If you haven't had much experience with cats, or if you want to teach your kids how they can be affectionate without worrying about getting scratched, we’ve got the inside scoop on how felines want to be petted.
So, what’s the correct way to pet a cat? You may think, no one needs to tell me how to do a simple thing. But the truth is that petting a cat isn’t something you can do by intuition alone. If you’ve never had a close relationship with a cat, maybe because you had a bad experience before, don’t worry. We can help you change all that with a short tutorial. Simply follow the guidelines below and you too can begin to know the joys of feline companionship.
If there’s one rule to keep in mind, it’s that petting a cat is very different from petting a dog. While dogs usually love a good belly rub, cats typically do not. Why is this true? It boils down to psychology. Generally speaking, dogs are usually pretty secure in their identity as a predator. You may even know of a few tiny dogs who believe themselves to be big bad wolves (looking at you Chihuahuas and Terriers). However, cats are more cautious, because in the wild, they identify as both predator and prey. That’s why cats remain on high alert much of the time. If a cat feels threatened – like when someone they don’t know unexpectedly touches their soft underbelly - he will act defensively to protect his vital organs. Better you than him, he would say.
So, the secret spots where cats enjoy being scratched are where a cat’s scent glands are located: in the cheeks, the top of the head and at the base of the tail. When a cat rubs against a piece of furniture or your leg, it’s referred to as bunting. Bunting is how a cat spreads his scent. It’s his way of saying, “Hey, I like you and want to include you among the things that make me happy.” Bunting releases pheromones, making objects – or people - in his environment smell familiar. It also has the added benefit of reducing stress!
Around the head is a sure-fire hit with most kitties. Rub your cat along the crown at the top of the head, gently under his chin, in front of the ears and cheeks behind the whiskers. Hit this last spot just right and your cat will actually rotate his whiskers forward, indicating interest and friendliness.
With cats, it really pays to be observant about how each individual responds to different kinds of touches. Most cats like it when you run your hand along the spine. Some even enjoy gentle pressure at the base of the tail. In fact, they’ll let you know by sticking their tails straight up. If you notice any growling or tail-swishing, these are clues that your cat is becoming overstimulated and may lash out. For cats with heightened sensitivities, it’s best to stick with gently scratching their head and neck.
If you’re interacting with a timid kitty, always let them come to you first. As you might imagine, chasing someone down is not a good way to start a new relationship with a cat (or anyone, for that matter). Instead, try a “peace offering.” When approaching timid cats, give them a couple of tasty morsels, like our Gourmet Cat Treats for Skin & Coat Health, to show that you’re friendly and mean no harm. This positive reinforcement for affectionate behavior could have your cat saying, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
We hope you find these tips helpful for tuning you in to your inner cat nature, and that you too will now feel completely at ease with all kitties.