The pleasure of being touched by us is the main reason why cats like to be stroked

“The ritual of cat owners stroking their cat and their cat asking to be stroked and petted is a bonding process based upon mutually delivering pleasure to each other through contact.” – Michael

Petting cat’s head. Photo in public domain on Pinterest.

Domestic cats do like direct contact between themselves and their significant human on their terms. This underpines the ritual of petting.

People ask why cats like to be stroked or petted. There are a few reasons, the main one of which is that they like the tactile nature of being stroked by their human companions/guardian. It becomes part of a ritual which is not only pleasurable on an emotional level but it also reinforces the friendship between human and cat. It’s important to recognise that people and cats like the process for the same reason.

There are other reasons why cats like to be stroked. One is about scent exchange. Cats like to deposit their scent on their human companion so they smell like them. It makes them feel better when we stroke them and pick up scent from their fur and skin onto our hands. We also deposit some of our scent onto our cat. This is scent exchange. It too helps with social bonding. We don’t smell our cat’s scent on our hands because it’s far too subtle but our cat will smell both.

Cats often ask to be stroked by coming up to us, for example, and taking up a position next to us or on us which indicates that they want to be stroked. They prefer to be stroked around the head because this is where, between cats, they normally lick each other in the allogrooming (mutual grooming) ritual.

Cats in general prefer to be stroked around the cheeks and ears because it is these areas which are equipped with skin glands which produce “perfumes” which appeal to other cats.

Both myself and my cat have entered into a fairly new ritual in which he presents himself at my feet and asks with a meow for me to pick him up. He’ll do this when I come home. He needs that reinforcement. Once I have picked him up, I hold him vertically with my left hand under his hind legs and my right hand under his chest. This is comfortable for him and it is important that my cheek touches the top of his head so that he is in close contact with me. He is basically head-butting my cheek but rather than head-butting he is placing his head on my cheek and keeping it there. This is obviously very pleasurable to him and this is about close contact which cats are very fond of.

Cats have scent glands in other areas of the body such as the base of the tail but it is said that in general cats don’t like their owners to touch that area. This would imply that they don’t want their owner to smell of the scent from the gland in that area. I think this is overanalysing it because in my experience domestic cats are normally content to be touched at the base of their tail.

I know it’s fairly obvious but it needs to be restated that the whole ritual of cat owners stroking their cat and their cat asking to be stroked and petted is a bonding process based upon mutually delivering pleasure to each other through contact. I think that sentence more or less sums it up.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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