I recently ran across an article published on Healthy Pets.com featuring a study done several months ago by a research team at the University of Lincoln in the U.K. The study was designed to find out more about how cats react to being petted. The team was interested in examining two aspects of cat petting to ascertain whether there was a difference in how cats react to being stroked by someone they know in contrast to how they react to strangers. They also examined which part of the body cats greatly enjoyed being petted.
The researchers’ plan was to observe and videotape 34 cats between the ages of six months to one year in their own homes. The team allowed the cats to grow accustomed to their presence and the video recording equipment prior to starting the experiment. All the cats were evaluated on two different days. On one of these two days the kitty guardians did the petting and on the other day the cats were petted by the researchers.
In addition to the three scent gland areas, the team also tested five other areas; the top of the head, back and neck, the top and middle of the back and the chest and throat, and the petting was done randomly. The stroking was done using two fingers for precisely 15 seconds at each of the locations on the cats’ bodies.
During the experimental petting sessions, all of the cats were permitted to walk away if they so desired. In fact, many of them did. Only 16 of the 34 cats being observed accepted petting in all of the 8 areas from both their guardian and a researcher.
The team analyzed the videos at the conclusion of the experiment. They first examined how many times the cats responded positively to petting, licking the person petting them, giving slow eye blinks, started grooming, kneading, holding up their tail and rubbing their head against the person.
They next focused on the number of times the cats behaved negatively, swishing or flicking their tails, turning their head away from the person, biting, licking their lips or swiping the person with their paw. The researchers then concluded that kitties do not like being stroked by the tail since the cats displayed more negative behaviors when they were stroked by the tail.
What greatly interested the researchers was how the cats seemed to enjoy the experimenter petting them more than their guardians. The researchers’ theory concerning this unexpected behavior was the experimenter was new to the cats making them more interesting than their guardians. Additionally, the cats were not familiar with or expecting to be stroked with two fingers. They surmised that the cats were more accustomed to initiating interactions with their guardians than having the guardians initiate interactions with them, or that for some reason at the time, the cats may have felt distrustful of the guardian.
A second experiment was done with another group of 20 cats. The guardians stroked the cats in a specific order, from the top of the head, down the back to the tail or the reverse. They petted the cats as usual, not the two finger method. In this experiment only 3 of the 20 cats walked away. The researchers observed that these cats appeared not to derive pleasure from being stroked near the base of the tail, no matter when it occurred in the petting sequence.
The reason that some kitty guardians stroke their cats near the tail is mysterious. It may be because running their hands over the cat from the kitty’s head down its back to the tail is natural. Cats often arch their back or their rear quarters when stroked around the base of the tail displaying enjoyment. Based on what the researchers’ study however indicates the cat is “telling” the guardian to cease and desist.
I am still puzzled by the researchers’ results, so I performed the same experiments on our kitties. All three enjoyed being stroked on the tail area. Aki, our 6 month old kitten licked my hand, purred loudly, and kneaded on my leg. Edgar Allen Poe, our 10 month old kitten rubbed against my legs and head butted me. Sir Hubble Pinkerton, our 15 1/2 year old OSH rubbed his body against me. When I stopped, he made it clear that he wanted me to continue.
I think it premature to arrive at any results concerning feline petting preferences in only two days with a relatively small study sample; working with cats that are strangers to the researchers. From my miniscule study sample however, I found that there are cats who enjoy having their tail area stroked.
How do your cats react to be stroked around the tail area? Tell us in a comment.