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