The 4 Best (and Safest) Places to Pet Your Cat

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A cat lays down while its owner pets its head.

By Arden Moore, a certified dog and cat behaviorist with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Arden is an author, radio host, and writer for Pets Best, a pet health insurance agency for dogs and cats.

One of the best ways to communicate, bond with your cat is through touch. Most cats love, love, love to be petted, stroked and scratched. But there is an art to performing purposeful petting that will ignite your cat’s contented purr machine and even put you in an elevated mood.

Yes, there are definitely places on your cat that welcome pets and definitely places that are off-limits or that may trigger a hiss or even a paw swipe directed toward you. Keeping in mind that cats come in a wide-range of personalities and tolerance levels, here are the purr-fect places to pet your cat:

1. The cheeks. Cats have concentrated scent glands located on their lips and cheeks. We can’t smell the oily residue that is deposited from these glands, but other cats certainly can. Gliding your fingers across your cat’s cheeks and lips release these glands, explaining why these are welcoming petting spots for most felines.

2. The forehead and between the eyes. Some cats boldly initiate a petting session by bumping their heads against you. This is known as bunting. Your cat is conveying to you that he is in the mood for you to finger-pet the top of his head and to perform a gentle finger glide between his eyes.

3. Under the chin. Lightly scratch with your fingers, not your fingernails) under your cat’s chin to send him into a blissful state. This action causes some cats to drool!

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4. Along the back from head to tail. For this area, delight your gliding your hands alternatively in a stroking moving from head to tail. A contented cat will soften his body muscles and perhaps even elevate his rear end when you reach the base of his tail. Cats prefer stroking the back over receiving hand pets. Follow up the hand stroking with a grooming session, since the brush or comb will be the same motion as your hand gliding.

Not all parts on your cat’s body beckon petting. Most cats detest what most dogs love: belly rubs. So resist petting the belly even if your cat appears relaxed next to you and is in the belly-up position. This is viewed as a vulnerable spot on a cat’s body and touching the belly may cause your cat to stiffen, hiss and even claw you. And avoid tapping the top of his head as you may do for your dog. Cats don’t dig head tapping.

Purposeful petting bolsters the friendship bond between you and your cat. It also provides you with the opportunity to thoroughly inspect your cat from nose to tail and report any suspicious lumps, bumps or cuts to your veterinarian.

Petting not only benefits your cat, but also you. Scientific studies report that when we purposely pet our cats, a feel-good hormone called oxytocin is released in our bodies. At the same time, levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, decreases. A win-win for you both when you pet the right places on your cat’s body.

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