How to Pet a Cat: A Guide to Stroking Your Feline Friend

As pawrents, there’s nothing we love more than cosying up with our furry felines for a cuddle on the sofa. But is your adorable kitty enjoying the cuddle as much as you are – or as much as you thought they were?

Despite what many non-pet parents think, cats are actually very social and affectionate creatures. They’ve developed a reputation for being quite aloof and independent. But rather than this being their natural behaviour, some cats may develop a disliking for cuddles because their pawrents simply aren’t petting them right.

To ensure you’re hitting the sweet spots and avoiding getting scratched, keep reading for our simple guide on how to pet a cat.

Why do cats like being stroked?

petting a cat

First things first, what is it about being petted that cats – and dogs – love so much? There are a number of things that contribute to our kitty’s love of cuddles. The most common theory is that, when being stroked, the motion reminds cats of their mother grooming and licking them as a kitten.

This helps your cat to relax and feel safe, reminding them of a special bonding time with their mother. By stroking your cat from a young age, you can help to form a bond with them that is unlikely to be broken.

Another theory that’s popular amongst pawrents and pet psychologists is that we leave an individual scent on our cat’s coat when petting them, giving them a sense of comfort and safety, especially once we have formed a bond with them.

When socialising with other kitties, cats show their affection by grooming each other. A group or family of cats will do that to help build a shared smell, useful for identifying one another. And, of course, they might simply enjoy the feeling of a good massage, just as we would.

How to pet a cat

Petting a cat correctly takes a bit of prep. There are a number of things to consider when stroking a cat in order to keep your kitten happy and healthy.

Understand their body language

You may feel like you know your kitty better than anyone. But even the most devoted pawrents can sometimes misinterpret their cat’s behaviour. Approaching you and meowing could be a sign of affection or, more likely, could be a request for food, playtime or to get outside. A more common, readable sign that your kitty wants affection is if they rub up against your leg or lean into you as you sit down.

Give them space

Respect your cat’s personal space. As much as your cat might enjoy cuddles, there are times your kitty simply just wants to be left alone so it’s important to respect cats’ own space. This is not a reflection of you as a pawrent. Most cats just enjoy a little alone time every now and then.

All cats will have different spaces and spots they go to when they want to be alone, so you should pay attention to your kitty to learn their favourite spots. Boo likes to sit atop the wardrobe in the guestroom for her me time, so we leave her be. Whether they’re sat alone at the window or hiding under the table, you’re at risk of an unfriendly interaction with your kitty if you disturb their alone time.

If you’re attempting to stroke a new cat, earn their trust first. Cats are wary of strangers (as they should be) so it may take some time for them to feel at ease and welcome a stroke.

Know when to stop

Although cats do enjoy a cuddle with their pawrents, they can also grow easily tired of being petted and want you to back off. It’s best to look out for these signs that your cat has had enough and know when to leave them alone for a while.

Your kitty may fidget, growl, hiss, flatten their ears on their head or even snap at your hand if you don’t back away quickly enough. If you notice any of these behaviours, simply give your cat a little alone time. That way, you’ll avoid putting them off cuddles altogether.

A light touch

There's no one set way to pet a cat. Every cat is different, and while some may prefer a firmer rub than others, it’s best to err on the side of caution. If in doubt, stick to a light touch and avoid rubbing their fur the wrong way.


When we first rescued Boo, she wasn’t used to interacting with lots of people and could get a little overexcited when someone pet her. Watch out for signs that a cat is overexcited to avoid scratches and bites. Signs include thumping tail action, growling, and dilated pupils. Again, every cat is different so take your time to learn how long is long enough for a petting session. Let the cat rule the way.

Where to pet your cat

Unlike dogs, who generally enjoy being stroked wherever you choose, cats are a little pickier. If you're wondering how to pet a cat, there are certain spots to focus on, and some to avoid altogether…

Avoid the belly rub

Belly rubs are what most dogs take delight in but when it comes to cats, steer clear! As much as it looks like an invitation when a cute cat is rolling on its back, it’s not. Cats can feel vulnerable when placed in certain positions. If they are lay on their back, relaxing, they may get a fright or feel unsafe if you start to stroke their open belly. Generally, you should avoid rubbing their belly, unless your kitty makes it clear that they don’t mind.

If your cat hasn’t yet learned that you don’t mean them any harm and that you’re simply showing affection, they may react aggressively to any unwanted touch, so be sure to take it slow and build up to petting. Also, if your cat is pregnant or in heat, they may respond differently to petting, so be sure to take all things into consideration.

Focus on the scent glands

Typically, the spots your cat enjoy being petted the most are those where their scent glands are located. As we know, cats are territorial creatures. Spreading their scent around their environment, on their loved ones and other animals, makes them feel safe, secure and content. Stick to the below areas and you’ll have one happy kitty!

Under their chin

The point where your cat’s jawbone meets their skull is a sensitive, pleasurable spot for them. Gently rub along this spot for a relaxing, enjoyable cuddle with your cat.

Behind their ears

Behind the ears is a great spot for your cat to spread their scent. If they are bumping their head against you when petting – known as ‘bunting’ – they are effectively marking you as their own.

Base of their tail

Gently stroking your cat’s spine, adding pressure at the base of the tail will help your kitty to feel safe and secure. Typically, this is the most natural way of petting an animal, so you may find yourself doing this without much thought.

A full body stroke

Now that you know the sweet spots, go for a full-on body stroke. Use an open palm and gently stroke from the crown down to the base of the tail. But remember to watch out for signs of overexcitement and understand when petting time is over.

Keeping your kitty happy & healthy

Understanding your cat’s needs and restrictions is important to keep them happy and healthy throughout their life. As well as knowing how to pet them effectively, it’s essential to know what they can and cannot eat and give them the best cat food for them.


At Scrumbles, we’re passionate about all things pets. From bringing your new kitten home to environmental enrichment, our blog can guide you through each stage of being a pawrent. Subscribe to our cat blog to stay up to date with the latest cat news, information and exclusive offers.

Image credit: Buzzfeed


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