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Do Cats Like To Be Petted?

Apr 19, 2018 · ·
  1. Anne
    Do cats like to be petted?
    If you love cats, chances are that you love petting cats. But is the feeling mutual? Do cats enjoy being petted? Let's review this question in depth to see which cats like to be petted and why. We'll even address the more common ways in which cats like to be petted... And some of the stranger ones too.

    Do cats enjoy being petted?

    Cats do so much for themselves without human intervention that a curious first-time cat owner may wonder if it’s okay to pet their cat. After all, cats have sharp teeth and claws, and they certainly know how to use them.

    If you're an experienced cat owner, currently scratching your kitty's chin, the idea may seem strange to you. Consider this though - would a feral cat enjoy being petted? Probably not. Try to pet a feral cat against his or her wishes and that cat could soon remind you just how sharp feline claws and teeth are!

    With that in mind, whether cats like being petted depends on the following factors -
    • The cat’s personality or temperament
    • Their level of trust, and
    • Whether they’re being approached by a stranger or a familiar and loved caretaker

    Does it really matter who's petting the cat?

    Yes, it does. In fact, we here at TheCatSite did our own internal study about this very topic. We asked 411 cat owners about the reactions their own cats had when being petted and how enjoyable this experience was overall. Below, you can see a breakdown of the respondents’ answers in a handy graph.

    Graph showing results of survey we had on TheCatSite, asking cat owners whether their cat enjoys being petted

    As the graph shows, the overwhelming majority of cat owners, or 52.6 percent, said their cats like being petted by just about any friendly human hand. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean strangers, but rather members of the family the cat knows and trusts. However, almost half of the respondents, or 44.1 percent, said their cats only enjoyed being petted by their owner.

    Only the smallest portion, or 3.2 percent, had a cat that didn’t like being petted at all. While this is just a small sampling of cat owners, the enthusiastic and positive answers from the respondents prove that cats generally do like their pets and cuddles, even more so if these are offered by a loving owner.

    Why Do Cats Like Being Petted?

    Cats may have been domesticated for centuries, but these animals still possess their most basic instincts. These instincts can be a driver of a cat’s behavior even today. In fact, it is an evolutionary trait that explains why cats so enjoy being petted by their favorite human. A study by biologist Sophia Vrontou (published in the science journal Nature) suggests that being petted reminds cats of being groomed and licked by their mother.
    Why do cats like to be petted?
    Vrontou and her team discovered that there are sensory neurons in mice beneath their fur that became triggered when the animals were stroked. For the purpose of this study, petting was tested in the form of stroking. In fact, the researchers specifically said that light pinching failed to produce similar effects. It’s possible that cats could have the same sensory neurons, which would explain why they’re so eager to be petted.

    Another great reason cats like being petted is simply because it feels nice. Stroking a cat feels nice to us and we can tell by a cat's purring and body language that they enjoy it too. Petting also helps further the bond between human and cat, which members of TheCatSite agree is one of the most rewarding relationships one could have in life.

    Where Do Cats Like to Be Petted?

    Remember before how we talked about sharp kitty claws and teeth? If you don’t want to feel them, then you should know that some parts of your cat are off-limits when it comes to petting.

    These areas vary from cat to cat. Some kitties might like having their hind legs gently touched while other cats will absolutely not go for it. By knowing which areas you can touch, you can avoid irritating Kitty and reduce the risk of being scratched or bitten. This is one of the keys to preventing feline aggression towards humans.

    Generally speaking, cats prefer being petted anywhere they have multiple scent glands. These scent glands are the same ones your cat uses to spread pheromones whenever they rub on anything, you included! Your feline friend is essentially marking you as their own when they engage in this behavior (which is pretty often). This increases kitty happiness, which would explain why many cats like being petted in the following areas:
    • Base of the tail
    • Cheeks
    • The ears as well as between their ears
    • Chin
    Of course, depending on your cat, they may not enjoy being petted in every single one of the above areas, which is okay. You might also find that your cat lets you touch and pet other areas that are more uncommon, such as their tail, the back of their neck, their hind legs, and even the tops of their front paws. Some cats are actually happy to have their belly rubbed!

    This absolutely depends on the cat, his or her personality, and how comfortable that cat feels with you. If you’re nervous about making your cat upset, then stick to the four areas listed above. You almost can’t go wrong.

    How Petting a Cat Benefits Humans

    Having a cat in your life that you can pet and snuggle can be very beneficial for us humans. In fact, a good petting session will produce more serotonin in your body, which in turn will make you feel happy. Your cat will be happy, too, so it’s a win-win for both of you! Not only that, but your anxiety and stress may decrease.

