Feeling controlled by your cat? You’re not alone. Deirdre Vine explains how (and why) wily felines can get you to do whatever they want
Dogs have owners, cats have staff.’ As with many an old saying, this certainly contains a nugget of truth. While dogs tend to thrive on pleasing us, cats are happy to be waited on hand and paw. Some owners are convinced that cat telepathy is so advanced that their moggies have the ability to control human minds, with total feline domination now just a matter of time... How else, they protest, can you explain the little tykes getting you to pander to their every fancy, luring you from bed at dawn to feed them or let them out? Or persuading you with plaintive meows to give them breakfast before you’ve had so much as a cup of coffee?
Cats are clever enough to take advantage of their owners’ habits and routines. If a cat recognises that you’re willing to get out of bed and feed him when he makes some noise, you can expect him to continue to insist on it.
‘It’s not that cats are trying to get one over their owners,’ says Claire Bessant, chief executive of the charity International Cat Care (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau). As author of several books on cat behaviour, including The Cat Whisperer, she is well placed to explain their power play.
‘It’s really important for cats to know what’s happening next, because it makes them feel secure,’ says Claire, who reminds us that the cat is an essentially solitary, territorial species. With no pack for support, a safe, predictable environment is paramount. So this ‘controlling’ attitude is simply an expression of natural instincts.
The next time your puss turns on his most imploring sound effects, bear in mind that he’s not making the imperious demands of a boss. He’s expressing his confidence that you want him to be happy. Claire says: ‘Owners should be pleased if they have good communication with their cat. If they’re doing something the cat needs, they’re actually being sensitive to what their pet is telling them. We can pretend that we’re being used and abused, but most of us love it, especially if we get a purr as a reward.’ She adds that this doesn’t mean letting cats get their way in everything. ‘You don’t have to indulge them totally. If you don’t want your cats sleeping on your bed, don’t allow it, as long as they have somewhere else cosy.’
Nor should we assume that our cats only make a fuss of us when they want something. Animal behaviour expert Dr John Bradshaw of Bristol University says: ‘Cats display attachment to their owners that transcends mere cupboard-love. It’s seen in behaviour such as rubbing, purring and licking, which cats use to cement bonds.’ Surely that makes it all worthwhile?