How your cat interacts with you and others depends on its temperament, past circumstances and its current surroundings. Kittens go through a critical socialization stage between 2 and 7 weeks of age. This is a time when they learn to accept contact with other animals, different people and different environments. Kittens that have not received regular, friendly handling by humans during the 2 to 7-week period, may always be nervous of people.
When approaching a cat, it is best to let him come to you. You can appear less intimidating by avoiding loud noises, quick movements and looming over him. Try sitting down on the floor next to him, to put yourself at his level. If you are unfamiliar with the cat, ask the owner how he reacts with strangers. Put your fingers out to allow the cat to sniff you, before reaching out to pet him.
Some cats do not enjoy being picked up. Whenever you pick up a cat, he experiences a sudden loss of control, and his sense of security is altered. Signs that your cat is stressed and you should not be attempting to pick him up, include a tense body, dilated pupils, ears back, hissing, and a swishing tail. Use both hands to pick up your cat. One hand should scoop up his behind, while the other hand supports his chest. Provide your cat with as much body contact as possible, to hold him securely. Lifting your cat by the scruff is NEVER recommended. Females only carry kittens by their scruff in the very first weeks of life.
Many cats prefer to be touched on the head and neck. He may become upset or aggressive when people attempt to pet him in other areas. Certain cats become overstimulated when you pet them for an extended period. They will nip or grab your hand with their claws, in warning when they have had enough. The best remedy for this is to avoid reaching that point, by reading the cues in your cat’s body language. Your cat will go very still, with only the tip of the tail twitching. His ears may be lowered and to the sides. Sometimes, the skin on his back will ripple. If this happens, it is best to stop petting the cat and stand up to remove the cat from your lap, rather than attempting to pick him up.
Cats as a species, are not well equipped to handle conflict. Your cat will usually attempt to avoid an upsetting situation, by running away and hiding. Do not insist on interacting with your upset cat. Instead, remove yourself from the situation, by going into another room. A common reason your cat may become upset is seeing an unfamiliar cat outdoors. Do not try and touch the cat in this situation, but instead try to distract him with loud noises, or throwing a blanket over him. Remove yourself and other animals from the room. When your cat is calm, reward the calm behaviour with treats, toys and praise. Wait until your cat has calmed down, before touching him. If there is a medical emergency and it is not possible to wait, use two thick towels to catch and wrap your cat up.
Your cat may try to avoid being handled and may become aggressive toward with you for a variety of reasons, including fear, pain, and illness. Senior cats often have arthritis, which can make some handling and petting painful.
If you have questions regarding cat behaviour and handling of your cat, please let us know!
There is lots of helpful information available at The Cat Community as well.
Written by Dr. Celeste Forgeron, DVM