Learn how to make a cat feel safe, secure, and ready for snuggles.

By Kristi Valentini
October 26, 2020
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Cats are curious creatures. So it’s hard not to take it personally if one is avoiding you like the plague. Sure, felines are famous for their catitudes, but hiding under the bed or giving you nothing but stink-eye isn’t normal.

“People do goofy things that unintentionally make cats not like them,” Lisa Radosta, DVM, DACVB, board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service and a host for Top Vets Talk Pets, says. “If you do the things they like and stay out of their personal space, you can win a cat over.”

But how do you know if you’re making a cat happy? It’s all about learning cat body language.

How to Read a Cat’s Body Language

Meowing and purring are only a small part of a cat’s communication. To really speak their lingo, you have to look at their body and behavior, Radosta explains. These are the telltale signs that a cat is in a friendly mood and wants to interact with you:

  • Tail is shaped like a question-mark (up, with the top part flopped over)
  • Pupils look like slits or almonds  
  • Ears are forward
  • Cat walks right up to you

On the other hand, avoid making contact with a kitty if you notice any of these signs: 

  • Round pupils
  • Tail moving back and forth
  • Ears are sideways or back
  • Cat stays beyond your reach

What Makes Cats Mad

The number one problem between people and cats? We don’t consider their boundaries, Radosta says. “We just love these little creatures so much that we don’t always respect their personal space. We treat them like stuffed animals or rag dolls that we can just grab whenever we want.”

Not the most forgiving animals, cats can become resentful of being handled when they’d rather be left alone. Eventually, a cat starts to avoid you altogether by hiding under the bed or going to the top of her cat tree.

Tips for Bonding With a Cat

Connecting with a kitty who doesn’t like you may seem impossible, but it’s not. While you may never become BFFs (best fur friends), you can spark a cat’s interest in hanging out. Just try these seven easy tips!

Tip #1: Avoid Direct Eye Contact

Unlike dogs, cats aren’t comfortable gazing into your eyes, Radosta says. Cats see direct eye contact as a sign you’re trying to intimidate them. In response, they may become fearful or aggressive. Although they’re gorgeous, avoid staring into a cat’s peepers.

Tip #2: Be a Copycat

Want to lower a cat’s guard? Mirror his body language. For example, Radosta says, if he looks at you and averts his gaze, you should do the same. Almost always, the kitty will glance back at you. 

“It’s like you’re saying, ‘Hey man, take your space. I’m not coming over there.’ That makes a cat feel more comfortable than someone who reaches their hand over to pet him. Then the cat is like, ‘Are you stupid? I just told you I didn’t want to be petted,'” Radosta explains.

Tip #3: Slow Blink

Scientists have found that cats like it when you slowly blink at them (think: narrowing your eyes in slow motion). A recent study found that cats would slow-blink back to a person giving them the look. It makes them more likely to approach you too and is certainly worth a try!

Tip #4: Respect a Cat’s Space

When you move toward a cat, it can come off as threatening. That’s why cats often gravitate toward the people who most want to avoid them (hello, allergies). If you want to earn a cat’s affection, wait for her to come to you rather than reaching out and petting or picking her up.

Tip #5: Do a Consent Test

Have you ever been mindlessly petting a cat and all of a sudden he bit you? What most likely happened, Radosta says, is that the kitty was giving you signals saying “I’m done” but you didn’t notice them.

Next time, do a consent test to see if the kitty wants more attention. Offer your pointer finger to the cat and see if she pushes her head up against it. That’s a sign she’s in the mood for more loving. Pet her five or six times and then stop and do the consent test again. This gives a cat the opportunity to let you know when she’s had enough.

Tip #6: Use Food

One of the quickest ways to a cat’s heart is through (you guessed it) food. Use it to train a kitty to anticipate good things when you pet him. Here’s how: When you give a cat a meal of wet food or a treat, pet him several times while he’s eating it and walk away. Do this every day. Eventually, switch to petting first and then giving the food or treat. The kitty will come to associate petting with something good.

“This trick works even if a cat doesn’t like you that much,” Radosta says. “As long as he likes treats or canned food, he’ll become conditioned to like you as well.”

Tip #7: Speak Softly

Of course yelling at a cat isn’t helpful. But even loud, energetic talking can be frightening to kitties, sending them running for cover. If you speak softly and exude calm, a cat is more likely to want to stick around.

Tip #8: Scratch the Right Spots

When a cat welcomes attention, stick to petting where it’s most likely to make a kitty feel good. The best area to pet is from the top of the head to the shoulders, where kitties normally groom each other. Some cats also like to be petted on the back. But if you see the cat’s tail start to thrash, it’s a warning that the cat is tolerating it, but not loving it, Radosta explains. And don’t even think about belly rubs—very few cats like to be touched there.

With a little practice, you’ll have no problem picking up kitty cues. Your patience and loving respect of cat boundaries is sure to earn you a kitty’s seal of approval.