    Anything that gets your kitty purring is also good for both you and them. How? Research published in 1997 found that if your cat purrs at 18 Hertz and louder (up to 35 Hz), you may have improved joint mobility as well as healthier bones and muscles. Since most cats tend to purr at 20 Hz all the way up to 140 Hz, you should always be able to reap those health benefits whenever you give your kitty a good petting.

    But wait, there’s more! You may have a 30 percent decreased chance of having a stroke and heart disease with a cat in your life. This again goes back to how cats can give you an endorphin boost that gives stress the boot. That means a healthier heart. If you needed another reason to go pet your cat, you now have a whole host of them.

    When to Stop Petting a Cat

    Even if you hit all the right "notes," so to speak, your cat might not always be in the mood to be petted. This is their right, and you should respect it. If your cat walks away from your petting session, then let them do so. Chasing them and further petting them could lead to biting and scratching. This is due to what’s called overstimulation, or excess petting. Overstimulation can turn even the most docile cats temporarily mean.

    When your cat is being petted, they will exhibit signs of enjoying it. When you pet a cat near its tail, he or she will start to wiggle and may even drop down on the floor. Face pets will elicit hand rubs as well as whisker rotation. Your cat will purr especially hard if they’re in the mood to get a nice chin scratching.

    Once your cat no longer purrs or rubs up against you while being petted, you should stop what you’re doing. There are also signs of overstimulation to be on the lookout for, and these also tell you when to stop. Your cat may tense up, have rippled fur, or stare directly at you. Their ears might slightly flatten, and their tail might move rapidly. Give your cat space if they're overstimulated and try petting them later.

    Cat-Petting FAQs

    Have more questions about petting cats? We tried to cover them all in this section. If you have more, leave a comment or post your question in the cat behavior forum.

    How to Pet a Kitten?

    Not all cats like human contact, but if you have a kitten, you can warm them up to regular pettings. This doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly worth trying. If you give Kitty treats after petting, the kitten will likely begin to look forward to being petted more often. This is a behavior that should carry over into adulthood, meaning you’ll have many years of cat petting to look forward to.

    With a new kitten, you’ll have no way of knowing which areas they like being petted and which to avoid. Many kittens prefer not to have their ears or their claws and paws petted. You can gradually teach your kitten to enjoy the former by slowly and softly touching the ears. Make sure you provide treats after doing so. This shows your cat that nothing bad will happen while being petted in this area; in fact, since they get treats, it’s just the opposite.

    Do be aware that overstimulation can occur in kittens, too, who are often curious, rambunctious, and excitable. You will have to be especially careful not to get them too riled up during a petting session to avoid being nibbled on or scratched.

    Do Cats Like Being Petted While Sleeping?

    The jury is definitely still out on whether you can or should pet a cat while they’re in dreamland. On the one hand, think about how you feel when someone wakes you out of a sound sleep. You’re probably grumpy and angry, right? Some cats will react similarly. They may try to bite or claw at the source of the petting, i.e. your hand.

    Other pet owners have found that there are only certain areas on their cat they can pet while the cat is sleeping. These may include the hind legs, the pads of the paws, and the all-elusive stomach (more on this shortly). By petting your cat when they’re asleep in these areas, you do risk accidentally waking them up and again possibly getting bitten or scratched.

    Cats do a lot more sleeping than we people do. They’ll be asleep for most of their lives (two-thirds). They can experience REM sleep, which is deeper, and non-REM sleep. Only you can decide whether it’s worth it to bother your sleeping cat for petting. If you find that you must, try to pet the cat when it’s in non-REM sleep, or at least don't wake them up when it looks like they're dreaming. They’ll be more likely to wake anyway. Also, remember, if your cat is truly tired, just let them sleep. They’ll be awake at some point and you can pet them then.

    Do Cats Like Having Their Ears Scratched?

    Above, we discussed whether it’s okay to pet a kitten’s ears. As mentioned, some kittens grow up enjoying having their ears softly scratched and rubbed while others do not like it. While you can train a kitten to get used to ear rubs, this is not as easy to do with a fully-grown cat. If they’re touch-averse in their ears, you might just have to accept that.

    Why do cats enjoy a chin rub?

    Why Do Cats Like to Be Scratched Under Their Chin?

    A cat’s chin is one of the prime spots that contain scent glands full of kitty pheromones. Cats love few things more than spreading those pheromones through rubbing, which we talked about earlier. They also quite enjoy marking their territory with their pheromones, which is why they’ll rub on you and let you pet scent gland-heavy areas. Although we humans can’t smell these pheromones, cats can, and that’s good enough for them.

