Small Talk
Luna, a majority white fuzzy cat with some black spots, is cuddled up on the couch, laying on a red blanket next to a little girl. The child is the author's daughter. Luna, a majority white fuzzy cat with some black spots, is cuddled up on the couch, laying on a red blanket next to a little girl. The child is the author's daughter.
by: Tamara Bowman

How to Respect Your Cat's Boundaries

tips, culture

In our house of four kids and five dogs, we have only one cat. One wonderful, intuitive, beautiful, funny, perfectly-loved cat. Her name is Luna. She was feisty at the shelter and had spent her whole life in a cage, so I had reservations. However, within days of bringing Luna home, the only word I can think to describe what happened with her is that she positively flourished. She gained weight, made cute chirping noises, and made herself at home pretty fast. Since then, she has helped welcome new members into our family (a puppy and baby), and she has greeted every new family member with gentle curiosity and love.

Welcoming a pet into your family is a journey we don’t take lightly. Understanding and respecting Luna’s boundaries hasn’t just been about avoiding scratches, nips, or hisses. We have young children and dogs, and have learned how important it is to earn her trust, and give her a safe environment at home. Cats are delightful yet enigmatic creatures. They communicate their comfort and discomfort through subtle signals, which can be easily overlooked. Learning to identify and honor these signals is key to becoming a more attentive and loving cat parent. Cats have personal spaces and preferences. Whether you’re a seasoned or new cat parent, recognizing and adhering to these boundaries is crucial.

Here are some essential tips to help you understand and respect your cat's limits:

Pro tip:Try to slow blink right back to your cat, to communicate that you’re a source of security.
  • 1 - Recognize Signs of Discomfort:

    Cats communicate quite a bit through actions, which can be subtle and also not so subtle. Learning to interpret these signals can greatly improve your relationship. For example, when a cat slowly blinks, that’s a notable sign of trust and contentment. When they slowly open and close their eyes at you, it means they feel safe with you.

    There will also be clear signs that your cat is stressed or uncomfortable in your family. If you see your cat flatten her ears against her head, or twitch her tail, this may mean she is feeling threatened or unhappy. And that means to back off before you get into hissing and snarling territory. If you learn to recognize these cues early, you can take steps to intervene and prevent undesirable behavior from escalating. This will not go unnoticed by your cat - and will strengthen your bond.

Pro tip:Provide extra-special touches that he will know are all his, like a cat tree or a cozy hideaway bed.
  • 2 - Provide Safe Spaces For Your Cat:

    In our (large) house, we have to make sure that Luna always has her own space, because four kids and five dogs will definitely try to encroach on that. We make sure that when we’re going into the finished basement, where she feels safe, we approach quietly. Cats can be territorial, and can feel threatened if you approach their space. Whether you’re giving your cat his own room, or a part of a room, make sure he knows that it’s his space, with food, water, a litter box, and toys.

Luna's white head peeks out of the red blanket she's wrapped in, she appears relaxed and cozy. Her light green eyes and long whiskers pop against the red blanket and rainbow colored wooden floorboards.
Pro tip:Use interactive toys with your cat, and then pay attention to when she seems done with playing.
  • 3 - Approach, Consent, and Sensitivity:

    This third tip is an all-in-one, but they all go together. You can call it ACS!

    A - is for approach. When you approach your cat with a gentle and calm demeanor, this is a key to building trust and respect. Let your cat come to you on her terms, and then follow her lead.

    C - is for consent. This is a continuation from “approach” in letting your cat come to you on her terms, which will indicate that she wants to engage with you. Extend your hand for her to sniff before you pet her. Then, see if she closes her eyes and leans into your hand - indicating that she wants more. If she flattens her ears, ducks away, or does anything that seems like she’s not in the mood for pets, it’s time to discontinue petting her.

    S -  is for sensitivity, because cats have sensitive areas. This might include their belly, tail, paws, ears, etc. Of course this will depend on your cat.t. Our Luna loves her chin being pet and around her ears, but she does not enjoy belly rubs. When playing with your cat, even when she initiates play or seems very into it, avoid being rough or aggressive with her.

Pro tip:Also schedule in play time, because it’s a great way to bond with him, AND, have him understand your boundaries. While play time might be the same time every day, make sure to switch up the toys.
  • 4 - Set Boundaries and Routines:

    Cats are interesting creatures, and they keep you guessing. Luna is super affectionate, and while I realize not every cat is like she is, it can be difficult to get work or chores done when she’s being overly cuddly. Maybe your cat will sprawl across your laptop while you’re working, or block you from the laundry machine! This is why we recommend setting up boundaries and routines with your feline BFF. And be consistent. This could mean removing your cat from tables, counters, furniture (and your laptop) every time they jump on these places. Use positive reinforcement, with treats or catnip, and keep doors and windows closed when you don’t want your cat to cross these areas. It’s also not unreasonable to have routines with your cat! You may feed your cat at the same time every day, or else you leave food out and your cat grazes. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a routine, though. Clean his litter box at the same time every day, or every other day, or even twice a day at roughly the same time if you have multiple cats.

Luna sits beside Tamara on the black couch covered with a white blanket. Tamara smiles as she works on her laptop as Luna lay beside her. Luna's red collar matches Tamara's long red sundress.
Pro tip:When bringing your cat back home, make sure that your home is calm and quiet, or bring your cat to a calm and quiet room before letting her out of the carrier.
  • 5 - Vetiquette, and Other Outings:

    Last week, we took Luna to the vet for her annual appointment. It actually went much better than I expected, but she was not happy to go. My husband got her carrier ready and I used a gentle but secure hold on her to get her in there. There isn’t a lot you can do if your cat is temporarily unhappy in the carrier, unless you’re lucky enough to have a cat who will eat treats that are placed in there! If you can, bring along family members who will help make the vet appointment more familiar. And make sure you talk to her in soothing and comforting tones, so she knows that everything is alright.

When you think about a day in the life of your pet, there are ample opportunities to respect their boundaries, through gentle approaches, playtime, safe spaces, food and treats, toys, and more. What a wonderful opportunity we get in this world - to love, and be loved, by such special creatures.

Luna's head and two front paws are visible as she lays down peering around the corner of a wall. Her red collar has a single black bell dangling from it, as her aqua eyes gleam at the camera.
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