‘Cat people’ are actually the worst at petting cats, study finds

·Contributor
·3-min read
'Cat people' are actually bad at looking after cats (Getty)
'Cat people' are actually bad at looking after cats (Getty)

People who describe themselves as ‘cat people’ are actually terrible at petting cats - and it could affect the way their cats feel.

Cat welfare scientists at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham monitored how people who described themselves as ‘experienced’ with cats approached cats they didn’t know.

The researchers found that people who rated themselves as more "knowledgeable and experienced" with regards to cats were more likely to touch areas of the cat's body they typically find uncomfortable, such as the base of the tail and the tummy.

The researchers worked in the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, asking volunteers to pet cats.

They also found that people who reported having lived with greater numbers of cats and with cats for more years were less likely to give cats sufficient choice and control during interactions

They also touched cats more and in typically less preferred areas of their body such as their tail, legs and along their backs.

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Lead researcher Dr. Lauren Finka said: "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 behavioural needs.

"The good news is, however, that we can use this information in a really positive way to develop targeted educational interventions to ensure that everyone is aware of the best ways to interact with cats to maximise their enjoyment from interactions with us. For example, Battersea recently developed an animation which demonstrates optimal ways we can behave around cats.

"Of course, every cat is an individual and many will have specific preferences for how they prefer to be interacted with. However, there are also some good general principles to follow in order to ensure every cat is as comfortable as possible and that their specific needs are being met.

"Importantly, within shelters, we should also avoid discriminating against potential adopters with no previous cat ownership experience, because with the right support, they may make fantastic cat guardians."

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In the new study, which involved NTU's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, the researchers required 120 participants to spend five minutes in Battersea's cattery environment interacting with three cats they did not know.

Participants were asked to let the cat come to them and not to follow it, but otherwise were encouraged to interact with the cats as they normally would at home for example.

Older people and those scoring higher for the personality trait "Neuroticism" tended to try to hold and restrain cats more.

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Extroverts were more likely to initiate contact with cats more and touch the areas of the cat's body that are generally less preferred.

In contrast, participants scoring higher in "Agreeableness" were less likely to touch the more sensitive areas of the cat's body.

People that reported having some formal work experience involving cats or other animals were also found to be more "cat friendly" in their approaches to interactions, letting cats take control and being more sensitive to their needs.

The researchers say that people's previous experiences, personalities and perceptions of their own skills can potentially have an important impact on the behaviour and well-being of cats and other domestic pets.

The study, which also involved SRUC and the University of Edinburgh, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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