Why cats love people who hate them

·3-min read
Ciaran McCrickard - Ciaran McCrickard
Ciaran McCrickard - Ciaran McCrickard

Cats love people who hate them because the reluctance to stroke and fuss them gives the feline the control and independence it needs, a study has found.

In contrast, self-professed “cat people” who claim to be knowledgeable and have lived with them for several years are more likely to restrain the animal and touch areas they don’t like.

Cats, unlike dogs, can be prickly characters that often seem aloof, distant and sometimes even downright rude.

But new research from animal behaviour scientists at Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham has found the blame can fall on the person and not the animal.

While most dogs will shower any person in affection, cats are harder to please and have a few more rules and stipulations before they warm to a person.

Where not to stroke a cat

For example, cats have “red areas” where they hate to be touched, which include the base of their tail and the stomach. Attempts to stroke these regions will instantly get their back up.

However, they have “green areas” too, such as the “gland-rich” regions at the base of the ears and under the chin.

The new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that self-appointed “cat people” are more likely to touch the red areas, making the animal feel uncomfortable and increasing animosity.

And people who had lived with cats for several years were also found to not give cats enough independence, with their hand-on approach robbing the pets of their freedom.

Some 120 people of varying cat exposure were recruited for a study which took place at the cattery of Battersea Cats and Dogs Home. A person was left in a room and three cats, one after the other, were let in to play for five minutes each.

The person was told to wait for the cat to come to them but was then left to their own devices when it came to fussing, engaging or cuddling the cat.

Researchers recorded the interactions and assessed how comfortable the cat was, how the person behaved, and which behaviour the cats enjoyed the most.

Participants who had lived with cats were prone to being overbearing

They also asked participants questions to reveal how much experience they have had with cats, if they ever lived with them, and how highly they ranked their knowledge of the pets.

They found 80 per cent of all human-cat interactions fell into seven categories, based on how both the human and animal acted and responded. The top category, or “best practice”, was “passive but responds to contact, minimal touching”.

Other categories included a person who stroked the “green areas”, which the cat likes; a tendency to hold or restrain the cat; and touching exclusively of the “red areas”.

Participants who had lived with cats were prone to being overbearing while the most experienced owners also were more likely to stroke cats in “yellow areas”, such as the tail, legs and along their backs, which are less preferred areas than the face, for example.

The team also found that older people tried to grab and restrain the cats more than younger people, while extroverts tended to initiate the contact with the cat, something the pets tend to not enjoy as they like to be in control of when and how the interaction will begin.

“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,” lead researcher Dr Lauren Finka, a feline behavioural expert at Nottingham Trent University,  told The Telegraph.

Dr Finka went on to say shelters should avoid discriminating against potential adopters with no previous cat ownership experience, because “they may make fantastic cat guardians.”