Our feline friends can be mysterious little creatures. Content to independently go about their business for most of the day, they tend to prefer to seek us humans out when they feel like it and to receive attention and affection on their terms.
Whether they've decided to sleep curled up in a cardboard box or they've got a burst of energy and are running about doing the zoomies, there are lots of strange things cats do that are actually quite normal — and being discerning around who gives them affection and when they're willing to receive it is definitely one of those normal feline behaviors.
Because of that, it can sometimes be tricky to know if a cat actually wants physical touch or if they're simply milling around as a way of being close to us, or as a hint that they're ready for their next meal of the best cat food!
Thankfully, certified cat behavior consultant and registered vet technician Tabitha Kucera has come up with seven steps for how to greet a cat so you can check in with your feline friend to ensure they're enjoying being pet. You can take a look at her Instagram infographic below or read on as we share our comments on each step.
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1. Assess the cat's body language. You can check out our guide to cat body language for more on this, but essentially, what you're looking to pay attention to is their ears (forward-facing indicates your kitty is feeling relaxed whereas flat ears indicates fear or annoyance), their eyes (are the pupils normal slits or are they dilated?) and their tail (is it high and happy or downward and tucked?)
2. Present your finger or soft hand but do not extend it out into their space. This can feel threatening to a cat, even if you don't mean it to be. Instead, presenting your hand is an invitation to your kitty that they can choose to either accept or decline.
3. If the cat rubs/leans into you, this is them saying "please pet me." Rubbing up against you or leaning into you are two signs of a happy cat that you want to pay attention to. This behavior is a clear green light that your feline friend is enjoying the physical affection that you're lavishing on them.
4. If the cat sniffs and walks away, no insult to you but they do not want to be petted right now. How long does a cat hold a grudge? Well it turns out they can engage in grudge-like behaviors for quite some time if trust has been broken, so it's really important that if your cat is sending you a clear signal that they do not want you to pet them that you respect their wishes.
5. Most cats prefer gentle strokes under the chin, cheeks and forehead. Understanding how to pet your feline friend is important. Cats often hate being picked up and locked into a cuddle while you pet them, so unless you know for sure that your kitty loves that sort of up-close and personal affection, stick to stroking them on the ground in safe and non-threatening spots.
6. Let the cat imitate, choose, and control the type of human contact. "Remember, every cat is an individual and enjoys different interactions," explains Kucera. "For example, most cats do not enjoy hugs or having their belly pet but my cat Norman enjoys belly rubs. He communicates how he feels about it via body language, it is crucial for us to understand and respect when our cats are communicating with us. Considerately approach your cat, get consent, and interact with them in a way they enjoy."
7. When the cat ends the interaction, do not pursue more. This last point is crucial when it comes to deepening the trust in the relationship you share with your cat. If they move away, that's a sign that they've had enough and are ready for some space — as long as you respect that, your cat will continue to feel safe approaching you for affection when they're wanting it.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.