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How to Approach an Animal You Do Not Know

I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.

Stranger danger can apply to animals, as well as humans.

Stranger danger can apply to animals, as well as humans.

Are All Animals Approachable?

No, not all animals are approachable. You see a squirrel sitting just beyond you and think he is waiting for you to offer him food. A deer stands in an orchard eating a fallen apple, and you think you can pet him. A family of kittens (above) romp in the deep grass, and they look so cute you want to cuddle them.

These animals are not waiting for your welcoming arms. Most animals are more afraid of you than you think, and they may approach you simply because they are hoping you will get scared and leave the area. Also, if you have food, many wild animals may attack to get the food (be sure to drop it and move away for your own safety).

Animals have to fight for everything they have and will fight you if they think you can harm them or their offspring. Even if you are much bigger than the animal, you can be badly injured if one of them were to attack. And if they approach you, remember, they are hoping you will be afraid, not that you will pet them. Yes, even those cute kittens whose mother is never too far away—they will most certainly not want you to pick one up to cuddle.


What to Know Before You Attempt to Approach an Animal

Keep the following in mind:

  • Animals rely on their instincts, scents, and food for their survival.
  • Wild animals do not know you and are instinctively afraid of you.
  • Even animals you know can display unusual behavior without warning.
  • Animals are not instinctively mean; they either have to be to survive, or they have experienced cruelty from someone else.
  • Hungry animals will strike out instinctively to get food.
  • Animals with babies will fight to protect them, even if you do not see where they are hiding.
Don't swan dive into an unfamiliar encounter.

Don't swan dive into an unfamiliar encounter.

Domesticated Animals Defined

  • Domesticated animals are animals that are fed and cared for by humans.
  • Just because humans care for them, does not mean that domesticated animals are always friendly.
  • Always ask the owner before you approach any domesticated animal.
  • Service animals should never be touched without owner permission.
  • Never approach an animal in a zoo unless you are given permission by the zookeepers.
  • Never reach through a cage or over a surround in an attempt to touch an animal.

Types of Domesticated Animals

Domesticated animals are generally kept as pets by humans.







Ginea Pigs


Service Animals





Approaching Animals 101

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Are all kittens ready to be captured?
    • No, they may just need to eat.
    • Yes, of course, they want cuddles.
  2. Can a dog be on a leash and still attack even if the owner said it was okay for you to pet him?
    • No, all animals are fine if they are with their owners.
    • Yes, some dogs may simply not like your smell.
  3. Can you tell if an animal is friendly just because they approach you?
    • Yes, when animals approach you they are friendly.
    • No, animals may approach you but for very different reasons.
  4. Are Zoo animals okay to pet?
    • No, they can bite and or claw you.
    • Yes, because their handlers are there.

Answer Key

  1. No, they may just need to eat.
  2. Yes, some dogs may simply not like your smell.
  3. No, animals may approach you but for very different reasons.
  4. No, they can bite and or claw you.

Wild or Non-Domesticated Animals Defined

  • Any animal that does not have an obvious owner.
  • Animals that are not considered pets.
  • Many of the animals that are caged in a zoo or a sanctuary.
  • Animals that normally run from you.
  • Animals that are generally associated with woodland areas.
  • Animals that must fight others and the environment for their food and shelter.

Types of Wild or Non-Domesticated Animals

Zoo animals are considered to be non-domesticated even though people feed and care for them because they are not generally kept and/or raised as pets.





Outside Cats

Outside Dogs








Proper Etiquette for Interacting With Animals

  • Ask before you reach for or try to touch any animal.
  • Offer your hand to them (palm up) about four or five inches away from them.
  • Let the animal approach you rather than you racing up to them.
  • Always move slowly, so you don't startle the animal.
  • Follow any instructions the owner gives you for your own safety and the safety of the animal.
  • If the animal growls or tries to move away, stop touching them, and slowly move away from them.

How to Act Around "Unknown" Animals

  • Walk away slowly in the opposite direction, especially if the animal seems to be angry or dangerous.
  • Never run towards the animal.
  • Keep your distance at all times.
  • Never threaten or try to intimidate the animal.
  • If you wish to offer the animal food, toss the food to them so that it lands some distance from you. Offering food can cause the animal to come back because you fed them, so be very careful.
  • Wild animals that are fed by humans can run into difficulties surviving because rather than seek out food and shelter in the wild, the animal seeks them from humans. This can cause the animal to become weak and/or prey for others who are stronger.
  • Wild animals should never be approached.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Cheryl Simonds

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to tell me what you think!

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 16, 2019:

Thank you.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 16, 2019:

I agree wholeheartlilly. I hope more people learn how to approach animals safely.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 16, 2019:

Thank you, I am glad you liked it.

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on January 16, 2019:

Peggy, Ellison and Zia, I am glad you enjoyed my article and I hope you share the information with others to help them stay safe around animals.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 13, 2019:

This is excellent advice to follow in order to avoid injury or needlessly causing harm to animals.

Ellison Hartley from Maryland, USA on January 12, 2019:

I think there are many people who need to learn this, I'm glad you wrote an article on it!

Zia Uddin from UK on January 11, 2019:

Very good advice, quite enjoyed reading this.