Cats are cold creatures. That’s a generalization that many people have come to accept—even cat lovers and cat owners themselves. This characteristic is exactly the same that makes cats seem so mysterious and out of reach. Cats are naturally self-reliant creatures. They don’t tend to overindulge in human or animal interaction. Most cats prefer to perch atop something high to watch the world go by or maybe sit by the window—again to watch the world go by. However, this doesn’t mean that cats don’t like any interaction at all. In fact, science tells us that they do like to be stroked occasionally; there are just a few conditions for us humans to abide by in order for the interaction to be pleasurable for our feline friends.
According to this article, we need to understand a little bit of cat evolution in order to understand why cats act the way they do towards humans. Domestic cats evolved much later when compared to dogs. Evolutionarily speaking, a few thousand years can contribute to a whole lot of development, and the human-cat relationship still has a long way to go. The domestic cat is a descendant of the African wildcat, which was largely used in ancient times for pest control. Genetically, not much has changed in the wiring of the modern cat’s brain when compared to its ancestors. This means that the modern cat still behaves much like how a wildcat once would. It’s not an ideal situation to picture a wildcat in a domestic position with excessive social demands from humans.
There’s also something to say about human development and our fascination with infantile features. The round head, large eyes, and small nose of a cat are things that most of us are predisposed to find adorable. So we naturally feel the urge to touch, stroke, or even cuddle cats—we just find them so cute, to put it plainly. If you’ve been around cats long enough, you’d know that most cats would tend to shy away from that kind of attention. Most cats would actually find that kind of human interaction overwhelming and probably intimidating. And that’s exactly why most cats would either walk away briskly or snap at you out of discontent.
This doesn’t mean, however, that cats aren’t evolving to accommodate to social cues and demands. There are many cats out there that would appreciate a stroke or a cuddle, but it has to be done under a certain context. Cats are relatively picky animals—we all know this. But human interaction is also something they have to learn how to anticipate and enjoy. This happens during a cat’s sensitivity period, which happens between two and seven weeks old.
It’s also important to know that human-cat personalities aren’t always compatible. Your personality may very well affect how your cat will interact with you. It’s something that you have more of a capacity to adjust than your cat. In addition, cats may also “tolerate” human interaction because of the positive reinforcement that comes along with it—food, water, shelter, etc. This means it’s important for cat owners to recognize a tolerant behavior versus a pleasured behavior. A cat that’s only tolerant of human interaction is not necessarily a happy cat. If a cat is tolerant even though it dislikes human touch may be suffering from high stress levels—which isn’t healthy at all.
The solution is to find a common ground. Learn how to properly stroke a cat. Learn how to read signs of enjoyment and signs of dislike. Pay attention to behavior and posture when before, during, and after your interaction. It’ll tell you a lot about what happened and what to do for next time.
There are a few things that matter when you’re teaching your cat how to enjoy human interaction. The first is to learn what parts of the body a cat likes to get stroked. Generally, most cats prefer to be touched around their facial glands. This includes the base of the chin, behind and around the ears, and around the cheeks. While humans tend to naturally reach for the belly, this area is usually off limits for cats. Try the facial area first before slowly graduating to your cats’ other body parts—slowly.
Next, make sure that you don’t force the interaction at all. A cat is likely to enjoy your touch if it isn’t forced. The interaction is also likely to be longer and cause less stress when your cat initiates it. A cat may initiate contact for many reasons. It could be for want of food; it could be because it wants to play. Whatever reason it may be, waiting patiently for a cat to come to you will pay off big in the end. When a cat comes to you on its own accord, don’t scare it away with too much affection. A little at a time goes a long way.
Lastly, it’s important to pay attention to the cat’s behavior during and after you touch it. Some positive signs include an upright tail and some purring. If your cat is in a relaxed posture during your interaction, chances are it’s actually enjoying it. If it nudges you when you stop stroking, it means that the cat might want more. If the cat turns its head away from you and you hear no purring at all, this means that the cat is not enjoying your interaction. You might see it rapidly licking its nose or grooming itself, or you might see the cat swishing its tail abnormally. These are some signs that the cat does not want the interaction at the moment. Of course if a cat bites or nips you, it clearly means it wants you to stop stroking and leave it be.
Paying attention to your cat’s behavior is the first step to having a great companionship. It isn’t as easy as just going with the flow. Listen to your cat’s needs, and observe its reactions carefully. Patience will go a long way; and if patience means that you might have to just admire your furry friend from afar, then that’s what you’ll need to do. A happy cat is a healthy cat, and a healthy cat is one that’s better to have as a companion.