A tolerant cat is not necessarily a happy cat
July 24, 2019 1:58 PM   Subscribe

How to stroke a cat, according to science Although a lot of cats do like being stroked, and in certain contexts will choose us over food, human interaction is something they have to learn to enjoy.
posted by peepofgold (74 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
There was a reddit thread that asked how to know if someone is good in bed before jumping into bed with them. One of the most top voted answers was “if s/he can pet a cat and the cat likes it.”

IME the cat test checks out.
posted by schadenfrau at 2:11 PM on July 24, 2019 [87 favorites]

I'm consistently amazed at how many articles get published about cats and dogs that really just boil down to "could you please just pay attention to the animal's body language, you goofball?"

Sure, there's some subtlety in dog and cat behavior, but "does this animal enjoy being petted" is not a hard question. It's gonna be obvious if you pay attention.
posted by uberchet at 2:26 PM on July 24, 2019 [25 favorites]

I love that, schadenfrau!

It has surprised me to see how many people just have no idea how to pet a cat (or dog). A friend stayed with me for about two months and my cat would attack his hand, something he had never done to me or anyone else. He claimed the cat was a misandrist but what it really was — fucking cluelessness about how his energy was making my cat's tail twitch more and more, and made him feel more and more trapped, until he lashed out.

This is a cat who tolerates just about anything and is the biggest attention seeker of any cat I've ever met. He's been excellent with children, helped parent endless foster kittens and absolutely loves playing with my great dane, who likes to put her entire mouth around him while playing. I shudder to think what this guy would be like in bed, but coincidentally, we had many talks while he was staying with me that would confirm "the cat test," as I found him to be clueless about female pleasure. As his Token Lesbian Buddy he opened up to me about a lot of things. My cat never warmed up to him but I hope his future lovers have benefited from our talks about basic anatomy and communication!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:26 PM on July 24, 2019 [34 favorites]

Answer: don't go to a cat café. By the time you meet them, the cats are thoroughly sick of humans and will at best grudgingly tolerate you.
posted by acb at 2:27 PM on July 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

As a teen my family had cats, but they were NOT interested in human contact - I think one of them started occasionally sitting on laps after 7 or 8 years, and the other one never did. I liked them, but it was more a watching-from-afar thing than a relationship.

I'd lived with a few roommates with cats since then, but never really connected with them. But my current roommate's cat loves and demands frequent snuggles and scritches, and I have learned so much from him. Schadenfrau is right on the money honestly - it's all about watching his reactions and doing more of what he likes and less of what he doesn't like. A couple months ago I was able to tell my roommate about a new thing I'd discovered that he loved (really hard, fast scratches right on the jawline), and it was news to her even though she's had him for ten years.

IMO, our quest as a species to figure out "how to talk to animals" is doomed until we all realize that animals are talking to us already, just not with words, and we just don't know how to interpret what they're saying. This cat has distinct desires and likes and dislikes, and a lot of them I only know because he showed me. And once I made it clear to him that if he did x, I would do y (stop touching him there, stir up his food for him, etc), he got more consistent and clear in communicating with me in those ways. I'm getting better at understanding him all the time. And now I want my own cat.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:48 PM on July 24, 2019 [33 favorites]

Cats are always trying to talk to us (meowing is the obvious example, since they don't do this to other cats, but lots of body language falls under this category). But it does take some effort / experience to read properly. After decades of cat ownership and nearly a decade of volunteering, fostering, etc I've gotten fairly good at it, but it's never going to be perfect.

Also some cats are better than others at this. My youngest cat is extremely good at communicating what she wants. My older cat is less good, although he's also very patient when you get it wrong (whereas the younger one gets angry quickly that you didn't understand).

Cats range from "I basically just want you to feed me" to "I do not want to be apart from you for even a minute, please come with me while I use the bathroom / drink water / stare at the wall".
posted by thefoxgod at 2:56 PM on July 24, 2019 [18 favorites]

> IMO, our quest as a species to figure out "how to talk to animals" is doomed until we all realize that animals are talking to us already, just not with words, and we just don't know how to interpret what they're saying.

This is how I feel as well. I find it weird when people talk to their cats. It seems selfish to me, like what they're really doing is using the cat as a proxy to talk to themselves. I communicate with my cat through body language and by meowing at her. Meowing isn't a language, in the human sense; cats communicate by screaming at each other.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 2:56 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

By the time you meet them, the cats are thoroughly sick of humans and will at best grudgingly tolerate you.

And this differentiates from other cats how?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:57 PM on July 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

My husband and I recently moved cross country, taking us away from the person from who our cat LOVED to receive belly massages. Our friend held the cat on her back like a baby and massaged her tummy while the cat purred and drooled. This could go on for half an hour. Our cat NEVER tolerated this from us. Now that our friend is out of the picture, she has come to me twice for this service, drooling and purring just like with my friend. It made me so happy to have her request this from me!
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2019 [42 favorites]

f the cats i need to know how to stroke other hominids

There was a reddit thread that asked how to know if someone is good in bed before jumping into bed with them. One of the most top voted answers was “if s/he can pet a cat and the cat likes it.”

jesus christ how do you people pet your cats?? no really how tell me so lonely
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:09 PM on July 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

Aww. I just pleased or annoyed the two cats I'm currently between.
posted by twentyfeetof tacos at 3:11 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have two cats

- One who likes being picked up but won't sit on laps, and loves belly rubs

- One who hates being picked up but loves to sit on your lap, and *if* she trusts you, will roll over and accept the briefest and gentlest of belly rubs

But this isn't about them, this is about my friend's cat, a sleek black female shelter cat. The first time I was over at my friend's house, we were sitting at the dinner table and the cat jumped on my lap. (It was winter, so laps were desirable). So I petted her and rubbed her ears, which she liked for a while. Then she started mewing whenever my hand touched her. That plus a tail-twitch told me she was becoming annoyed. So I stopped petting her-- and she relaxed and went to sleep in my lap.

