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How to pet your cat: Here are 6 places where cats love to be petted

Maine coon cat being stroked

Find out how to perfectly pet your cat

© Wamiz

Are you ready? We hold the secret to knowing if you are petting your cat correctly! Soon, the scratches and small bites will only be distant memories...

By Emilie Heyl

Updated on the 29/07/2021, 10:30

As we all know, to stroke a cat the wrong way is to expose ourselves to a nasty scratch! After reading this article, you will understand how to pet your cat correctly (or to not pet him at all) and we’ll reveal your cat’s secret: where’s the best spot to pet your feline.

How do you know if you are stroking your cat correctly? It’s not that easy to know, because the communication between cats and humans isn’t always smooth. So it's up to us to know how to listen to what our feline friends have to say to us!

Why do cats like to be stroked? 

There are a few reasons why cats like to be stroked. 

Firstly, it’s a form of communication. Indeed, when cats communicate with one another, they use rubbing, nuzzling and grooming to transmit scents and pheromones, that is one of the cat’s languages. Well, by using this behaviour with humans, it’s their way of communicating. Secondly, it’s a form of love and affection. Cat mums, when they nurture their babies, they use nuzzling and grooming, these actions cause a rise in oxytocin, also called the love hormone. So, by petting your cat, not only are you communicating love and affection back, but your at and yourself are also releasing oxytocin. Finally, many cats enjoy being petted because it feels good!

Now, with that being said, it’s really important to remember that some cats dislike being stroked. Petting can be uncomfortable or unfamiliar to cats, as it may be related to fear, pain or lack of socialisation. Therefore, you have to give your cat the choice of being petted or not. Research showed that cat cuddling sessions last longer when the cat comes to ask for the cuddles. Last but not least, cats are more likely to enjoy being petted by humans they know and trust and are less likely to accept a stroke from a stranger.

How to pet a cat: What is the right way to pet a cat?

You might be thinking that petting a cat is simple, but there are actually a few things you should know before stroking your feline friend. Communication is key! Learn how to understand your cat’s needs and comfort. Does your pet want to be stroked?

Rule number 1: Don’t jump right onto your cat and start petting him without analysing the situation. If you wish to pet your cat, start by slowly approaching the animal and see how he reacts.
Rule number 2: Allow your cat to approach you first.
Rule number 3: Hold your hand out in a relaxed position but don't put it too close to your cat’s face.
Rule number 4: Let your cat smell your hand first and observe you. Your cat may rub himself on your hands or your legs.
Rule number 5: Begin by stroking your cat’s side of the face and then let your cat guide you. They’ll tell you the pressure they want you to use and the direction they want you to take.
Rule number 6: If you notice your pet is tense in their body, hisses, growls or you hear a high pitched meow, stop immediately!

Now that you have established a good and trusting relationship with your cat, you can try petting him in other areas, but always with your cat’s approval.

Little tip: If you wish to pet a cat which isn’t yours, ask the owner if it’s ok to pet their cat. Cats are often scared of strangers and may show signs of aggression or fear. Therefore it’s important to follow the rules above and also to ask the owner if the animal is sensitive, or has painful areas that should be avoided. You should also ask if the feline has specific ways he likes to be petted.

Where does a cat like to be petted?

Cat stroking chart
The ultimate guide to petting your cat ©Wamiz

This question has been asked many many times and is so common that researchers from the British University of Lincoln conducted a study on the topic. Their conclusion? Cats like to be petted on their:

  • Back 
  • Neck
  • Cheeks
  • Chin
  • Base of the ears
  • Around their lips

According to the diagram, if you want to please your cat, give a nice good rub on your cat’s head by insisting on the contour of its lips, chin and cheeks, that’s where cats have sensory receptors, and scent glands. The base of the ears is also a well-known and appreciated spot for cats.

Where should I not touch my cat?

The study from the British University of Lincoln, published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior, was conducted on 54 cats, and most of them refused to be stroked at the base of their tails. It would be a particularly sensitive area if stimulated by the strokes. It is therefore an area to be avoided, as it often provokes the cat's irritation, and can lead to an aggressive response.

Preferences vary from one cat to another, but there are a few areas that most cats don’t like to be petted. There are always exceptions but here are other areas where you should not pet your cat are:

  • Their belly
  • Their feet and legs 
  • Their thighs
  • Private areas (such as anus and genitals)

Signs of pleasure or discontent to watch out for when petting a cat

The best way to know if your cat is enjoying its petting session or not, is to watch its behaviour.

A happy cat

  • Has a relaxed face and raised ears 
  • Purrs and kneads
  • Gently wag its tail in the air or keeps it upright 
  • Most importantly, if your cat nudges you with his muzzle when you stop petting him, he doesn't want you to stop there!

However, if your cat

  • Tries to get away from you
  • Bites or kicks you with their paws
  • Its tail is swishing, puffed up with fur or rigid and held high
  • Flattens his ears 
  • Turns its head to look at you and narrows its eyes
  • Hisses, cries or growls
  • Runs away
  • Hides

This is one way of telling you that he doesn't appreciate your strokes!

We know, you love cats, and so do we! And petting them is a pure moment of joy. While many cats love to be petted and will seek it out, others are reluctant. As long as the petting is on your cat’s own terms, then it’s absolutely fine to stroke your cat. Remember, no two cats are exactly the same, there are certain areas that cats like and dislike. Learn to communicate with your feline, understand its needs and comfort. Now you know everything about your cat’s secret, your best friend will come asking for more cuddles, you’ll see!