My son loves a cat in our building. The cat rolls on its back and stretches out, and my son strokes his fur. But then he tries holding the cat with both hands, sometimes around the waist (the cat steps out) and sometimes the cat's head. He gets more bold the longer they play, and I usually get nervous and intervene while the cat still seems happy.

How can I determine if my son is doing something that will hurt the cat, make it afraid, or make it bite/scratch him?

  • when you say steps out what do you mean?
    – user6796
    Dec 4 '13 at 3:04
  • I suspect he means that the cat steps out of his son's grip.
    – user53
    Dec 4 '13 at 3:07

Some basic signs:

  • A cat will try to escape from an unwanted embrace, I assume this is what you mean by steps out. This is not a problem, unless the cat is prevented from escaping, then she is more likely to scratch your son.

  • Growling (cat growling, that low lying ethereal sound cats can make) or hissing.

  • Tail wagging, cat being opposite to dogs, a swishing tail is a sure sign of a potentially aggressive cat. I think it serves to assist as a distraction for prey or predators.

  • Ears, a cats ear will sometimes flatten or point backwards when they are not happy.

cat with backfacing ears

  • Usually cats will give people a warning before biting or scratching. This cat sounds like it is quite patient. If you come across a cat that scratches or bites without warning, best to teach your son to avoid that particular cat.

How to teach your son.

  • If the cat displays these signs its time to teach your son (as best you can a 3 year old), "no cat's not happy say 'bye bye' pussy cat".

  • Perhaps showing him that just patting the cat is a good thing. "Let's say hello to the pussy cat with gentle pats".

  • With lots of praise, "see the pussy cat likes this", "look she's not running away", or "she's making her happy sound (purring)".

  • A point to be emphasized is, to not allow your son to pick up other people's cats (or dogs). As a cat can scratch a person, without warning, trying to escape an unwanted embrace. As the cat tries to escape when your son attempts to pick him up, it is a sign the cat does not wish to be picked up (and honestly most cats do not enjoy being picked up by small children). So I would reiterate, to encourage your son to offer gentle pats in lieu of attempting to embrace the cat.

Teaching small children things is a bit like training dogs, except training dogs is much easier :7)

  • 2
    A kitten purring does, imo, in some cases translate to "I'm harmless, please don't hurt me." That's how I've understood it when watching our kittens and adult cats interact. Dec 4 '13 at 9:12

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