She is, to date, the only cat I've known who signaled vocally, rather than physically, when they were getting tired of petting. So many cats would have gone straight to biting, or batting my hand, or running away. But this one used her voice, and luckily I guessed what she meant.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:28 PM on July 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

You just go slowly, trying different things and feeling it out based on how they react — tensing up? Do less of that! Relaxing and leaning into you? Maybe more of that!

Talking to cats (and especially dogs) is helpful because people tend to echo what they say with their words (and how they say it) with their body (well, as long as they really feel/mean what they say), and the pets pick up on the body language.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:50 PM on July 24, 2019 [20 favorites]

You just go slowly, trying different things and feeling it out based on how they react — tensing up? Do less of that! Relaxing and leaning into you? Maybe more of that!

schadenfrau - are you talking about cats here? ;-)
posted by rude.boy at 3:56 PM on July 24, 2019 [14 favorites]

Meowing isn't a language, in the human sense; cats communicate by screaming at each other.

So... like cable news?

For serious, I mostly meow at cats, which feels silly in its own way -- I have little idea what a meow means to a cat except a rough guess that it has to function as a signal for some stripe of attention, and so in the back of my head I feel that when *I* do it I'm attempting to insinuate something between an assertion of interspecies kinship (which may be more for my benefit than the cat's) and a certain level of feline likeness ("how do you do fellow kids cats"). Talking is what humans do, maybe it's as proper for a human to try talking to a cat as it is for a cat to meow at a human. And I also suspect some cats, like dogs, can achieve a toddler-like understanding of spoken human language, on top of body language.

Still, some part of me likes the pretense that it's a kitty, so very often, meowing it is.
posted by wildblueyonder at 3:56 PM on July 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

for the record I am well known for meowing at any and all cats I come across all around the world. So you are not alone, wildblueyonder
posted by some loser at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

If it doesn't involve antihistamines, a respirator and burning your clothes afterwards, it probably won't work for me.
posted by pipeski at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've had various people over the years call me a cat or a dog whisperer by virtue of the fact that I was not only able to pet their "grumpy" cat or nervous dog, but also to do so in a way that both parties enjoyed, and although I'd never admit this to them since whenever you have the chance to cultivate even a little bit of mystique you fucking take it, it really is just a process of simply listening to them and establishing trust. I've always been a little surprised that this is so unintuitive to some people.
posted by invitapriore at 4:04 PM on July 24, 2019 [13 favorites]

Tig Notaro has a bit about meowing at her cat, and her wife Stephanie getting all concerned: “Don’t do that.”

Tig: “why not?”

Stephanie: “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

I think that’s actually why I meow at cats. It’s like conversational roulette.
posted by schadenfrau at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2019 [28 favorites]

Also my cat reliably meows back at me when I meow at her, and will carry on in extended exchanges with me, which for some reason other humans who happen to be present find deeply annoying
posted by invitapriore at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2019 [19 favorites]

Also also, I recently gave up and dropped the no-bed policy with my dog, so now I and my two cats and my dog all sleep together in a semi-furry lump (they're all surprisingly considerate and don't really interrupt my sleep at all) and I feel so viscerally like I'm part of the pack and it is glorious
posted by invitapriore at 4:09 PM on July 24, 2019 [39 favorites]

More like, cable mews
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:09 PM on July 24, 2019 [26 favorites]

Cats don't meow to each other, except between kittens and their mothers. It stands to reason that when a cat is meowing at you it's saying "mom." Mom. Moooom. moOooOm. There is this thing I want/need from you and you must figure it out.

Sometimes it's easy (food, scritches, want to go out/come in). Sometimes it's really really baffling. A friend's cat has IBD and I've learned to recognize his "my tummy hurts (mom)" meow. That's a hard one because there's nothing to do except to try to comfort him and try a different cat food. Another cat has a particular very clipped meow she uses when she's been waiting at the door for too long and it means, "what took you so long (mom)?"
posted by sjswitzer at 4:26 PM on July 24, 2019 [22 favorites]

I sometimes meow at my cats when I’m teasing them by copying them (making me a literal copycat), but I also have my own repertoire of sounds that convey such sentiments as “Knock it off!”, “Come here”, “Hey, what’s up?” and the like. But I felt like I’d really arrived when two cats were arguing outside my house and I made the “Knock it off!” noise, and they did.

As for only petting my cats when they want to be petted, well...just as I’m not consulted when they want to sit on my lap, sometimes they are not consulted when I want to rub a big fuzzy belly. We’ve all learned to be like “Fine!” and put up with it for a few minutes.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:47 PM on July 24, 2019 [16 favorites]

My cat Trilby is deaf and he squawks rather than meows, but he still uses verbal communication as well as body language and purring. He has a special plaintive cry he uses whenever I've accidentally locked him into a room or a closet, and whenever I hear it I go investigate rather than thinking, "Oh that's just Trilby expressing his supposed existential angst and Dickensian misery by random yowling again," and ignoring it. It really is all about paying attention to your cat and getting to know what it means when it does a certain thing. I know when Trilby wants his lunch and when he's throwing a tantrum and when he's mousing and when he wants pets or cuddles and when he's looking at me with that meaning, "I am showing you my tummy for a reason" look.

And I'm totally remembering that "watch how your potential sexual partner treats your cat" thing, especially given that Trilby is so afraid of strangers, but is happy to be friends with someone once he gets past his initial fear. If they have the patience to woo him, maybe they've got what it takes to be with me, Ms. Burned So Many Times I'm Now Super Wary. For the record, cats and dogs act like I'm some kind of industrial strength fur magnet whenever I'm visiting their house, so I think I must be okay in the sensitive partner department.
posted by orange swan at 4:58 PM on July 24, 2019 [10 favorites]

We've had our cars for about a decade now, so I feel like I know what they want. Our murder cat loves attention, but only on his terms. He'll rub up against you and purr, but if you try to touch him he'll get all five pointy ends in your arm. We've had several houseguests scratched up because of this. He'll also demand lap time and jump right up, but unless it's very particular about how he wants you to interact with him and gives no warning if he's upset. He also doesn't like to be picked up, so if he chooses your lap you're stuck there for a while. He also loves to sit on board games, which is problematic. I've handled him enough that I can get away with removing him from where he shouldn't be, but I'm the only one.

