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What's the Best Way to Pet a Cat?

Learn the best way to pet cats.

Have you ever experienced this: You're petting your kitty, thinking he's enjoying it, and suddenly, he turns and swipes or hisses at you. Maybe he even nips at your hand. While there can be a few reasons for that behavior, it's a good idea to learn the best way to pet a cat. That way, you can minimize the chances of it happening to you.

Cats in the Wild Are Mostly Solitary

Though cats have lived alongside humans for thousands of years, they still have a lot of similarities to their wild ancestors. And they were mostly solitary creatures.

Some cats like being petted more than others. The more human handling a kitten gets between two and seven weeks of age, the more he will probably like handling.


Humans, by nature, are not solitary. We like to gather into groups and use physical affection a lot. So, our ways can be overwhelming to some cats.

Know How to Tell If a Cat Likes Your Touch

The first rule for petting your cat is to understand how to determine whether he's enjoying it. If he displays signs that he doesn't want to be touched, stop.

Learn more about cats that suddenly bite during petting here: "Petting-Induced Aggression in Cats."


Here are some ways cats show they do not like the current petting:

  • Pulling away
  • Moving the ears back toward his head
  • Not leaning into you, purring, or otherwise inviting more petting
  • Shaking his head or licking at his nose
  • Suddenly starting to groom in a manic way
  • Swishing or thumping his tail
  • Growling, swatting, or nipping (note, these are usually not the first sign cats display)

Here are some ways cats show they do like the current petting:

Remember, a cat may want to be petted at one time but not another, so you must analyze the body language during every encounter.

How Should You Pet a Cat?

Each cat is an individual and, as such, has a way they like to be petted and held (or not). But there are some general things to know about petting most cats.

  • Most cats like having their heads stroked, under the chin or behind the ears.
  • A majority of cats do not like having their belly petted.
  • Many cats dislike having their tail or paws touched or petted.

Let Your Cat Initiate a Petting Session

It's a good idea to let your cat initiate all petting sessions by coming over to you, climbing on your lap, jumping up onto your leg, or kneading on you. Those are usually signs that your cat would like a little snuggle.

If your cat is napping, sitting alone, or watching birds outside, it's probably best to leave him be and wait for him to come to ask for your physical attention in one of the above ways.

You May Also Like These Articles:

How to Socialize a New Kitten

Petting Induced Aggression in Cats

Why Do Cats Purr? The How & Why of Cat Purring

Why Do Cats Drool?

Why Do Cats Knead?

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