Leave Fluffy’s tummy alone
Sights and sounds aren’t the only things in your house that assault your cat’s senses. Humans are much more touchy-feely than cats, and we sometimes find their fluffiness irresistible. But cats, like us, want some say in how they’re handled. “Would you appreciate it if someone was always picking you up, hugging you, rubbing you?” Buffington says.
The best bet is to let Fluffy guide the interaction. If she’s rubbing some part of her body against you, she’s given you permission to pet that part of her.
Other feline behaviors are tricky, because they appear to be an invitation for petting. The classic is when Fluffy exposes her belly. When you go in for a rub, she bites and scratches you. “Exposing her belly is not a trap the cat is setting,” Buffington says. “The cat is biting you because they feel violated and afraid.” A cat’s belly is its most vulnerable body part, and exposing it is the cat letting you know she trusts you—not that she wants a belly rub.
That’s not the only place that’s off limits. Have you ever been petting your cat and all of a sudden she slinks off to the other side of the room, cowers behind something, and stares at you?
“If your cat is acting weird, then something probably triggered this behavior,” Buffington says. Perhaps you kept petting the base of her tail, because she kept raising her butt. This area is filled with nerves, and being pet there can be overstimulating, much like being tickled is to us. Also, being cradled is not normal for cats. If your cat is curled up in your lap, it’s not necessarily an invitation to be picked up.
What’s that? Your cat is totally fine with you picking her up, snuggling her, and rubbing her angel-soft belly? That’s fine. Nobody’s jealous. Just stop talking about it.
You want your cats to be friends more than they do
Shingles and I recently moved into a house with two other cats, and my roommate and I have been trying for months to get them to play. It hasn’t been going well. Time and again, we put them in the living room and watch as mild curiosity turns into panic and fighting.
Buffington says we’re doing this all wrong. Start slow, he says, by rubbing each cat in turn with the same dry towel to get them used to each others’ scent. Before introducing them, make sure each cat has eaten, pooped, and received affection from their respective owners. In other words, ensure they are comfortable. Once the cats are together, let your cat know you have its back by giving it lots of affection. Don’t pressure them to mingle, and make sure each has an unimpeded escape route.
And if your cat isn’t feeling the play date and decides to bail, let him go. Buffington says one of our biggest misconceptions is that cats need to be around other cats. In the wild, cats hunt alone, and they don’t share. Other cats aren’t friends; they’re competition.
Your cat cares about you
Your cat is not as indifferent about you as she may seem. She wants to bond, and the best way to do so are with petting, food, and play. If your cat doesn’t like to play, you might be doing it wrong. If you’re using a laser pointer, don’t wave it like you’re at a rave. Move it at natural speeds and let the cat catch it occasionally. The same rule applies with the feather-on-a-string toy.
Shingles used to cry incessantly whenever I left for the day, and I worried that leaving him home alone was making him neurotic. Buffington suggests I create little rituals for coming and going. “Before you leave, you can call to the cat, give him some affection and let him know you are saying good bye,” Buffington says. And he says to have a similar ritual for coming home. “Some married couples survive on less than an hour a day of contact. Your relationship with your cat can survive on 10 minutes a day, as long as it’s really quality,” Buffington says.