Idiot Cat does meow at Murder Cat, but only when he's getting chased or cornered. Humans can do just about anything to him, and he'll bat you away (no claws!) when he's done. He even likes belly rubs.

Murder Cat rarely makes noise, but when he does he doesn't meow. He goes "meh" in this raspy almost cough that reminds me of a chain-smoking grandmother.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:16 PM on July 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

Bergamot likes being held but hates being picked up. She seems to enjoy having her belly rubbed until suddenly, BAM, she lashes out... with her tongue and starts licking the heck out of me. You may laugh, but eventually it starts hurting; cat tongues are raspy! (the article lists "grooming" as an indication that the cat is Not Having Fun, but I am assuming that only means self-grooming)

Juniper kind of tolerates being held and kind of tolerates being pet, unless she is in her Designated Snuggle Zone, which is a salad bowl attached to the cat tree. Then she looooves being petted and scratched. If I walk over to the cat tree, Juniper will run from the other end of the apartment to get in there before I get past it, so I will stop and scratch behind her ears, etc.

Bergamot also enjoys the salad bowl for cuddles. The best is when they're both piled on top of each other in it, because then I can pet both cats at the same time. So efficient!
posted by aubilenon at 5:46 PM on July 24, 2019 [13 favorites]

Oh I forgot to mention Bergamot's other peculiarity in petting proclivities. Whenever I'm brushing my teeth, she wants me to pet her with the non-toothbrush hand. Actually I'm not sure she cares which hand I use.

If she can hear the electric toothbrush and is on the wrong side of the door, then she will just have to meow her way through that door.
posted by aubilenon at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yes, it’s all about reading the cat’s body language. Cat body language is fairly universal.

Cat vocalizations, on the other hand, seem to be fairly idiosyncratic, negotiated between each individual cat and its humans. For example: My dilute tortie has an extremely loud meow she uses when she’s intensely enjoying being petted/scratched. It’s a sound that, out of most cats, would mean “I am extremely annoyed.” Out of her, it means “YES YES OH GOD YES.” One of my human friends did not believe it could actually be a happy meow — until he personally witnessed me giving the cat a very gentle scritch between the ears, and the cat responding with exactly that dramatic yowl while shoving her head into my hand and purring. I’ve never owned another cat who did this.

For another example: the famous Talking Cats video on YouTube contains two cats making a very distinctive “prr-meow” sound. They are apparently using it socially. My two kitties use that meow exclusively when hunting flying insects. So when I played that video, my cats got extremely excited, wanting to know what the other cats were hunting.

I can usually figure out individual cats’ noises from context and associated body language (like my friend seeing my cat using happy body language while loudly meowing). But the meow alone isn’t conclusive.
posted by snowmentality at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

Metafilter: I am showing you my tummy for a reason
posted by janepanic at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2019 [15 favorites]

What are you all talking about that cats don't meow at one another? My cats used to meow at each other occasionally.

I find it weird when people talk to their cats. It seems selfish to me, like what they're really doing is using the cat as a proxy to talk to themselves.

So many people describe their cat as being standoffish, hating human contact, etc - I mean we have had multiple threads here lately how other human beings are dreadful to be around when they are occasionally annoying and totally helpless but that is the default state for a housecat or dog and it doesn't end until they they are gone.

Why else would you keep the things around except as proxies to talk to yourself and have them not verbally judge and even appreciate our idiosyncrasies? That is what they are for.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:09 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

One time I visited a cat shelter with my wife to possibly adopt a new cat. This was an open-room shelter where 15-20 cats were frolicking around together. On the door was a clipboard that listed the current cats in the room and halfway down the list--and I swear this is true--was the line:


And sure as shit if not 3 seconds later this completely overbearing, meowing, desperate mess of a cat came lumbering out of nowhere and basically started dry humping our legs. Friends, there was no conceivable way of
petting this cat wrongly. If I has strapped Rambler to the roof of our car and gone through a drive-through carwash without water it would not have sufficed. Even after ignoring it he immediately started hurling himself on my messenger bag that I left by the door in a final bid to get us to take him hooommeeeeee.

A week later we got this cool puppy? idk
posted by colossal at 6:14 PM on July 24, 2019 [12 favorites]

For example: My dilute tortie has an extremely loud meow she uses when she’s intensely enjoying being petted/scratched. It’s a sound that, out of most cats, would mean “I am extremely annoyed.” Out of her, it means “YES YES OH GOD YES.”

Oh my god, my tortie does this too! The problem is that it’s the same meow she used when she’s out of food, wants fresh water, or just wants her dumb humans to get out of bed. So I’m always startled, because I instinctively think something is wrong. However, it is thankfully different from her “stop doing that” meow, so at least it’s not confusing in that way.
posted by brook horse at 6:17 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

A couple of other lovely behaviors from Pumpkin: if you walk by her while she on the edge of the bed and she wants attention, she will reach out and swat at you, asking you to stop and worship her. She sleeps on the bed with me and sometimes in the morning she will come over to my outstretched arm, place her paw on it and rest her head on her paw. Of course, this means I am trapped until she is finished.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:23 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Allan Armadale, the dominant cat in my household, loooooves strangers and will immediately run over to them, beg for attention, flop directly in front of them if they're sitting at a table, etc. But he's also the pickiest cat when it comes to being petted (yay for head scritches; OK with back; will snap at you really fast if you touch his sides for too long), which is not the best personality combination...
posted by thomas j wise at 6:28 PM on July 24, 2019

My cat has a particular mrow-row she uses to tell me to please follow her to what she wants. Every day at dinner time, she takes me to the closet where I keep her wand toys, for pre-dinner hunting. Sometimes we go to one of her scratch pads (which means she wants catnip sprinkled on it), but during the Bay Area "heat wave" (about 90 degrees) this summer, she led me to her brush, which was pretty slick.

