A Petting Primer

Step 1: The Setup

Make sure it is your cat. A cat that is not your cat may be significantly more difficult to pet, and it is likely that you will not be familiar enough with an unfamiliar cat to detect warning signs of impending scratches. For your own sake (and to avoid any alienation of affection) I will only describe means to pet your own cat.

Step 2: The Approach

Make your cat complacent. A hungry cat is an angry cat. For beginners, find a quiet, peaceful environment with few distractions, no other cats, and no small, hyperactive children (this last requirement may be voided if you are a small, hyperactive child).

Step 3: Opening

Pet your cat. Start with light petting on the back and sides. Try long strokes from the base of the neck to the base of the tail; optionally (carefully) continue down the tail until there is no more cat. Then try shorter strokes at places where the cat has responded favorably. At all costs, avoid the tummy. Even if your cat rolls over happily, still do not pet the tummy. Even if you thought that cat was declawed (a horrible thing to do to a cat, might I add), do not pet the stomach. Dogs like it. Cats do not. (some might, but this constitutes an advanced technique; see below.)

Watch the tail. If your cat starts to move its tail back and forth rapidly while you are petting, it has had enough. Stop unless you're wearing heavy gloves and want to annoy your cat. Also, if you are only going to pet one portion of your cat for a while, do not pick the tail. If you pull a cat's tail, you may hear a shriek, but it may be the last thing you hear.

Step 4: The Middle Game

Now stealthily approach your cat's head. Stroke only the top of the head at first. Some cats don't mind if you touch their ears; for others the ears are very sensitive and should be avoided. Scratching behind the ears will almost always meet favorable response, just like in a dog. Light petting under your cat's head from the tip of the chin to the top of the neck may be accepted and certainly will make your cat happy. Do not poke out your cat's eyes, and generally avoid the nose. STOP at any indication (pulling away is one; a more threatened cat will bat, bite or hiss) your cat is not enjoying the experience.

Step 5: Endgame

Now, pet everything you've discovered your cat likes.

Listen to your cat.


Advanced Techniques

Some cats enjoy being petted at the base of the tail. The one time I asked a vet about this, he gave me this sort of "Duh" expression and explained that this is a "thumper spot". Some cats are made very happy by careful application of pressure (petting) to this spot and others. The only way to tell is to try; two of my cats like it, but the kitten doesn't. One of my cats responds with similar pleasure to a spot on the top of her head.

bishopred1 says: The reason, i learned from animal planet, that cats like to be pet on the base of their tail so much, is because that is where one of those pheromone-producing glands is. like how a dog sprays a tree to mark it as his. a cat will rub against it to produce the same effects. the same gland is also on either side of the chin stradling the espophogaus. cats rub their chin on your leg to mark you as 'theirs'

Pet your cat for comfort, even when you are not completely alone and it is not quiet. This is a less orthodox and more risky method in terms of your avoiding injury, but is certainly not infeasible if you and your feline friend are close enough.

Pick up your cat and pet it. This move is challenging because it involves you simultaneously actions of supporting an unstable, wriggling, furry object's four limbs with one hand and tenderly stroking this mass of fur with the other. I have had minimal success here because my cats do not like to fly or be otherwise lifted, but have heard encouraging stories from other cat owners.

If you are a cat, try petting yourself--but such action is beyond the scope of this article, and is thus left to the reader as an exercise.

Things to do with your cat's stomach: My kitten is very playful and especially enjoys playing with people's hands when they touch her tummy. Not all cats are so mean. A good sign that your cat wants to be rubbed or tickled will be that it rolls over, presenting its belly to you, but this is not hard-and-fast; my kitten does this and she just wants to bite my hand. Empirically, there are plenty (>10) of E2 users who have written in to note that their cats love a good tummy rub. All cats vary; be careful and don't violate your cat's trust:

"Cats have sensitive stomachs and can get defensive when touched there. They will wrap their paws around the wrist, hold on and bite." *

Quick Summary of a Standard Cat
  • Back
  • Flank
  • Behind the ears
  • On top of the head
  • Below the chin
  • Nose (usually)
  • Chin (usually)
  • Eyes
  • Paws
  • In the ears
  • Under the cat--at least at first. It's a matter of trust more than anything else as far as your kitty's tummy goes, but if you're a novice, don't start there.

Have fun!

Extra Sources
*http://www.wihumane.org/expert/cat/expert-catbiting.html -- contains a description of why petting a cat's stomach may be harmful. http://www.calm-your-cat.com/html/people_factor.html -- how cats interact with human beings.
http://www.feline-behavior.com/html/tail.html -- what your cat's inscrutable tail movements mean.
http://www.rivma.org/wisecatbite.html -- when petting your cat seems like dominant behavior, it may maul you viciously.
Disclaimer: I assume no responsibility for injuries incurred while following above procedure. Your mileage may vary.

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