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Do cats like being stroked? Discover where cats like to be petted and the best way to pet a cat with our step-by-step guide 

All cats have their own unique personalities, it’s just one of the things we love about them! While some love a fuss and will happily throw themselves at you, demanding a marathon stroking session, others may prefer a quick tickle behind the ears and then leave to get on with their day. Then there are the cats who may not want to be petted at all, but are perfectly happy knowing you are nearby for love, support and most importantly, providing food. 

A black cat lying on a grey sofa having their head stroked by a human

The important thing to remember when interacting with a cat is to keep any petting on their terms. Always let them come to you if they want a fuss and only touch the areas of their body they are comfortable with. This is the best way to gain their trust and form a close bond with them. 

Follow our guide to find out how to pet a cat to guarantee you start your relationship on the right paw. 

Do cats like being stroked?

tortoiseshell cat sat on a grey sofa while a human wearing a pink shirt strokes their back

Some cats are happy to be stroked and fussed, while others prefer to keep their distance and not be touched. It all depends on the individual cat.

Whether a cat likes being stroked or not will usually depend on the cat’s past experiences. If they were handled appropriately as a kitten, during their important socialisation period of development when they were two to seven weeks old, they will have learnt to be comfortable with being petted and are more likely to enjoy it as an adult. However, if they’ve had negative experiences with people touching them in the past, such as people being too rough with them, they may have learned that being touched is scary or stressful and want to avoid it.

The best way to find out if an individual cat is comfortable with being stroked is to follow our step-by-step guide below.

Why do cats like being stroked?

For cats that do like being stroked, there are a few possible theories about why they might enjoy it.

  1. It feels good. If a cat keeps coming back for more fuss, then they must be enjoying it. Many of the areas cats like being stroked have lots of nerve endings, so it feels good when they are petted there.
  2. It’s calming. Being stroked could be a calming sensation for a cat, helping them to relax. A bit like a massage. 
  3. It helps them to bond with you. When you stroke a cat, their scent will transfer on to you, especially if you stroke around their face where they have scent glands. Smell is very important to cats and so once you smell familiar and safe to them, it will help them to bond with you. 

Where do cats like being stroked?

grey-and-white cat having their head scratched by a human

All cats are individuals and will have their own sweet spot for where they like to be stroked. However, as a general guide, here are the places most cats do and don’t like being touched.

Places cats are most likely to enjoy being stroked:

Places some cats will like being stroked:

Places cats are least likely to enjoy being stroked:

How to pet a cat

If you’re looking to bond with your own cat or are meeting a new cat for the first time, follow our step-by-step guide for how to stroke a cat properly. 

person kneeling on floor with their hand held out. A long-haired brown tabby cat it standing in front of them sniffing their hand

  1. Approach slowly and on their level. Cats don’t like surprises, so avoid sneaking up on them. Don’t try to stroke them when they are sleeping or hiding. Move slowly and get to their level so you are not looming over them, as this could be scary for them. Stay a short distance away from them and keep quiet or speak to them at a low volume. Make sure you’re not cornering them and that they can get away from you if they want to. 
  2. Hold out your hand. Slowly hold your hand out towards the cat and keep it still. If the cat wants to interact with you, they will approach your hand and maybe give it a sniff. If the cat does not approach you after a minute or two, they do not want to be touched. Don’t force interactions with a cat, as this could cause them stress and negatively affect their bond with you. 
  3. Stroke their face. If the cat has approached your hand, you can try to gently stroke or tickle their cheeks or chin, as these are areas that most cats like being touched. Always move your fingers in the direction of their fur. Never pat a cat with your hand as this can be too rough for them.
  4. Pay attention. While stroking the cat, pay close attention to their body language and behaviour. Look at our cat body language guide to find out what signs to look for. If they do not move away and they have happy and relaxed body language, they are enjoying the interaction and you can continue petting them. If they do not move away but have anxious or stressed body language, they are only tolerating the interaction, not enjoying it. Stop petting them and move away. If the cat moves away, stop stroking them and don’t follow them. You can try keeping your hand held out though, in case they change their mind and come back for more. If the cat tries to attack or bite your hand, try to stay calm, slowly move your hand away from them and give them plenty of space. Find out what to do when a cat bites you.
  5. Stroke their back. If the cat has not moved away and their body language is happy and relaxed, you can then try gently stroking the top of their head and along their upper back, staying near their neck and shoulders. This is another area most cats like being touched. Always move your fingers in the direction of their fur. 
  6. Learn what they like. If the cat continues to stick around and has happy and relaxed body language, or even nudges your hand for more, then this is a sign that they are enjoying it. They may also purr or even dribble a bit too. Pay close attention to which areas you are stroking when you get the best reaction, as these are likely to be the cat’s favourite places to be stroked. 
  7. Know when to stop. You can keep stroking the cat as long as they remain happy and relaxed and do not move away. Some cats will enjoy a lot of fuss, while others will only want to be petted for a minute or two at a time. If the cat moves away, starts to look stressed, hisses, growls or tries to attack or bite your hand, stop stroking them and give them some space. 