When I finally figured out this communication pattern, I simultaneously felt like a genius and an idiot, because it took me almost a year to understand.

I also talk to her/myself a fair bit and have meowing exchanges, but for extra credit, sometimes I sing-narrate what's going on around the house. She does the retaliatory grooming that aubilenon mentioned, usually when I'm checking if her nails need a trim. She does seem to have at least two modes for grooming me; during cuddle time, she will "clean" my hands and arms much more gently. She is super affectionate, but never climbs into my lap without meat tube bribes. But sometimes if I pick her up and put her in my lap, she'll sink into it and make biscuits for a long while.
posted by ktkt at 7:10 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also, your cat's mileage may vary with age. Our cat never sat still in a lap before he turned fourteen. Now he loves lap-sitting. Also cat-flipping. (You throw the cat in the air into a backward somersault so they land on their feet. Both my cats have loved it over the last thirty-odd years. It sounds cruel, but they want to do it again. They purr. I assumed my prior cat had to be trained into it as a kitten, but I started it with my current cat at age ten and he loves it, too.)
posted by kozad at 7:44 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

The cat I'm catsitting for and I have fallen in love, and she loves to cuddle, talk, purr, knead. Once she did hiss at me early on when I turned the light on in a dark room too quickly for her liking, I suppose.

The real kicker (or should I say... licker) is that she jumps onto the bed when I am dead asleep, walks up really close to my face as if to check that I'm breathing, and begins to lick my arms from top to bottom. Nearly every night. Once, like 7x in one night.

We have a thing.
posted by erattacorrige at 8:28 PM on July 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

All of you have really cute cat stories but can anyone please explain to me why my cat always poops in front of me when I’m brushing my teeth? She also pees, um, alongside me. Like she’ll wait to pee until I pee then she joins me in unison tinkling.

She also LOVES armpit scratches. She rolls on her back and sticks her arms out as far as they will go and demands I scratch her pits. Amanda is so weird.
posted by weed donkey at 10:10 PM on July 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

We get along great with our feline housemates: body language, vocal sounds, touching. No problems there. However, I did have the bright idea of downloading some mp3s of cat vocal sounds. I put them on my audio player and hooked it up to a little speaker.
Some of the sounds were distress sounds as it turns out. Their reaction was intense. One fake-bit me on the knee. They were determined to find these mysterious invader cats at any cost.

Not going to repeat that experiment, but I wish I had gotten a video of it. Pretty wild!
posted by metagnathous at 10:16 PM on July 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh yes. My cat can chill out with his “I want a treat” meow, it is very loud and whiny and come on, I know exactly what he wants because he’s standing right in front of where I keep the treats and looking from me to them and back again. He also lays on his back with his paws up and stretches out very long, and stares at me very hard until I scratch his belly.

His favorite game lately is some kind of tag/hide and go seek combo; I can tell he wants to play when I take a step and he zooms across the house. It’s cutest when he runs into my bedroom, and then 2 seconds later i see his head poking out from the door, so I need to run at him again and he runs out past me to the other side of the house. Repeat. If I stop before he’s done he’ll run up to me and gently jump on my leg, then run away really fast. When i lunge at him he jumps back with an arched back and looks terrified, but then comes right back at me. It’s like his version of a scary movie, I guess. When he’s actually freaking out (like with the vacuum cleaner) he makes himself scarce.

He also will come up and tap my leg with his claws if I’m on the couch on my computer or phone and he thinks I shouldn’t be for some reason. I’m still never sure what exactly he wants aside from my putting the screen down, he ducks away from petting and ignores any toys. I guess he just knows when I need a break.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:46 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

I discovered that our Maine Coon loves what I've come to call head-polishing: I hold my hand flat, palm down, and rub his head with short side to side strokes between his ears, as fast as I can. He purrs and blinks lovingly. 30 seconds is about as long as my arm can do it without pausing. (Sorry, I keep forgetting to take a video.)

No idea why it ever occurred to me to try this in the first place. Maybe he was beaming psychic requests into my brain. I told my sweetie during the first few head-polishing weeks, before it became routine, "I keep expecting him to haul off and give me a bite warning," but he never did. At most he moves his head half an inch and gives it a shake. Then he puts his head back for another go-round.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:47 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

As i was reading this thread, Baby Goat comes and sits by my feet and cries and cries until I spin around and say Whatcha want? He continues to wail until I follow him to the bed whereupon he jumps up, flops over on his back and wiggles his legs to have his tummy rubbed. I pet and rub him and squeeze him and kiss his head when he stretches his head up to me, then we head butt and I coo to him and pet and rub that tum.

After a long time, I get tired and stop and he rolls a little and wiggles his paws and gives me some coy side eye. So I pet him some more. Eventually I have other things to do and when I go back to my computer he comes and starts crying. I tell him that's all for now and he reads my body language and knows pet time is over for now. He turns slowly and goes to sit on his current favorite spot.

He waits 5 minutes and comes back and cries... I have to go pet my cat, see ya later.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:24 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Once she did hiss at me early on when I turned the light on in a dark room too quickly for her liking, I suppose.

posted by en forme de poire at 11:25 PM on July 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

I talk to cats. My current roommate's cat will meow at me in hello if it's morning or if I've been away for a few days. There's usually a couple of meows back and forth of "good morning" and then she'll either wander off or demand scritches. Her food meow is totally different, because she'll walk over, sit right next to me, mew plaintively just once and reach up to put her paw on my leg.

Other than that we don't have to talk much.

