Science Reveals the Perfect Way to Pet Cats

There you are, petting your cat in your living room. Loving the moment, the bond, the smoothness, when — bam! — claws whip your way and a hiss pierces the air around you. Your cat is mad. But why?! Why do cats do this sometimes when you’re petting them and how do you get them to stop? Lauren Finka, a Post Doctoral Researcher studying the welfare of domestic cats, says she has the answer.

According to a post Finka wrote for The Conversation, which was re-published by Inverse, cats have trouble accepting some oxytocin-inducing petting thanks to their being loners. Finka notes that cats, unlike dogs, have had trouble becoming dedicated companions because of the fact that for much of human history, cats were used as — quoting Finka here — “mere pest control.” Pest control naturally called for solo predators (presumably because it’s hard to share a mouse carcass), which meant that cats preferring solitude were selected for much of human history.

This means that while you’re holding your or somebody else’s cat, you’re asking for a level of trust the cat is not used to. It seems fair to say that most kitties you encounter are basically a feline version of Batman: they work alone, they move through the streets at night, and they think they deserve butlers.

How does one pet a cat perfectly then? By giving it freedom. By letting it choose when and where it is to be pet as well as where on its body it’s okay for you to touch. It’s also noted that a cat should be monitored during petting for signs of frustration or anxiety, and that it should, generally, be stroked around the base of its ears, under its chin, or around its cheeks.

There are also a few things not directly related to properly petting your cat you can do to set yourself up for some quality cuddles. It’s pointed out that cats have a “sensitive period” from two to six weeks old during which they can be trained, to some extent, to better prefer human touch. They also, of course, respond very well to rewards. Which is often times the real reason they let you touch them at all.

What do you think about this petting advice? Do you usually deploy a “soft touch” strategy or just love being stabbed a little? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image: Flickr / Angry Pflümli

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