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Your guide to petting a cat.

August 15, 2018 3 min read

Image: Pusheen

What makes cats happy? Caring cat parents want to provide the nutrition, environment, and enrichment cats need to thrive. We also want a relationship with our cats because the bond between pets and their people is a meaningful one. 

Do cats like to be petted?

The idea that cats are solitary creatures who snub humans is mostly false. Some individual cats may snub their families, but most kitties enjoy spending time with their people. 

It's true that cats don't take to petting the way some other domestic animals do, though. While most dogs seem to relish a full body rubdown, long stroking sessions on the couch, and lots of physical contact, cats typically appreciate a more restrained approach. 

"Certain cats," says feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, "cannot take being petted like this over and over again." So should you ignore your cat? By no means! Just pet her like she's a cat, not like she's a dog.


Why do cats like to be petted and scratched?

For cats, petting and gentle scratching show affection. The oldest theory about why cats like to be petted and scratched says that the action reminds them of their mothers. Your pet considers you his new "mom" and expects you to render the same treatment a queen cat would bestow. 

Some cats may like petting because they enjoy mixing their scents with yours. By blending scents, the cat develops a sense of security and trust. Others cats may like to be petted for the same reason most people enjoy a good massage, a hug from a friend, or a kiss from a partner.


Where do cats like to be scratched?

A YouTube video called What's Your Cat's Petting Style? suggests there are two kinds of cats - 1) the classic feline who loves to be petted with moderation and limits and 2) the party purr who loves to be petted with few limits or rules. 

Since most cats seem to fall under the first description, let's take a look at a cat's favorite petting and scratching spots:

  • Cheeks - Most cats enjoy a good cheek scratch. A cat's cheeks contain scent glands so when you rub them, you're mingling their scent with yours. 
  • Under the chin - One of those out-of-the-way spots on a cat's body, the space under a cat's chin is a great one for scratching since the cat may have trouble reaching it himself.
  • The base of the tail - Most - though not all - cats adore being scratched or petted here. When your cat walks up to you, turns around, and lifts his butt in the air, take the gesture as a compliment.
  • The face - Cats may like to rub their faces against you. Extend a finger for them to use as a scratcher, or just let the cat pet you for a change. 
  • The ears - Some cats like their ears scratched, rubbed, or gently twisted. A few even go for having a knuckle rubbed against their ears' exteriors. If your cat appears to have very itchy ears, ask the vet to take a look at them. Itchiness could signal mites or allergies.

The best places to scratch a cat do not include the stomach. Unlike dogs, who adore a belly rub, most cats find it frightening and will lash out.

How do cats like to be petted?

Most cats enjoy being scratched. A few like a firm rub on selected body parts. Not many enjoy being stroked in the way other domestic pets do. Just treat your cat like a cat, and she'll be a happy kitty. 

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