I've also had cats that could have full on conversations. "Where have you been all day? I'm so bored. Yes, of course I missed you! Feed me. no, pet me first, then feed me." But sometimes it was more conversational and just small talk.

And yeah, the cat petting litmus test for kind people or partners is a good one. I can't even remember how many times I've met someone new and they warmed up to me after their pets did, especially cats. "Well, they really like you." is something I always like to hear.

I'm also one of those people that will pet supposedly unpettable cats, especially grumpy cats. More than once I've been left alone with someone's grumpy cat and my hosts or friends will come back to find the cat purring in my lap or getting full on relaxed belly rubs and they're like "OMG that cat hasn't let anyone do that in years! The last person who did that went to the ER to get stitches!"
posted by loquacious at 11:41 PM on July 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

God why did you tell me that story about Rambler, now I'm so concerned about him

posted by suburbanbeatnik at 11:43 PM on July 24, 2019 [16 favorites]

This seems relevant...

Via Reddit: Leopard Absolutely Loves Getting Scritches

(Make sure to enable sound!)
posted by darkstar at 1:41 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

We acquired a couple of ragdoll kittens recently. At 4 months, they are happy to undergo the sort of handling that would be anathema to other cats I've known. Does a small child that they have never met before want to scoop them up awkwardly and cuddle them upside down? That would be absolutely fine! There is a theory that that this docile tendency arose because of a genetic mutation (the gloriously bats Ann Baker, who developed the breed originally, claimed their behaviour arose because they were descended from aliens).

The breed seems to have suppressed the kind of naturally diffident behaviour that is present in a wild cat. That makes them very endearing as pets - but their friendliness costs them some ways. Ragdolls are one of the shorter lived breed types, and I can't help feel that their ability to be so docile and trusting must harm them on some occasions.
posted by rongorongo at 2:58 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend's cat, Boots, is one of those who is ridiculously docile and will aggressively needy and friendly. He's able to pick her up and play the cat accordion by stretching her out like you sometimes see in cat shows. He can also put her around his neck and pretend she's a fur stole. This is also a cat who will lay in cat potato pose and love belly rubs.

This is her natural state when either one of us is home: cat in lap, cat on someone.

Being part Siamese, she talks. All. The. Time. (unless she's on you and happily purring away). She's got a yowl for, "You're home! Now give me attention!" She also has the saddest mewling she makes right before she throws up (and gives us enough time to find a towel to place under her for easy clean up). She gives a really sweet little chirp when you start petting her, especially if she's sleepy and starts to nod off. She also drives my boyfriend and me nuts if he doesn't give her her wet food exactly at 5:30 every day with incessant meowing, especially if someone is in the kitchen. She will sit at the fridge and yowl until someone takes out her food.

I never thought I liked cats that much until Boots. She's probably the most dog like cat I've ever met. She's also the first cat I've been around long enough that my body has gotten over being allergic to her!
posted by astapasta24 at 4:02 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Obligatory: How to Pet a Kitty
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:05 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Cats don't meow to each other, except between kittens and their mothers. It stands to reason that when a cat is meowing at you it's saying "mom." Mom. Moooom. moOooOm. There is this thing I want/need from you and you must figure it out.

They vocalise, but they don't meow. Meowing is a request for attention, and for adult cats, reserved for human servitors.

If several cats live together, you sometimes hear them communicating in short vowel sounds; a clipped “a-” here and there. Whether it's universal or whether every set of cats evolves its own signalling code is uncertain.
posted by acb at 4:23 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

My bff's cat tollerates me. He will allow me to per him and pick him up, with a resigned espression.
But, on the few occasions i actually cat sit him for the weekend, he will come to me wanting food and play and petting, for the only reason i am the only human around.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 4:47 AM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Human interaction is something they have to learn to enjoy.

I know how they feel, some days.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:23 AM on July 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

My cat did not like the pets when she first came to me but now she wants so much love that I have to scritch her through the shower curtain liner (she likes to sit on the edge of the tub while I'm showering) so she doesn't cry.

I ask about her day when I get home and usually she'll meow a little...I think she's humouring me.

[Entirely agree with the good at petting cats/good in the sack thing...barring allergies of course...to the former.]
posted by wellred at 5:34 AM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Jess, my tiny mustachio'd tuxie wants nothing more than to Be In A Lap (even now, in this UK heatwave, although she grudgingly admits defeat and goes and lies in front of the fan after a few minutes), regardless of whether you are using your lap or not and be fussed. She also likes to sleep wedged up next to you in an armpit or under your chin, although less so at the moment.

Her mother, Pepper, tolerates a head-scritch and a grooming session but as soon as you look like you're going to bed, she is madly dancing about on the bed, grunt-chirping until you get in, at which point, she wants base of the tail scratches and will basically collapse side wise onto you to really enjoy it. I really must try get video at some point.

If you take your hand away, you get head-bumps, complaining and nudging. And if you happen to stir in the night, oh boy! The demands start again. I have got very good at somnambulist buttscratches now. Her idea of absolute bliss is if both of us are in bed because then she can have head-scritch and buttscratches at the same time.

I sing songs at them ("Kitty dinner, woo woo!" in a sort of faux 80s metal style right now; cats feel I shouldn't quit my day job) and rhetorically ask questions (are you the tiniest little monster? are you?) and meow back at them and they definitely chatter to me about their day.
posted by halcyonday at 6:07 AM on July 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

And then, of course, there are the cats who love to be spanked.

We don't kinkshame in this house.
posted by delfin at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've had various people over the years call me a cat or a dog whisperer by virtue of the fact that I was not only able to pet their "grumpy" cat or nervous dog, but also to do so in a way that both parties enjoyed, and although I'd never admit this to them since whenever you have the chance to cultivate even a little bit of mystique you fucking take it, it really is just a process of simply listening to them and establishing trust. I've always been a little surprised that this is so unintuitive to some people.
Very much this, too.

