New research from Nottingham Trent University has found the key to getting your cat’s affection. The study revealed that the secret is to simply let your cat choose when it wants to be stroked rather than you deciding you want to do it. Researchers found that when this advice was followed, cats were less likely to behave aggressively towards their owners and and were also more affectionate with them.
Researchers used the acronym CAT to describe their advice: provide the cat with choice and control [C], pay attention [A] to the cat’s behavior and body language, and think about where they are touching [T] the cat.*
The research was conducted by scientists monitoring participants’ interactions with 100 cats housed at Battersea’s London cattery. Each participant engaged with with six cats in total, engaging with three before they received the CAT guidelines and three after.
One strategy identified for working out whether your cat was willing to be stroked was to offer it your hand and see whether or not it interacts with it, which, if they do want to be stroked, might manifest in the cat rubbing themselves against the hand. If the cat chooses to move away, stops purring, starts grooming itself, or turns away, that might mean that the cat has had enough of your stroking and wants you to stop.
The study also looked at where cats prefer to be stroked, noting that most cats prefer being touched at the base of their ears, around their cheeks, and under their chin.
“A simple set of Human-Cat Interaction (HCI) guidelines were created, with the aim to enhance domestic cats’ comfort during generic HCI contexts. Based around a “CAT” acronym, guidelines focused on providing the cat with choice and control (“C”), paying attention (“A”) to the cats’ behavior and body language and limiting touch (“T”), primarily to their temporal regions. Guidelines were presented to human participants during a brief training intervention, and guideline efficacy was subsequently assessed. Domestic cats available for re-homing at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, UK ( n = 100) were filmed during interactions with novel members of the public ( n = 120).
Cats were exposed to a maximum of six, 5-min interaction sessions, balanced across “control” (interactions with humans pre-training) and “intervention” conditions (interactions with humans post-training). For each observation, cat behavior and posture were coded and humans’ cat-directed behavior rated on the degree to which it reflected best practice principles.
Data were extracted from a total of 535 observations and average human interaction ratings and cat behavior values compared between control and intervention conditions via paired Wilcoxon tests. Compared to the control, humans’ interaction styles were rated as significantly more closely aligned with best-practice principles in the intervention condition. Cats also displayed significantly greater frequencies and/or durations of affiliative and positively-valenced behaviors in the intervention. In contrast, cats in the control displayed significantly greater frequencies of human-directed aggression, in addition to greater frequencies and/or durations of behaviors associated with conflict and negative valence. Results demonstrate the positive impact of practical interaction guidelines on cats’ social behavior and comfort during HCI, with the potential to improve cats’ general experiences during interactions, reduce human-directed aggression and ultimately improve cat-human relationships.” (source)
“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…“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.”
-Dr. Lauren Finka, lead researcher
Journal reference: Haywood, C., et al. Providing Humans With Practical, Best Practice Handling Guidelines During Human-Cat Interactions Increases Cats’ Affiliative Behavior and Reduces Aggression and Signs of Conflict, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, July 2021.