    Here’s another surprising reason to give your cat some chin rubs. Cats can develop acne. Some people call it "catne", but whichever name you prefer, it tends to affect a cat’s chin. Cats can get acne regardless of gender or age. Sometimes a cat’s fur hides their acne so we don’t see it, but the cat definitely feels it. This can be itchy, which is another reason a cat may seek out those beloved chin rubs. Even without any present acne, it never hurts to get the circulation going in that area with a light massage.

    Do Cats Like Belly Rubs?

    Have you ever been in this scenario? You start rubbing and petting your cat, and they seem to love it. They drop to the floor and start rolling around, showing their belly. It’s so fluffy and furry, so you decide to pet it. For your troubles, you get scratched or bitten. Why? What did you do wrong?

    While there are certainly exceptions, many veterinarians and cat behavioral specialists recommend you do not attempt to rub a cat’s belly. It makes sense when you consider how vulnerable that area is to injury. In a fight, a cat needs to avoid any contact with his or her belly area, at all costs. It only makes sense some of that caution carries over to petting sessions too.

    Do cats like to be petted? How about belly rubs?
    This photo of Link was shared by our member Kieka in a discussion about belly rubs. Kieka chose the title of "Pet the belly at your peril". She owns three cats though and apparently, each one reacts differently to belly rubs -
    While you can certainly try some behavior modification through treats, you should otherwise leave your cat’s cute belly alone, as hard as that can be.

    Why does my cat like me to pet her while she's eating?

    That is a surprisingly frequent question in our cat forums. Some cats seem to prefer having their owner around while they eat. No one knows for sure why. And every now and again, there's a cat who actually likes to be petted while eating.

    cats like to be petted while eating

    Not all cats like it though. If your cat hasn't developed that particular habit, don't try to pet him or her during meal time. Chances are they won't like it and even if they do, why start a habit that's going to be a nuisance to keep?

    What if my cat doesn't like to be petted?

    Remember the survey we had? A small - but significant - percentage of cats prefer not to be petted. They may not necessarily be feral cats. Some domestic pet cats - born and bred in a home with people - may be averse to the sensation of being petted. These cats are often shy cats who prefer to keep some amount of distance between themselves and their favorite humans.

    And they do like their humans. Just because a cat prefers not to be petted doesn't mean he doesn't enjoy interaction with the beloved owner - you. Let the cat establish the level of contact he or she prefers.

    Not all cats like to be petted

    Be respectful of Kitty's boundaries, and over time they may shift a little and allow you a closer physical connection. Read more tips for living with a shy or timid cats here.

    My cat suddenly doesn't want to be petted

    Has your cat used to enjoy petting but suddenly doesn't? Does she recoil when you try to pet them now, maybe even hissing at you or biting when you try to touch her? Your cat may be in pain.

    Any change of behavior can indicate a health problem. In fact, a change in a cat's behavior is one of the many signs of pain in cats. Your cat may be reacting to a general sense of illness-induced discomfort, or she may be experiencing pain in a specific spot where you were trying to pet her.

    If your cat suddenly tries to avoid petting or reacts to petting in an aggressive way, it's time to call your veterinarian.

    Over to you

    How about your cats? Does your cat like being petted or not? Which are his or her favorite areas to be petted? Share in a comment below!

    Related reading -
    Your Cat Probably Hates It When You...
    25 Signs That Your Cat Loves You
    How To Deal With Cat "love Bites"?
    How Well Do You Speak Cat?
    Why Do Cats Knead

