There are advantages to presenting the back of your hand when greeting a domestic cat, including your own cat. I always do it. This may be because my cat is a former feral cat and is perhaps a little twitchier than your average domestic cat.
However, I have found that if I inadvertently wave my fingers at him somewhere in the vicinity of his face, he may treat them as a prey animal. He does this because they are moving around in short sharp movements. Cats always react to these movements as prey animals. Instinctively people push their hands towards an animal with the fingers leading. This is in preparation to stroking the animal’s head.
But critically, it is the fingers which are presented to the animal. And I believe the shape and movement of these fingers can stimulate an instinctive response in a domestic cat which encourages them to take a swipe. If the claws are out, ouch.
By presenting the back of the hand the cat sees something more solid and less mobile. This ‘object’ does not stimulate the attack response in my experience. Clearly it depends upon the individual cat.
Many cats will not bother to attack fingers and I completely understand that. I’m just thinking aloud and out of the box. There will be some domestic cats who are a little bit twitchy.
Also, when domestic cats come in from the outside their wildcat within has been drawn to the surface of their mind. They are in wildcat mode almost. This momentary attitude may encourage them to take a swipe at fingers.
I know that many people acquire scratched hands from casual interactions with their cat. And I also know that many people are fearful of a cat’s claws. That’s why in America millions of people declaw their cats.
It’s up to people to avoid being scratched. It’s up to cat owners to find ways to interact with their cat which almost completely eliminates the possibility of being scratched. I believe that this is achievable. It’s a question of thoughtful application and observation.
Like many people not living in America, I want to see declawing stopped for good. It looks horrible to outsiders. It is inherently cruel and unnecessary. Presenting the back of the hand to a cat when greeting them may avoid some scratches. If a single cat owner does it as a consequence of this article and if that person decides not to de-claw their cat as a result, I have succeeded.
As a postscript, Jackson Galaxy has written about what he describes as the Michelangelo greeting in which the person presents one finger and touches their cat on the nose. This is meant to replicate the friendly nose-touch greeting between cats.
I would suggest that you can do this after you present the back of the hand. But if you are interacting with a cat that you don’t know and vice versa, the Michelangelo greeting is inapplicable in my opinion. The back of the hand greeting is safer.