Can I stroke my cat’s belly?

tabby-and-white cat lying on their side on a grey sofa with their belly showing.  A man sits next to them holding out a tattooed arm to stroke their head

When a cat rolls over onto their back and shows you their belly, this is a sign that they are comfortable around you and trust you. Although it can be very tempting to reach out and give their belly a rub, for most cats this would be a betrayal of trust. Their belly is a vulnerable area and showing it to you usually isn’t an invitation to touch it. If you do touch their belly, they may try to grab your hand and attack it, or simply run away. When a cat does show you their belly, the best response is to try gently stroking their head or cheeks instead. 

There will be some cats who are the exception to this rule and will enjoy a belly rub. This may be because they were gently introduced to belly rubs during their important socialisation period of development when they were two to seven weeks old. If your cat remains still while you rub their belly and they are showing happy and relaxed body language, this is a good sign that they are enjoying it.

When should you not stroke a cat?

It’s important to keep any interactions with cats on their terms as much as possible. Try to only pet a cat if they approach you and rub against your hand when you offer it to them. Only touch a cat when their body language is happy and relaxed. Avoid touching cats when:

Why do cats lift their bum when you pet them?

A black cat standing with their bum and tail in the air while a person strokes their back

When you give a cat a fuss, you may have noticed them lift their bum in the air in response. This is a good sign that they are enjoying the interaction, and there are a few possible reasons why:

  1. It encourages more petting. Some cats particularly like being petted at the base of their tail as there are lots of nerve endings there. By raising their bum they could be moving this spot closer to your hand to encourage you to stroke it.
  2. It’s an automatic response. It could be that lifting their bum when they are petted is a physiological response the cat has no control over, a bit like when our heart rate increases or we start sweating when we become stressed. 
  3. It’s a sign of trust. A cat’s bum is a vulnerable area and so they will only show it off if they are happy and comfortable around you
  4. It shares their scent. Cats like to introduce themselves by sharing their scent, and their bum is an area with a lot of scent glands. By raising their bum they could be inviting you to have a sniff as a friendly greeting. You don’t need to actually sniff their bum though!
  5. They’re in heat. Unneutered female cats will often raise their bum as a sign that they are in heat and ready for a mate. Find out more about neutering your cat. 

Why does my cat bite me when I pet them?

If a cat bites you when you pet them, they could be feeling scared or stressed, or they could be overexcited and misdirecting their playful behaviour onto your hand. Find out more about why cats bite and how you can stop a cat from biting you. 

Can I teach my cat to enjoy being stroked?

The best way to teach a cat to enjoy being stroked is to introduce them to this type of interaction during their socialisation period when they are two to seven weeks old. This is when their brain is still developing, and gently introducing them to new sensations such as being touched by humans will help them learn that these interactions are positive and not scary. Find out how to socialise a kitten. 

If you want to teach a cat older than seven weeks old to be comfortable with being stroked, it’s important to consider your reasons why. If it’s so that you can handle them more easily to groom them or give them medication which will benefit the cat, then this is possible. Cats can be trained to be comfortable with handling in certain situations, but they may still not necessarily enjoy it. Find out how to train your cat to be comfortable with handling. 

If you want to train your cat to enjoy being stroked for your own benefit, because you will enjoy stroking them, this is not recommended. Training a cat to be comfortable with handling will only work for specific situations, and so the cat is still unlikely to enjoy any random strokes or fuss you give. The good news is that there are other ways you can bond with your cat that don’t involve petting. Playing with your cat is an activity that both of you can enjoy. Catching toys releases feel-good hormones in a cat’s brain, and you will have fun watching them stalk, pounce and chase their toys. Find out how to play with your cat. 


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