Is there anything more rewarding than the hard-won affection of a cat? Sure, it feels great when one of our canine friends showers us with attention, but most dogs seem to like everybody. Doggy love is indiscriminate. When a cat likes you, it means something. It’s proof you did something right. But this begs the question: how to get a cat to like you?
We’ve all had cats flee from us when we just wanted to cuddle them. Why do they run from affection? How can one avoid offending the cat’s arcane sensibilities? What can one do to ingratiate themselves to these graceful and mysterious house pets? In this article, we hope to answer these questions and more. Let’s explore what the body of scientific literature has to say about how to get a cat to like you. By the end, you ought to have a fresh playbook for befriending felines.
The Nature of Cats
To understand the nature of the cat, one must understand the cat’s illustrious past. The Ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as divine. Prehistoric cats dined on our ancestors. So if you get the sense that a cat is looking down on you, remember that not too long ago (on an evolutionary timeline) we were cat’s worshippers, and before that, we were their food.
The modern cat may not remember being a pharaoh’s pet or king of the savanna, but this kingly attitude is in its blood. Try not to let this annoy you. You don’t have to treat them like royalty to get a cat to like you, but you’ll certainly make an enemy of the cat if you try to treat it like a peasant. At the same time, don’t be confused, the cat probably does look down on you. Research shows the reason that cats bring prey to the doorstep of their owners is not to present a type to tribute to their master, but rather to feed the human because cats never see us hunt for ourselves.
Cats are by no means monolithic in personality. Like dogs and people, personality traits vary widely between the individual members of the species. Each cat has a different set of likes and dislikes, and you would do well to observe these when attempting to buddy up to a feline. Nonetheless, when compared to other domestic animals, several themes emerge that define the general nature of cats.
Cats tend to be fastidious cleaners who dislike mussing up their fur or walking on icky surfaces. You’ve probably already noticed that some cats are much more outgoing than others, but in general, cats are more skittish than dogs. Cats are also much more spontaneous than dogs, meaning their actions can seem unmotivated or almost random at times. Although they don’t wine to indicate stress, cats do get anxious just like dogs. Unlike dogs, however, this stress is often due to the presence of humans rather than their absence. Minimizing the cat’s anxiety is crucial to getting it to like you.
When Cats Don't Like You
If befriending cats were a cakewalk, feline friendship wouldn’t be half as rewarding. But the reality is many cats are standoffish towards people they do not know.
It’s pretty easy to tell if a cat doesn’t like you. It may bristle when you try to pet it or even hiss at you, but for the most part, the cat will probably just vacate whatever room you enter. (Cats can be a bit passive-aggressive that way.)
The key here is to not aggravate the cat’s dislike any further. Cats can’t be wrestled into submission like dogs can, so if you’ve found yourself doing something that annoys the cat, it’s best to stop immediately. Watch for signs that the cat is having a bad time: arched back, darting eyes or staring at an exit, annoyed vocalizations, stiffness, twitching tail.
Don’t be confused by purring. While people tend to associate purring with cat-bliss, the reality is purring is a complex action with many possible meanings. Research suggests that purring plays a role in healing and recovery for cats as the cheetah is one of the few big cats which can purr and is the only big cat that needs to heal its ligaments after employing its characteristic bursts of speed. Due to this healing role, some cats purr to make themselves feel better when they’re frightened, nervous or overcoming an injury.
“But I’m great with dogs!” Many people get discouraged when interacting with cats because they don’t give the same feedback to attention that dogs do. Often these people are attempting to interact with a cat like it were a dog. Many dogs love jumpy, excitable attention, frenetic petting, and a showering of “good doggies,” but this same energy will turn cats off. In fact, research suggests that the more the cat can predict your actions, the more likely it is to show affection to you. In other words, if you need to know how to get a cat to like you: be zen.
How to Get a Cat to Like You
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for befriending a cat. However, feline behaviorists have been observing cats for a long time, and their body of literature can help give you a playbook for ingratiating yourself to these fuzzy creatures. What follows is advice gleaned from their recommendations on how to get a cat to like you.
Let the Cat Come to You
Both cats and people tend to like a given person better if they approach the person rather than the other way around. If you want a cat to approach you, try holding out the back of your hand towards the cat (but do not shove your hand in its face). Down-turned fingers make the cat less nervous about being grabbed and offering you smell to the cat is the first step in getting it familiar with you. Conversely, chasing a cat is a sure-fire way for it to hate you.
Be Small and Sly
Cats are excellent observers of body language. They are also much smaller creatures than humans. As a result, our big lumbering frames can make them nervous. When meeting a new feline, crouch down to make yourself less physically intimidating to the cat. Also be wary of eye contact. While considered polite in human society, looking at an unfamiliar cat directly in the eye can be interpreted as a form of aggression. It may seem like turning your attention away from the cat is a terrible way to get to know it, but cats are infamously curious. Play hard to get, and soon the cat will be checking you out on their own time.
Do What It Likes
Certain cats like to be held; others do not. Certain cats are fine with strangers petting them; others are not. Some prefer brushes; others prefer to be stroked by human fingers. Observation is key. A cat will generally rub up against you if it wants to be petted, but even this is not a guarantee. As a rule of thumb, most cats like being rubbed around the forehead, ears, neck, and cheeks. Start with these areas if you are unsure what the cat likes.
Bribe with Treats
Cats love treats. The more you can associate your presence with treats, the easier how to get a cat to like you. Researchers suggest the best way use treats with cats is to reinforce positive social interactions and to lure shy cats towards you. If you slip your furry friend a tasty morsel after it cuddles up in your lap, your cat will be much more likely to snuggle with you in the future. Alternatively, if you’re having trouble getting a cat to approach you, you can often break the ice by offering the shy kitty a treat.
Know When to Stop
If you’re lucky, you could find yourself playing with a cat. Usually, a cat will only open itself up to playing if it has reached a level of comfortability with you. Even if the cat does want to play, remember that playing hard to get works much better than getting up in the cat’s personal space. Never attempt to force a cat to stick with any particular game. It won’t work, and the cat will resent you, this is not how to get a cat to like you. Short play sessions tend to be best. Researchers recommend playing with wand toys around cats. These type of toys are great stimuli for cat-brains and don’t require too much movement from their big human playmate (which can scare off some cats).
Cats remain mysterious creatures. They live among us and sometimes deign to play with us, but they have to be treated with respect if you ever hope to befriend one. Although much is unknown in the realm of the feline, we hope these tips will give you a much better sense of how to get a cat to like you. Watch the cat’s body language and be mindful of your own. Make sure to compensate for your large size compared to the cat. Play on their terms and let them come to you. Follow these tips, and you will have a coterie of feline friends in no time.