How To Pet A Cat [5 Steps For Perfect Petting]

Have you ever tried to pet a cat and found yourself being swiped at or completely ignored? Or maybe you just want to show your cat affection how he or she understands it best.

Here we discuss how to pet a cat.

How to Pet a Cat

Knowing what triggers the wrong response from a cat to a human touch can make a petting experience more enjoyable for both parties. Here’s a summary of our full post:

  • Let the cat initiate the interactions
  • Stroke the right spots
  • Look for signs of enjoyment or dislike
  • Know when to stop
  • Respect their personal space

Let the Cat Initiate the Interactions

Your cat might not be meowing because he or she wants affection. Meows can be due to other reasons, like asking for food.

(My cat meows when she’s ready to go to bed)

That’s why you should let your cat initiate affection by showing signs like rubbing against you or purring. These signs can be different from one cat to another, but you should be able to tell what signs your cat shows when it’s looking for attention.

If you’re a new cat parent or you’re petting a stranger cat, letting the cat sniff you first will make the interactions a lot easier and eventually more enjoyable.

Simply reach out your index finger and let the cat sniff you. This will help him or her determine that you’re not a threat and if the cat is comfortable enough, she’ll rub against your hand or move closer.

Research has proven that letting the cat initiate the affection leads to prolonged periods of petting.

Stroke the Right Spots

There are certain spots that cats like to be touched and others that are completely off-limits. It depends on how well you know your cat and which areas are favorable to it.

fat tabby cat sleep on the table indoor

Studies have shown, cats have a more sensitive sense of smell than dogs and most of them enjoy being petted or stroked where their scent glands are located.

This helps them familiarize with their surroundings and mark you with their own scent.

These areas include petting under the chin, along the side of the cheeks, behind their ears and moving from the top of their head to the back of the neck.


On the other hand, you should expect slashing or biting if you even try to reach for a belly rub, which is known to be a vulnerable area for cats as it’s where most of their vital organs are located.

Stroking a cat’s tail is also off-limits, but stroking the back of the cat till you reach the base of the tail can be acceptable for some cats.

The areas where cats enjoy to be petted will differ from one cat to another. It’s best to practice and become familiar with your cat.

Look for Signs of Enjoyment or Dislike

If you’ve managed to successfully interact with your cat, you should still keep your eyes open for signs that indicate whether your cat’s enjoying it, simply tolerating it or preparing to slash at you.

Here are a few signs to look for what for.

Signs of Enjoyment

If your cat is enjoying the interaction and the affection that she’s receiving, she’ll do any of the following things:

  • Kneading you with its paws
  • Purring
  • Swaying its tail or holding it upright
  • Ears are facing forward and pricked
  • Licking you or themselves
  • Nudging you if you pause in between strokes

Signs of Dislike

Cats won’t be afraid to show when they’ve reached their tolerance level and are no longer enjoying the interaction. You should be aware of the following behavioral red flags:

  • Moving or turning away from you
  • Flicking or thumping their tail
  • Twitching or rippling of the skin along their back
  • Flattening their ears against their heads or rotating them backward
  • Hissing or low growling
  • Remaining passive (no reaction indicating enjoyment)
  • Sharply turning to face you or your hand

Know When to Stop

Tolerance levels vary from one cat to another, and if one cat loves to be stroked and cuddled for a long period of time, it doesn’t necessarily mean that another cat would.

Happy cute ginger cat lying on the desk next to the keyboard. Man strokes sleeping pet. Cozy morning at home.

To keep the petting an enjoyable experience for your cat, which is the number one goal during an interaction with a cat, you need to stop before it starts showing the warning signs mentioned above.

This will allow the cat to look forward to the next petting session.

Respect Their Personal Space

Even though cats are affectionate by nature and nurture, it doesn’t dictate that they’ll enjoy the human touch all the time.

Like humans, cats tend to require their personal space and their “alone time”. They’ll usually associate a specific spot around the house, where they like to be people-free.

If your cat goes under the bed or is looking out of a window, it’s likely that she’s looking for people-free spots. In that case, she’s probably doesn’t need attention and initiating an interaction out of nowhere will only startle her.

Petting The Right Way

Cats are highly misunderstood and mislabeled as aloof or standoffish feline creatures when they’re in fact just furry bundles of joy and affection.

Knowing how to pet a cat the right way and at the right timing won’t only help create a strong bond between you and your cat, but will also allow you to earn the cat’s trust.

Knowing when to initiate the interactions, stroking and petting the right spots, staying alert for the many signs of enjoyment or dislike will make the petting experience a lot more enjoyable for yourself and your cat.

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