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Why your cat might not want a cuddle – and how to read their body language.

A lot of us would find a hug a lovely sign of affection from someone we are close to, but this is not necessarily the case for a lot of our feline friends.

Although some cats do like a cuddle, other moggies prefer their own space and to only show us affection on their own terms.

blonde woman holding tabby kitten

If you do go in for a hug with your cat, it is usually quite easy to tell if they are unhappy with the situation, for example they may hiss or puff up their tail. However there are also some more subtle signs cats use to let us know they are uncomfortable.

It’s important to look out for these signs and leave your cat alone if you spot them, otherwise it could lead to them becoming stressed and showing unwanted behaviours such as spraying or scratching the furniture.


Signs that your cat wants to be left alone 

1. Crouching 

If you approach your cat and they shrink away from you, moving into a crouched position, then this a strong indicator that they want their own space. If they try to run or jump away then you can also be pretty confident that they don’t want physical contact!


2. Avoiding eye contact 

When you pick your cat up for a hug, pay close attention to what they do with their head. If they actively turn their head away from you and avoid eye contact then this is a sign that they feel uncomfortable and would prefer for you to put them back down.

tabby cat lying on bed looking away


3. Flicking their tail 

Cats quite often communicate how they’re feeling using their tail, so when you approach for a hug, check what their tail is doing first. If it flicking from side to side, then the cat is telling you that they are not happy and definitely don’t want a cuddle.


4. Sudden grooming 

One of the most subtle behaviours cats use to show they are not comfortable is suddenly or excessively grooming their fur. If your cat quickly starts cleaning themselves as you approach them, turn around and leave them in peace.

tabby cat grooming leg


5. Dilated pupils 

It can be difficult to read the facial expressions of cats as they have fewer facial muscles compared to other animals like dogs. One of the clearer facial indicators they use is the size of their pupils, the black area in the centre of their eye. If their pupils are really wide, taking up most of the visible eyeball, then they could be feeling stressed.


6. Ears turned back 

Although cats move their ears around quite regularly to listen out for various noises (especially the food cupboard opening!) there are certain ear positions that can indicate their mood. If their ears are turned back or to the side for more than a couple of seconds, then you should give them their own space.

To learn more about cat body language, watch our fun animation below.


What can I do instead of hugging my cat? 

Many cats may not appreciate a hug, but there are lots of things you can do to show them you love them without scooping them up for a cuddle.

1. Slow blinking 

Slow blinking in your direction is the ultimate sign that your cat trusts you. If you do it back to them then they’ll know that you trust them too.

black cat blinking


2. Let them come to you 

Cats are control freaks and so like to be able to decide when and where they interact with others. Instead of scooping them up and restraining them, let them approach you on their own terms for a stroke or a chin rub.


3. Playtime 

Playing with toys such as fishing rods and catnip mice is important for cats, as it allows them to express their natural hunting behaviour and releases feel-good hormones in their brains. To create a really special bond with your cat, have lots of short play sessions throughout the day to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.

black and white cat playing with fishing rod toy


4. Training

Many people don’t realise that cats can be taught tricks, just like dogs can. Training your cat to do things like respond to their name or sit on command can be a great way for you to bond as they’ll start to associate you with something fun. 


Discover more about cat behaviour.

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