5 cat pet peeves
You love your cat. We know you do. We love our cats, too.
But sometimes we do things that our cats can’t stand and we don’t even know it.
Worse, sometimes we do things with the express intention of pleasing our cats, and without knowing it, we’ve done something they absolutely despise.
Some less-than-subtle cats will be clear with you when you’ve crossed a kitty line. Others will politely tolerate whatever “rude” behavior you’ve just indulged in that you didn’t know you indulged in.
Here are five things that people who love their cats sometimes do, often with the best of misguided intentions:
1. Cats hate it when: you pet a cat's whole body
Humans are very tactile, social creatures who love to cuddle. Cats, on the other hand, are sensitive beings who may be very particular about where and how they are touched.
Have you ever reached out to pet a cat who seemed eager for attention, only to be bitten, hissed, or swiped at? You might be tempted to blame the cat for giving mixed messages or for being ornery or fickle. But you need to look at these kinds of cat-human interactions a little more deeply.
Our house cats are not that far removed from their wild ancestors. According to a study conducted by The Genome Institute at Washington University, cats are not like the other domesticated animals in our lives. “Unlike many other domesticated mammals bred for food, herding, hunting, or security most of the 30-40 cat breeds originated recently, within the past 150 y[ears].” And unlike with other animals, our breeding of cats has been focused on aesthetics – in other words, we have cared more about breeding our cats to look a certain way than behave a certain way.
What is the connection between petting a house cat and her wildness?
Wild cats are mostly solitary creatures. They communicate with scent because their intention is to avoid contact with other cats. Consequently, wild cats have not developed what we would consider to be good social skills. Because our house cats are, genetically speaking, so recently wild, many have inherited some of these anti-social traits.
Humans, conversely, are touchy, affectionate, social beings. We see a cute cat and instinctively we want to snuggle him. This may not delight our cats.
What makes some cats more open to cuddling?
Kittens go through what is called a “sensitive period” for socialization between two and seven weeks of age. If they are handled by people during this period in their development – preferably four or five different people – they grow up to be friendlier toward humans. People report experiencing closer bonds with cats who have been properly socialized during the sensitive period.
While all cats are individuals with individual preferences, and have experienced different kittenhoods that influence their tolerance and enjoyment of petting, they often have one thing in common: most cats dislike full-body petting, especially petting that extends to their bellies or tails.
As a general rule of thumb, most cats prefer petting around their facial glands: on the cheeks, under the chin, and at the base of the ears.
Whatever your cat’s preferences, let her control her interactions with you: let her initiate any physical contact, let her decide how long the contact will last, and pay close attention to her body language throughout.
2. Cats hate it when: you meow back at them
Dogs bark at other dogs. Birds chirp at other birds. Cats meow…at humans.
Cats generally don't meow at other cats. Cats have a rich language involving body language, scent, touch, and special vocalizations that they use to communicate with other cats. A cat that is feeling friendly toward another cat may hold his tail high and turn his ears forward. A cat that is feeling threatened may lick her lips and turn away. A cat may greet a friend with nose touches, but warn another cat away with growls and hisses. But cats rarely, if ever, meow at other cats.
Most cats save meowing to communicate exclusively with their people.
When they meow at humans it's because they want something and the thing they want is not a meow back. It’s important to learn to read your cat and respond in a way that enlarges the communication between you and your pet.
(Read, "Why do cats meow?" for more information.)
What are some of the things your cat may be trying to tell you?
Your cat is stressed
Your cat is hungry
Your cat needs help
Your cat needs company
Your cat does not want you to meow back
What your cat does not want is a meow back. Your cat is not looking to strike up a conversation. He’s not interested in your point of view. He does not enjoy a brisk tête-à-tête, or thrill to witty repartee. He wants food when he’s hungry and company when he’s bored and if meow is what it takes, that’s what he’ll give. It’s your job to understand him, and respond accordingly.
3. Cats hate it when: you peel an orange
Humans have 5 million olfactory receptors. Cats have up to 200 million. Scent is everything to cats, and cats will rely more readily on their noses for information than their eyes.
A cat’s nose is what makes her an efficient hunter. Cats can smell and then catch their prey before their victims may even become aware of their presence.
Cats can smell urine and feces left by other cats and know, based on scent alone, exactly which of their friends have been around the neighborhood, and possibly when. Scent will tell a cat whose territory they have inadvertently stepped into, what the social status of that cat is, and whether the cat, if she’s a female, is in heat.
