Have you got a cootie-patootie feline roommate? Do you like giving them hugs and kisses? Well, even the most experienced cat-servants… we mean owners, may not know what is best for their fur-babies, and this could affect the behavior of the cat during interactions.
Cat welfare scientists (and isn’t that a job title you'd love to have?) looked into people's different personalities and previous cat experiences and studied how these people approached and interacted with previously unknown cats. Their findings are published in a paper in Scientific Reports, which is a collaboration of scientists at Nottingham Trent University, the University of Nottingham, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Homes.
Previous research found that the best way to increase a cat’s affection and reduce their aggression toward you is to let the cats choose when they would like to be petted. The secret to achieving this includes touching cats less, focusing touching on their favorite areas (cheeks, under the chin, and base of the ears), and paying attention to their behavioral reactions and body language.
In the new study, 120 participants spent five minutes in Battersea’s cattery environment, where they interacted with three healthy and unneutered cats that they did not know. The humans were asked to allow the cats to come to them at their own pace and told not to follow the kitty cat around. Otherwise, the humans were allowed to interact with the kitties as they normally would at home.
In a surprising turn of events, the people who rated themselves as “knowledgeable and experienced” when it comes to cats, were more likely to interact with and touch the cat’s bodies in ways that they would find uncomfortable. This included touching the tummy and the base of the tail. People that had lived longer with a cat were more likely to place their hand at the top of the head and move down to the base or tip of the tail, which is not normally cats' preferred stroking technique. These experienced owners were also less likely to give the cat choice and control.
The study participants also completed a questionnaire to evaluate their personality and were assigned one of the five broad personality traits: openness, extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.
It was found that older members of the cohort, and those that scored higher for “neuroticism”, tried to hold and restrain the cats more. The authors suggest that the older age category could be explained by having a traditional animal viewpoint, as viewing animals as stakeholders in human and cat interactions is more of a recent concept. Those with higher scores for neuroticism seemed to use cat-restraint as a form of control.
Meanwhile, those classed with “extroversion” were more likely to make contact with the cat and touch the less preferred areas of the cat's body.
The people that were more likely to be cat-friendly, were the ones that scored higher for “agreeableness” as they were less likely to touch the areas of the cat that they didn’t like and therefore had a more empathetic approach. Also, people who had formal cat work experience were more likely to let cats take control and be more sensitive to their needs.
"Our findings suggest that certain characteristics we might assume would make someone good at interacting with cats – how knowledgeable they say they are, their cat ownership experiences and being older – should not always be considered as reliable indicators of a person's suitability to adopt certain cats, particularly those with specific handling or behavioral needs,” Lead researcher Dr Lauren Finka told The Telegraph.
Overall, the take-home message seems to be that we shouldn’t be judging whether someone may or may not be suitable to adopt an animal based solely on experience. Even the less experienced "cat people" people among us may be more cat-friendly.