I think it useful to remind ourselves of the sort of human behaviour that is beneficial to our cat. Perhaps it is common sense but even commonsense thoughts need to be reinforced.
Generally aversive human behaviors
With respect to livestock, research has identified that the most aversive human behaviours towards domestic animals includes: hits, shouting, slaps and moving quickly. Certainly, noise, especially loud noises and sudden unexpected noises, are the enemy of the domestic cat who likes the opposite. And moving quickly within the home can be a noisy exercise anyway. Further, domestic cats tend to become concerned about people moving around the home quickly. It creates a background disturbance and an unknown threat to a domestic cat.
Also, raising one’s voice to one’s cat is detrimental to both parties! It is detrimental to the relationship between cat and person. Shouting at your cat is to be frowned upon because it only serves to weaken the relationship. It’s a form of punishment but it doesn’t work as punishment. It simply works as something which frightens a cat.
Beneficial human behaviors
By contrast, human behaviours which are beneficial to animals and cats include: strokes, pats, resting your hand on your cat, talking to your cat and slow deliberate movements. I would add touching your cat perhaps on her paw when she is resting and snoozing. Cats like to touch their human caregiver. The research for this information comes from two studies: Coleman et al 1998 and Pajor et al 2000. You’ll see cats reaching out to touch other domestic cats with whom they are friendly such as a dog. My cat frequently likes to touch my arm. Humans should instigate this act of companionship as a beneficial human behavior.
In addition, using a soft voice and avoiding sounds that might resemble hissing, avoiding predatory gazing through direct eye contact, displaying slow blinks and movements, and letting your cat control the extent of the interaction and perhaps even letting your cat initiate the interaction, can all be beneficial to your cat.
Human routines and rhythms
Other human behaviours which are beneficial to domestic cats are specific routines and rhythms which the human follows on a daily basis. Domestic cats like predictable behaviour patterns. They understand their world better under these circumstances. As their world becomes more predictable it feels more secure. In essence, domestic cats live in a strange human-centric world. Humans need to make it as amenable as possible. The need to make the human world as natural and as acceptable to domestic cats as possible.
Please your cat
Perhaps it is an obvious point: do things for your cat which pleases him. You will learn what pleases him. My cat likes to come under the bed covers in the early hours of the morning in winter because it’s cold. I invite him to do it. He stays there were 20 minutes. And then go back to sleep. This improves the bond which is the reward to the human. It’s just one example. Each cat will have their own things that they like; their little foibles which the human should learn and deliver on. It’s another aspect of human behaviour which benefits their cat.
Train your cat
One form of human behaviour that it is said benefits their cat is to train them. That might surprise people. A well-respected veterinarian and author on many books about cats writes: “all cats need training”. He makes the point that your cat doesn’t just depend upon you for health care, shelter and food. They need you for education. They need to be instructed on how to live enjoyably with their human caregiver. You achieved out through basic training. People should be open to this. A lot of training happens informally in any case. Humans train their cats and cats train their humans. But Dr. Bruce Fogle suggests formal training at a basic level using clickers.
Another form of human behaviour that is beneficial to domestic cats in the modern era is to walk their cat on a harness. This is a specific form of training: leash training. It is an ideal but it is going to be more and more important over the decades ahead because there will be a gradual curbing that domestic cats enjoy today to protect wildlife and the cats themselves. The protection of wildlife is more important today and will be into the future. And as human population growth continues there will be more urbanisation and a greater need to protect cats from road traffic accidents. And communities are gradually coming around to the idea of cat ownership and caretaking to mean cat confinement and taking a cat for a walk on a lead.
Work from home
Another modern era form of human behaviour which is beneficial to cats in post-Covid times is to negotiate with your employer if you are a worker to seek agreement that you can work from home for a part of the week. This would be flexible working. It will allow you to spend more time with your cat, a vital component in good cat caregiving. Employers are far more open to suggestions of flexible working after Covid for well-known reasons.
Good cat management means that the cat’s caretaker is a trusted and reliable person from the cat’s point of view. So, for example, if the human caretaker/guardian moves home it is much easier for a cat to adapt to her new environment when they see the same friendly person on a daily basis.
As cats can differentiate between the appearance of people, by which I mean they can recognise and discriminate amongst humans, they can predict what might happen with the person that they know and trust. If the person brings an improvement to the general well-being of the cat, she will perceive that person as a predictor of something good thereby improving the cat’s life by her/his presence.
Postscript: I have deliberately left out of this discussion all the usual things that a good cat caregiver would do namely feed their cat well, flea comb their cat regularly, make sure the home has some high vantage points and some hiding places, selecting new cat for a resident cat with great care to do your best to make sure that they get along, take your cat to the veterinarian as and when needed and don’t procrastinate or delay.
Did you find this article useful and interesting? Can it be improved? Please tell me in a comment. I am always keen to improve the site for animal welfare and reader enjoyment.
‘Passenger in 13A is breastfeeding a cat and will not put cat back in its carrier when flight attendant requested’