More Please! … Please Stop!

Petting: to stroke, caress, fondle, or pat an animal affectionately

I can certainly do without that “F word”, but you get the idea of what petting is. We all love to pet our animals. It makes us feel good. It relaxes us, and it increases our mood. But what exactly is it doing to, or for, our animals?

Anyone that has ever met a cat knows that felines can be particularly sensitive to petting. It matters to the cat who’s doing the petting, how they are petting, and for how long the petting lasts. If you are unsure when to stop petting, a cat will tell you when you are done, usually well before you are ready to stop petting him or her.

CAT:  You failed to notice that I wanted you to stop petting me, so here is how I tell you that you can stop petting me NOW.
CAT: You failed to notice that I wanted you to stop petting me, so this is how I tell you that you can stop petting me NOW.

If you really think about it, humans (especially those of us who know what they like) are not that different from cats.  I don’t like to be manhandled. I don’t enjoy being touched by strangers without being asked first. I like my personal space. If I don’t like the way someone is massaging my back or neck, you can bet that I will ask him or her to stop. Usually I don’t bite. Cats know what they like and don’t like, and they have no problem telling us. I adore them for that very reason.

Last week there was a lot of discussion around this very subject.  It centered around a study published recently in the journal “Physiology & Behavior” suggesting that petting cats in general can actually stress them out!  The study was conducted by animal behavior experts from Brazil, Austria and Britain. They examined whether cats living in multi-cat households are more stressed than cats housed singly. The researchers found that cats release hormones linked to anxiety when handled by humans.  Many media outlets responded to the study with an interpretation of the results and published articles titled “Cats Hate to be Stroked”.

I was a bit surprised, believing this scientific article to be true, but I kept rolling it over and over in my head. I kept trying to correlate the article to all four of our cats, and it didn’t seem to add up.  Only two of the four cats in our home have ever shown that they are stressed from being petted, and that was usually when “the “petter” was not aware that the cat was already wound tightly, or stressed from other stimuli in the home.  The other two love to be petted 24/7, no matter what is happening in their environment. So what gives?

To the relief of conscious cat guardians everywhere, who thought they would have to keep their hands off their felines, one of the study’s authors quickly issued a release retracting her conclusion.  The co-author, Rupert Palme of the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, explains: “As a matter of fact, the majority of the cats enjoyed being stroked. Only those animals that did not actually like to be stroked, but nevertheless allowed it, were stressed.” She explained that the study had been misinterpreted and assured cat guardians that they “can carry on stroking their four-legged friends without worry.”  Good to know.

John Bradshaw, author of Cat Sense was recently interviewed by National Geographic and he explained, “I think what they have shown is that there are some kinds of cats that are very anxious about something, and you pick that up from the stress hormones they are excreting as well as the fact that they are very nervous when they are being stroked. They aren’t stressed because they are being stroked; they are stressed because something in their lives is making them very twitchy and very apt to overreact to things. But [the researchers] weren’t able to pinpoint what that was.”

 

“Cats are in no way generally stressed when they are stroked. It depends much more on the situation and the character of the individual animal.” ~ Professor Rupert Palme

The Updated and Corrected Summary of How Petting Affects Felines:

  • Every cat feels and reacts differently
  • The majority of cats like to be stroked

If you are a cat guardian, you probably already know those two facts.

Every cat is unique, so we must interact with them as individuals. Each cat has certain preferences
Every cat is unique, so we must interact with them as individuals. Each cat has preferences.

“It seems that those cats on whom the owner imposes him or herself are the ones we need to be most concerned about.” ~Professor Daniel Mills

Now, I must mention that petting a cat may seem like a fairly simple thing to do, but there is much more to it than you think.  Jackson Galaxy, TV star and cat behaviorist, offers his tips on how to ensure that petting a cat will be enjoyable for everyone involved.  You will see in the video below that there is no mindless full-body petting, and he is aware of where she enjoys to be touched. He also asks permission several ways.

The dog may be wonderful prose, but only the cat is poetry.

~French Proverb

 

Cat Sense

Cats have been popular household companion animals for thousands of years, and their numbers only continue to rise. Today there are three cats for every dog on the planet, and yet cats remain more mysterious, even to their most adoring guardians.  Unlike dogs, cats evolved as solitary hunters, and, while many have learned to live alongside humans and even feel affection for us, they still don’t quite get us” the way dogs do, and perhaps they never will.  But cats have rich emotional lives that we need to respect and understand if they are to thrive in our company.

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In CAT SENSE: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel the myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends.

Tracing the cat’s evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have been living together for at least eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles.

As Bradshaw shows, cats still have three out of four paws firmly planted in the wild, and within only a few generations can easily revert back to the independent way of life that was the exclusive preserve of their predecessors some 10,000 years ago. Yet cats are astonishingly flexible, and given the right environment they can adapt to a life of domesticity with their owners—but to continue do so, they will increasingly need our help. If we’re to live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to appreciate their inherited quirks: understanding their body language, keeping their environments—however small—sufficiently interesting, and becoming more proactive in managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats.

A must-read for any cat lover, CAT SENSE offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our animal companion’s lives—and ours.

Read an excerpt here!

Click Here for a Chance to Win a Book Giveaway for Cat Sense!

In Defense of Dogs

John Bradshaw, one of the world’s leading dog experts and director of the Anthrozoology Institute at the University of Bristol, is dedicated to studying the relationship between man and the animal world. In his book, In Defense of Dogs, he calls for a new understanding of our canine friends . This book is a compelling insight into what dogs would ask us for, if only they knew how. The dog has been mankind’s faithful companion for tens of thousands of years, yet today finds itself in a type of crisis.

If you were a dog just over 100 years ago, life would have been simple. You would likely have been gainfully employed – perhaps hunting, herding or guarding – and provided you did your job, your owners would have accepted that you were sometimes messy, loud or unpredictable. Most dogs today are never expected to work, even though they are often still tuned into functions their breed has fulfilled for thousands of years. Instead, they are expected to behave like small children, yet be as independent as adults. To make things worse, our culture is awash with myths that prevent dogs being properly understood – in particular, the enduring idea that they harbour a powerful desire to dominate their family pack. Put simply: dogs are on the brink of a crisis. And as we have put them there, it is our responsibility to help them. ~ John Bradshaw

This scholarly and passionate book shows us a new understanding of our canine friends. It’s a “stand up for dogdom” – to understand dogs as they truly are, not as we assume they are. As a canine expert and dog lover, Bradshaw discusses how our treatment of dogs is based on so many mistaken beliefs, misperceptions, and assumptions. He sets the record straight through canine science.

In Defense of Dogs shows us the science behind:

  • Why dogs need us
  • Why reward-based training works
  • Why punishment never works
  • How they experience fear, love, affection and joy, but they do not experience guilt
  • How and why our better understanding of dogs can help them thrive in our human world

Biologists now know far more about what really makes dogs tick than they did twenty years ago, but this new understanding has been slow to percolate through to owners, and has not yet made enough of a difference to the lives of the dogs themselves. This book is here to set the record straight and it’s a must-read for all dog guardians.

In Defense Of Dogs John Bradshaw

You can read 2 reviews of In Defense of Dogs here and here