How to Pet a Cat: Tips and Best Spots to Make Your Feline Happy

Each individual dog or cat will have personal preferences. But there are a few spots on their bodies where they all seem to enjoy being petted.

This article was written by a Petful team of behavioral experts and writers, including Pamela Merritt and T.J. Banks.

how to pet a cat
You can pet me now. Photo: Monica R.

Learning how to pet a cat causes a chain reaction of signals in our brains, making us feel happy. Studies have shown that people can experience an increase in oxytocin, called the “cuddle hormone,” during interactions with companion animals. This increase in oxytocin, which triggers feelings of trust and happiness, works both ways for you and your cat. Petting builds bonds, but there are many “wrong ways” to pet a cat. Here, we share the best advice on how to pet a cat.

How to Pet a Cat: Best Spots and Techniques

First of all, when learning how to pet a cat, do not swoop down on a cat you’ve just met. Certainly don’t just grab them. Remember that each cat has personal preferences. However, there are a few spots where most cats seem to enjoy being petted.

Under the Chin

When understanding how to pet a cat, simply take your index finger and stroke the bottom of the chin.

Between the Eyes

This is a pleasant spot when figuring out how to pet a cat. Use one finger to lightly stroke from the top of the nose, up between the eyes to the top of the face.

The Base of the Tail

It might sound weird, but this area of the back could turn out to be your cat’s most-loved place to be petted. Try petting on the back just above where the top of their tail joins the cat’s body.

Behind the Ears

This might be the best petting spot for cats. While some like a little light ear scratching, others enjoy a more vigorous scratch.


Just as with puppies, the earlier you begin handling your kitten, the better. Pick them up, gently play with their paws and clip their nails. Check their ears and mouth. Doing all these things will make it easier when you have to medicate or even bathe them later, essential in how to pet a cat properly. More important, it will go a long way toward socializing them.

The Right Way to Pick Up and Handle Your Cat

Cats aren’t all that big on being picked up. They’ll come over for petting and sometimes even play at being lap cats, but it has to be when they want it, which is crucial in learning how to pet a cat. They like to take their time about getting up close and personal. Here are 3 things to keep in mind:

Go slowly.

Don’t try to pick the cat up right away. Let them become familiar with you and your scent first. Hold out your fingers for them to smell.

When you pick the cat up, hold on loosely, but don’t let go.

A cat needs to feel that they’re being held securely with your hands firmly supporting both their upper body and hindquarters. It’s a fine line between “firmly supporting” and “holding hostage.”

Let them down when they want down.

If you feel the cat getting squirmy, ease them back down to the floor. Knowing that they can get down whenever they want will make them more likely to let you pick them up again.

The sooner your cat gets used to you picking them up, the easier it will be to bond with them. Photo: sheila_sund

Why Doesn’t My Cat Like Being Held?

Many cats simply don’t like being held. There are a few possible explanations for this.

For starters, some cats spook more easily than others. Picking them up would terrify the kitty-crap out of them. So you have to be especially gentle and understanding with them.

These scaredy-cats prefer understated gestures, such as an affectionate scratch between the ears or just sitting with them in companionable silence. These things make them feel happier and more secure than being held.

Or perhaps the resistance to being held comes down to a breed thing for your cat:

  • Maine Coons, for instance, are gentle, loving giants, but these cats don’t care much for being picked up.
  • The same holds true for many Abyssinians. Perhaps it has something to do with their active temperament.
  • But Ragdolls? That’s another story. Ragdolls glory in hands-on treatment. They let kids pick them up, and they will go limp in your arms when you pick them up, just like the dolls they’re named for.
By: scrapstothefuture
Keep their trust by being gentle when touching their belly. Photo: scrapstothefuture

What About Belly Rubs?

If there’s anything people get indignant about, it’s the way those sneaky cats lay a trap for us with those enticing bellies. They lie right there, belly ready for rubbing. Yet, when we move in, spang! The claws and teeth come out. To cats, showing their belly is a sign of trust.

To us humans, it’s all just belly rubbing. Dogs have a different view. They show their belly as a sign of submission. In dog language, they are saying, “You are the boss,” “I am no threat to you” and “I am not plotting any kind of overthrow of your regime!”

Cats have another entirely different view. They show their belly as a sign of trust.

In cat language, they are saying, “I am able to show you my belly because I am not afraid of you. This is an eloquent signal of my ability to relax in your presence.”

We can’t treat it as we would the same body language when offered by a dog. Your cat never wants their bully rubbed by you as though you are polishing out a scratch on a new car.

The proper way to rub that belly is to hold out your finger several feet from the belly, zero in on the belly with it and pretend to stroke the belly with your fingers. Yes, just pretend to do it. Cats love the mind game part of this and will be delighted that you are such a scamp.

OK, sure. That is a cat-safe, friendly and fun way to interact with them, but is it really belly rubbing? If you really want to go for the belly, then do the following:

The Cat Should Be Standing:

Approach the cat slowly, with your fist. This lets them know you aren’t going to grab them, and a sudden move on the cat’s part won’t get them jabbed by your stray finger.

Start Petting the Head, Then Work Your Way Down the Back:

Then run your “fist of friendship” under the cat’s belly. If they’re happy you’ve advanced this far, you can open your hand and gently rub their belly while saying happy things about how great they are.

And that’s how to rub a cat’s belly — with both of you enjoying the experience.

Final Thoughts

If you haven’t discovered your cat’s favorite place to be petted yet, don’t give up. Just remember that every pet is different.

For tips on petting your canine friends, check out our guide on how to pet a dog.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How to pet a cat?

To pet a cat, approach it calmly and focus on areas like under the chin, behind the ears, and at the base of the tail.

Where do cats like to be petted?

Cats like to be petted under the chin, between the eyes, behind the ears, and at the base of the tail.

How do you properly pet a cat?

Properly pet a cat by gently stroking areas they enjoy and always approaching them calmly.

How do you tell if a cat likes you?

You can tell if a cat likes you if they purr, knead, or nuzzle against you, and allow you to pet them.

Where is the best place to rub a cat?

The best place to rub a cat is usually under the chin, behind the ears, or at the base of the tail.