This is Nimitz. She’s a pretty strong contender for title of World’s Best Cat. I’ve known her for about thirteen of the estimated fifteen years of her life, and we have a very strong bond. Nimitz is an exceptionally excellent cat, but a lot of it comes down to how I treat her.
I often see cat owners–people who genuinely love their pets–disrespect what their cats are trying to tell them. They pick up their cats, who squirm and try to escape, and just keep clutching them. They roll their cats over and tousle their bellies while their cat tries to bat their hands away. Doing things like that with your cat is going to decrease how willing they are to seek you out and voluntarily spend time with you.
it’s pretty common knowledge that cats have emotional centers that look like miniaturized versions of humans’. This means that your cat can experience pretty much any emotion you can, generally on a less complex level. Most cats have very strong likes and dislikes, and will communicate those things pretty clearly. The trick is figuring out what the heck they’re saying.
Nimitz likes to be carried with her back feet supported on an open palm and her front half draped over my shoulder. She prefers to be petted mostly on the head. She likes to be carried back into the house but likes to walk under her own power when we’re going away from the house. This sounds like the kind of things someone says when they’re anthropomorphizing a pet, but they’re not. I know these things because Nimitz communicates what she does and doesn’t like, and I know how to read those expressions.
If you pick your cat up and they squirm and struggle, try re-positioning them. If they don’t settle down, put them back on the ground right away. If you’re petting your cat and they keep meowing, they’re probably overstimulated; pet them somewhere else, or more gently. You need to listen when your cat tells you no. Don’t take purring alone as a sign that your cat is cool with what you’re doing; purring just means they’re open to socializing, and you’re a pretty big bad predator. Some cats will purr just because they don’t want to get on your bad side. A cat who’s happy with how you’re petting them will push harder into your hand; a cat that’s happy with how they’re being carried will remain in place after you stop holding them down. (Nimitz likes to basically be standing on me; my mom’s 23-lb beanbag of a cat, Yamamoto, wants to be held like a human toddler, and will wrap her front legs around my mom’s neck.)
If you respect what your cat tells you, your cat will learn to enjoy being around you and start seeking out your company. By continuing to do so, you can build a relationship with your pet that’s loyal and long-lasting.