Research finds letting cats decide when to be patted is best

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feline behaviour
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Experts in feline behaviour and welfare from England have found that paying close attention to cats’ behaviour and body language and thinking about where to stroke them were key when improving interactions between cats and people.

The team at Nottingham Trent University—who published their findings in Frontiers in Veterinary Sciencedeveloped a simple set of interaction guidelines and found that when these were followed, cats were significantly less likely to behave aggressively towards people and were also more affectionate.

Dr Lauren Finka, the lead researcher on the study, worked in collaboration with leading animal welfare charity Battersea to develop the guidance for owners and cattery staff to address the fact that many people struggle to recognise when cats might not enjoy being petted.

The guidance and advice follows a simple ‘CAT’ acronym that 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.

As part of the study, the team monitored participants’ brief interactions with 100 cats housed within the cattery at Battersea’s London center, studying the cats’ behaviour and posture. 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 CAT 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 results demonstrate a clear preference amongst cats for a more ‘hands off’ approach to petting, which ultimately lets them call most of the shots,” Dr Finka said.

“These simple CAT guidelines are designed to ensure that cats are never overwhelmed during petting and that people are being mindful of where, how and how much they are stroking cats. 

“They also encourage people to look out for some key subtle behavioural signs of cat discomfort, and to respond accordingly to these, rather than waiting until the cat behaves aggressively before giving it a break.”

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