Tellington TTouch expert Sarah Fisher’s four-week plan will help you understand your cat better and learn how to handle him based on his likes and dislikes.
WHAT IS TELLINGTON TTOUCH?
TTouch is an integrated approach to animal care that includes observations and gentle movement exercises over different textures to improve physical and emotional well-being. It also includes a system of gentle handling techniques (called TTouches) which can be helpful in reducing touch sensitivity and anxiety, and deepen the relationship between animal and guardian.
Understanding your cat as an individual is vital. After many years of working with cats using Tellington TTouch (TTouch), expert in the technique, Sarah Fisher, is advocating a more hands-off approach. More than that, she is encouraging us to ensure our cats have a choice — allowing them to decide how much interaction they have, and what form that takes.
To understand their preferences, Sarah suggests spending time observing your cat to get a better view of what he enjoys, what he dislikes, and why he behaves in the way he does. Here, Sarah has put together a plan for you to truly get to know your cat to help you gain an insight into how he would prefer to be handled.
Is your cat a ‘busy’ animal who rarely relaxes, or is he shy, preferring to hide away? Does he appear to invite contact then swat you with his paws, bite, or run away? There are patterns to all behaviours and all behaviour has a function.
Often, the small details can be overlooked, but the more you watch, the more you will see. Changing our habits enables animals to change their own habits.
Keep hand contact to a minimum. Observe your cat in everyday situations. Write down what you observe. Don’t try to work out what is going on — simply focus on what you see.
- Posture — watch how he moves; look for any tension in his body. Is his movement fluid, or does he look disconnected when he climbs or jumps? Many cats have mobility issues that go undetected until the body can no longer compensate. The earlier you notice a potential problem, the easier it will be to seek veterinary support and make any necessary modifications to the management and handling of your cat.
- Level of general activity — does he prefer to sit or walk on specific types of flooring? Maybe he takes his toys/treats to a kitchen mat, rather than playing or eating on a tiled floor?
- Appearance — are there any areas of his coat that look coarse or greasy? Is there any dandruff? How does he hold his ears and tail? Look at his eyes, noticing the blink rate.
- Greeting behaviour — does it change depending on the length of time you have been away, where you have been, or the time of day you come home? It’s important that cats are given time to process the new scents on our bodies without being stroked or fussed. How does he behave when visitors are in the home?
- Eating — does he eat little and often, or fall onto his food bowl? Does he avoid or seek particular textures of food and treats? When is his preferred mealtime?
- At rest — make a note of sleeping patterns, including favourite places and habitual posture when sleeping.
- Vocalisation (or lack of).
- Interactions with toys, and with humans.
- How and when he initiates/ seeks contact — many cats like to sit on or near us, but this doesn’t mean they like being stroked.
- Response to contact/after contact.
- Time of day your cat is most active.
- When he is more relaxed.
Quick, high-speed games are great for letting off steam. All animals, particularly those who are young or more active, need short bursts of fast activity. Owners tend to encourage continued ‘play’ with their pets for longer than they might do if left to their own devices.
While we might view chase and fetch games as pleasurable for the cat, we may inadvertently increase levels of arousal that can heighten all of the senses and inhibit his ability to unwind and relax. Heightened arousal can make an animal more noise sensitive, touch sensitive, and visually aware of the slightest movement.
Instead, try scent and search games that encourage your cat to ‘work’ for kibble by scattering them for him to find, rather than delivering all his meals in a bowl.
‘Free work’ encourages a cat to negotiate and connect with a variety of different textures and low obstacles. It can encourage fluid movement in the body and help increase muscle tone through low-impact exercise. Here’s how:
- Set out different textures, including carpet squares, coarse mats, rubber mats, and see which ones he actively enjoys. Does he roll on the textures or scent mark with the side of his face? By noting how your cat likes to engage with new scents and novel items, you can ensure that you aren’t interrupting these behaviours by reaching down to stroke him if he rolls in front of you or rubs his face against you, or perhaps you might discover that he enjoys rolling on a particular texture that you can offer him on a more permanent basis.
- Include cardboard boxes and hide catnip mice in some and note how much time he spends inside the box or whether he prefers to hunt out the mice and play with them in the middle of the room.
- Lay out lengths of rope for your cat to walk over and place a variety of different toys and treats around the room. Use a variety of different treats to see what he enjoys and what he actively avoids.
- Offer your cat food to lick from different textures and at varying heights by smearing small amounts of wet food on washable rubber mats to encourage him to move his neck. Note whether he can only tilt his head one particular way — this may link to physical problems that might need veterinary support.
Watch how he interacts with toys. Does he push them around with his paws or carry them in his mouth — or a combination? Just like humans, animals have a more dominant side, but if you note your cat can only use his left paw, for example, it may be linked to restricted movement through another part of his body, and this may be linked to his behaviour whenever you touch him on a specific part of his body.
Remove any items your cat actively avoids and note his preferences regarding textures and games. Once you identify items that your cat seems to really enjoy, move them to different areas in the room or home. You may find that, although he likes to engage with specific items in one area, he is reluctant to play or eat in another.
This will help you to recognise small areas of concern that may have gone unnoticed before. Cats are super sensitive to sight, sound, and scent, and there may be areas of the home that are unsettling for him.
Avoid luring your cat onto different textures or trying to encourage him to play a game. Let him discover everything for himself and make a note of what you see.
Once you have discovered your cat’s preferred treats, games, and textures, introduce a counting game. Make sure he can see you holding his favourite treat, and with a slow, fluid movement place it on the floor as you say ‘one’.
If he watches you, but doesn’t move towards the treat, place a second one next to the first and say ‘two’. Wait to see if your cat moves towards you and eats the treats. Continue building from here. If he’s happy to approach you and eat in front of you, he will quickly learn that the word ‘one’ indicates a treat is on its way. Avoid touching him when he comes over to eat the treat.
Play the counting game little and often throughout the day, keeping the sessions short to ensure they remain fun. You may start noticing that, although your cat enjoys coming over for a single treat in one area, he is reluctant and seems disinterested in another part of your home. This can indicate that in some places, or at specific times of day, your cat is less relaxed or less inclined to engage with you.
Continue with the scent/search games and, when your cat is happy to approach you for contact, introduce gentle hand contact in short sessions, observing his response as your hand is extended towards him and when direct contact is made.
Gradually increase contact over several days, starting around his sides and shoulders, then around the chest. Do just two or three strokes and then hands off. See how your cat reacts. Does he freeze? Does he hold himself in a position to accept more? Does he vocalise? He might prefer to keep a distance — allow him to have the choice.
- Change in texture of coat.
- Tension in muscles/skin.
- Temperature changes — feeling for hot or cold areas.
- Lumps and bumps.
- General muscle development.
Many cats who are sensitive to contact prefer being touched with something soft, like an artist’s watercolour brush, a grooming mitt, or a sheepskin mitt, as these diffuse the heat and sensation from the human hand. Different textures on the body give the nervous system new experiences and can help to further an animal’s learning, making health-checks and necessary handling less stressful.
PIECING THE CLUES TOGETHER
Look at the observations made in week one and see how they compare. By now, you will better understand your cat’s preferences. Use this knowledge to alter how you handle him every day. Be true to your cat’s wishes and be prepared to relinquish cuddles if your cat is clearly not comfortable with them. By taking a hands-free approach to our feline companions, we can build relationships based on their terms.