One of the greatest joys of having a feline family member is cuddling and petting them. Nothing is sweeter than curling up on your couch with a captivating book, or a new Netflix series, and feeling a soft, four-legged friend snuggled up under your arm.
When it comes to petting a cat, there isn’t one right way to do it—probably because every feline is unique (and generally feisty) in their own lovely way. There are, however, some easy parameters to remember that can save your kitty from stress, and save you from the possibility of unpleasant scratches.
There has actually been a lot of research done lately that petting your cat isn’t just nice for them, it may actually be a health-boosting activity for you.
In fact, there was recently a study done at Washington State University that observed how petting cats (and other animals) for just 10 minutes managed to lower the stress level in students.
And even more impressive, Medical News Today reports that researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute found cat owners 30% less likely to suffer from a heart attack that they’re feline-less neighbors thanks to all the stress and anxiety relief they receive from stroking that soft, silky fur.
Regardless of healthy benefits, it’s a wonderful way to bond with your pet. Once you understand the best way to pet your own kitty, of course.
Even people who think they know everything about their cat can use some tips and tricks when it comes to giving them the best kind of coat scratch. That’s because a lot of what kitties like comes down to pure science.
There are reasons why they react certain negative ways to specific parts of their bodies being touched, and why they adore the attention you give other areas (ahem, their chins!). Here are a few tips:
- Keep things soft and gentle. Cat fur and skin is more delicate than you may think—which means that hard, aggressive scratches are never going to win you any feline friends (and just may get your swiped at.) Keep the scratching light and with moderate pressure.
- Allow your kitty to take the lead. Let them sniff you first, or wait for them to rub their face against you. By doing this you’ll be able to read their comfort level and pet them once they’re ready.
- Move your hand in the direction of their fur. This may seem pretty obvious, but it’s worth remembering.
- Give their faces lots of love. Kitties tend to really like strokes along their cheeks and chin, and between their eyes and ears.
- Long strokes are where it’s at. Cats don’t seem to like the same short pats you might give your pup. They prefer long strokes from their heads all the way down their backs—much like a grooming brush would make.
Some of these may seem like obvious actions to avoid, but others are a little less straight-forward. Here are a few ways to keep your kitty from taking a painful swat at you:
- Never squeeze your cat! This move seems to be mostly reserved for over-exuberant children (which is why cats can be so weary of smaller humans), but it’s important to emphasize how much this can distress your kitty.
- Leave the belly alone. Though they may expose their belly to you, it’s merely a sign that they trust you—since that’s the most vulnerable part of their bodies—not that they want you to give them a belly rub.
- Be gentle with the base of the tail. This area is packed with nerves and it can be overwhelming for them if you pet there, much like when someone won’t stop tickling you!
- Never just scoop a cat up. May kitties are weird about being held, so don’t just assume you can carry yours around even if they’ve curled up on your lap.
Of course, there’s always the chance that you have an extra-sensitive cat who just doesn’t love being touched. Yes—that can be a bummer, but it’s important to take the time to read your kitty’s reactions and respond appropriately.
Some signals your cat is giving that they don’t love the tactile affection? Well, there’s the obvious biting or scratching that’ll get their point across, but unhappy cats might also swish their tails, flick their ears or dart away from you.
Also, according to one article by National Geographic, stressed-out cats tend to do a lot more hiding (under furniture, in closets), and some will even show physical signs of stress, like hair loss.
But by paying close attention to your kitty’s moods and reactions, you’re bound to discover the best way to give a cuddle and keep them happy and comfortable.