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  1. Jimpro3
    All three of my boys love to be petted by anyone and everyone. They seek out loving from all humans. Daniel and Boone (brothers) are especially cuddly and love to be petted for as long as you want. Spencer on the other hand loves to be petted, but has a very short tolerance for it. You can pet him with a few strokes, but he quickly becomes overstimulated and my try to bite. It has taken me awhile, but I now know exactly how much and where I can pet him before it's too much. NONE of the three like being rubbed on the belly. Daniel and Boone try to reach up and scratch or bite if you try to rub their belly. Spencer won't try to scratch or bite; he just goes somewhere else and says "leave my belly alone". All three of them LOVE a nice chin rub. That is definitely their favorite touch from a human. They start purring loudly and look as if they are smiling when I'm rubbing their chins.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  2. TigermonkeyNYC
    My cat was at the shelter for an inordinate amount of time because he was too scared to even come out to the interaction area for possible adopters. I’m a therapist so I jokingly thought “eh, this guy was just waiting for a shrink to come along.” The first 10 days took ALOT of slow, committed effort to get him to become comfortable and now he is INSANELY accommodating and allows me to do practically anything and enjoys it. I swear I think he has actual human gratitude towards me. I rub his belly constantly, he comes to bed when I go to sleep and plops down between my arm and my face so my hands on his belly. He lets me hold him like a baby. He will literally go into the disappearing hands and feet sitting position into my crossed arms, like they’re a window sill. And we have a language code for when he wants down, so he never squirms. 2 mild muted quick meows and I always put him down so he knows how to say “that’s enough” and knows I will honor it. I think this is a bizarre magnitude of accommodating behavior from a cat. Do you think it’s possible he could comprehend the acceptance he got from me in contrast to the repeated rejections and actually be thankful?? Or is it likely just that I’m the alpha cat.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. tarasgirl06
  3. chipvang
    Great article! I have had a cat that was the belly rub king. He did not always like other forms of petting!
  4. calico man
    Very nice article. Lulu here falls into the petting category of "I'll tolerate it but will let you know when I've had enough" and that's when it's time to stop. Now as far as a belly rub? Uhhhhhhhhh, no.
  5. Jayflower
    All 3 of mine enjoy being petted. C'est Moi's favorite spot, believe it or not, is her belly; she loves to flip over onto her back for a good tummy rub. Olivie loves being petted on her cheeks, her neck, and the top of her head. Hotaru likes being petted along her back, and she likes having her nose rubbed.
  6. sushi777
    My cats LOVE to be petted, especially under the chin, around the ears, neck and the back. Belly rubs are a treat as well! My boys also adore head and cheek kisses.
  7. KimothyAnn
    Regarding the belly rubbing: It is unfortunate that the author discourages belly-rubbing your cat. All 5 of my feral-born elderly kittens LOVE having their belly's rubbed. The oldest one insists on some rough rubbing, in which he grabs my hand with all 4 paws and gently bites. Never breaking the skin. He seeks me out to do this and cries if I ignore him. I rub him rough like he's a dog, and he doesn't care - just grabs me with his back legs a-kickin' and the front paws holding my hand while he nibbles. My hubby says that when I'm gone at work, "Rascal" paces the floor and cries for an hour or two. Hubby says that Rascal just loves me, and I think he is right! Now, our younger tabby "Timmy" waits for me at the back utility room ALL DAY, and both boys greet me when I come through the door, wanting lots of attention. You'll never know if it is a true "no" to rub the belly, unless you try. Don't veto this show of affection, so quickly! Wear gloves, if you're unsure at first. This is great massage for them and it gives you an emotional high to make your cat so doggone happy, too!
      1 bruce 1 and tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. 1 bruce 1
      Agreed! Check it out, they may love it or not, but you won't know til you try.
      Some dogs love being cuddled, grasped, held and no amount of physical contact is enough but others hate it even from their "person" and find it really undignified.
      We had a kitten that did not like being held/cuddled/pet for long. She got older, this changed, she became comfortable with it and now she's a lap tumor that will NOT leave anyone alone that has a lap available =) Sometimes it's an acquired taste!
    2. TigermonkeyNYC
      Omg I love this. My cat does the same. At first I thought he was saying go away, but he grabs my hand pulling it in wanting it, and scrape kicking it with his feet, like they do with string or a ball. It’s totally worth it to tough up your skin for these kinds of things. I have had so many superficial mini cuts that I barely even notice when I have one now. And the nibbling the hand. The whole thing is so damn adorable
  8. pharber-murphy
    What an excellent article. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    I have two rescues. The younger male isn't particularly fond of petting. Once in a while he'll let me rub his chin and he sometimes likes neck rubs. Other than that, he'd rather I play with him. The older one loves to be touching me, but not necessarily petted. She does like for me to hold her back paws or put my hand on her tummy when she's stretched out next to me. I think it reminds her of her kittens when I knead her belly with my fingertips. She seems to enjoy that. As you say in your article, all cats are different. It takes time and patience to figure out if you cat is a lover or a fighter :-)
      tarasgirl06 and Anne purraised this.
  9. epona
    My cats are ridiculously cuddly - they've never nipped me or even warned to say enough is enough - if anything it's the opposite, Radar will grab my hand with his front paw/claws and pull it towards him if I stop petting him before he is done - and he is happy to continue being petted for hours, and in fact insists on it!

