Do you know the right way to pet a cat?

A new study has come back with results on how humans interact with their feline friends
Are you listening to what your kitty wants? (ID 26568026 © Anton Petukhov | Dreamstime.com)


Cats. They're sometimes known for being purr-snickety about people.

But as any cat lover will tell you, cats have tons of affection to give and share. You just have to watch their signals and know the right way to interact with them.

But what is the right way to pet and cuddle a cat? And do cat owners really know what their favourite felines want as well as they think that they do?

A new study out of Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham in England decided to put it to the test.

How? By having people hang out with cats that they didn't know and see how the people treated the cats.

The study

A key to interacting with cats is letting them come to you. (Wikimedia Commons)

The study used 120 participants to interact with the cats. Before meeting the kitties, they had to each answer questions about their experience with cats. Things like: How many cats do you have or have you had? Do you consider yourself knowledgeable about cats? These questions were to get an idea of how much ex-purr-tise they felt they had, as well as the type of person that they were.

Then it was time to meet some cats!

Working out of an animal shelter called the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, each person spent five minutes interacting with three different cats that they had never met. The only rule? Don't chase the cats—let them come to you. Other than that, they were encouraged to interact with the cats as they liked.

A previous study

So how would these researchers know whether these people were at their best behaviour with these cats? Because they had already done an earlier study where they looked at the best ways to pet and be with a cat.

According to lead researcher Dr. Lauren Finka: "Every cat is an individual and many will have specific preferences for how they prefer to be interacted with. However, there are also some good general principles to follow in order to ensure every cat is as comfortable as possible and that their specific needs are being met."

Those principles include petting cats on their ears, cheeks, and under the chin. Most cats do not like being pet on their backs, tail, legs, or tummy. And when it comes to being picked up or held, cats should be allowed to initiate, or start, these interactions—and be allowed to leave when they please.

Overall, different cats like different things. But to reduce aggressive behaviour and help them feel safe, it is important to let these animals have a choice.

To be helpful, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home even released a video about it. You can watch it now—it's super cute (and informative)!

The result are in!

Getting back to the latest study, how did those participants do?

Interestingly, the researchers found that people who said that they were the 'most knowledgeable' about cats tended to be the ones who excitedly ignored some basic kitty no-nos. Oops! This included petting too much on the back, tummy, legs, and tail. It also included not giving the cats as much freedom to choose how they would interact.

Older people were more likely to hold and restrain the cats more, while outgoing people (extroverts) were more likely to touch cats in ways they didn't like as much, or too much.

What does all of this mean? Overall, the message seems to be that even if you have had a lot of cats (or are really excited to be with a cat), that doesn't mean that all cats will like the affection that you are giving. Especially not the first time that they are meeting you!

Instead, it's best to slowly earn a cat's trust and always give them choice. No matter how many cats you know, each new kitty is a new relationship to build from scratch.

If you do it right, though, you can have a new friend for life!


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