Write what you know, is one of the first rules of writing. So, here is what I know about cats.
When you approach a cat you have never met, do not just reach out and pet them, without a proper introduction. Cats want to smell your hand, but do not want it shoved in their face. Offer your hand, palm down, and see if it gets sniffed; If it does, then you have passed the first test and you may offer your best scratch or stroke on the head.
If you approach a cat, and it runs away, do not chase it; in cat world, it’s hunt or be hunted, and being chased to them is like being hunted. If you offer your hand to the cat and it swats at you, do not mistake this as the cat being playful. It means the cat does not want to be bothered by the likes of you.
When your cat is in a playful mood, you will know, the same way you know when a child is in a playful mood. This involves eye contact, scampering about, swatting at anything that moves on you, and/or pouncing.
But back to the approach. If you have been granted access to petting, and continue to do so by being sensitive to what the cat responds to, you can activate their happy, joy button, which is a wonder and delight that is part of all healthy, human-cat friendships. Start out slow, and gently, and observe how they react. Pushing into your hand is a good sign, as is purring, and in some cases, drooling.
Sometimes I joke that cats are like women and dogs are like men. I base this assessment on the way we approach, and show affection to a dog versus a cat. Sure you let both of them sniff your hand first, but after that, the introductions go in different directions.
Cats usually enjoy the top of the head scratch, the behind the ear and back of head scratch, the bony part under their chin, their jawline, and full body pets and often, back scratching. Be warned however, of two things, one that cats don’t like to have their fur messed up, so when petting their back and body, always pet in the direction the fur lays, and two, some cats do not like having their backs touched. To find out, you want to start with the base of the spine right before the tail. They will either turn around and bite you, or they will push their rear-ends up in the air with their tails straight, and all of their business out in the open.
It is important to remember that every cat, like every person, is different, and some like certain things and not others. The best way to find out what your cat likes, is to try a variety of different techniques, and find the one which they respond positively to and repeat, on both sides of the head and or face or chin.
Sometimes, a cat will react positively at first, but then become overstimulated to the point where they will turn around and bite or claw you. This indicates that whatever you were doing, while okay in small doses, becomes somewhat annoying after a turn, much like being tickled.
Taking the time to get to know your cats’ special spots, the ones that get their engine literally purring, is an extremely rewarding and bonding activity. It creates love and trust, the basis of any healthy relationship. It will also bring you joy, as you bring joy to your cat with affection.
In response to this love and joy, cats often want to give back. They do this by licking your hand, your face, chewing on your eyelashes, biting/ lightly chewing on your fingers, or maybe even grabbing hold of your nose in their teeth. Occasionally, you will run into a cat who, bites a little too hard while overcome with extreme happiness. One of my cats that I currently live with does this. Afterwards, she is always extra gentle, to show me that she is trying to be mindful of the fact that she just caused me to screamed out in pain.
Love bites are an often misunderstood part of cat behavior, as I have learned while working with cats and the general public at the shelter. Somehow, a lot of people think that either any cat bite is vicious, or the complete opposite, that all of them are out of affection. The fact of the matter is that neither of these views is accurate, and every bite is situation specific, ALWAYS. By simply taking the time to observe your cat, and its’ behavior in different situations, you will get to know and understand their unique and wonderful personalities. Remember to adopt an animal, don’t support the breeding of more animals when we are killing them by the hundreds and thousands every year. Blessings, love, compassion and peace to all the homeless animals, waiting in shelters, for their forever homes.