Introducing yourself to an unknown domestic cat in or outside the home

introducing yourself to a cat
introducing yourself to a cat. Letting the cat call the shots. Picture in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Some thoughts on introducing yourself to an unknown domestic cat in or outside the home.

Cat calls the shots

I frequently meet domestic cats on the sidewalk (pavement) where I live. If I approach them I do so deferentially. As they say, I let the cat call the shots. When a cat initiates the interaction between cat and person the interactions work out better and longer. Research tells us that when humans initiate the interaction between cat and person the interactions are shorter.

Cat instigates

In short people should introduce themselves to unknown cats in a very respectful way, letting the cat make the decisions on whether to make actual contact with a nose to back of hand touch or a nose to tip of finger touch. The cat may then make progress and gently head butt the person’s hand.

If the unknown cat comes forward to meet you (i.e. instigates the meeting) I believe it is best to present the back of your hand to the cat so she can (a) smell your scent and (b) ‘get her bearings’ and (c) understand what she is dealing with and (d) to check that she is meeting a strange person. Assumptions that the cat will accept petting from the get-go may often fail and is insensitive.

Jackson Galaxy greeting

Jackson does the same but extends his pointer finger, not rigidly but in a relaxed way. He makes an upside down ‘U’ with it. He wants to try and replicate another cat’s nose so that the cat who has come forward greets the finger with a nose touch; the friendly cat-to-cat greeting accompanying the tail up. He is trying to encourage the meeting to get off on the right foot.

If the nose-to-nose greeting is initiated by the cat Jackson might gently press his finger onto the bridge of the cat’s nose. The cat might respond by encouraging Jackson to pet parts of his neck and face such as the cheek or forehead. There might be a gentle head butt.

Sometimes Jackson will move his pointer finger (with which the cat is now familiar and nose touched) down to the cat’s cheek/mouth. He then moves the finger up the bridge of the nose to the forehead and beyond to the nape of the neck (the back of the neck).

The cat might lick his finger. If so, he uses his finger to spread the cat’s scent on the areas of the cat that have glands e.g. the cheek. These movements create interrelational trust.


Jackson also has what he calls ‘Hypno-Ear’! It involves massaging the cat’s ear with finger and thumb. The finger is on the outside of the ear and the thumb on the inside. You should focus on the top 2/3rds of the ear flap. The pressure is medium. It might put the cat into a ‘zombie-fied’ state!

Refs: Total Cat Mojo (which I am finding easier to read now that I understand his language.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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