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Greeting a Cat: Using Proper Cat Etiquette

cat sitting on back of chair

Photo: Jacek Smoter for Unsplash

Use Proper Cat Etiquette

A proper greeting is actually very simple. You just need a finger. When you walk into a room where the cat is located, don’t approach him. Just get down on his level by sitting or kneeling and extend your index finger. Don’t put it in his face or wiggle it around like a toy. The purpose here isn’t to have the cat view your finger as something to bite – even in play. Just extend your finger at the same height as his nose.

In the cat world, cats approach each other and engage in a round of nose-to-nose sniffing to determine familiarity and do an initial scent investigation. When you extend your finger at the same height as the cat’s nose, it becomes a surrogate kitty nose. When you hold your finger still and don’t advance toward the cat, you give him the option to approach or not. By giving the cat that choice it immediately reduces his stress level.


three books by Pam Johnson-Bennett and a quote from AHA


When the cat approaches he’ll do a little sniffing of your finger. If he wishes to interact further with you he may rub his cheek or side of his head along your finger (this is a very affectionate gesture) or he may engage in flank rubbing your finger or hand (a respectful way to combine his scent with yours). If he advances toward you, it’s usually an indication that he is ready for more interaction. It’s at that point that you may pet him if his body language indicates relaxation. If, after sniffing your finger, he stays still or backs away, then he’s NOT ready for further interaction… at least not this time.

Practice Makes Perfect When Getting to Know a Cat

Continue to use your finger for the proper human-to-cat introduction, even if the first few times don’t result in the cat wanting to interact further with you. Continue to give him the choice and show him  you aren’t a threat and you acknowledge proper feline etiquette. You’ll eventually win him over.


For more information on cat behavior and training, refer to the articles on our website and the best-selling books by Pam Johnson-Bennett. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior or health, contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis nor is it a replacement for your cat’s regular veterinary care. This article is for general information purposes only.

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