Hypersensitivity to scent cuts two ways, though. Odors that barely register for us humans, or even smell pleasant, can be particularly offensive to cats.
One of the scents they absolutely despise is the entire category of citrus, including lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit.
This is information you can use to your advantage if you're looking for a potent cat deterrent. If you’re trying to keep your cat from using your large potted palm as a litter box, try a citrus spray.
4. Cats hate it when: you buy microfiber furniture
If you were to take your cat furniture shopping with you (don’t), your cat would have some well-formed opinions about which sofa to buy. Texture is very important to cats and they have distinct preferences when it comes to fabric.
Cats love a nubby surface they can dig their claws into. Open-weave fabrics, too, like linen, just beg to be scratched.
You may already know that cats dislike smooth, cold surfaces like plastic and aluminum foil. They can’t sharpen claws on something they can’t sink them into. (There’s always the offbeat cat who will happily curl up on a sheet of foil, though, so this is not a hard-and-fast rule.)
Weave-less fabrics like microfiber can be very smooth. They are not high on the list of fabrics your little feline interior designer would likely include in any living room she was decorating. These synthetic materials can be very tough and difficult to shred. But be choosy: cats are not above at least trying to shred microfiber and there are some cheap, thinner products on the market that might not stand up to a determined cat.
Even if your new microfiber sofa is not her new favorite scratching post, she’s probably OK with curling up on it for a nap, so be glad it’s also easy to clean. Most stains come out relatively easily, and cat hair can’t work its way into the smooth surface that this fabric presents.
5. Cats hate it when: you leave them alone too long
You may have gotten a cat instead of a dog because cats are "independent" right? Maybe someone told you that if you don’t have time for a dog you should get a cat instead. Maybe you believe that as long as you’ve left enough food and water out for your cat, he can be left alone for days. But cats are not the solitary creatures some think they are. They are social beings who form strong bonds with their humans. It's unethical to leave them alone too long.
The problem is that no one really knows how long is too long. There’s little to no research on the impact of alone time on cat health and welfare.
What we do know is that the idea that cats are solitary creatures is a myth. A 2007 study called the “Ainsworth Strange Situation Test” was designed to see whether cats were more attached to their owners than a stranger. As it turned out, cats behaved completely differently with their owners: they head bunted their owners, played with them, and felt comfortable exploring the room. They did none of these things with a stranger, instead spending more time sitting, alert, by the door.
We also know that cats seem to experience separation anxiety. Some exhibit stress behaviors such as “litter box fails,” excessive meowing, destructiveness, and excessive grooming when separated from their people. The idea that a cat can experience separation anxiety suggests that they feel a strong attachment to their owners.
(Read more about separation anxiety in cats here.)
So, how long is too long? Unfortunately, in the absence of research, no one really knows. We don’t know how long cats spend alone on average, and what factors mitigate alone time. Does having access to an outdoor space, for example, enable cats to tolerate more time alone? No one knows.
Cats are individuals, but most experts seem to agree that cats, unlike dogs, can be left alone during an 8-12-hour workday. Young kittens need more supervision. An unscientific survey of veterinary blogs and websites suggests that a responsible cat owner should never leave a cat – even one with ample food and water and a spotless litter box – for more than 24 hours. No cat should be spending 24 hours alone at a time with any regularity.
Cats meet so many of our emotional and social needs. It is incumbent upon us to meet theirs, too.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Montague, Michael J., et al. “Comparative Analysis of the Domestic Cat Genome Reveals Genetic Signatures Underlying Feline Biology and Domestication.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 48, 2014, pp. 17230–17235., doi:10.1073/pnas.1410083111. https://www.pnas.org/content/111/48/17230
 Pierce, Jessica. “Why Do Cats Meow at Humans?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Sept. 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201809/why-do-cats-meow-humans.
 Nicastro, Nicholas, and Michael J Owren. “Classification of Domestic Cat (Felis Catus) Vocalizations by Naive and Experienced Human Listeners.” Journal of Comparative Psychology (Washington, D.C. : 1983), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12735363.
 Pierce, Jessica. “How Long Is Too Long to Leave a Cat Alone?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 16 Nov. 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-dogs-go-heaven/201911/how-long-is-too-long-leave-cat-alone.
 Muth, Felicity. “What We Understand about Cats and What They Understand about Us.” Scientific American Blog Network, Scientific American, 30 Mar. 2016, blogs.scientificamerican.com/not-bad-science/what-we-understand-about-cats-and-what-they-understand-about-us/.