, offered treats, and that was it. This was our only interaction.
  • About one year later, he finally came out.
  • He came to the couch and sat next to me.
  • He was rubbing all over me and accepting all types of petting.
  • Every visit after that he’d come out.
  • He waited for me to finish the work so we could cuddle on the couch together.

We would not become friends if I had rushed this process.

Take it slow and on their terms. It will pay off. Trust me.

9. Feel thanks and gratitude to help calm the cat

The cat will feel more comfortable if you are calm and loving.

cat touching noses with human
  • Focus your energy on love and gratitude.
  • Say thank you out loud to your new friend.

Cats will get nervous and hide if you are feeling nervous.

So try to relax and take deep breaths to calm down.

Cats are intuitive. They pick up on our energy.

introduce yourself to a cat cat cuddling in bed

Final thoughts on how to approach a cat

Introduce yourself to a cat properly the first time you meet if you want to have a good relationship.

Cats will feel more at ease around you when you do this right the first time. This is crucial when approaching a new cat for the first time.

It can be tempting to rush into the relationship. But you have to take it slow.

Make yourself less threatening, let cats sniff you, speak to cats in a friendly voice, and don’t go for full-body petting right away.

Cats are not dogs.

Cats are territorial creatures. They want things to be done their way. We need to respect that.

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