Avoiding a Tendency To Pet Your Cat Too Vigorously

Petting your cat on their terms

In general, we should allow our cat to choose how much we caress and stroke him or her.  There can be a tendency to over do it.  Or there can be a tendency for cat caretakers to pet their cat a little bit too vigourously.  This may come about because of a slightly careless approach by the caretaker e.g. looking at TV and handling their cat at the same time.

It is pleasant to handle the domestic cat.  The domestic cat feels nice in one’s hands.  It’s a pleasant sensation: the softness of the fur and the body underneath.  If you are a tactile person it’s good fun to touch, caress and pet your cat.  This can encourage overdoing it.

We only have to look at how the domestic cat interacts between themselves to see what a domestic cat likes in the way of being stroked and caressed.  The cat can teach us what to do, but often people do exactly as they feel.  They do as they wish because it is pleasurable.  Cat owners stroke their cat for their pleasure but of course it is also for the pleasure of the cat.  This should be a two-way process and if it is a two-way process then the observant cat caretaker should be aware of what his/her cat prefers. Stroking a cat can be stressful for the cat.

When we stroke our cat, from our cat’s perspective, we are engaging in allogrooming.  This is mutual grooming between cats.  You see between cats in a multi-cat household and between mother and offspring.  We know what happens;  one cat grooms the other by licking the other.  The licking is often focused around the head region (but not always) and sometimes the recipient, enjoying it, positions his or her head to receive the maximum benefit.

After a while the recipient might indicate that she wants to stop; she might get up and go away.  This is not a sign of rejection or annoyance.  It is simply a communication from one cat to the other that she wishes to end the allogrooming session.

If we, as cat caretakers, are guided by the behaviour of domestic cat allogrooming, it means that we will normally be stroking around the head region of our cat at a pressure and intensity that is, by our standards, quite light.  I know that personally I can tend to stroke my cat to forcefully so I am constantly telling myself to lighten up; to be more delicate about it and to mimic what another cat might do. Being to vigour can stimulate play/fight response in the cat which in turn can lead to being bitten. The “owner” might blame the cat but that would be an incorrect assessment.

The observant cat caretaker will understand what their cat likes and then deliver it.  The good cat caretaker will not be upset if their cat wants to end the petting session.  Cats need that space.

Perhaps what is at issue here is that people “own” a domestic cat, primarily, for company whereas a domestic cat lives with their “owner” for the basics in life, namely, security, warmth, sustenance and company.  These are slightly different objectives and these basics should guide us sometimes.

The e-card picture created by Grzegorz Łobiński for the EcardSphere project

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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8 Responses

  1. Marc says:

    Depends so much on the cat. :Lilly insists on being very rough. Infact she initiates the roughness and if I just stroke her lightly she gets bored or frustrated and leaves. Gotta be rough with her. I have seen other similarly rough cats. Some cats like to wrestle even with human arms.

    Gigi is the opposite. Gotta be super gentle always. But when you scratch her neck in the right way she also wants to be scratched hard.

    Molly is in the middle – she likes when you grab her hair in big fistfulls of hair and yank. If you as a human haven’t tried pulling on large amounts of your own hair then you are missing out. Small amounts doesnt work, has to be large. I think this is the ultimate ‘scratch’ for a cat. Better than a scratch even because the hair prevents the scratch from reaching the skin anyway.

    I notice a hell of alot of people cuddle their cats to close and at the wrong moments and to the annoyance of the cat who just patiently waits to be put down (since it usually involves them being picked up). I hate seeing this but it’s hard to tell a person to slow down without them taking it badly, especially if it’s their own cat so to speak. Infact most people cuddle cats when they want to and NOT when the cat wants to unless it just so happens the cat wants to at the same time. People are just self centred about it and don’t fully understand their cat’s mood or desires.

    If cats are forced to live according to the human like that I do notice that they will eventually adapt. i.e.: all they want is to play really, and they want attention from the human because they are bored but if all they can get is not so good cuddles at certain times then they end up adapting to that because they would rather that then nothing at all. Sad really. That’s exactly why cats deserve to go outdoors. Because humans are not good enough at tending to their needs when they are locked up inside.

    I’ve seen so many humans confused as to what their cat wants, and annoyed because the cat is never interested in them when they wat it to be. MOST humans have this trouble with cats. Then they just stop caring I guess.

    • kylee says:

      I guess its a mixture of balance,working out how each cat is different & will tolerate different degrees of touching and handing. You are right in some things, some people don’t pick up the cues when the cat has had enough or when what they are doing actually hurts. I remember Rob could basically lay on Cassy, and she virtually would allow him to cuddle her, while that would be too overwhelming for me as im always mindful of not cuddling or touching too much. I think sometimes got to think like a cat. If you put yourself in the cats shoes would you tolerate that kind of patting.

  2. kylee says:

    Exactly our cats always tell us when they have had enough of being petted or stroked. Sometimes you just know when enough is enough. A good article by the way.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks Kylee. I think heavy-handed petting is the cause of many cat behavior problems but there are no records so I am guessing.

      • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

        Do you know what I think Michael?
        I think you are more of a cat behavioural expert than many who call themselves ‘cat behavioural therapists’ because you can obviously put yourself into a cat’s mind and understand exactly how they feel.

        • kylee says:

          I agree too. Can usually tell as when a cat gets abit Stressed,or when you get that look. When the tail is flicking you know its time to stop.

  3. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    ‘The good cat caretaker will not be upset if their cat wants to end the petting session. Cats need that space’

    Exactly Michael, we should respect that our cats choose when they’ve had enough of petting. It would be like someone kissing and hugging us, if they overdid it, we wouldn’t like it, well I wouldn’t anyway lol
    We need to remember how small cats are compared to us and that most don’t like being ‘roughed up’ by heavy handedness.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Thanks Ruth. It is quite important this, because we do read of cats biting or scratching their “owners” and the reason is often over-petting I believe. Cats don’t like too much of what we want.

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