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How To Pet A Cat: 7 Things You Need to Know

Our fluffy feline friends are aloof, yet lovable parts of our lives. We tend to shower them with attention and affection when we get the opportunity to do so.

But, contrary to what some cat-parents may think, not all cats enjoy this physical affection we so desperately want to show. So how to pet a cat?

Showing your cat the love it needs may not be as simple as a cuddle or a pet. This may seem like a very natural and obvious part or cat-ownership, however, there are ways of doing it wrong.

Petting even the friendliest of cat breeds is not as simple as it sounds. Here’s a quick guide on how to pet a cat in such a way that will make them feel comfortable and loved.

snowshoe cat one of the blue eyed cat breeds
snowshoe cat


How to Pet a Cat: Remember that Cats Are Social Creatures

Cats are highly intelligent and social parts of the animal kingdom, even though we tend to peg them as solitary creatures. They have a way of creating unique bonds with unlikely friends like birds, dogs, and lucky for us, humans.

grey cat jumps through grass with tail in the air
Now that is a tail

But, they tend to be lone hunters even though they prefer to be a part of a “pack”.

Aloofness can cause some confusion in cat-parents but felines like to be petted. However, the bad news is that you might be doing it wrong.

How Cats Show Affection

Cats tend to gravitate towards each other and when they greet, they have a specific way of showing their affection and respect. Cats will lie close to each other, bump their heads or rub against one another where the scent glands are located.

white cat and tabby cat

If your furry companion is showing these signals around you, the battle is almost won. Knowing exactly how to reciprocate their affection is key to having a loving relationship with your feline partner.

How to Show Affection to your Cat

1. Read And Know Your Cat’s Body Language

Just like their human counterparts, cats have a very fine-tuned body language that you can use to your advantage.

When any cat, especially a strange one, approaches you, don’t immediately try to reach out and pet it. When a cat approaches a human, it might have many different meanings – from wanting food to wanting playtime.

grey and white cat sniffs leaves

Before reaching out your hand in an attempt to touch the cat, make sure that the cat gets familiar with your unique scent. This will set the feline friend at ease and they might allow you to touch them.

Here are some signs that will indicate that your cat is enjoying being petted:

  • gently waving their tail from side to side
  • purring
  • kneading you with their paws
  • happily staying next to you with no efforts to leave
  • if you stop petting them they give you a gentle nudge with their heads

2. Know Where You Can and Can’t Touch

Just like humans, cats have a way of showing when they are comfortable and when they are not, and not all cats are similar.

Knowing your cat’s preference, and paying attention to their reactions and body language, can make a big difference in their behavior when they are petted.

Cat rolls around in the sun why do cats roll in the dirt

Most enjoy being touched above the head, behind the ears, down the neck, and around the chin. But they tend to scurry away when you touch their tail or their back.

Here’s a quick list of behaviors to look out for that will indicate that your fluffy friend might be uncomfortable:

  • They’re turning away from you
  • They’re showing aggressive behavior when you try to touch them
  • Rapid movements of the tail, like thrashing or thumping
  • Lowering their ear position
  • They’re shivering or rippling their skin
  • They lower their head or turn it away from you
  • They try to get away or protrude their claws

If your cat is showing any of these signs, you might want to stop petting them. Having a comfortable kitty is key to getting them to trust you.

grey maine-coon cat with green eyes looking to side

3. The Golden Rule – No Belly Scratches

Unlike their canine counterparts, many cats do not enjoy tummy rubs. It may be very tempting to try and pet your fluffy friend on their tummy, but it’s an anxiety-inducing act for the cat.

They often go into defensive mode due to the fact that the tummy is the most sensitive part of a cat’s body. They will target the belly area during fights with each other in a way to induce pain.

bengal cat on back

Approaching a cat’s tummy will surely cause them to react negatively, and you might subsequently get hurt.

However, many cats do enjoy getting their belly stroked once in a while. This is due to a good trusting relationship that might develop over time.

Cat rolls around in the sun

But, even if the cat does trust you, it might not mean that they will trust you with their most sensitive body part.

Be careful and stay clear of belly rubs, especially if you have a new or a strange kitty in your company.

The Right Spots to Pet a Cat

Cats have very unique and sensitive scent glands located on their bodies that are responsible for excreting a very lightly scented hormone which is unique to every cat. And this is the sweet spot.

woman asleep with grey cat in her arms from a distance how to pet a cat

Knowing where to pet a cat, gently, will make them feel safe and will more often than not leave them wanting more.

Here’s a list of all the best places to pet a cat:

  • Their cheeks
  • Behind their ears
  • Under their chins – if you’re trusted
  • Between the ears
  • The base of the tail

Getting to these spots might be simple for cat parents, but rubbing a strange or new cat behind the ears might be a feat. Remember to always look for signs of discomfort and aggression and then retreat immediately.

