Cats: Safe Stroking

Cats: Safe Stroking
Cats: Safe Stroking
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There are some areas of a cat’s body which when stroked may antagonise him/her. There is a safe way to stroke a cat. Is it fair to say that some cat owners push their luck a bit when stroking and handling their cat, believing that they can do almost anything they like or handle their cat as they might a baby?

An antagonised cat might grab the person’s hand with forepaws and bite. Then we sometimes hear of complaints such as my cat is aggressive. Safe stroking is about respecting the cat, doing what the cat likes and not what we enjoy (the two often go together, but not always).

Whether a cat is antagonised by stroking or not, does not just depend on the person; the cat might be poorly socialised and therefore unused to being touched or the cat may have been badly treated or teased. When adopting a cat that wonders into our lives, initially we won’t know how well socialised the cat is. When adopting from shelters and cat rescue organisations the cat’s personality is usually known but not always that well for the simple reason that a cat rescue centre provides abnormal living conditions for a cat which prompts abnormal behaviour.

If cats were not well handled when younger it is wise to stroke the safe areas which are (in my experience):

  • On the shoulders and neck
  • Along the back but taking caution when near the base of the tail. Cats like the base of the tail to be touched but it can excite them sometimes in my experience. This may be because of glands in that area.
  • Top of the head
  • The flanks (sides)
  • The tail is normally OK but kids seem to have a habit of pulling cat’s tails or the tail may have been trapped at one time. These events will obviously make a cat sensitive to her tail being touched and stroked. The answer is to go cautiously if you are unsure and until the cat gets to know you.
  • Chest is usually OK

Places to avoid are:

  • Hind legs and paws
  • Even front paws can antagonise
  • Belly – some cats like their belly being stroked and if confident will accept it; and if they trust their human companion that too makes it more acceptable
  • The face is a place which is borderline. I have found it to be accepted by cats but it depends on the cat and how you do it. When a cat knows you the face, and in fact almost anywhere, is acceptable provided it is done in an appropriate way with a focus on gentleness and being alert to the cat’s demeanour and feelings

When cats groom (lick) other cats they almost always focus on the head area, which informs me that a cat should enjoy that region being stroked because human stroking is a grooming, washing substitute.

The more gentle handling a kitten has had during the early weeks, the more friendly he will be with people. A kitten that has had at least four handlers during the early weeks will be relaxed and friendly with most people.

For unfamiliar cats, stroking from the neck along the back is a safe way to stroke. In these regions no senses or sensitive areas are being interfered with and most pet cats will tolerate this.

If the cat likes you he may invite you to stroke his head area by rubbing his head against your hand. Stroking down the body and along the length of the tail is usually acceptable as well.

After years of handling domestic cats people instinctively know what the cat they are stroking likes, dislikes and accepts. This information is garnered by observing cat body language and knowing cats in general. People who have a adopted a cat for the first time should familiarise themselves with the basic principles as outlined on this page and proceed with respect for the cat’s feelings and wild heritage.

The photo is by Ed Turtle and the cat’s name is Wrigley.

9 thoughts on “Cats: Safe Stroking”

  1. We know how our own cats love to be tickled and stroked and Jozef rolls over as he loves his belly nuzzled, Walter rolls over too, but try to nuzzle his belly and you get a kick in the head lol
    Neighbours cats I only stroke their heads and along their backs, but having known Narla as long as we’ve had the boyz, she will allow a kiss on top of her head.
    Meeting any cats at other peoples houses or outdoors on our travels, I just talk to them, unless they invite me to stroke them by rubbing around my legs.
    I always think how would I like my body to be a free for all being touched when anyone felt like it. No I wouldn’t.
    I did a silly quiz yesterday to find out what I was in a past life….guess what? Yes….. a cat lol
    I expect I was a feral

    • I am sure you can stroke and touch Walt and Jo anywhere. It depends on the caretaker; their experience and empathy towards their cats. Newbies to cat ownership should take more care and think about it a bit.

      • Yes Jozef will let us touch him anywhere and kiss him, but Walter’s belly is out of bounds so we have to respect that, apart from combing it, which he allows but reluctantly.

  2. This ESSAY is the BACK BONE of all ESSAYS.

    Because! all of those who;

    1. Have a cat
    2. Have not a cat
    3. Thinking to have a cat
    4. Or even not thinking to have a cat

    One must always be very careful. People usually pass by a cat and that cat seems to be very beautiful, pretty, handsome and like a fairy child to them, they wish to touch the cat, and suddenly the cat reacts in a harsh (I mean defensive way) mode and they start to conclude that cats are not a good companions of life and the cats are dangerous.

    Michael! I love your articles because I gain knowledge from them and sometimes I just smile because what you often write in your essays is the same as I experience in my daily activities with cats.

    I always try to find a conclusion within your essays. And the conclusion sentence in your (this) essay is;

    Michael states: …. “Safe stroking is about respecting the cat, doing what the cat likes and not what we enjoy (the two often go together, but not always).”

    God bless you forever and may you have a new companion of lifetime, soon <3 <3 <3 Amen!

    • Tummy area of a cat specially when she is rolling side by side on the ground looks like she is inviting you to touch her but it is not actually the same because it is the offer of WRESTLING. People may be very careful because most often it is misunderstood as OFFER OF “PET ME” !!!

      Very very few, household cats have been observed (specially raised from kittens to elder cats) may tolerate the owners touch on tummy and forgive the owner otherwise it is clearly a start of WRESTLING in the world of cats.

      Please guide me, if I am under estimating the cat’s behavior because I am not a vet, just speaks out with my practical experiments. (I had this experiment with my BIG TUMTUM).

      thank you and God bless you and your cats <3

  3. I like and agree with the descriptions of safe and taboo areas of stroking domestic cats.
    Could you come and try out those on some of my colony members? My camera is rolling..LOL!


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