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3 Things Too Many People Don't Understand About Cats

1. You must respect the tummy.

Key points

  • Some common cat behaviors are often misunderstood, but seeing things from the cat’s perspective can help explain these behaviors.
  • Most cats don’t like to be petted on the stomach or picked up and held.
  • Cats have a need to scratch, so owners have to provide good scratching posts.
Krysten Merriman/Pexels
Source: Krysten Merriman/Pexels

A lot of people misunderstand cats—even people who love them. In my new book, Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy, I delve into what science tells us about cats and how we can use it to help give them even happier lives. Here are three common misconceptions that people often ask me about. Understanding these ideas will help you to be a better cat person—as well as help you not annoy your cat.

Cats don’t want to be petted on the tummy

Many people, especially if they are already dog people, think that if a cat rolls over and shows their tummy, they want to be petted. Then they are surprised when the cat scratches, bites, or runs away.

Cats’ tummies are very sensitive. (If you think about it, yours probably is too). Most cats do not like to be petted on the tummy.

When a cat is feeling contented and relaxed, they will often lie on their side with their belly showing. It’s not an invitation to touch it—it’s a sign that they are feeling safe.

And sometimes in an interaction with you, a cat will roll over on their side and show their tummy. Again, it’s not an invitation—the cat is feeling safe and relaxed with you.

If you reach out and touch their belly, it will ruin the mood.

Every cat is an individual and that means that some cats will let certain people pet them on the tummy. But most cats prefer to be petted around the face and head.

Cats don’t like to be cuddled

Many people also like to pick their cat up and cuddle them, perhaps even holding them like a baby. And again they may be surprised when the cat wriggles, squirms, digs their claws in, and escapes as soon as they can.

Being cuddled is very intense and the cat does not have the choice to get away (at least, not without all that squirming, wriggling, and clawing to make it happen).

It’s always best to give cats a choice when petting them. If a cat does not want to be petted (or petted anymore), there is a risk they will bite or scratch.

Instead of scooping the cat up, try getting down to the cat’s level and seeing if they will come to you. If you let things be on the cat’s terms, you’ll get along much better.

If you’re petting them and you’re not sure if they want you to continue, you can try a consent test.

You can’t expect cats not to scratch

Another common question that I get is whether you can train a cat not to scratch the furniture.

The short answer is no, but you can train them to scratch their scratching post instead.

The reason is that scratching is a natural behaviour for cats that serves several purposes including keeping their claws in good condition. So you can’t expect a cat not to scratch; they need to do it.

That means it’s up to you to provide suitable scratching posts for your cat. Unfortunately, many people provide posts that are too short or flimsy. Aim for something nice and tall and sturdy. You might also want to place it strategically close to surfaces they have been scratching instead. Some cats like to have a horizontal scratching surface too.

You can increase the likelihood of your cat using their scratching post by rewarding them (such as with a small treat) when they use it. That’s where training can come in.

If you’re a real cat person, you might already know these tips, but for many people, they still come as a surprise. Seeing things from the cat’s perspective can make a big difference, and understanding these three points will make cats a little easier to understand.

Facebook image: Magui RF/Shutterstock