The Cat Friendly Home: Predictable and Positive Interactions Between Cats and Humans

What is the predictable and positive way to greet a cat?

What makes cat-human interactions predictable and positive?

Greet your cat in his language…

When there is sufficient food in an area, free-roaming cats will often live in colonies. Cat colonies are groups of related cats. The core of the colony is the mother cat, her kittens, her sisters and their kittens.

Each cat colony has a scent…

Cats live in a landscape of odors – their sense of smell is 1000 x more sensitive than ours and they communicate by scent. The cat colony has its own scent – each member has this scent.


Scent identifies members…

 Colony members often greet each other by touching noses, confirming the “colony” scent.

They also groom each other (allo-grooming) mostly on the head and rub against each other (allo-rubbing). All of these actions exchange scent, confirming the “colony odor” and membership in the colony.

You are part of your cat’s “colony” and share the “colony” scent, marking you as a colony member. You also have your “signature scent”, that identifies you as an individual to your cat. Greet your cat by letting her smell you and confirm that you belong to the colony.

Your cat may be a highly skilled hunter but he is also a small animal who is prey for larger carnivores such as dogs and coyotes. We are much larger than he is and don’t want to scare him and make him feel like prey. If you get on your cat’s level, you will seem smaller and not as threatening.

Meet and Greet – A Predictable and Positive Hello




Athena accepts a greeting by rubbing her face against my hand

Get on your cat’s level by bending down or by interacting with her on a higher surface. Extend a hand or a finger and allow her to smell you.

  •  If she wishes to continue the interaction, she will rub against your hand (allo-rub).
  • Handle your cat on her head at first. This mimics the “allo-grooming” of friendly cats, where they groom each others’ heads.
  • A friendly or bonded kitty may allow her back to be stroked after accepting a head rub – like the “allo-rubbing” of colony cats.
  • Your colony membership is up to date!

If you cat does not lean into your hand or rub your hand on greeting, save the petting session for later – like us, there are times your cat does not want to be touched.

Other Predictable and Positive Interactions between cats and humans…

  • grooming, treat time or play time – Make this POSITIVE – choose something your cat enjoys
  • have a session the same time each day, say, after dinner or before bedtime
  • cats are in tune to the household rituals that mark the passing of the day more than the time on the clock.
  • this “schedule” allows you to communicate with your cat. He will be looking for the clues that tell him that treat time is around the corner – he may show up and solicit the interaction with a chirrup or meow.
Athena sniffs her comb prior to being groomed.














Have more than one cat?  Make sure each kitty gets some premium time!

These activities will strengthen the owner-pet bond. This time can also be used to train behaviors that are beneficial to both owner and cat – for example, conditioning your cat to accept kibble in treats to reduce stress when she needs oral medication.

Do you ever wonder why cats like us?

People are the ultimate resource – we provide food, shelter, play and safety.
To our cats , we may seem to be large, clumsy and somewhat unpredictable cats.
Let’s eliminate the unpredictability by greeting our cats in their language and providing positive interactions that they can predict.

The Cat Friendly Home: Scratching Basics

Our soft, cuddly (sometimes) kitties have some sharp ends to them – their claws! When your cat is relaxed, his claws are covered by a sheath of skin. He extends them to grab on to his favorite catnip mouse.

Your cat’s paws are sensitive to touch and pressure – she can feel the vibrations of your footsteps through her feet; she knows by feel just how hard to hold that wiggling mouse.My cat’s sense of touch

Marley holds a toy mouse tightly – his claws are extended.


Why does your cat scratch?

What’s inside your cat’s toes – claw is sheathed when cat is relaxed. He must extend his claws to use them.
  • She uses her claws to hold on to prey so it is best that they be sharp – scratching sheds old nails to allow new, sharper ones to grow in.
  • She will scratch defending herself when she feels threatened by another cat, a person,  or animal.
  • Scratching is also a way of communicating with other cats.
  • Scratching is great way to stretch!

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED… when playing with your cat. Remember quick motions trigger his hunting instinct and those claws come out to hold on to the prey – which could be your hand!

