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Posted on Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 11:05 a.m.

When it comes to being touched, cats have a few rules of engagement to follow

By Lorrie Shaw


Flickr photo by John Morton

Cats can seem unpredictable. Anyone who has a fair amount of experience with them will attest to this.

This seems especially true when having close physical contact with them, as cats can seem so eager to nuzzle and invite petting at times — even doing something called "bunting", characterized by head-butting — but at other times your touch will seem abruptly unwanted.

Confusing, right?

This can be alarming especially if you've got little ones who are eager to get up close and personal with their favorite feline.

There are some cats that never seem to want to be petted, and others only invite the contact when they initiate it. The vast majority of cats really do love to petted, and as long as you follow the "rules of engagement," as I call them, you can help avoid getting scratched or, worse, bitten.

The important thing to remember is that it's not personal.

By instinct, felines understand a couple of things about themselves that are unique to their species. In the wild, they know that they are seen as both a predator (to small animals like mice) as well as prey (think coyotes), so with that in mind, that makes the task of cracking the code of what cats find disagreeable a little bit easier for us.

Because of that knowledge, cats have a tendency to be on alert.

When a feline is in danger, there’s no place on the body that's as important to protect as the abdomen — that’s where all the vital organs are!

Granted, some of our furry friends seem receptive to an occasional tummy rub (usually from a trusted person). But, rest assured that if you start rubbing a typical cat's tummy, in turn you'll get a response that isn't equally warm. In fact, it's more likely that kitty will kick, scratch and bite your hand.

The places cats enjoy being petted are those where their scent glands are concentrated.

When you pet a cat in the areas of the head and chin, you'll delight your cat. It's not only that it feels good, but your cat's scent is inadvertently being transferred onto you — this is something that pleases cats greatly.

Other green-light areas are:

  • Base of the chin
  • Base of the ears
  • Cheeks behind the whiskers
  • Base of the tail

I promise you, if you stick to these unspoken cat rules, you will have quality time with your favorite feline, and reinforce the all-important bond between the two of you.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for Connect with her on Google +, on Twitter @psa2 or e-mail her directly.



Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Love that picture! kitty has something to say!!


Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 7:52 p.m.

Well-written article, I'm sure my domestic shorthair "Esther" would attest to this! when she's really in need of attention, she will climb up the front of whatever I happen to be wearing, stick her face behind my ear in my hair, and purr while kneading my shoulder( time to get kitty's claws trimmed, I said trimmed NOT removed, lest there be any misunderstanding!!!!!). the enjoyment we both get from this is worth a few claw marks on my shoulder. sign me, an unapologetic cat lover

Sarah Rigg

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Good advice. Another tip is to look at their body language, particularly ears and tails, to see if they are enjoying the petting or becoming over-stimulated. If they're lashing the tail really violently, they may enjoy the attention but are getting into sensory overload, and it's time to pull back before you get swiped or chomped on.


Thu, Jan 3, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

Fun fact - the base of the tail actually triggers a grooming instinct in many cats. If you pet them somewhat hard right on the base, they usually will start rolling around and licking or nipping your hand. That's how cats indicate to other cats they want to start a grooming party.