How to Pet a Cat: Dos and Don’ts

If you’ve ever owned a cat or tried to pet a friendly cat, you may have experienced moments when the cat seems wary of your touch, and possibly threatened by your efforts to pet them. This is especially likely if you’ve tried to pet a cat the way you pet a dog—only to receive a sharp rejection from the cat you were trying to shower with affection.

Do cats like getting petted? It depends on the cat—and, for the cat, it often depends on the situation. While some cats are more inclined to enjoy petting than others, there are a lot of things you can do to help the cat enjoy your petting—or, at the very least, to know when to stop before the cat reacts by swiping, nipping or running away. Here’s a quick guide to better interactions with your feline friends.

child showing how to pet a cat at home

How to Pet a Cat: Basic Tips

While cats can be temperamental when it comes to receiving pets, some basic tips and tricks can help cat owners and cat lovers enjoy more positive and appreciated cat-petting sessions. Here’s how to set you and your cat up for a pleasant petting experience:

  • See if the cat initiates petting on their own. When cats approach humans and rub against them first, it tends to lead to a more positive petting experience.
  • Pet gently to minimize stress. Heavy petting could raise the cat’s alarm and rattle their sense of safety. Touch them very gently at first and monitor their behavior to see how they respond.
  • Pay close attention to the behavioral signs of a cat’s satisfaction. Purring, an upright tail, a relaxed body, and leaning into your hand are all strong signs that a cat is enjoying the petting. The cat may be uncomfortable or anxious if they are standing or sitting still, blinking compulsively, turning their head away, or if their ears are flattened against their head. If you notice any of these behavioral changes, you may want to take a break from petting.
  • A cat’s comfort may change abruptly. Over-petting cats can be a concern if you aren’t attentive to a cat’s behaviors. It’s possible that a cat will switch from enjoying your petting to feeling overwhelmed or stressed out by its duration. Always pay attention when petting a cat, and if you see signs that the cat is growing uncomfortable, that’s your cue to end the petting session before it turns into a negative experience.

Where Do Cats Like to Be Pet the Most?

Your cat’s ability to enjoy your petting will be affected by where on their body you choose to touch them. Certain locations are safer for humans—and pleasant for your cat—than others. The back and sides of the torso are typically safe and welcome spots to target your petting. Similarly, scratching a cat’s chin, face and ears is often appreciated because the scratching can comfort the glands in your cat’s face.

The tail is a gray area, so pay close attention to your cats’ behavior to see if she enjoys being touched and petted on this extremity. As for the legs, most cats are leery of being touched here because of how it constricts their mobility, and because legs may be more prone to getting injured. It’s better to focus your petting on other parts of the cat’s body.

Most importantly: do cats like belly rubs? Unfortunately, the answer tends to be an emphatic “no.” While dogs may gleefully roll over to help you rub their stomach, cats are very sensitive and protective of this part of their body and may lash out if they’re afraid of this contact. If you have a cat that seems to enjoy belly rubs, count yourself lucky: in most cases, it’s better to steer clear.

Why Does My Cat Drool When I Pet Her?

There are many reasons why your cat might drool when getting petted—but none of them are reasons to be worried. The most likely reason for drooling is that cats sometimes drool when they’re relaxed or happy. Drooling is often a physiological response that cat owners can use to determine when their cat is in a good mood, or so relaxed that they’re falling asleep.

Drooling can also be triggered by your cat’s sense of smell, so it’s possible that your cat is also hungry and/or responding to a smell in the air. But if the drooling starts while you’re petting your cat, it’s safe to assume your cat appreciates the love and attention.

Why Do Cats Like the Base of Their Tail Scratched?

The base of the tail features a high number of nerves, including nerves that travel up your cat’s tail. Like any other body part that is dense with nervous tissue, the base of the tail can be extra sensitive when touched or petted. If your cat reacts strongly to having his tail scratched, this is likely because the touching gives your cat a strong sensation.

If your cat exhibits other signs of happiness, such as purring, raising their butt in the air, or licking the air, this is a strong indication that your cat really enjoys your scratching at the base of the tail. But be careful in choosing how much pressure to apply: Since this nervous tissue is sensitive, too much pressure could cause discomfort or pain, and turn your cat’s joyful experience into an unpleasant one.

When humans are careful and considerate, petting can be a fulfilling experience for both the person and the cat. As you get to know a cat over time, this familiarity will make it easier for both you and your cat to enjoy this quality time together.