Within minutes of officially adopting Casey, my then 4-month-old, orange tabby from the San Diego Humane Society, I began my quest to condition him to welcome being petted, stroked and lightly massaged from his head to his tail.
My goal: To make Casey bulletproof when it comes to being handled by anyone, including veterinarians, pet sitters, attendees at pet expos and students in my pet first aid and behavior classes.
I’m happy to report that Casey just turned 1, carries 12 pounds of solid muscle on his long, lanky frame and purrs like a diesel truck whenever he is touched — even when I cradle him in my arms and playfully blow “raspberries” on his exposed belly. He also allows others to make belly noises, gently press his paws and lightly tug his tail.
Casey is an extremely tolerant tabby who has grown up highly socialized with other cats, people and yes, even d-o-g-s. He is now officially known as the Pet Safety Cat, welcoming students in my classes to touch him, find his pulse on his femoral artery and wrap him in a big bath towel (known as the “purrito” wrap) without emitting a single hiss or unsheathing his claws.
But before you begin tugging and tapping on all parts of your cat’s body, please apply the brakes — for your safety’s sake. Casey is an exception among felines. Most cats prefer being petted on their terms and many will not only hiss, but also nip or even claw anyone who breaks the feline-petting etiquette rules. You don’t need to risk having claws shred your forearm or spiky teeth puncture your hand.
Etiquette For Petting A Cat
Unlike gotta-please canines who delight in being head patted and hugged, most cats are quite selective as to who merits the opportunity to touch them. They are also fussy about where they like being petted, stroked and scratched and will quickly showcase their displeasure. Generally, paw touching and belly stroking rank among the least favorite areas among felines.
For insights and advice on properly petting cats, I turned to three pet experts who are very knowledgeable on feline do’s and don’ts. They include Jackson Galaxy, host of the popular “My Cat From Hell” show on the TV channel Animal Planet; animal communicator Tim Link, author of “Talking With Dogs And Cats”; and master certified small animal acupressure practitioner Nedra Abramson. This trio is quite savvy on cat behavior, moods and anatomy.
1. Cat-Petting Tip From Jackson Galaxy
Let’s start with Galaxy, who makes a living helping tame highly agitated tabbies — and has a few battle scars to prove it.
Be in the present moment when you want to pet your cat, he advises.
“Absent-minded petting causes scratches and bites more times than not because you are not paying attention to your cat’s willingness to be petted and his reaction to being petted,” says Galaxy, who offers lots of cool cat advice at his website. “Whenever you pet a cat, you are actually putting energy into that cat. You risk overstimulating and causing the cat to lash out if you don’t pay attention and pet for too long of a time.”
2. Cat-Petting Tip From Tim Link
Next up: Tim Link, a guy who makes a living out of reading the minds of cats as well as dogs, horses, birds and other sentient beings. Think of him as the official cat spokesperson, relaying the feline mindset:
“Their human companions need to realize that they like to be petted when they want and how they want,” says Link, founder of the Wagging Tales website. “They will motion to you or send you an image or feeling of where ‘I want you to pet me’ and it’s not always the same spot. They prefer places where they can feel safe and see what you’re doing. Behind the ears and on the sides are good. Work your way to the tail, but don’t start there.”
3. Cat-Petting Tip From Nedra Abramson
Nedra Abramson lives with a real Monster — actually, a lucky, lovable tabby who benefits from Abramson’s knowledge of cat anatomy and energies. This 14-year-old cat was a standoffish feral as a kitten but now lounges in Abramson’s lap for purposeful pets.
“Most cats I have worked on love having their heads and ears scratched,” notes Abramson, founder of Acupressure For All Creatures. “Some cats love having their butts scratched — there is a great acupressure point called Bah hui located right where the tail meets the body. Some cats love belly rubs, but they need to offer you their belly, as that is a vulnerable spot. You need their permission first.”
Be Patient And Follow Your Cat’s Signals
Parting advice? A polite way to garner your cat’s attention to accept being touched by you is by being still, avoiding direct eye contact and extending your index finger for your cat to come up to and rub his cheek against.
“We call this ‘giving the cat the finger technique,’” Galaxy says. “Present your index finger toward a cat’s nose and let the cat bring his nose to touch your finger. Allow time for the cat to smell it and then press against it. Let the cat direct you where he wants to be pet — on the cheeks, top of the head or under the chin. It should always be his call.”