The Best Way to Pet Your Cat

Before Tiger Bomm found shelter in Maryjean Ballner’s home, he was a homeless stray. “He was a tough adoption,” admits Ballner, who lives in Sandy, Utah. “‘Mouthiness’ was part of his repertoire.” It wasn’t easy to teach the scared cat to drop his guard, but after five months, Tiger finally purred softly for the first time. Ballner’s secret to pacifying Tiger? Cat massage.

Your pet can benefit from frequent cat massage sessions, too. With results including stress relief, increased circulation and endorphin release, cat massage not only enhances your pet’s overall health and well-being, but it also deepens the bond between you and your special feline friend.

Petting vs. Cat Massage

Chances are, you already pet your cat. Similar to what you do, cat massage is achieved by using a combination of specific hand parts, hand positions, motions, pressures and speed. But cat massage takes petting a step further: “When we add detail and finesse to our touch, we upgrade petting to massage,” explains Ballner, a licensed massage therapist and author of Cat Massage: A Whiskers to Tail Guide to Your Cat's Ultimate Petting Experience (Griffin 1997). Ballner advocates cat massage techniques that primarily deepen the human-pet bond.

Feline reflexology, a different form of cat massage, encourages the body’s innate healing ability. Based on the theory that the paws, feet and head are a perfect map of the whole body, reflexology is a system of massage techniques that reduce tension and prevent stress-related illnesses. “Stress contributes to 80 percent of all major illnesses, and reflexology acts as a way to minimize the stress,” explains Jackie Segers, certified holistic health practitioner and author of Reflexology for Cats (Bateman 2007).

Our experts recommend the following techniques:

Brain strokes
Gently stroke the middle of the forehead, from between the eyes to the top of the head. According to Segers, this movement may affect the pituitary gland and brain function.

Chin ups
With your full palm, slowly caress from throat to chin. Cats will crane their head up in approval. “You may also want to try light rhythmic finger tapping under the chin,” adds Segers. “It’s both soothing and stimulating, and it has a direct influence on everything in the pelvis.”

Mouth strokes
Massage in small circles around the sides of the mouth and chin. Reflexology holds that this promotes good digestion.

Getting Started

Though reflexology works best when your pet is a kitten, cat massage can benefit cats of any age. Here are four beginner’s steps:

Find the right time
Notice your cat’s natural routine. Then, “choose a time when your feline friend is resting and is not playful or aggressive,” says Segers. She suggests bedtime or nap time for any touch therapy. Because cats react to the moods of their human companions, be sure that you’re also relaxed. Feeling stressed? Postpone the session.

Ask permission
“Never restrain your cat or force touch,” warns Segers. Instead, approach your pet gently, “with love and an open heart so it can feel your intention to help.” As a first non-threatening step, drop your hand to its eye level and near its cheeks. “This is where scent glands are located, so cats are marking you at the same time you’re touching them,” says Ballner. Respect your pet when it’s had enough.

Learn the art of slow motion
According to Ballner, the slower you touch, the more your cat will respond. Even better, remember “no-mo” (no motion), says Ballner. “Simply rest your hand next to your cat, on top of him or even under him and stay still. Learn to just be with your cat.”

Repeat, Repeat
Turn off the TV, music and cell phone. Dedicate four whole minutes to massaging your cat at the same time every day, Ballner suggests. Be patient and when you find a technique your cat likes, stick with it. Your cat will come to expect it and will want to share each day’s favorite moments with you.

“Since we don't speak fluent 'Meow,' the best way we communicate with our felines is through touch, and the best possible touch is massage,” concludes Ballner. “Our cats deserve the best of everything.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/lcoccia

Luxury Hotels for Cats

Are you treating yourself to a relaxing vacation that consists of beautiful scenery, daily pampering sessions and delicious meals? Why not treat your beloved cat to the same experience?

“Cats are hot right now,” says Charlotte Reed, an author who specializes in pet lifestyle and etiquette issues. “After years of booming business for fabulous doggy day care facilities, we’re seeing this surge in facilities for cats.”

“Before, boarding facilities were just a kennel with a cage,” says Wendy Diamond, pet lifestyle author and animal welfare advocate. “Now, these rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful beds. The whole world of animal boarding has changed. They’re not even called kennels anymore; they’re called hotels.”

5-star Service for Felines
Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in the U.K., established in 2010, claims to be the “world’s first truly 5-star cattery.” But the trend and the use of the term “luxury” by cat boarding facilities are actually about five years in the making. If you live near a major airport, chances are you’ll find such a place.

Of course, there’s no true rating service to determine the difference between 3-, 4- or 5-star boarding, and exactly what “luxury” means in cat terms is relative. But since you’ll be paying a premium (as much as $40-$50/night), the following are some considerations to take into account when rating your hotel of choice:

Personal Space
Typical boarding facilities offer a basic cage or a two-tier enclosure. “Any place using the term ‘luxury’ ought to be offering at least three-tier enclosures,” says Reed, “but many offer an entire room or more of unshared personal space.” Top-level suites have premium bedding, a climbing tree, a window with a perch, and decorative touches with bird or fish themes.

