The title is based on a well known study of over 6,000 cat-to-human interactions in 158 homes. The conclusion was that when cats start the interactions they last longer than when humans start them. I suppose that’s not surprising when you think about it. It means that when cats want to spend time with their human companion they initiate it. Therefore it lasts longer. If their owner initiates contact with their cat perhaps their cat does not want contact at that moment. I wonder how many cat owners ask themselves the question, “Am I forcing myself on my cat right now?” Or, “Does he want some human loving at this moment?”
Perhaps on many occasions domestic cats put up with their owners’ petting rather than actively liking it. It is possible to get feedback so people are not entirely in the dark. But purring alone when being petted is not a cast iron way of judging if your cat is happy. Purring can mean different things under different circumstances.
The “let your cat call the shots” mantra also applies to timid cats. I recently wrote about them. They need to be left alone to find their feet. They need a safe place in the home to where they can retreat. They shouldn’t be forced to come out. They call the shots. In fact there is nothing wrong with domestic cats calling the shots all the time if you want your cat to behave entirely naturally. It just means that the humans living in the home have to fit in which is not difficult.
Petting preferences are individualistic
Petting a cat is a very individualistic experience for the cat. Does everyone believe that all domestic cats love it all the time automatically? They don’t, but in general cats clearly do appreciate it. It is a bonding process like allogrooming (mutual licking) but you can’t make generalisation about what cats like and don’t like about being petted.
No no-go areas
With regard to petting there are sensitive, no-go areas to be avoided for most cats such as the belly but you can’t make it a universal rule. Some cats like a belly rub. Most cats hate the noise of hoovers but some cats love to be hoovered (even on the belly). It is back to the old adage, cats are individuals. It is up to their humans to find out about their cat’s likes and dislikes.
Rather than discussing the fallacy of a universal rule on where to pet it is more likely that one can apply a universal rule on how long to pet. I think we can say with some certainty that all cats have a limit on how much petting they are prepared to like or accept. So in terms of time, what is the limit? I have never seen it discussed. I can only go on personal experience. I normally don’t pet my cat for more than about 30 seconds at a time. Does that sound ridiculously short? Many short sessions are better than fewer long ones. I let my cat call the shots. I have learned from him through his responses. We know how far we can go and learn about our cats preferences.
There is also a rational, philosophical reason for letting cats call the shots. Their behaviour is more instinctive than ours. We are more able to make changes, be flexible and fit in because we can make enlightened, rational decisions (or we are meant to be able to do this). This allows us to bend more which in turn supports the notion that we should allow cats to call the shots.
P.S. I realise that many cat owners reject the concept of the cat calling the shots. I respect their views. This is a dicussion article and they are my views.