The key to getting affection from your cat may lie in letting it choose when it wants to be petted, new research suggests.
Giving the animals control may also save pet owners from getting bitten or scratched.
Experts in feline behaviour and welfare also found that paying close attention to cats’ behaviour, body language, and thinking about where to stroke them, were key when improving interactions between cats and people.
The Nottingham Trent University researchers developed a set of interaction guidelines.
They found that when these were followed, cats were less likely to behave aggressively towards people and were also more affectionate.
The guidance and advice follows a simple Cat acronym.
It encourages people to provide the cat with choice and control (C), pay attention (A) to the cat’s behaviour and body language and think about where they are touching (T) the cat.
According to Dr Lauren Finka, the lead researcher on the study, providing the cat with choice and control is key to making sure it feels happy and comfortable during interactions.
This involves gently offering a hand to the cat and letting it decide if it wants to interact or not, usually indicated by it rubbing against the person’s hand.
Owners should allow the cat to move away if it chooses, and not be tempted to pick it up or follow it, as this takes away the cat’s sense of control, the research found.
The experts point to a number of signals that indicate if the cat may need a break from petting.
This includes if it turns its head or moves away during the interaction, if its ears rotate or become flattened, if it shakes its head or licks its nose, and if the fur along its back appears to ripple or its tail swishes rapidly.
Pet owners should also watch out to see if the cat goes a little still, stops purring or rubbing against them, suddenly starts grooming itself or sharply turns its head to face them.
This can all indicate it has had enough and is unlikely to welcome further stroking.
Researchers also looked at where the furry creatures like to be stroked.
They found that most friendly cats prefer the base of their ears, around their cheeks and under their chin.
Avoiding the tummy and the base of their tails and being careful when stroking along their backs is generally advisable, although each cat will have individual preferences.
Dr Finka said: “The results demonstrate a clear preference amongst cats for a more ‘hands off’ approach to petting, which ultimately lets them call most of the shots.
“Cats are not necessarily known for being overly expressive when it comes to communicating how they are feeling.
“This can often cause issues during petting because many cats may feel a little uncomfortable at times, but this isn’t something that is always easy for us to pick up on.”
Battersea’s feline welfare manager JoAnna Puzzo, said: “While every cat has a wonderfully unique personality, they do often share fundamental similarities, as this new study shows.
“Cats can be incredibly subtle when expressing their likes and dislikes, and as a result their behaviour can be misunderstood or ignored completely.
“By using these new simple yet effective ‘Cat’ guidelines, owners will be able to better understand how their cat is feeling and adapt how they interact together to ensure their pet is happy and relaxed.”
As part of the study, the researchers monitored participants’ brief interactions with 100 cats housed within the cattery at Battersea’s London centre.
Each participant interacted with six cats, three before they received training on the Cat guidelines and three after.
They found that cats were much less likely to exhibit signs of discomfort or behave aggressively when people followed the guidelines.
The same cats were also more likely to show friendly behaviours towards the participants and to appear more comfortable during the interactions that occurred post-training, the researchers found.
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.