Webcam
“More and more, pets are like our children,” says Diamond. “We want to know what they’re doing, whom they’re playing with.” The technology to let people log in for a live feed of their pet is readily available, and more and more facilities are adopting it.

Medical Care
“The one thing pet parents worry about most when leaving their pets behind is the possibility of a medical issue arising,” says pet lifestyle expert Kristen Levine. A high-end facility will have someone on call, if not on staff, and can also accommodate special medication needs.

Cats-only?
Even if your cat lives with dogs, be wary of luxury hotels that also cater to canines. Such places will separate cats and dogs within the facility, but cats are sensitive and have an advanced ability to sniff out enemies. “It could be extremely stressful,” says Reed. “Even if the dogs aren’t visible, your cat might be able to hear or smell them and may be stressed the whole time.” Consider bringing your cat for a quickie tour and see how it reacts.

Playtime
“While luxurious accommodations are intriguing, I believe what cat owners want most is a comfortable, stress-free environment with sufficient human-pet interaction each day,” says Levine. If you pay a premium, you should expect someone to spend regular, quality time with your cat.

Food
“Kennels used to stock one kind of food, so you had to bring your own,” says Reed. “The luxury places are stocking lots of popular brands, so hopefully you just need to tell them which one.” Other facilities might offer choices like fresh fish -- for a price.

One thing that all three experts stress is to check out the hotel before you make a decision. And if you can’t find a luxury facility near you, just wait. “Are we going to see more of these facilities? Absolutely. This is just the beginning,” says Reed.

Photo: Longcroft Cat Hotels ltd.

The Cat Connection to Dating and Romance

It’s not uncommon these days to meet a significant other online. A 2010 survey conducted by online dating company Match.com found that 1 in 6 marriages is now between people who met via online dating. Increasingly, our pets play significant roles in choosing potential dates or mates. When you’re looking for love, it’s important that your loved ones at the very least get along with your new boyfriend or girlfriend. For many of us, that means potential boyfriends or girlfriends must pass the “cat test.”

“When I was single, I always let my cat choose my mates,” says Layla Morgan Wilde, who met her husband online 10 years ago. “If my cat, Merlin, didn’t like a date, he’d pace back and forth in front of the person, giving me the hairy eyeball. He was like a magic date-o-meter. If he did that, there was never a second date.”

The Cat Lover’s Profile

When it comes to dating online, cat owners frequently mention their cats, include cats in profile photos or require that potential dates love cats too. “Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of JDate profiles that mention pets being important parts of people’s lives,” says Arielle Schechtman, a spokeswoman for JDate.com, an online dating community for Jewish singles. “It’s definitely a common interest and love that people share.”

Pet ownership isn’t factored in to online dating site eHarmony’s compatibility system, but users are able to select up to five pets they have or like in a section called “Something to Talk About.” Forty-five percent of eHarmony users select dogs and cats, says spokeswoman Whitney Standring-Trueblood.

A mutual affection for cats plays such an important role for many singles that a number of online dating communities now target cat-lovers or pet owners. Sites such as DateMyPet.com focus on the connections owners have with their animals and help them try to find similar dates or mates.

Why Your Cat Matters in Relationships

Wilde first noticed cat/dating issues when she fielded rescue calls for a cat rescue organization she founded in the late 1990s. “The saddest cases were women who wanted to get rid of their cat because of a boyfriend or a fiance,” says Wilde, who works as a life coach and cat behaviorist. “A relationship between a cat-lover and non-cat-lover has the odds stacked against it. Occasionally, it’s possible to turn someone who doesn’t like cats into a cat person. It depends on the person’s past experience with cats, their cultural background, any negative association or whether they are allergic to cats.”

For cat owners, it is indeed best to know upfront where a potential spouse stands on a beloved pet. Advises Wilde: “Don’t wait until you’re ready to walk down the aisle before asking, ‘Do you like cats?’”

The Benefits of Joining a Cat Social Group

The idea of cats and their owners socializing might seem a little like, well, something dogs and their owners would do. But if you’re looking to meet like-minded cat owners, it can be a fun and rewarding time. “I had a great time bonding over awesome people and cats,” says Chris Adams, a Meow Mingle mixer participant. “We are a different breed from dog people.”

Cat-specific Pet Events
After hosting Mutt Mingles for five years, Pussy & Pooch kicked off its Meow Mingle series earlier this year with a quinceanera for Minx the cat’s 15th birthday, explains Janene Zakrajsek, owner of the boutique. The cat mixers have been quite the hit, says Zakrajsek, who owns locations in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. One mixer drew more than 20 cats.

Time to Mingle
In this social networking age, we look to make connections with others based on shared backgrounds and interests. Cat owners -- and in some cases, their cats -- are no different. Across the country, cat lovers are finding that they enjoy meeting to discuss common ground: their cats and all things cat-related.

“We love our cats and share their adventures and seek each other’s advice about situations we encounter with our pets,” says Brenda Flahault, president of the Garden State Cat Club of New Jersey.

