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A new study investigating the impact of interactions with cats has found that allowing cats to make their own decisions as to interact or not and adopting a ‘hands-off’ approach reduces aggression.

The research conducted by Nottingham Trent University in conjunction with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, conducted a series of trials involving 100 cats and a sample of randomly selected participants.  Each participant interacted with six cats: three cats prior to receiving any guidance on how cats prefer to be interacted with, and then a further three after the training. 

These guidelines followed a simple ‘CAT’ acronym that encourages people to:

  • C – (choice/control) = Provide the cat with choice and control
  • A – (attention) = Pay attention to the cat’s behaviour and body language
  • T – (touch) = Think about where they are touching the cat

During the series of trials the researchers noted that some of the signals the a cat would show which indicated they wanted a break from being touched included: turning their head, rotating their ears or their ears would flatten, if the cat shook their head or licked their nose, and or the fur on the cat’s back appeared to ripple.  

The findings also showed that most cats prefer to be touched on the base of their ears, around their cheeks and under their chins.  Avoiding touching the cat’s tummy, the base of their tail and being careful when stroking along their back is generally advisable, although each cat has their own individual preferences and some may tolerate this sort of touching more than others.

There is still a paucity in data relating to cats.  This research is important because it highlights how cats are excellent at masking stress and how subtle their body language can be.  Data shows that most people are not proficient in accurately interpreting such subtle signs of unease.  However, by following some simple guidelines such as those established by the researchers, this provides cats with greater choice and control.  This means we can significantly reduce the likelihood of scratches and bites occurring, and instead increase the likelihood of affectionate behaviours. 

Haywood, C., Ripari, L., Puzzo, J., Foreman-Worsley, R., and Finka, L.R. (2021) ‘Providing Humans With Practical, Best Practice Handling Guidelines During Human-Cat Interactions Increases Cats’ Affiliative Behaviour and Reduces Aggression and Signs of Conflict.’  Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 8 p.835.  doi=10.3389/fvets.2021.714143.

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