An affectionate cat may enjoy being petted one minute and respond with scratching and biting the next. Your cat’s erratic behavior can be confusing.
Most cats enjoy being rubbed where their facial glands are situated, such as under the chin, around the cheeks and the base of the ears. Between the eyes and ears are also good choices. The least preferred places include the base of the tail, the tummy, the paws, and the limbs.
You may find that some cats don’t tolerate being touched, but this may be because you haven’t found what your cat enjoys yet. Experiment with different areas and look for signs of contentment, or signs of aggression, until you find a spot that your cat enjoys being petted the most.
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Where Should I Pet My Cat?
Cats are known to be capricious, and scientists are constantly trying to determine how to please our feline companions best.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, cats prefer to be stroked where their facial glands are located (peri-oral gland region).
These include the areas along the chin, cheeks, eyes and behind the ears. The base of the tail was the least favorite spot among the feline subjects.
The following are areas of the body where cats enjoy being petted the most, as well as areas where they like being petted the least.
Behind the Ears
Cats enjoy being rubbed behind the ears. A friendly cat will lean its head into your hand, indicating that it wants you to stroke around its ears.
Your cat will likely enjoy being rubbed, petted, or stroked around the sides and underneath the ears. You can also cup your cat’s ear gently and rub it along the sides of the ears.
If you have a cat that loves having its ears rubbed, try gently rubbing and twisting its ears. Using your knuckles to lightly rub the inside of its ear can be particularly pleasurable for some cats.
A cat’s ears are a highly sensitive part of its anatomy. If your cat doesn’t like its ears being touched, it will move its head away so that you stop.
Under the Chin
The chin is part of the peri-oral gland area of a cat’s face that also includes the lips and the chin.
Cats love being rubbed where their facial glands are located, and the best way to rub the chin is to gently stroke the area where the jawbone connects to the skull.
If your cat enjoys being rubbed under the chin, it will lift its head high and purr loudly with each stroke and scratch you make in this area.
Your cat will stop purring and ask you to continue rubbing its chin if you pause your satisfying caress.
Your cat’s cheeks contain scent glands which allow it to leave its scent on things. According to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, “bunting” or rubbing of the cheeks against surfaces is a way cats transfer their scents to surrounding objects and their beloved companions.
Scent marking is an important tool among cats that helps them navigate around places and mark their territory.
To rub your cat’s cheeks, simply scratch the cheeks from the whiskers to the back. Avoid tugging on the whiskers as they’re highly sensitive.
Behind the Tail
For some cats, their favorite spot is the area where the tail meets the end of the back. Some cats may enjoy being rubbed or scratched in that area, and others may prefer being gently petted.
Chances are your cat will respond with loud purring if it enjoys being rubbed behind the tail.
This area is a strict no-touch zone for most cats. If it doesn’t like being touched behind the tail, it will turn around and bring its face towards you.
Neck and Shoulders
Some cats prefer to be rubbed on their bodies and may even appreciate a deep tissue massage along their necks and shoulders.
Your cat will sit still with all paws on the ground and the body sinking in with each rubbing motion you make.
To rub your cat’s neck and shoulders, mimic how it kneads its favorite blanket by moving your fingers and thumbs together. Find the right amount of pressure that makes your cat content, avoiding pressing too hard.
One sweet spot to keep in mind is the area on the neck, right above the shoulders. However, many cats may allow just a couple of strokes in this area before they run away.
Most cats don’t tolerate being touched on the belly because it’s a vulnerable place. Many of your cat’s vital organs are just a few millimeters under your cat’s skin in the tummy area. Damage to any of these organs can be fatal for your cat. This makes cats highly protective of their bellies.
It can be tempting to rub your cat’s belly when it exposes it to you. Your cat may excitedly roll on its back when you come home, or expose its stomach when it feels relaxed. Exposing the stomach is a sign of love in cats.
Cats in heat may also expose their stomachs, in which case it’s best to leave them alone.
Whether your cat is relaxed or delighted to see you, exposure of its belly isn’t an invitation for a tummy rub. Although you’re not a predator, cats are more reticent about their vulnerable body parts by instinct.
Some cats may tolerate a couple of belly rubs every now and then. In most cases, they’ll only let you touch their stomach if you start from the side.
The Base of The Tail
Brief touching of the tail may be acceptable for some cats during their petting session. However, any touching or grabbing, especially when your cat isn’t expecting it, can lead to a negative reaction.
The tail is a vital, sensitive and vulnerable part of your cat’s body. A cat’s tail consists of a large network of nerves, 19-23 vertebrae and many groups of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that allow the tail to move, sway and thump on the ground. The tail allows a cat to balance and it’s an essential part of its body language.
Some cats are more sensitive in their tail areas than others. If you’ve ever stepped on your cat’s tail and barely even touch it, you’ll find your cat screaming as if it experienced the worst pain in the world.
Cat’s overreact when their tails get touched by you or an object (such as a door) because it’s their natural instinct to protect them. Therefore, if your cat doesn’t like you touching its tail, it’s best to keep your hands off it.
Front and Back Paws
A cat’s paws contain many nerve endings, making them highly sensitive and even sometimes, ticklish.
In addition to walking and running, cats use their paws to feel objects in their environment, to hunt and to protect themselves from troublesome cats or other animals. Because a cat’s paws are a vital part of their defense system, if someone tries to touch them, it’s likely to run away.
While some cats may not mind having their front paws touched, most don’t like them to be rubbed. This makes routine claw trimming and paw pad cleaning difficult.
The only time you should massage your cat’s paw pads should be when you’re rubbing a Vaseline on them to keep them healthy. It’s best to have cats accustomed to this type of paw touching from when they’re young.
Cat Petting Reactions
According to The Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, your own characteristics also play a vital role in how your cat responds to fuss and attention. These include your personality, gender, how you handle your cat in general, and the manner in which you stroke your cat.
While some cats may respond to your physical attention with aggression, others may just tolerate your interactions in exchange for food and security. Just being tolerant of what you’re doing isn’t healthy for cats.
Physiology and Behavior stated that cats that tolerated, instead of dislike being touched, are more likely to have higher stress levels.
Signs of Feline Contentment
Try to understand how your cat responds positively and negatively to being stroked. These include:
- Kneading with front paws
- An upright tail
- Side to side gentle waving of the tail
- Relaxed posture and facial expression
- Ears pointed forward
If your cat enjoys being petted, it will usually give you a gentle nudge to keep going if you stop stroking.
Signs of Discontentment in Cats
According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, human-directed aggression is linked to petting and play. These include:
- Moving the head away from you
- No purring or rubbing
- Short and rapid bursts of self-grooming
- Exaggerated shaking of the head or blinking
- Licking the nose
- Sharply turning the head to face you or your hand
- Thrashing and thumping of the tail
- Ears rotated backward or flattened to the sides
- Widened eyes
- Twitching or rippling of the skin, often along the back
- Swiping, batting, or biting to move your hand away
For some cats, petting isn’t an acceptable form of human interaction. They prefer to be left alone or get their petting from other cats.
If no cats are around, they may feel relaxed by just rubbing against your furniture or cozying up in their cat bed.