    The Ori boys can never seem to get too many cuddles either.:D Jakey likes his tummy rubs, when I say "Rollyboy" to him he will roll onto his back and stretch out purring while I stroke his tummy - so cute :D Sonic is my velcro cat and has to be on me a lot of the time :D
      tarasgirl06 and 1 bruce 1 purraised this.
    1. 1 bruce 1
      One of our boys does the dophin maneuver (head into the air, followed by front end, then back and butt, all in one single movement) whenever you dangle your hand just over his head. So cute.
      A lot of our pet lovers hate being held, except for one that is really quite demanding about both xD
  10. katiesperson
    I have two rescues, who were litter mates. They both LOVE belly rubs. First cats I've had or known who liked them. Before them I had a silver tabby who was the most confident, people-loving cat ever. She used to pet me sometimes, especially when I was asleep, stroking my hair with her paw.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  11. tarasgirl06
    Though I take a very dim view of biologists and consider "light pinching" of anyone to be abusive, on the whole, I like the article very much!
    Having lived "with cat" since birth, I would say 99.9% of the cats I've known love petting, which is a good thing, because I'm going to pet them! ;) The only exception to this so far was Shah Rukh Cat, who was not only female, but 100% feral. ;)
  12. its tom the cat
    I have 2 cats. Both rescues. One is a crabby female who will bite you in an instant but she loves to be petted and combed. She purrs almost constantly. She is about 17. My second cat is about 3 years old, has no eyes and never purrs anymore. He does not like being petted or held but if he is asleep on my lap I caress him. Every now and then he will wake up and bite me. Still very sweet.
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
    1. tarasgirl06
      AWWW! May you be many times blessed for your love for these two. I love bitey cats, actually. Because, you know, they're CATS. ;)
      1CatOverTheLine purraised this.
  13. snowpawprint
    I very much enjoyed this article. Most of the time my kitty doesn't mind being petted by people she has already met. She adores belly rubs from me as long as it is the right time:cloud9::petcat:. She can,however, be quite skittish at times, especially when someone new comes about.:running:
  14. PushPurrCatPaws
    The article did not address one aspect I think is important to consider when petting. If your kitty which you have had for years normally likes to be petted in particular areas on the head, body or limbs with no lashing out or biting or hissing, pay attention if he or she suddenly reacts negatively to your petting of these normally positive areas. It could be an indication that the animal might have an injury or health issue, even an ear infection. The kitty may not simply be acting "moody" per se, but it could be that the kitty might have a possible injury or internal issue. Other examples could be a limb or back injury, or, if internal, it could be something like pancreatitis if the kitty is lashing out from being picked up with your hands wrapped around his/her (now tender or sore) sides or tummy. So, if there are other signs of lethargy, hiding, or unusual behavior which makes you suspect pain in the animal (besides any odd biting or hissing, etc.), always a good idea to double-check things with a visit to the vet!
    1. 1 bruce 1
      Excellent point.
      Another point to consider is the possibility of static electricity, I've felt a shock when touching one of my cats as I pass by and it shocks me, shocks them, and I can't think of much else that would deter a cat from wanting to be pet!!
      Anne and PushPurrCatPaws purraised this.
    2. PushPurrCatPaws
      That's an excellent point, too! :)
      1 bruce 1 purraised this.
    3. Anne
      Very good point! We actually have an article in the pipeline about behavioral changes in cats and what they could mean. I'll edit this one too though - very good feedback, thank you!
  15. Boris Diamond
    Good article! I have had a cat that was the belly rub king. He did not always like other forms of petting! The ones I have now all like to be petted to varying degrees and in different places. The article is very helpful in understanding this.
    1. 1 bruce 1
      I have a belly rub girl, and a lap cat. Physical contact, for her, is heavenly. One of my boys is the opposite. Loves any kind of interactive play, is intense and intelligent but prefers greetings in verbal form and nothing more.
      Funny, one day I stooped down to fill their water bowl and he was on a piece of furniture extremely close by, watching (and probably silently judging) me. Squint-eyed, he took a front paw, carefully placed it on my head, and "boop" pressed down. It was so cute...
      yukon25 purraised this.
  16. 1 bruce 1
    Thinking of people and their behavior/preferences...some people will hug someone they haven't seen in 24 hours just because that's how they are, others can go 20 years without seeing someone and would consider a shoulder pat crossing the line because that's just how they are.
      yukon25 and Cuteyoungchic purraised this.
  17. di and bob
    Very good article, I enjoyed it! With as many cats as I have enjoyed over the years, I agree with it all. I have fed ferals for ten years without them ever wanting to be touched, to the one I have now walking on my computer, purring and nudging my hand yo get me to stroke him. Then there was my Chrissy, initiated strokes, wanted them, and then after exactly three, would strike out with claws, that was her limit! They are all different in personality and temperament, as individual as we are!
      1 bruce 1 purraised this.
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