How to Pet a Cat
This brief instruction manual is meant to help you, the new ( possibly reluctant ) companion of a house cat. I say "house cat" because, above all, your cat will have a better life as an indoor cat. I could list the many reasons for this here, but suffice it to say that the hazards of being an outdoor cat are many, and there is plenty of evidence that these fierce hunters are responsible for the decline and even extinction of many species of songbirds around the world. If they could only hunt down & snuff out starlings, I might make the opposite argument. I'm not too crazy about buzzards, but a buzzard would have your cat for a snack ( and a buzzard isn't a songbird - in my book, anyway ).
So let's talk about petting your cat. Maybe you think this is silly. It's OK. I admit and stipulate that I am often silly. Which is why you will return to read my next contribution to "Illuminate."
I've heard that when a cat gets petted, she often associates it with the loving attention she got from her mother as a baby. So, think of it from that angle, and you're going to be on the right track. Stroke your kitty's head gently with your finger. Run it lightly over her eyes ( it's OK, she'll have them closed, and there is also an extra lid in there! ). Rub her temples just in front of her ears. Remember how big you are in comparison to this cat, so be ever so gentle. If your kitty seems to appreciate one place over another, then linger there for a spell.
Many of my cats have liked stroking under the chin. Some have felt threatened by this. You'll know in a big hurry which population your cat belongs to. If you end up bleeding, you may not want to pet your cat there again. And here, I need to really stress something about petting a cat. This isn't a game. It can't be a struggle. The French actually just say "faire l'amour," which means "to make love" ( to my cat ), And this is going to be your tender loving moment with your kitty, If petting your cat somewhere provokes her into some negative response, just remember where that somewhere was, and don't pet your cat there any more. If you see a child doing this just to get a rise out of the cat, you need to gently let your kid know that this is not how to treat your cherished feline companion. That is, if you want to end up with a gentle critter. If you are rude or harsh with your cat, you can expect to wind up with a rude, harsh cat. Rude. harsh cats are hard to live with.
I've known cats who love being pet on the belly, but my own opinion is that these cats are in the minority. And I think I can feel confident in saying that most cats feel threatened by being touched there. You'll know very quickly what camp your cat belongs to. If your kitty learns at an early age that there is no threat to her when her belly is pet, then she'll grow up in that first camp. And there's something really satisfying about petting a cat on her soft belly.
Stroke your cat slowly from the head, all the way down the back. Some cats like their tail stroked. Many don't want to go there. Sometimes I stop about halfway down the cat's back & just gently massage the back by moving her loose skin back & forth. My dear departed cat, Gateway, was unusual in that he wanted deep muscle massaging on his back, all the way down his spine. He would sit as long as I could manage this. And let me tell you that this critter was very muscular & a bit tightly wound - which is why I could understand his preference of this attention. This massaging was really tough on my slightly arthritic fingers, and so you know that he didn't mind having me bear down a little. I wouldn't try this with a kitten, but I'm sure many of the more rugged breeds should enjoy this type of petting.
So, having a pet includes petting. Pet your cat abundantly, and your cat will return this love with interest.
Tommy Westerhold lives in beautiful Chester County, PA, along with a human companion and one cat named Jasper. He is the founder & owner of Feline Design Cat Furniture.