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Is the man in your life… a cat?
We tend to limit our pets’ time outdoors so they can spend more time with us. Over half the owners surveyed slept with their cats, nearly half of them woke their cats up just to give them a stroke, and a staggering 93 per cent went looking for them around the house if they hadn’t seen them for a while. Just imagine how you’d feel if a partner or parent subjected you to such possessiveness.
Under this intense scrutiny, cats find it impossible to get time out from their owners and a sense of personal space. It’s hardly surprising that 28 per cent of the owners reported that their cats had been aggressive towards them at some time.
Being the enigmatic creatures they are, it’s difficult to know what cats are really feeling. You may think your pedigree puss is laid-back because he sleeps most of the time, whereas it might be that he’s withdrawn because he has nowhere to hunt or climb or explore. Some cats naturally cope better than others with the demands of an intense relationship – the more confident cat will use it to his advantage and get his owner jumping through hoops, while other, less emotionally resilient moggies will withdraw, reluctant to do anything.
As a behaviourist I often see cats that are displaying inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour as a result of stress, including aggression, anxiety, spraying, over-grooming and obesity. In cases I saw between 2000 and 2003, for instance, around half of such problems related to the owner’s unreasonable expectations of the relationship. It’s not that we should love our cats any less, but perhaps a little differently. If we really get to know the species – so very different from our own – we can show our love in a way that best suits them.
Cats are certainly capable of forming strong social bonds with humans. My own cat ‘appears’ to show love; whatever she is feeling when she sees me is positive. But me being the focus of her life is not in her best interests. I encourage her to go outdoors, I respect her privacy and I occasionally reject her if I am busy, as she does me. I still cuddle and stroke her, but I do it when she is responsive. This is the foundation of a healthy relationship and we both benefit from it.
It is simple to adjust a relationship to be the perfect partner by loving a cat enough to respect him for being a cat. It is essential to understand the animal’s need to control its environment, to hunt, explore, climb, patrol territory and have moments of solitude. Spending time learning about the cat’s body language and behaviour enables owners to judge when it is appropriate to show affection, play a game or leave well alone. When you think about it, he’s not so very different from that independent man after all…
Give and take
Relationships are all about respecting each other’s needs and wishes – and this applies to those with our cats, too. If you really want to love your cat in the right way then follow these golden rules:
- 'Think cat' when planning any activities. Make sure he has plenty to occupy his time and remember that cats need to hunt, climb, forage, explore and challenge themselves with new things.
- Allow your cat to have private places, and respect his need to be alone when he’s there.
- Don’t stare all the time! Some cats thrive on this (and take advantage of you) but others find it disturbing.
- Allow your cat to dictate the pace for a change; let him come to you.
- If he wants to sit on your lap, let him do just that. If you can’t resist the urge to cuddle, then stroke him for a short while and then leave him alone.
- Interact in different ways; instead of cuddling, try playing with toys or fishing rod games.
- Don’t go searching for your cat if you haven’t seen him for a while – he’s off doing his own thing.
- You may have a busy road outside, but what about securing your garden or building an outdoor enclosure? The more outdoor access your cat has, the more likely he is to feel in control, and that’s a good feeling for a cat.
- Let him go outside without you trailing him and watching his every move; this will encourage him to become more self-confident.
Originally published in Petplan’s PetPeople magazine. The author’s book ‘Cat Counsellor: How Your Cat Really Relates To You’, is published by Bantam Books (£6.99).