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Home > Cats > The Best Places to Pet a Cat According to Experts

The Best Places to Pet a Cat According to Experts

woman petting a cat

Not many things in life are as calming and satisfying as petting a cat. But unless you have an existing relationship with the feline, it’s hard to know exactly where to start sometimes.

Cats are fickle creatures. What works well for one cat will not necessarily work for another. So, what are the best places to pet a cat? We talked to the experts and got some (fairly) surprising answers. Keep reading for more!


How to Begin

When you’ve been around a cat for a long time, you naturally start to learn the good spots and the “must avoid at all costs” spots. But when meeting a new cat, you must be careful on the approach.

Many people have been on the receiving end of a nip or a scratch while giving a cat some affection. Usually, this just means they are overstimulated, or you’re just not doing it right.

You should always introduce yourself to a strange cat. Allow the cat to smell your fingers, and move slowly so the cat doesn’t feel threatened in any way. It’s always best to let the cat come to you, and once the right signals are given, you can proceed with pets.

cat resting near window
Image by: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Signs That a Cat Is Approachable

It’s always a good idea to be able to understand a cat’s body language so you can tell the difference between a relaxed, angry, or fearful cat. Signs that a cat is receptive to pets can include:

Signs that a cat wants you to pet them
  • The cat is facing toward you and initiates contact
  • The tail is upright and in a question mark shape
  • Their ears are pointed forwards
  • The eyes are soft and steady

If you gently hold your finger or hand up to a cat, they will usually push their head against it. Purring, bunting, and making biscuits are all telltale signs that a cat is feeling happy and content.

cat owner talking to his pet
Image by: Piqsels

Where Are the Best Places for Pets?

There are about four places on a cat’s body that are safe bets for pets:

  • Cheeks: This is definitely a sweet spot! Just behind the whiskers are a bunch of scent glands, so your cat not only gets to feel good but can also scent mark you at the same time. Just be careful with the whiskers because they are sensitive. Scratch behind and not on them.
  • Chin and neck: Under the chin and along the jawbone are good spots for a scratch. There are scent glands close to this area (near the jawbone, to be exact). You can scratch down into the neck area, and most cats appreciate this.
  • Base of the ears: There are even more scent glands around this area, and you may have noticed this is where cats tend to do most of their head bunting, which is even more scent marking.
  • Between the ears: Scent glands are nearby and it feels good.

Where Not to Pet

While there are the right places to pet a cat, there are also wrong places. The worst areas are:

  • Tummy: Definitely one of the worst places that you can pet a cat is their belly. This is a vulnerable area for cats, and it makes them feel quite exposed. Typically, when a cat shows you their belly, they are showing that they trust you. They are also hoping that they can trust you not to touch their bellies!
  • Tail: The tail itself should be off-limits. You are almost guaranteed a swat if you spend too much time touching or attempting to pet a cat’s tail!
  • Paws and Legs: A cat’s paws and legs are also sensitive, and for the most part, cats don’t want you petting or stroking these areas.
tabby cat sleeping on owner's lap
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Hit or Miss

Since our cats can be so unpredictable and so uniquely cats, there are a few areas that are hit or miss, depending on the cat.

  • Base of the tail: This area can be Pleasure Central or Smackdown City, depending on the cat. Some cats do peculiar things when you scratch the base of their tail, so unless you know the cat well and know that good things happen when you scritch this spot, you’re better off avoiding it.
  • Head to tail: Some cats don’t enjoy the long strokes from head to tail that we humans seem to favor. Stroking your cat in this way is usually fine a few times, but after a few too many, your cat might either take a swipe at you or just get up and walk away.

The general cat rule to follow is this:

  • Unfamiliar cat: Chin, neck, the base of ears
  • Known cat: Anywhere you know that has been accepted, and you’ll know by the purring versus biting behavior


How Do Cats Like to Be Petted?

According to cat expert Jackson Galaxy, one of the best methods for petting a cat is to let them guide you to what they want. You hold up your pointer finger to your cat’s nose, and your cat will push against your finger in the direction that they want pets the most (most often along the cheeks).

Giving your cat the choice and the control for when and how much they get pets will mean a happier cat and fewer potential bites for you.

This is a difficult part of cat ownership for most cat lovers out there. Looking at your cat’s absolutely adorable face just makes you want to pet them so badly, but unless your cat show signs that they are seeking affection, it’s best to respect their personal space.

Petting and scratching your cat should be done gently (in other words, not roughly) and with moderate pressure. Try to move around the area that you’re focused on.

So, if you’re giving your cat a nice chin-scratching, move from the chin and along the jaw and then down the neck. Allow your cat to guide you to their favorite areas.

cat cuddling with owner
Image by: Impact Photography, Shutterstock

Signs That Your Cat Has Had Enough

Galaxy explains that when a cat lashes out when you’re petting them, it’s called overstimulation aggression. This is defined as “negative behavior from your cat as a result of disagreeable petting or excessive attention.”

He outlines what to look out for, so overstimulation isn’t as likely to happen:

  • Be observant: Watch your cat for signs that they are getting agitated: tail twitching and lashing.
  • Look at their backs: This is when a cat’s back will start to ripple and twitch.
  • Look at their heads: When a cat starts to become agitated, they’ll turn their head (usually to look at what you’re doing), and their ears will turn back and their pupils will dilate.
  • Tensing up: The body might start to stiffen up.
  • Know your cat: If you pet your cat five times and then a bite happens, you know not to pet your cat five times. Stop at four.

Galaxy recommends spending plenty of time playing with your cat because this can help release much of the pent-up energy and aggression that they might have.

owner petting a hissing angry tabby cat
Image by: Anna Kraynova, Shutterstock

Letting Your Cat Decide

This Nottingham Trent University study examined the best way to approach cats in order to reduce aggressive behavior and increase their affection.

The study provides guidelines that follow the acronym CAT:

  • C stands for Choice and Control
  • A stands for paying Attention
  • T stands for Think and Touch

So, the first step (C) is offering your hand to your cat and allowing them to decide whether they want to interact with you or not. If the cat chooses not to interact, you let it go and resist the urge to chase the cat down to cuddle or pick them up.

The next step (A) is to pay attention to the signs that your cat is enjoying the interaction or is starting to get agitated. Look for those back twitches and tail lashing, or if your cat stops purring or looks sharply at you, these are all indications that you probably need to stop petting your cat.

The last (T) is to know where the best places are to touch or pet your cat. This is something that you probably already know, so if your cat responds best to cheek scratches, go with that and remember to pay attention to when your cat has had enough.

black and white cat sitting on the lap of its owner
Image Credit: Chamomile_Olya, Shutterstock

The Results

The study used 100 cats and a number of participants who spent time interacting with a few cats before and then after training in the CAT method.

The study’s overall results showed that the cats were not showing signs of discomfort or aggression during these interactions, and this was after following the CAT guidelines.

In addition, these same cats were exhibiting more friendly behaviors toward the participants and seemed to be generally more comfortable and affectionate.

What does this tell us? Cats will and do respond best when given control over their interactions with us. Knowing cats as we do, this shouldn’t come as any real surprise.



In the end, the most important thing to remember is to slowly build the trust between you and your cat. And a big part of trust is respect, which can be accomplished through the CAT method.

Additionally, each and every cat has their own preference for how they want to be petted, as well as by whom. While most cats dislike belly rubs, you might be the proud owner of a cat that loves them.

Featured Image Credit: Christin Hume, Unsplash

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