Do cats like to be petted?

You see a cat on the street and want to pet it. You approach it gently and it hisses and runs away - or it leans in and sticks it's head into  your hand for a nice head rub. So, what's the deal, do cats enjoy being pet.. or not? 

Well, like most things cat, it depends on the individual. So, lets start with the cats that enjoy being pet.

Why do cats like to be petted? says that tne enjoyment of petting starts in kittenhood when mother cats cuddle and groom their kittens to keep them clean and nurture them. They say that the hormone oxytocin starts flowing in both the mother cat and kittens, which makes the grooming experience relaxing and pleasurable. So, cats that like to be petted might be recreating some of the relaxation they felt as kittens. says that your cat might also enjoy attention from you, and that petting can make them feel loved and reinforce your bond with them - much like grooming did in kittenhood with their mother. 

Another reason that Catster mentions is that they are marking their territory with their scent, which makes them feel secure in their space. Cats have scent glands under their chins, at the corners of their mouths, on their temples and  at the base of their ears - all places that cats enjoy a good rub! Cats also have scent glands at the base of their tails, but in my experience, you have to build up some trust before petting a cat near their tail. 

Catster also notes that if your cat likes pets on the top of their head, it might be because that's an area that they can't reach, so it feels good to them to get some love there because it's an area they can't scratch themselves. 

So, with all that going for petting, why does it seem like some cats don't want to be pet? 

Why cats don't want to be pet

I mentioned it when talking about petting near the tail - if it cat doesn't want to be petted, it often has to do with trust. A feral cat who wasn't raised with people might have learned to fear and avoid humans. In that case, approaching them would cause them to run away or try to defend themselves. They don't know what your intentions are and feel like they are in danger. Even cats who enjoy pets from their owners might not trust a stranger to pet it until it gets to know them better. 

If you are petting a cat and suddenly it starts attacking your hand, you might have triggered petting induced aggression in your cat. This can happen if your cat gets overstimulated, or just decides enough is enough. Catster lists some warning signs that your cat might be reaching it's petting threshold, like twitching the end of it's tail, putting it's ears back, stiffening up, or starting to growl. My cats also have learned to push my hand away with their legs when they are done with pets. 

So, if you want to pet a cat, the Spruce Pets offers some tips on how to start off so you can earn that cat's trust. They say to start by letting the cat sniff you before you try to pet them. They also say sitting down helps to show them that you are not a threat. Keep your hands at an accessible level to the cat, and let it come to you. If it does, pay attention to the cat and it will often guide you to where it would like to be pet. If it nuzzles its head against you, try some strokes on the side of the face. If it starts to lift it's chin, you might have the green light for some chin scratches, or if it lowers it head, it might prefer a few rubs behind the ears or at the top of the head. If all that goes well, you can try stroking along it's body, and maybe work up to petting along it's back and tail. Once you really get to know each other, a cat might even let you give it a belly rub, but for my cats a few strokes on the belly is enough and then they push my hand away. Pay attention to the cues the cat gives you to help make petting fun for both of you! 

Cover photo by Alexandra Leru on Unsplash

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published