Petting a cat might seem pretty straightforward, but it’s important to keep a few rules in mind. Especially for pet newbies, petting a cat the wrong way, too rapidly, aggressively, with too much force or speed can easily agitate some cats, causing them to bite or scratch. Remember to pet your cats on their terms, giving the cats control!
Behavior Differences to Know
It’s important to remember that cats, like dogs or any other animal, isn’t going to think like a human will. For example, many dogs don’t enjoy the act of ‘hugging’ as much as we tend to think they do, and some may even respond aggressively to a strange human’s embrace. Most cat owners will know that their furry companions sometimes feel the same way!
Most children tend to want to touch animals, cuddle with them, or simply pick them up. Unfortunately, our pets don’t always feel the same way about this forced physical contact! Because children tend to sometimes ignore signals animals may give off indicating they want to be left alone, responsibility often falls on the adult.
Young children should always be supervised around your cat.
The first step to comfortable interactions is announcing yourself. Let your cat know their human wants to comfort them! Give them the option whether or not to accept your touch; don’t force it. Extend your fingers toward the cat first, allowing them to smell your hands. Your kitty can then take the lead by rubbing against your fingers or meowing.
Consider how your behavior might look toward the cat, remembering they aren’t always going to view things the way another person will. Try never to block the cat’s vision; reaching across the cat’s face when petting can be perceived as a threat.
Where Cats Like to be Petted
Just like any other animal, it’s important to approach your petting psychologically. Ask yourself ‘Why does my cat want me to pet him here, but not there’?
Have you ever wondered why cats constantly seem to want to rub their bodies against everything? When your cat rubs up against something, he is actually leaving his scent behind as well as picking up other scents. Spreading their scent leaves a familiar smell, and in turn brings a feeling of happiness. These areas are absolutely perfect for petting! Cats have scent glands located around their:
- Sides of face
When a cat rubs his face on something, he leaves his scent behind. These areas are absolutely perfect places to gently pet your cat!
Areas where cats have scent glands are perfect for petting!
- Let the cat sniff you before petting.
- Wait for the cat to bump against you, signaling he wants attention.
- Start with a soft, gentle chin scratch.
- Listen for purring encouragement! Purring is a cat’s way of signaling it feels sociable, and wants attention.
Watch for signals meaning your cat doesn’t want to be petted anymore.
- Ears flattening against the head
- Tail twitching
- Growling or hissing
Some cats like to be petted right behind the ears, actually leaning into your hand as if the scratching could go on forever! A scratch right underneath the chin is often a great idea. Some cats like to be petted on their neck and shoulders.
Common Pleasure Areas / Recommended Petting
- Pet in the Direction of the Fur, Not Against
- Between or behind ears
- Back of the Head
- Under the Chin
- Long Strokes Down the Back
Never Block Their Vision
Blocking a cat’s vision can come off as a threatening gesture, causing your cat to feel vulnerable. Remember, cats rely heavily on their ability to discern tiny, rapid movements of other animals for both food and survival. Taking away a wild cat’s eyesight could easily mean death.
Avoid the Stomach/Chest
In the wild, cats need to be careful to protect their vulnerable, vital areas, like their neck or chest. Just because your cat might expose his belly when happy, it doesn’t mean he wants you to touch it. It has nothing to do with how much your cat likes you, or if he trust you. Their dislike of belly scratching is completely instinctive.
- Too much petting can lead to aggression.
- Watch the cat’s tail movement. Excessive movement can indicate over-stimulation.
- Listen for vocal purring for encouragement.
Cats are constantly aware of their surroundings, suspicious by nature (even if owners don’t notice). If your cat suddenly jolts or seems agitated, don’t force the interaction! Let your cat calm himself down naturally, investigating the ‘disturbance’ if need be.
Not All Cats Are the Same
Cats aren’t the extreme social pack animals dogs are, and their behavior will often reflect this. There are times when your cat is going to simply want to be left alone. Sometimes petting just isn’t their thing. As long as you remember to give your cat control over these happy, social interactions, letting him decide when he wants to be petted, you’ll be golden! If your cat doesn’t want attention, that’s OK too.
Get to Know Your Cat
There are almost always psychological constants when it comes to cats. After all, they are going to think instinctively! Even then, it’s important to let yourself and your cat familiarize yourselves, getting to know each other. Knowing what most cats like isn’t enough; learn what your cat likes. Experiment a little bit with different areas, monitoring your cat’s reactions. If he doesn’t like an area, he’ll let you know. Listen for the purring and watch your cat’s body language to let you know what he does like!