I had an inside track on it, though, because my dad as a small animal vet, and I grew up partly in his clinic. I joke that as a result, I inherited the Kindly Veterinarian Vibe, and that animals sense it. It's only about halfway a joke, though -- I really did learn how to approach animals, and make them calm, and not agitate them, by being with dad and his patients.

But it's also not rocket science. As has been said over and over here, they'll tell you what they want. You just have to listen.

I love that this thread has become "things our cats do," so I shall contribute.

We have two cats. We got two 10 years ago (whoa; just did that math) after the untimely death of my old girl Bob, who was a mere child of 18. (Yes, I am unreasonable about this.) Two seemed wise, for emotional firewalling reasons, and also because when we visited the rescue org these two responded VERY VERY WELL to both of us.

I mean, they chose us, flat out. One is MINE, and one is my wife's. Or, at least, I belong to one of them, and my wife to the other.

My cat -- Wiggins-- is almost puppy software on cat hardware. She follows me around, is very needy, wants almost constant proximity and affection, and is very very vocal (there's a whole vocabulary of meows). She appears to like it if we talk to her, so we do; I think she understands that noises are how the big weird cats communicate, or interact, and so she participates as best she can. Seems like something to encourage.

I work at home, and she spends most of the day either in my lap or in a cat bed under my desk (she's there now, making little kitty snores). She almost always wants us to touch her, somehow, and if not that she wants us all to be in the same room, and will yell to make this desire known.

She's also prone to yelling at night, but we think this is because she hears something outside we don't, and it disturbs her. The yelling can generally be quelled by picking her up and putting her between us in the bed, whereupon purring starts immediately and she'll go back to sleep. (This happens more often in temperate months, when the lack of A/C white noise and open windows mean we can hear more neighborhood sounds, or if a weather system is rolling through.)

Wiggins has a preferred petting pattern I've never seen before, which is that she really wants to put her whole head in your hand. Ideally, you present your palm to her face, and she bows her head and pushes and your thumb and pinky scratch the ears while she pushes against your hand, occasionally pulling back to lick and rub your palm. She will pull your wrist to her with her front paws for the duration. If we are sitting down, she will do this until she falls asleep sometimes. It's her FAVORITE.

The other cat, Saracen (named for a fictional quarterback) is more traditionally cat-like. She likes me okay, but my wife HUNG THE MOON. She rarely ventures down here to my office during the day unless it gets towards five and she's decided it's time for Mrs to come home, at which point she reads me the riot act. (She wasn't always vocal, but living with Mis Meows-a-Lot influenced her.) She will almost always accept affection from either of us, but it's a different game if she's feeling needy -- lots of raspy meows, lots of headbutting and rubbing and kneading, and unfeasibly loud purrs.

She also has a game she plays only with me, which amuses us. The cats have a simple pedestal condo in the living room -- just a platform on a pole, basically. They both like it, but Saracen REALLY loves it. Often, she'll come to me, get my attention, and then lead me to it, whereupon she jumps into it and does a flip and my job is to pet her IN THE CONDO. This is apparently the bee's knees, but she only ever leads me there, not the Mrs, and the other cat never does it either.

Saracen is definitely smarter, or at least more perceptive. She's figured out some patterns that escape Wiggins, like when certain food items may appear, and what shape container from the Big Silver Box is likely to contain ice cream. (Woe betide him who pulls out a soup container that's close in size and shape to a Ben & Jerry's carton.) In the last year or so, she's started getting super affectionate if Mrs an I are snuggling on the couch -- like, has to come and purr and knead and eventually settle in on one or both of us -- which is kind of adorable. I SNUGGLE TOO!

Both of them accept being picked up, and sometimes are even very pleased by it, but obviously each has preferences about how you hold them, and what happens when being held. Both accept having their claws trimmed, and though there's squirming and yelling they let it happen. Neither have ever expressed displeasure with claws or bites, but if you ignore signals long enough you'll get a clawless swat, as my nephew discovered.

As they've gotten older they've become less social with strangers. Wiggins, who used to be the belle of the ball, now mostly just hides if there are strangers in the house. Saracen comes to watch, and clearly has a very very good understanding of how fast she is, and how fast you aren't, and what sort of radius of safety this implies.

All that said, both seem to understand that my brother and mother are Family. This is weird to us because both live 500 miles away, and neither come to stay very often at all -- maybe once or twice a year -- so I wouldn't expect them to remember or trust these strangers. And yet they do. I assume there's either some family scent, or they're taking cues from our body language and we act somehow differently with them than we do with other trusted parties who are around far more often. Kind of cool, really.
posted by uberchet at 7:16 AM on July 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

My dear departed Steve wanted to be petted and cuddled and picked up 24/7. She even liked having her tummy kissed. She spent a lot of time riding around on my shoulder; she'd jump up therefrom the floor, turn to face forward, and then sloooowly let each paw dangle down one at a time until she was draped like a stole. I'm pretty sure she fell asleep in that position more than once. And she had to sit up on top of the glass doors whenever I took a shower.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:31 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

re: talking to animals, note that what you say isn't important, but tone and the speed at which you say it is. Patricia McConnell has a number of interesting studies on this point, but basically they boil down to: regardless of species, several repeated sharp staccato sounds tend to inspire change or movement, and slooooow drawn out sounds tend to relax or slow down an animal. The words don't matter, but how you say them does.

That said, my dog is so in tune with my body language that a few years back when my spouse moved in and tried to ask her to do basic things, we found out that she was totally ignoring vocal cues in favor of paying attention to the specifics of my body language. These were as subtle as "if you lean back on one foot, you're actually asking for me to bow on cue, not sit, right?" Either I'm remarkably consistent or she's remarkably perceptive, or honestly probably a combination of both. She makes me look really, really good as a dog trainer.

