Through personal experience, I know where cats like to be petted (stroked, rubbed, caressed). In general, cats prefer to be petted around the head and shoulders and of course down the body but the focus is generally at the front of the cat. There are five skin glands secreting pheromones on the head. This is a reason why cats like this area to be petted – scent exchange.
In general, the domestic cat does not like to be handled around the hind legs and the backside. An intermediate area is the tummy where cats will ask to be rubbed sometimes but it should be done to a limited extent because the cat is in a vulnerable position and it may elicit a defensive response if overdone.
These are my general experiences but we are fortunate enough to be able to refer to a study which is referred to in The Welfare of Cats, an excellent reference work on the domestic, stray and feral cat.
In 2000, Bernstein, in a preliminary study on responses of cat owners to questions about petting, discovered patterns of interaction which suggested that there are what, is called, “shared rules for social interaction including shared routines” (Alger & Alger 1997).
In other words, the observant cat caretaker, based on experience, discovers what sort of petting her cat enjoys. You can work it out because of the way your cat responds.
In the study cat owners identified certain areas of a cat’s body where they appear to prefer to be petted. The way a cat indicates this is by:
- staying still
- closing their eyes
- slowly blinking
- moving their head and body in such a way which encourages the caretaker to do more of what they are already doing
- looking at you in a relaxed and contented way (this subtle signal is probably for observant and experienced cat caretakers only)
Do you know of any other ways a cat tells you he likes what you are doing? These forms of communication from the cat to their human caretaker indicate that specific sites on their body are preferred for petting, namely:
- along the cheeks
- between the ears and eyes
- the top of the head
- the stomach
- I would add to this list: the top of the head running down to the shoulders
- I would also add (a) under the chin and (b) down the back of the cat
Cat owners describe sequences of petting which their cat appears to prefer e.g. head to back to tail to stomach.
The domestic cat was also involved in behaviour patterns that were interpreted by the owner as seeking to initiate petting. For example: leaping onto the person’s lap, rubbing a person’s leg, flopping down in front of a person and looking up.
In my case, when I call my cat at a certain time of the day and under certain circumstances he knows that I am going to pet him and he comes (sometimes) to me to receive it.
The study discovered that some domestic cats preferred certain specific petting areas within the house. The cat would lead their caretaker to a particular spot whereupon they stood still or flopped down for a session of petting. Other cats would only allow petting in certain areas such as in the bathroom. Have you experienced this?
In a further study, which took place in 2002 and which concerned nine cats, it was concluded that:
- The temporal area had the greatest number of positive responses from the cats while the caudal area had the least number of positive responses. The temporal area it at the front of the cat while the caudal area is at the rear of the cat. This supports my personal experiences.
In Bernstein’s study:
- 40% of 90 cats preferred petting in the area around their head
- 27% preferred being petted on their cheeks, nose and eye area or under the chin
- 21% preferred the ears, in front of the ears (temporal area) or behind the ears
- 8% of the cats preferred to be petted on the stomach or tail (at the base of the tail or the tail itself)
I am not sure what the remaining 4% enjoyed best!
I hope you find this information useful. Perhaps your won’t because, as stated, the observant, thinking cat caretaker will automatically recognise where their cat prefers to be stroked, touched and generally petted.
To be honest it is about common sense, really. Cats feel safer if you stroke them at the front because they can see what is going on. Also, there are five scent producing glands on in the head which deposit scent when rubbed against an object. Cats like to deposit scent when being petted.