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How to pet your cat the right way

Cats can be finicky pets. One minute your four-legged friend is purring and rubbing against your legs, but as soon as you start stroking its fur, the cat does a 180 and starts hissing, scratching and biting. 

If you’ve experienced this kind of rejection from your cat, there is a simple reason behind the behavior. According to Lauren Finka, a postdoctoral research associate at Nottingham Trent University, you might be petting your cat wrong. 

In an article for the Conversation, Finka takes readers through the ancestry of house cats and helps shed light on the odd quirks of felines. 

Cats, like dogs, evolved alongside humans, but their path to domestication took a few different turns. 

First of all, domestication of dogs is said to have begun between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. As dogs diverged from their wild ancestors, they started working alongside humans, and a beneficial partnership arose. 

With cats, this domestication process is said to have begun around 4,000 years ago. Cats helped keep pests under control. Four thousand years ago seems like a long time, but your snuggly little kitten probably still thinks like a wildcat. 

Dogs and their wild wolf ancestors are social creatures, hunting, living, and communicating in packs. Wildcats, on the other hand, prefer a more solitary life. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t ever pet your cat. Many cat owners will attest that their cat is extremely affectionate (on their terms).

It’s just important to understand the subtle clues you cat might be giving you. 

First and foremost, let your cat come to you for affection. As social creatures ourselves who use touch to communicate, using restraint when faced with something cute, soft, and fluffy does not come naturally, according to Finka. 

However, restraint is exactly what’s required. Research has shown that cats will let their owners stroke them for longer when the cat initiates contact rather than humans. 

If your cat does hop on your lap for a good cuddle, you’re not in the clear entirely. Look for crucial body language and behavior signals while you pet your cat. 

Less is more, according to Finka. Stick to the base of the ears, under the chin and cheeks rather than the tummy or back. 

If your cat is purring, relaxed, and gently waving their tail, chances are that your cat is happy. 

However, if while stroking your cat and you don’t hear any purring, notice that the cat is shaking their head, licking their nose, twitching, or flattening their ears, stop stroking and walk away. 

“Ultimately though, when it comes to cats, it’s important to respect their boundaries – and the wildcat within – even if that means admiring their cuteness from afar,” Finka concludes. 

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer 

Image Credit: Shutterstock/PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek

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