As for my cats, their desire for contact really is pretty clear: I have one cat who really wants high-intensity touching and petting but overwhelms herself and has to pause to self regulate; one who just wants to be touching you at all times without pause (and is currently passed out in my arms as I'm typing); and one who wants to be near you but only sometimes petted, and he'll let you know when he wants that. It's not hard at all. It's just... paying attention to them and what they're saying. I learned cat language much later in life than I did dogs, but the basic principles of looking for tension, stiffness, the choices an animal makes about where to move, and letting animals approach you and pace their interactions with you all hold true.
posted by sciatrix at 7:58 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh! I forgot to mention I discovered a new communication between me and my cat a few months ago. She will always look at you if you say her name, but she only occasionally comes when called. I have no idea how I discovered this, but going "awoo woo woooooo" a few times works 100% of the time. She can be DEAD comfortable in my partner's lap, but after a few awoo woo's she will scramble up and come over to me. I initially thought it was because it sounded like a distress sound, but she doesn't do any of the comforting things she usually does when I'm distressed? And often she'll just come and sit in front of me, not try and sniff or lick me like she's worried about me. This is even if I'm directly in her line of sight the whole time, so it's not like she thinks something's wrong but upon seeing me realizes I'm fine. I have never had this not work. I reserve the power mostly for getting her out of my partner's lap when we need to leave.

Awoo woo woo.
posted by brook horse at 8:12 AM on July 25, 2019 [19 favorites]

She is, to date, the only cat I've known who signaled vocally, rather than physically, when they were getting tired of petting. So many cats would have gone straight to biting, or batting my hand, or running away. But this one used her voice, and luckily I guessed what she meant.

The owners talk to the cat a lot so the cat talks back. My cat(s) talk to me all the time.

Oh! I forgot to mention I discovered a new communication between me and my cat a few months ago. She will always look at you if you say her name, but she only occasionally comes when called. I have no idea how I discovered this, but going "awoo woo woooooo" a few times works 100% of the time. She can be DEAD comfortable in my partner's lap, but after a few awoo woo's she will scramble up and come over to me.

Research has shown that cats DO know their name. And they understand when you are happy with them by the sound of your voice. What they don't get is when you're upset. At all. Not a bit. Your cat loves you and wants those awoo woo's! They're naturally playful and curious after all. (She loves you most but you probably knew that.)

I miss my cuddle cat so much. I've never seen a bigger lap cat. Instantly in my lap, instantly "asleep" or pretending but also still purring and slightly cracking his eyes open to look at me. RIP Torrin.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:44 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm probably guilty of placing too much importance upon and being judgmental of other people on the basis of their interaction with dogs and cats and other animals. Maybe particularly so with a person when it's across several different pets/animals, both familiar and strange.

Obviously there are very defensible inferences one can make, but I feel like I may give them too much weight.

I'm usually a bit put-off and annoyed with people who just can't suss out how to behave with a pet and encourage it to be at ease. It's just ... paying attention to their body language, how they react? Learning not to do that thing they obviously don't like? Some people seem willfully obtuse. Some people insist on treating cats like a dog, or even their own particular dog, disregarding differences in species, personalities, and idiosyncrasies.

It's ... just really hard for me not to generalize these things to what I think it implies about how much these people pay attention to other people. Do they just obstinately and continually expect the pet to accept them purely on their own terms and claim it's some deficiency on the pet's part if that doesn't work out? That's a warning sign, I think.

That said, over the course of my life I've improved quite a bit in how much I pay attention to what pets generally and individually are telling me and responding in a productive fashion. That parallels my relationships with other people.

I've numerous times had people notice and comment later repeatedly about how, for example, an injured pet responded positively to my soothing. I've always been "good" with pets, children, and people in distress and it's not quite a smug conceit (though I admit sometimes it is), but rather something intensely and privately validating. As if it's a test I pass that reassures me, to myself, that I'm trustworthy. It does sometime read that way to other people, as well, which is nice; but it has a powerful emotional significance to my self-image in isolation.

More seriously and painfully, a few days before my mother's husband died last year of cancer, he was in great suffering. On one very traumatic occasion, he became increasingly agitated and suspicious of my mom, who he adored and is a retired RN. They were both very stressed and caught in an escalating adversarial cycle until he pointedly asked for me ... and my mom was surprised at my gentle, empathic, and patient de-escalating care of him. She was a bit stunned, though she knows me as well as anyone. (I'm well aware the larger portion of this interaction had very little to do with me at all.) I am also deeply touched and reassured when children respond positively to me and quickly trust me.

In all these things the commonality is that it's about focusing on what the other is telling you in their own metaphorical language -- not insisting you will only pay attention on your terms and not theirs.

There's some issues I clearly have that I project outward and place undue importance around (ironically in contradiction to the general priciple I just elucidated), but the core of much of this is defensible and sound. And rarely is this more true about cats, where it's paramount to pay attention to and respond appropriately to all the various things they signal to us.

Despite a lifelong affinity with animals, I know that when I adopted my first cat as a young adult, I was very obstinate about insisting that I ought to be able to interact with her as I had my childhood dog. And this was a poorly socialized shelter murder-cat for whom responding to her on her own terms was essential. It took me a long time to learn this, despite but also crucially because she was difficult. I learned a lot from her and I sincerely believe in some ways I became a better person for my many years with her.

I'm with my present cat 24/7 and we vocally converse all day, understand each other well, and are rarely far apart. But with her I've put many of the lessons I learned from my murder-cat (love that expression) to good use, right from the start.

With all this in mind, despite my self-serving conceit, the difficult truth of the matter is that the complexity of applying these kinds of skills and insights with other people seems to vary inversely with how much is at stake in the relationship, long term.

It seems very revealing to me that I and many (or most?) others display in our close human relationships a lot more obtuseness -- sometimes with increasing intransigence -- over the course of our relationships.

Too often, it seems, we forget to pay attention and listen and, instead, just play out these emotionally charged habitual scripts running autonomously in our own heads.

