How to stroke your cat

Petting is a great way to build an even stronger bond with your cat. With help from Evy Mayes, Feline Welfare Adviser at Battersea, we’ve come up with the ultimate cat-stroking guide.

Stroking your cat can be a calming and bonding experience for both of you. But when it comes to interacting with humans, every cat has their personal preferences. So, whenever you make a new feline friend, take time to discover their likes and dislikes.

Start by holding your hand out towards the cat’s face and allow them to smell you. If they’re keen to be stroked, they’ll likely rub their cheeks against your fingers or nudge their head against your palm.

Go by their body language. ‘If the cat turns their head or walks away, this is a good indicator that they are not interested in a petting session just now,’ says Evy Mayes, Feline Welfare Adviser at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. ‘Always respect a cat’s interaction preferences as this promotes wellbeing and, therefore, a happy cat.’

Discovering how to stroke any cat is a process of trial and error. Some cats will happily be stroked for a long time, some are content with a quick fuss, and some would rather not be touched at all.

‘Each cat is different – one factor being what type of human socialisation they received as a kitten,’ Evy explains. ‘A kitten that has been positively socialised with lots of different people will tend to become a generally more confident and sociable adult cat.’

Bonded cats that live together in a close social group often engage in mutual grooming – known as allogrooming – and will often nuzzle and rub against one another. It may look like an adorable display of affection, but the real purpose of this behaviour is for felines to transfer pheromones between one another, creating a group scent and sense of belonging.

The parts of the body cats are most likely to groom or nuzzle are those with the highest concentration of scent glands, so you’ll notice they focus on:

  • the forehead (temporal glands)
  • the top of the head (pineal glands)
  • the cheeks (cheek glands)
  • around the mouth (perioral glands)
  • under the chin (submandibular glands)
  • the base of the tail (supra-caudal glands) – for some cats only

‘As well as transferring their scent to one another, cats will also rub these parts of their body onto objects throughout their territory to create an environment of familiarity. In fact, you’ve probably seen your cat rubbing their scent glands on furniture, boxes and even visitors!’ says Evy.

2022 Veterinary Awards: don’t miss your chance to nominate!

It’s never been so important to show vets our appreciation for all their hard work, so tell us about your own inspiring animal hero...

Nominate your vet

The parts of the body with scent glands are the parts where your cat is most likely to enjoy being touched. Take care with the supra-caudal gland at the base of the tail, though. While some cats enjoy being stroked here, others can’t stand it or quickly become overstimulated – which can result in a swipe or a nip.

Although every cat has different likes and dislikes, there are some common no-go areas when it comes to stroking. Most cats don’t like to be touched on their paws, whiskers, flanks, tail or belly.

When your cat rolls over, it may look like an invitation to tickle their tummy, but exposing their abdomen is simply a sign of being comfortable in your company. Most cats aren’t keen on belly rubs and are more likely to appreciate a scratch under the chin or tickle around the cheeks

  • Allow the cat to approach you first.
  • Always stroke a cat in the direction that their fur grows.
  • Check frequently that the cat wants you to continue. Purring and kneading are positive signs, and some cats may even dribble when they’re enjoying being petted.
  • Stop stroking if you see the cat’s tail start to twitch or thump, their body tense or their ears flatten. By being alert to their body language you can avoid being bitten or scratched when they’ve had enough or are becoming overstimulated.
  • Carefully supervise children interacting with a cat. Teach them the importance of letting the cat approach them first, and show them how to offer their hand to see if the cat wants to make contact.

Some animal scientists have suggested that, to a cat, a stroke from a human hand is comforting because it reminds them of the firm lick of their mother’s tongue washing them as kittens. Others theorise that cats might encourage people to stroke them to help with grooming.

One thing we know for certain is that stroking a cat has health benefits for both of you. Just 10 minutes of cat stroking has been found to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in humans. There is a little evidence to suggest that petting a cat can lower your blood pressure, too, and that cat owners are slightly less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases than those who live feline-free.

‘For cats that enjoy regular stroking sessions, this could be a good way to detect potential health issues such as fleas, skin ailments, injuries or lumps,’ Evy advises. ‘If your cat suddenly doesn’t enjoy being stroked in a place they have previously enjoyed, it could be a sign of discomfort, so ask your vet to check them for injuries or illness.’

Does your cat love or loathe being stroked? Tell us on social media using the tag #PethoodStories and we might just share your story!

Back to top