Owner petting their cat on the top of its head

Key takeaway

Understanding when and where it is safe to pet a cat is important for your safety and theirs. While every cat is different, most felines prefer to be pet on their back, chin, around the cheeks, ears, and on their forehead. Many cats dislike being pet on their tail, tummy, or feet.

 

Many cats love to be pet… that is, as long as you pet them in the right place. If you pet a kitty in an area that provides comfort for them, you may hear that telltale sound of content purring. But, if you pet them in the wrong place, you may ruin their day - and yours. When it comes to petting a cat, you have to make sure you always pet them in the right place, and only when they’re open to it.

In this blog post, we discuss where to pet a cat, where not to pet a cat, signs that you shouldn’t pet your cat, and more. Petting your cat can be a great way to promote a strong relationship with them, but you have to do it in just the right place (and only when they’re amenable).

5 Spots It’s Generally Safe to Pet a Cat

Every cat is different, but a recent study purported that there are a few spots where it’s generally safe to pet a cat, such as:

Best places to pet a cat include their back, under the chin, around their cheeks, at the base of their ears, and the forehead between their eyes.
  • On their back
  • Under the chin
  • Around their cheeks
  • At the base of their ears
  • The forehead and between their eyes

While these may generally be acceptable to most housecats, it’s important to remember that every cat is different. Some cats may love to be pet on their backs, some cats might hate it. This is why it’s so important to proceed with caution when it comes to petting, especially if it’s a new cat or a cat you don’t know.

Generally, cats like to be pet on their scent glands, which are located on their face. This is why you’ll often find that a cat will shove their face into your hand as a way of inviting you into petting them. But in addition to knowing where to pet a cat, you should also know how to pet a cat. Cats prefer to be pet with soft, gentle strokes that go in the same direction of their fur. Cats don’t like the aggressive, back and forth petting that dogs like. They prefer something much more gentle.

If you notice your cat is displaying any concerning behavior when it comes to petting, you should consult with your veterinarian or a vet behaviorist. They will help determine what is causing this behavior and if it’s a result of something more serious, like a health condition.

Where Not to Pet a Cat

There are places where it’s generally safer to pet a cat, but there are also areas of the body you should avoid. Veterinary behaviorists have found that cats generally dislike being touched at the  following locations:

Areas not to pet a cat include their tail, tummy, and feet.
  • Tail
  • Tummy
  • Feet

If a cat doesn’t like to pet in these locations–or anywhere on their body– respect their wishes. Petting your cat somewhere they don’t like to be pet is only going to aggravate them and hurt your relationship with them.

These are just some of the locations where cats generally do not like to be pet, but it’s not limited to just these. Your cat might hate being pet on the head but doesn’t mind a nice tummy rub here and there. 

Signs You Shouldn’t Pet Your Cat

If your cat doesn’t want to be pet, they’ll make it known. Your cat will tell you with body language if they’re not interested in snuggling or being pet. Look for some of these signs of cat anxiety or discomfort in your cat, and avoid petting them if these are present:

Some signs you shouldn’t pet your cat include nose licking, a burst of grooming, thrashing tail, and the cat moving away from you.
  • Nose licking
  • Burst of grooming
  • Thrashing tail
  • Freezing
  • Ears that are slightly flattened or rotated backward
  • The cat moves away from you
  • The fur on their back begins to “ripple”
  • They sharply turn their head to look at you or your hand
  • They groom themselves frantically, only for a few seconds

If your cat is exhibiting any of the above behaviors, that most likely means they’re not too interested in being touched by you and you should just leave them be. The signs of anxiety differ for every cat, so it’s important to discuss with your veterinarian or a vet behaviorist to determine how best to comfort your cat in times of stress. 

Even if they don’t like to be touched physically, that doesn’t mean you still can’t be there for them! You’ll just have to figure out another way to comfort them (with the help of your vet, of course). For example, playing with your cat with toys is a great way to build a relationship with them and comfort them, while still respecting their wishes of not wanting to be touched.

Tips for Petting Your Cat (For Your Comfort and Theirs!)

Owner petting their cat’s cheeks.

There are a couple of helpful tips you should know when it comes to petting your cat. If you do it right, petting your cat can strengthen your relationship with them and bring you closer to each other. But if you do it wrong, you’ll send them flying to the other side of the room in anger and fear. 

These are some important tips for petting your cat, for both your comfort and theirs:

  • Let your cat control the interaction: Let your cat approach you, don’t force the physical interaction on them. Your cat will let you know when/if they’re ready to be pet. Let them initiate the interaction and just follow their lead.
  • If you pet your cat, start with quick increments: You’ll want to start with gentle, but quick increments of petting your cat. If your cat asks for more by rubbing against you, then they may be ready for more pets. If not, stop petting them as that means they don’t want to be touched anymore.
  • Watch your cat’s body language: Your cat’s body language will tell you a lot about their feelings about being pet. If your cat hisses, backs away, jerks their head, or just has no response at all– they most likely do not want to be pet. It’ll be easy to tell if your cat is enjoying being pet. If your cat is enjoying where and how you’re touching them, they’ll purr, their ears will point upwards and forwards, and they’ll keep initiating contact.

Final Notes

When done right, petting your cat can be a really enjoyable experience for the both of you. Cats can be extremely loving and cuddly creatures! You just have to follow their lead when it comes to being pet. So now that you know the best places to pet a cat, you can focus on building a strong relationship with your kitty and providing them with the comfort they need. The days of scratched-up hands are over.

But if your cat is exhibiting other unusual behavior, in addition to not wanting to be touched, this could be a sign of something more serious, like a health condition. If your cat’s unusual behavior persists for a long period of time, you should bring them to the vet as soon as possible so you can get to the bottom of what’s causing it. And if you need help bringing your cat to the vet, check out Dutch.com.

Dutch telemedicine is a convenient resource for pet owners who need quick and convenient access to pet care. Dutch-affiliated vets are highly trained and qualified to help with a myriad of pet care issues that could be causing your cat’s odd behavior, such as cat diarrhea or cat dermatitis. Dutch-affiliated vets are trained to identify any animal health issues so you can receive a diagnosis and get the proper medication prescribed to you as quickly as possible. So whether you’re dealing with cat skin allergies or a cat ear infection, Dutch is here to help you get the treatment you need to nurse your kitty back to health.

References

  1. Nottingham Trent University. “Letting cats decide when to be petted avoids hostility and increases their affection,” Phys.org. https://phys.org/news/2021-07-cats-petted-hostility-affection.html

  2. Camilla Haywood et al. “Providing Humans With Practical, Best Practice Handling Guidelines During Human-Cat Interactions Increases Cats' Affiliative Behaviour and Reduces Aggression and Signs of Conflict”, Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2021). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.714143/full