Indeed, in some important respects, I think it's not uncommon for people who are "good" with animals to end up not being so functional in their close relationships -- because those are so much more fraught and complex and emotionally risky. In relative terms, pets are simple. And yet ... many people don't or won't pay attention and learn to accommodate their pets, either.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:49 AM on July 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

darkstar, I wrote

Leopard leopard in a cage
Purring on a reddit page
Cuddling is the only cause
Keeping hands safe from those claws

and then I read the reddit comments-- the leopard is a rescue who'd been declawed by a previous owner.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:21 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

My kitty alternates between PETS NOW YES MORE and "you may pet me ONLY TWICE and then it's biting time." I am still learning all his signals on that. Generally petting is good when I first get home, after that it's playtime and if I try to pet, he'll take it as a play attack.

He also fetches his toy if I throw it, so I can throw it again.

He does not like me out of his sight, whether bathroom or otherwise. Whatever I'm doing, he needs to supervise.
posted by emjaybee at 9:37 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

delfin, that's not a cat that likes to be spanked, that's a cat who likes to be thumped.

Which reminds me, some cats like a moderate amount of pressure, like a pound or two-- getting into the muscles instead of just the surface. I will experiment-- carefully-- with the local cat.

The local cat is very clear about being picked up-- he puts his front paws on my legs. He generally wants to be held vertically with his forelegs hugging my neck for a little bit and then horizontally and facing left. Facing left is non-negotiable.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

I did some armchair vocalization analysis this morning and apparently I meow less at this particular cat then I thought. I mainly make that soft "tutting" noise - also often heard by someone reassuring a horse - instead of meowing first.

The cat responds with a "Mrrrt?" and will run over for scritches and to say hello. She often does a variation of this "mrrrt!" noises that's more like "mrrrr-rrrt!?" if I scoop her up that sounds/feels exactly like "whoah, shit! careful! oh, ok, belly rubs!"

We have had small chats that were a dozen exchanges back and forth and involved questions and statements.

I have also heard this particular cat do the pitifully small, plaintive mew that means "Oh fuck I think I'm going to be sick!" right before she does exactly that and yacks up something foul. More than a few times it has been enough of a warning so I can move said cat before she gets sick somewhere I would rather she did not, like my bed.

Which is good, because more often than not she's not yacking up a simple hair ball, it's usually something horrendously foul like mouse parts and guts.
posted by loquacious at 9:41 AM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Research has shown that cats DO know their name.

Both my cats know their name. They also each know the name of the other cat. If I'm petting one, but talk about the other cat, she'll get mad.

We also frequently refer to them by their coloration, and I suspect they've learned those too.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

When they figure out something about the household that you don't mean for them to learn, it's always fun.

I mentioned something above about Saracen and ice cream. Neither of ours really like human food generally, and Wiggins outright ignores it, but Saracen is very curious about it. She doesn't want it, but she might want to sniff it. Unless it's chicken, or ice cream.

Chicken we gave her (small pieces! don't judge!), but she found ice cream on her own by licking the dregs in a bowl we'd finished while watching a movie years ago. And she found that tiny amount so delicious that she's put no small amount of her feline cognition into the Ice Cream Acquisition Problem.

She learned that ice cream happens at a particular time of day, after we have eaten dinner. She knows the pattern. If, a while after we've finished dinner, I get up from the couch and go towards the kitchen, it *might* be ice cream time. Better to follow the Big Weird Cat into the kitchen, and let him know you'd also like some, no?

Regardless of time or day, though, any small cylinder produced from the fridge is potentially ice cream if it's approximately the size and shape of a Talenti container. Scream louder.

Recently, we discovered that she's gone beyond this pattern-matching, though. She's learned what the word "ice cream" means when Mrs or I say it to each other -- ie, not speaking to her. If she hears it, she'll run to the kitchen on spec.

It's bananas.

What's tragic, though, is that for her the only acceptable ice cream is Talenti vanilla gelato. No other flavor will do. She is very disappointed in you if you let her sniff the spoon, and it's chocolate.

I also mentioned Bob, my cat who died in 2009. Bob for some reason always HATED HATED HATED knocks at the door. Beloved friends could just walk right into the house, and that was just fine, but holy Christ don't knock on the door. She'd hear that and slink away up the stairs making tiny menacing growl noises, only to re-emerge a few minutes later if it turned out the interloper was someone she liked.

This surfaced later, when I started working from home, in an amusing way. I get lots of things delivered. UPS knocks on the door, obviously. After working from home for a while, I noticed Bob was growling and running away BEFORE the door knocked. If I went to open the door when she ran away, I'd usually catch the driver as they were about to knock, and they'd look around for the camera. It took longer than it should've for me to figure it out, but apparently she could hear the trucks (humans can't from my office, but she could). Because trucks bring knockers, she was just cutting to the chase and achieving safety ahead of time.
posted by uberchet at 12:39 PM on July 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

And then, of course, there are the cats who love to be spanked.

We don't kinkshame in this house.

When you know before clicking that there is a perfect 50-50 chance that it'll either be that exact video, or this one.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:53 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

acceptable cat-petting technique
posted by um at 5:04 PM on July 25, 2019

I've checked. The local cat likes a good bit of pressure. Even on the sides of his neck. Even, though I haven't applied that much pressure, on his skull.

He has no tolerance for tapping, even light tapping.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:27 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

My cat loves to be brushed. While I'm brushing her, at first she sticks her butt up in the air, or she climbs up on my leg and starts forcefully bopping my chin with her face. Eventually, she becomes so incredibly happy that she compulsively rubs her head against whatever happens to be in front of her - usually either my other hand, a cat toy, or this thing - presumably so she can feel like she's being brushed from all directions.
posted by bananana at 6:09 PM on July 25, 2019

If it's a certain one of my sister's cats, you squish it as hard as possible without killing it. If it could fit through an old-school laundry press, it would do so willingly and happily.
posted by dazed_one at 11:41 AM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Squish That Cat, in case you haven't seen it already.
posted by harriet vane at 1:01 AM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

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