Everything To Know About Petting A Cat

For the new or unbeknownst cat owner, immediately cuddling with your new cat may seem like completely appropriate behavior. The cat may have different ideas, however! Cats typically won’t let you pet them right off the bat, especially if they don’t know you. They need time to get used to you, and some felines may not want to be touched ever. Before you pet another cat, keep reading this list of tips and tricks from The Refined Feline.

First, Not All Cats Want To Be Pet

Nobody can blame us for wanting to shower animals with affection. You’ll likely want to pet your new furry feline when you bring them home and set up their cat furniture and litter box furniture. There are certain cats however that don’t really enjoy being touched no matter the circumstances, and may never want attention. 

Younger Cats Are More Extroverted

Cats get comfortable and used to human attention when they are younger. During this stage, they become acclimated to humans, including their touch, speech, and scents. If they don’t obtain this socialization while younger, they will end up being shy or scared, not wanting attention. This can be difficult and disappointing if you had your heart set on a super friendly kitty to bring home! Kittens can also gain a negative impression of humans if a cat’s mother is apprehensive or scared of people. This can lead the kittens to be more shy and scared of human touch. 

Let Your Future Cat Choose You

Be sure to meet and get to know your potential new kitty before bringing a new cat home. Cats may gravitate towards certain humans just as people may prefer certain people over others. Find out about your cat’s back history as much as you can, although if they are a rescue, there might not be much information. However, discovering more about their past can help you know whether they have interacted much with humans and if they like affection

Focus on Their Body Language

If a cat is shy, they may try to leave the room entirely or stare intently at you with open eyes. It might be better to adopt a more outgoing cat if your ultimate goal is a more friendly feline. But also don’t assume that affectionate cats always want pets or company all the time, though. Cats are fairly independent and ultimately make the choice when they want to be near you. Whether it’s for affection or anything else, it’s best to let a cat approach you first. 

Most Cats Can Be Socialized

If a cat isn’t a huge fan of physical affection now, that doesn’t mean they won’t want attention down the road. Some cats will show when they may not want pets or much interaction from humans. For others, they may have had a bad experience that they think is the norm, so they continue to keep away from people. 

Start Positive Experiences 

If cats start having more positive interactions with people, they may come out of their shell and realize it isn’t so bad! So, start slowly if you think your cat wants attention, and keep it on their terms. Keep in mind that cats may not want attention if they are in the middle of something, even if it’s simply a cat nap. 

When you approach a shy cat, they may lower their body to the ground, widen their eyes and slowly back away. A cat may also not want attention if they are not feeling well, uncomfortable, or even hungry. If cats are not in the mood for attention, no matter the circumstance or location, being respectful of their space will improve the relationship. 

Give Attention On Your Cat’s Terms

To give a cat more autonomy, let them come to you for attention and help them build trust. If a cat enjoys getting attention, they will definitely respond with their body language. They will lean into your hand and rub their face against you, marking your hand and body with scent glands on their face. Cats may even headbutt you, start purring, and knead you with their claws. They may prefer pets on their rear end, back, or at the base of their tail, so they will move their hind end closer to your hand for scratches. 

Watch your cat’s overall body language closely in the moment, as this is going to be the most precise way to know what your cat prefers. Cats may experience “off” days just like people. Using your cat’s body language will clue you in on how much attention they want right then and there. Don’t force any kind of affection onto your cat, whether it’s pets or cuddles. Forced attention can lead to cats wanting less of it over time, and could potentially become fearful or aggressive of affection. 

Petting A Cat 101

Now that you grasp why some cats don’t like attention, it’s time to find out the best ways to pet them! Just like with people, we have areas we feel comfortable being touched by others, and certain areas we don’t. Cats are highly boundary driven, so if you unknowingly keep picking the spot they don’t enjoy being petted, they will walk away. 

First, Introduce Yourself

Cats will want to know your specific scent, so allow them to sniff your hand before you try to pet them. Stroke their fur gently but smoothly, as quick pets or more jerky movements can be scary or uncomfortable. Allow them to approach you first, get comfortable with your presence, and then extend your hand for sniffing. If they are near you and making eye contact, you can outstretch a hand and try petting them. If they smell your hand and walk away, or move their body away from you, don’t try to pet them.

Location Is Very Important


A cat will usually enjoy scratches down their back and sides, along with a few at the base of the tail. Cats appreciate their chin and head scratched, but you may need more trust with them before petting those areas. Understanding and responding to your cat’s body language during these petting sessions is key. You can get a glimpse of your cat leaning into certain areas being scratched, and where they may back away if you pet somewhere else. 

At least initially, avoid touching a cat’s belly or legs unless you know the specific cat enjoys them. Just because a cat rolls over and exposes their belly to someone they trust doesn’t mean they want the area scratched. They may end up swatting your hand or biting you if you attempt to pet this area, so don’t try unless you’re pretty sure they’ll enjoy it. Don’t try to touch or approach a cat who is in a corner or appears trapped. This can make them feel even more fearful of you, even if they do generally enjoy pets.  

Let The Cat Tell You What They Prefer

Some cats can get riled up after a few pets in one area, while others can be scratched under the chin or at the base of their tail for hours. If a cat is becoming overstimulated, they will usually twitch their tail, meow, or swat at your hand. Start petting slowly and for brief amounts of time, stopping before a cat may get tired of the affection. It’s key to watch your cat while petting them so you can gauge their reactions.

Everything You Need To Understand on How To Pet A Cat

Hopefully you have learned a thing or two on the do’s and don’ts of petting cats. They can be fickle felines, but once you build that bond, they are friends for life!

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