Sharing Knowledge, Helping Cats
The Garden State Cat Club, among the oldest and largest cat clubs in the country, includes 70 members, some located as far away as Australia and Bermuda, says Flahault. The core group of 35 or so members who live near Clark, N.J., meets for regular dinners and holiday parties. These humans-only outings include programs on specific cat breeds, veterinary care, cat photography, cat massage and other related topics.

“Our members are folks who exhibit cats, breed cats or just love cats, even if they do not have one of their own,” says Flahault. Affiliated with the Cat Fanciers’ Association, the Garden State Cat Club also hosts an annual cat expo and show that’s open to all cats -- mixed breed and purebred. The club works to assist cat-related charities, making donations and collecting toys, food, blankets and more for cat rescue efforts.

Virtual Get-togethers
Some mixers include cats and their owners, while others simply feature cat lovers who left their four-legged friends at home. Carrie Profenno’s cat-centric community, however, meets via her website, Maine Coon Cat Nation. Her site focuses on all things related to the majestic Maine coon cat.

“Almost every day, cat owners share photos, stories and sometimes videos of their cats. Our regular visitors leave comments and compliments for them. They are a very supportive group,” says Profenno. “It is a very positive and caring community, and I’m so honored to have had a part in it. Our community is from all over the world, so for now it’s a virtual get-together.”

Find or Start Your Own Group
Are you ready to mingle with other cat owners in person or virtually? You can find local CFA clubs through the Cat Fanciers Association, suggests Flahault. “Most clubs are looking for interested members,” she says.

Also, consider starting a club that assists a local shelter by fostering cats and kittens. It’s a good way to meet other cat-lovers and to do good at the same time. Pet boutiques in your area might consider playing host to gatherings as a way to boost business, as Pussy & Pooch does.

It certainly works well at Meow Mingles, says Zakrajsek. “The owners were super-social. There was lots of petting and picture-taking. It is, however, just as much about humans socializing with fellow feline enthusiasts.” That is indeed what you will likely enjoy most about joining a cat-related social group, agrees Flahault.

“The best part of being a member of the cat club is the camaraderie,” says Flahault.

Cat Breeds for Dog Lovers

For most dog owners, cats can seem like a species from another planet. Although there’s little doubt that dogs can be the best friend a pet owner could ever have, cat owners sometimes feel like their job is to satisfy the needs of a superior master, one with twitching whiskers and a tail that occasionally swishes with annoyance. If you’re used to the unabashed enthusiasm of a dog, a cat can seem a little like a distant acquaintance simply sharing space in your residence.

But to know one cat -- or cat stereotype -- isn’t to know them all, say veterinarians and other experts. You’ll likely be surprised that you can find plenty of breeds that defy familiar conceptions about cats.

Dog-like Cats
If you’re more comfortable with cats that behave like dogs, consider these breeds:

· Maine coon The beautiful tabby-coated Maine coon is a big-boned cat with the stature and confidence a dog lover is likely to admire, says Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. While stories about 30-pound Maine coon cats are the stuff of legends, these felines typically weigh in the teens. This breed loves to play fetch and is known for its mellow interactions with people and dogs. The human-oriented Maine coon will want to keep a close eye on what you are doing. While this breed has a beautiful long coat, it doesn’t typically require as much grooming as a Persian cat would.

· Siamese “Siamese cats are known for talking and interacting,” explains Dr. Amber Andersen, a Los Angeles–based veterinarian. Siamese cats are often playful and active. If you want a feline best pal, a Siamese is a good choice. But take into consideration that Siamese are often one-person cats. “They have a tendency to glom onto one owner,” says Andersen.

· Abyssinian “For dog owners who admire athletes, the Abyssinian might be a good fit, as they’ll swing from the drapes and do their Tarzan imitation,” says Amy Shojai, a Dallas-based certified animal behavior consultant and author of 23 pet-care books. The curious, active Abyssinian thrives on interaction.

· Ragdoll The sturdy Ragdoll makes a good lap cat with its docile, easygoing nature, explains Andersen.

· Chartreux Looking for a cat that will fit with your dog-centric household? The quiet Chartreux is known to prefer the company of dogs to that of other cats, says Shojai. You can teach a Chartreux to fetch, and this breed remains playful even at an adult age.

Consider the Cat’s Age
If you already own a dog, it’s likely easier to adopt a kitten, explains Shojai. “Kittens tend to be easier to integrate into a dog home right away,” she says. “Kittens are clueless. They don’t know to be afraid. They’ll see a dog and think, ‘Oh boy, somebody to play with me. He’s just a big, smelly cat.”

However, it’s difficult to predict just what sort of personality a kitten will develop in adulthood. A cuddly kitten might become aloof as it ages. An active, playful kitten might settle down into an adult cat that is content to watch the action. “If you want a known personality, I recommend adopting an adult,” says Shojai.

One nice thing to note about adding a cat to your household: “A healthy cat is going to live at least into their early teens, and some live into their 20s,” says Shojai. So that gives you plenty of time to teach your feline companion how to walk on a leash, sit up or fetch. “The ball just needs to be a wee bit smaller than for a dog,” says Shojai.