Wednesday 5 May 2021

Exercise self-discipline when interacting with your cat

I do not want to sound like a sergeant major at an army barracks and preach (not my style) but there is no doubt in my mind that cat owners need to exercise self-discipline when interacting with their cat. I'll explain what I mean. I've said it countless times before but we should respect our cat companions as a cat but love them as a family member and give them equal rights to other family members.

The trouble is that those two goals can overlap and merge and sometimes we forget that we are interacting with a barely-domesticated cat rather than a fully domesticated child (although a lot of children are feral these days!). So sometimes we overstep the mark in what we are allowed to do with our cat. And this can cause an instinctive reaction by the cat which is unhelpful to the relationship. Your cat might just nick your hand with their claw, for example. 

We need to develop good habits in interacting with our cats. Photo: Pixabay.

This may annoy you because it happens at a time when you are delivering love and being tender towards your cat. The response by your cat is negative and you instinctively, in return, blame your cat for being stupid. Of course, you then reflect on it and realise that you are wrong. You overstepped the mark. You lacked self-discipline in that moment.

It happened to me about an hour ago. I got up from my bed and my cat was at my feet. When I get up I always give him a kiss and then I go to the shops to buy the newspaper and some provisions. This time I lent over a bit too forcefully to kiss him and in doing so he felt a bit smothered. When a cat feels smothered they react by slapping and/or pulling away. He pulled away slightly and I realised that there was a potential danger to get a nick from a claw so I pulled away as well. I backed off and left him alone. I recognised the signals in his behavior.

So, nothing happened that was untoward but I realised that, in that moment, I went a little bit too far and forgot that he was not my son but a domestic cat with a lot of the wild inside him. If I had shown a little bit more self-discipline it would not have happened.

I think that all cat owners must constantly remind themselves that although they love their cat as a child and a family member they must interact with them on their terms. They dictate the terms of the relationship or at least the limits of it. And you learn these limits. The obvious way is by trial and error, and if you have time and the inclination, also by studying cat behaviour and understanding what motivates them and the things that they enjoy. What improves a cat's mojo in the words of Jackson Galaxy.

Other examples of where a lack of self-discipline can lead to an unwanted reaction from your cat are interactions such as:

  • Petting your cat too much to the point where they don't like it any more and it becomes intrusive. This will lead to a negative, defensive reaction sometimes;
  • Petting your cat in the wrong places such as rubbing her stomach too much or fiddling around with their hind legs. Once again this will lead to a defensive and slightly aggressive reaction and/or a play reaction which can be too fierce because one's hand is involved and it gets scratched;
  • Holding your cat is if you are holding a baby in your arms by cradling her. This is fine for a baby but it can make a cat feel insecure and it will probably be uncomfortable for them;
  • Picking up your cat as if picking up a baby. There is a way to pick up a cat;
  • The desire to punish your cat or shout at your cat may occur sometimes because he or she may irritate you for whatever reason. I hope that you know now that punishing a cat does not work in terms of changing behaviour but it does work in terms of destroying the relationship. It's a complete no-no. You have to find some other method if you want to redirect your cat to behave differently. Punishing is an example of a lack of self-discipline in a human. Try the act of God technique rather than punishment;
  • Because you can't tell your cat not to come into the bedroom at night, you might lock them out all night in the same way that you would expect perhaps a child to stay out of the bedroom. However, a domestic cat will love your bedroom because it smells of you very strongly. They want to be there, they want to be on your bed where it is warm and smelly. To deny them this pleasure is, in my opinion, wrong. A lot of people do lock their cats out because they want to get a good night sleep. A compromise would be to provide your cat with their own little bed set up in the same room. That may work.
These are just examples, there are many more which occur during day-to-day interactions. Expect a reaction from your cat companion in line with their wild cat traits and not a reaction along the lines of a child. That sounds absurd but sometimes people can drift into the desire to receive a child-like reaction because they deeply relate to their cat as a family member. I'm referring to expectation-management, which is also an integral part of good cat caretaking.

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