Use the pads of your fingers and apply gentle pressure to these spots. If your cat pushes into your stroke this is a good sign. Another option is to use the back of your hand and lightly run it along the side of your cat’s face. Use your thumb to stroke the top of your cat’s head.

woman with eyes closed curled up with sleepy cat on bed

It’s better to keep the petting short and leave your feline companion in peace.

Full body Cat Petting

Cats like to be stroked in one direction only so try to stay consistent versus moving up and down. If your cat is spread out in front of you start at their forehead and then gently stroke down to the base of their tail. Start lightly and then gradually increase the pressure. If your cat is happy it will arch its back to meet your hand. Avoid their tail. And don’t switch the direction of your stroking.

Avoid the Feet till you Know your Cat Well

Many cats don’t like their paws being touched at all. Don’t try to pet a cat’s feet unless you know the cat well. Start with one gentle finger and see how your cat reacts. Gently add a second finger if your cat seems okay but keep the pressure quite light.

How To Make Your Cat Feel Comfortable

The best way to ensure that a cat does indeed want to be touched is when they approach you. But how can we get your cat, or even a stray cat, to feel comfortable around you?

Take care with this well thought out approach to getting your feline friend to feel content and secure in your presence.

teen pretty girl kiss black cat close up portrait

1. Greet The Cat Using Their Language

When cats encounter each other in nature, an observant cat parent will know that they tend to go in nose-first. They will lower their chin in order to get a good sniff. This is a neutral greeting in the feline world.

An equivalent to this will be to approach the cat with a closed hand. Allow the cat to have a whiff of your scent, whereafter he will decide whether or not to allow you to touch him.

Hand gently touching and rubbing a tabby cat's neck

2. Allow The Cat To Make The First Move

Cats are curious creatures by nature, and not many will ignore an extended hand. They will inch closer to inspect you and this might take some time.

A very simple way to help a cat or a kitten to become comfortable is by offering the cat a tasty snack.

Kitten licking finger

A simple treat will invoke more curiosity and the warming up period might speed up. Cats love treats, possibly more than their human parents.

Another option is to put your hand out so your cat can sniff you. If your cat is not interested in your hand it probably isn’t a great time for some loving. If your cat does sniff your hand, or meow or push its head into your hand then it is probably open to being touched.

Anytime your cat bumps his head into your hand it is ready for some affection. If the timing is bad give your cat a couple of quick pats so they know that there is nothing wrong with their behaviour – you’ll be back later for cuddles.

Cats most enjoy being petted when they are lying on their sides. Lightly stroke the side of your cat that it has exposed to you. If it purrs or meows and stays in the same position then it is happy with how you are petting it.

3. Match Their Energy

As animal lovers, our first instinct might be to rush forward, grab our furry friend and exclaim in joy, but it’s a mistake that may result in a scratch or a bite.

The best way to gain a cat’s trust is by ignoring it. That’s right, giving the feline some personal space and respect will spark their curiosity.

Grey lazy cat sleeping on woman's knees in the room

Remember to limit eye contact, keep a low and soft presence, and assess the cat’s reaction. If there are no obvious signs of discomfort, feel free to approach the cat gently and with care.

Once your cat is purring keep track of the volume. The louder the purr, the happier the cat. A soft purr means that your cat is content. Remember sometimes a cat just wants a quick petting. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong – if anything you are probably giving your cat lots of affection so it only requires a quick top up.

4. Work out a Gradual Routine

Try a first petting session with your cat when it is relaxed. Provide long strokes in one direction along your cat’s back and let it move into you and manage the movement. Use a soothing voice and chat to your kitty whilst you are stroking it. Do this for just 30 seconds 3 to 4 times a day.

Once your cat seems comfortable bring him onto your lap and hold your hands on its shoulders for 5-10 seconds. At the end of this time offer him a treat and them let him go. Keep doing this and gradually extending the time as your cat seems ready. Just look for small gains.

Final Thoughts On How To Pet A Cat

Cats are pegged as aloof and independent creatures, but it’s quite the contrary. They love getting petted, having their ears rubbed, and receiving snacks.

But keeping an appropriate distance is not something that comes naturally to animal lovers.

Woman and cute cat sitting on rocking chair in the front of the

We get excited and immediately want the furry friend to love us, but it is best to tread softly. Remember to stick to the guidelines and your cat will thank you for it.

Cats make the rules, we just try our best to follow them.

Sleeping young man with fluffy red cat

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Tuesday 28th of February 2023

I found this article and articles very interesting about my cats. I always hated cats growing up, but I have learned in my older age that I love them. I have two cats that I am very very close to and love reading about them. Thanks for sharing.

Amanda OBrien

Wednesday 1st of March 2023

Tammy I am the same! Not a cat fan until I was older and now I can't imagine life without my boys!

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