Cats love to be petted, but like humans, there are ways they like and don’t like to be touched. A cat is quite assertive about letting people know how they like to be touched, and may even paw at you or bite your hand softly if he or she doesn’t like something that you are doing. Cats’ preferences tend to be individual, but there are certain things almost all cats like, and other ways of petting that should be avoided.
One thing many people love to do is try to pet a cute and cuddly cats’ stomach. Inconveniently, this is the one thing many cats do not let people do; at least not people they don’t know well. You have to build up a significant amount of familiarity and trust with a cat before he or she will let you stroke their belly. Cats are very protective of their tummies, and differ from dogs in this respect. Dogs are comfortable with having just about anyone rub their bellies. The reason for this is that cats are both predators and prey in equal measure, and need to protect their vital undersides in case of attack. If you are on tummy stroking terms with your cat, you will know that he or she likes and trusts you.
One way to break the ice with a cat is to stroke it along its scent glands. You may have to look at an image to locate these glands. Cats like spreading their scent around, and while you may not be able to detect it, other cats can. The glands are located at the base of the chin, so rub the underside of the jawbone. Also, stroke your cat at the base of the ears, or on the cheeks behind the whiskers. Cats love to be touched at the base of the tail and at the top of the head. Any of these areas are great places to start when getting to know a cat. With time, the cat will let you stroke more places and may eventually let you rub its tummy.
Many people are often frustrated by the “mixed signals” they receive from cats. They frequently lie back or on their side invitingly and make eye contact with the person. This is often interpreted, even by people who don’t know the cat well, as a sign that the cat wants to be petted. When someone approaches the cat after receiving this “signal” they are surprised when the cat resists or runs away. Humans should never assume that cats want to be petted because they seem friendly. Cat signals and human signals are entirely different, in many cases. The other mistake people make, is that they immediately go for the belly because the cat is lying on its back. A human has to get to know a cat by stroking its chin, behind the ears, its cheek and along its tail to build trust. Don’t take it personally if your cat sometimes rejects petting altogether—felines value their personal space.