  • Use toys to play with your kitty, preferably ones that keep your hands and feet out of the “line of fire”. Fishing pole toys such as Da Bird keep you safe while kitty practices his hunting skills
  • Play “dead” if you get caught in “clawed embrace”. Once he stops trying to scratch you, you can gently move the paws

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED…if your cat does not want to be handled (self-defense)

  • Watch your cat’s body language –What does my cat feel?
  • Allow her to decline interactions if she is not in the mood
  • Use a towel or blanket if she is upset and you HAVE to get her

Scratching Basics: The Feline Message Board


Pheromones are chemicals that convey “messages” between members of the same species. Your cat has glands in his feet that release pheromones.



Your cat scratches a post and deposits pheromones and his own “signature scent” on it. Another cat comes by later and smells the claw marks. The pheromone smell has faded a bit, so the newcomer knows that “Mr. Fuzzy” was here earlier, say around noon.


Pheromones and communication

The Feline Message Board

The free-roaming cat is a solitary hunter. If he is injured, it will be harder to hunt and feed himself. Scratching gives cats a way of signaling each other so that they can avoid meeting and possibly fighting.



The Message Board is active for indoor cats as well as outdoor cats. Having a number of scratching posts around your home can make your cat feel secure – after all, he can check for intruders! In multi-cat homes, it may help cats “time-share” resources.

The Ideal Scratching Post…


  • Narrow upright scratching posts that are 3 feet or taller are popular
  • Cats will scratch flat surfaces as well as vertical or angled ones.
  • Sisal rope, carpet and cardboard are popular materials for scratchers 
  • Logs with the bark still on may  appeal to your cat.
  • Preferences can change – some studies showed that older cats choose carpet over sisal rope while younger cats like the sisal rope better.

Where to Put Those Scratching Posts!


  • near doors and windows (territory marking)
  • near the sleeping areas (stretching)
  • near the litter box (stretching, marking)
  • near the living area where the humans hangout (stretching, marking)
Scratching post by a patio window.


Athena checks for other scent marks as she adds her own. This post is part of a larger cat tree.


Scratching post near the litter box.

Declawed cats need scratching posts too. They still have glands in their paws that produce pheromones.  They appreciate a good stretch and the opportunity  to leave scent messages.



The Cat’s Whiskers

  • scientific name: vibrissae
  • around 24 whiskers on the muzzle
  • whiskers on the backs of the forelegs and in front of the ears above the eyes

The “whisker Positioning System”

Each whisker is embedded in a cluster of nerve endings located 3 x deeper in the skin than surrounding hair follicles. Not only do whiskers alert your cat to the piece of furniture nearby, they alert him to changes in air currents, from say an open door or window.

Cats use their whiskers to navigate – whiskers help the cat pinpoint where she is relative to her surroundings – “can I fit behind this sofa?”  Needless to say, a blind cat finds her whiskers crucial to getting around.


The No-See Zone

 Cats are far sighted – they cannot see things that are closer than 10 inches in front of them. This is where the whiskers come into play: they can be flattened against the face or swung forward to investigate something in the “no see” zone.


Paws and Claws

Ever watched a cat walk across a narrow railing? Their sensitive paws allow them to precisely place their feet in line – they don’t have to look down, they “feel” where they are going.

Cats’ claws are sensitive to pressure – they must be able to hold and manipulate prey precisely.

Between Whiskers and Claws

Cats’ skin is very responsive to touch – they have to rub just hard enough to release pheromones when marking the corner wall with their face or when rubbing against our legs.

Tips for the cat guardian

  • Cats may not like to have their feet touched; they may react negatively to having their sensitive nails trimmed. Desensitize your cat to nail trims by proceeding slowly and rewarding him for each claw clipped.After a while he will look forward to the treat and not be so focused on the nail trim.
  • Be gentle when grooming – mats in the fur coat will be uncomfortable to remove so tease the fur gently away from the skin and mat while removing it. Better yet, use clippers (quiet ones!) to shave tighter mats or seek the help of a professional groomer!
  • Small children have been known to give an indulgent cat a whisker trim – keep track of the scissors when kids are around.



Cats sense vibrations through their paws -they can detect our footsteps in the house through their feet!

Have you ever seen the skin along your cat’s back twitch? A muscle called the cutaneous trunci covers the cat’s back under the skin. This muscle makes the skin twitch in response to something itchy like a fly or flea. If you notice this frequently and there is no obvious cause, a visit to the vet may be in order to rule out Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome.