Last updated: August 27, 2016
Cats love to be stroked, scratched, tickled, generally tumbled about, and in the case of my cat, stalked and hunted. This is extremely difficult for humans to understand since we don’t go up to other human beings and run our hands all over each other, tickle and scratch each other – not to mention licking – eeow! That would be really strange, not to mention offensive behavior! So why do cats like to be petted?
I’m so Sensitive!
One reason why cats like to be petted is that they are very sensitive to touch. Pressure pads are distributed across their skins, making tiny lumps among the hairs from between 45 per square inch (7 per square centimeter) to 160 per square inch (25 per square centimeter) in the most responsive spots. They don’t even need actual contact with the skin since any pressure on the hair is transmitted down the hair via the hair follicle to the skin (so that’s why my tubby tabby is so ticklish!) Those linked to guard hairs are particularly sensitive and the most sensitive of all are the whiskers, eyebrows and the long stiff hairs on the back of the front legs, which are responsible not only for sensing things that they touch, but air currents and changes in air pressure caused by nearby objects.
A cat’s sense of touch is not only an information gathering system but a source of pleasure as well. Domestic cats and many tamed wild species like – LOVE- being , but not always in the same way. Some tame cats hate their paws being touched, while others love it, especially when combined with massage between the toes. The feeling of contentment and security which comes with stroking and petting may hark back to the time when Mommy was grooming them so it may be associated with warmth and milk. Some cats really enjoy quite strong pressure being exerted. (Mine is a really wussy pussy and won’t tolerate anything but the lightest feathery touch!)
It’s thought that the reason why cats like to be petted by their owners is because it’s just like the touching they get from other members of their own species. Among cats, the favorite rubbing spots are between the eyes, ears, cheeks and lips and in front of the tail. The rubbing between cats spreads their scent between them and gives them a feeling of security and well-being, so what is more natural than expecting that treatment from the person who is closest to them?
Studies have shown that stroking your cat reduces stress and lowers blood pressure in both the petter and pettee therefore lowering the risk of heart attack in both. But if to want to know why cats like to be petted – and how – make sure you’re going about it the right way. As you no doubt know, cats like to do things THEIR way, so stroking a cat isn’t as easy as stroking a dog. They like to do things on their own terms – as any of their ‘slaves’ can tell us – so respect their wishes and let them come to you. If you try to impose your will upon a cat you will live to regret it! She might come and rub her head against you; this is a good sign. It means ‘hello! I’m ready for some petting now!’ You’d better give her some or there will be trouble!
Right Time, Right Place
First of all, make sure you haven’t got one of those cats who needs to be petted at a particular time in a particular place. (Are cats the fussiest creatures on the planet, or what?)
The Right Way
Rub your moggy on the top of her head between the ears. This is an area that contains scent glands, and when she ‘bunts’ you she’s marking you as hers. This will produce much slow blinking and loud purring, and will make sure you’re the cat’s meow in no time flat!
Under the chin. This sends my cat into an almost euphoric state of bliss. He lifts his chin right up and stretches his neck out ecstatically, purring like a lawnmower. When you tickle him like this you can do absolutely anything with him!
Run your hands along her sides. Cats love this, but make sure you stay away from the belly area since they don’t necessarily want to be tickled here. It’s true that many cats enjoy this if they’re feeling relaxed and playful, but many don’t, since, in the wild, leaving your tender areas open to attack from predators just isn’t a good idea. And they may take it as an invitation to do a bit of rough housing cat-style with teeth and claws.
Being stroked along the back from head to tail is positively sublime for kitty, but many cats don’t enjoy it the other way, from tail to head. (Mine does, but he’s a bit – er – strange!)
Massage her behind the ears, where there are more scent glands. (Doesn’t it seem to you that a cat is a walking scent gland?)
Stroke your cat on the cheeks where there are – yes – MORE scent glands, then work your way round her face, making sure not to miss out the whiskers and mustache.
The Wrong Way
Although cats love to be petted, there are several good reasons why a cat may become aggressive during petting sessions. As we’ve discussed before, cats are extremely responsive to being touched, but this may not always be a good thing.
Because of the nature of all that soft fur, a charge of static electricity can build up, and this can be painful for your kitty. There may be an undiagnosed medical problem such as arthritis, skin infections or ear mites or your cat may be just one of those animals who have a low tolerance threshold for petting.
Whatever the reason, if your cat turns and bites or claws at you or simply walks away, respect her wishes, just as you would a member of your own species. It goes both ways, you know!
I Love you!
So why do cats like to be petted? Probably because they love you and want to be with you. That’s the best answer I can think of, so enjoy this intimate interaction between you and your pussycat. She may not be able to stroke your fur (mainly because you ain’t got any) but she will show you in dozens of different ways why cats like to be petted.