Do Cats Really Enjoy Our Affection? The Truth About Feline Strokes

Do Cats Enjoy Being Petted and Stroked?

For many cat owners, petting and stroking their feline companions is a beloved daily ritual. The soothing, repetitive motion of petting a cat can lower heart rate and blood pressure for both the human and the cat. But do cats actually enjoy this activity or just tolerate it? Understanding your cat’s reactions to petting can help create a bond of trust and affection.

Cats have a long history as pets and their behaviors and preferences remain unique and sometimes mysterious. Examining why cats may enjoy petting, where they like to be stroked, and how to properly give pets provides insight into the feline mind. While not all cats enjoy prolonged cuddling, research shows petting benefits cats when done right. This article explores the evidence behind cats and petting.

Cats’ Reactions to Being Pet

Cats can exhibit a range of behaviors in reaction to being petted that indicate whether they are enjoying the interaction or not. Some of the most common positive behaviors cats display when being petted include:

  • Purring – This rumbling vibration made by cats is widely considered a sign of happiness and contentment. A cat that purrs while being petted is likely enjoying the attention.
  • Kneading – Also known as “making biscuits,” this is when a cat presses its paws in and out against a surface or person. It’s an instinctive behavior from kittenhood that cats continue into adulthood when feeling safe and content.
  • Leaning into pets – If a cat leans its body into your hand or moves its head to direct your petting, it’s asking for more attention.
  • Grooming – Increased grooming behaviors like licking their coat while being petted suggests a relaxed, happy cat.
  • Slow blinking eyes – Also called “cat kisses,” slow eye blinks demonstrate a cat is calm and trusting of the petter.

However, not all cats react the same way. Breed, age, past experiences, health issues and individual personality can affect how a cat responds to petting. Understanding your cat’s unique cues is important for positive interactions.

Why Cats May Enjoy Petting

Petting releases oxytocin in cats, which is known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin plays a role in bonding, trust, and relaxation in both humans and animals. When a cat is petted, oxytocin is released, inducing feelings of calmness and contentment. This can help relieve a cat’s stress or anxiety. Cats often purr when petted, which is a sign they are enjoying the oxytocin release. According to studies, when humans interact with pet cats via petting and play, oxytocin levels increase in both the human and the cat. This mutually beneficial oxytocin release may be one reason petting feels good for both cats and their owners.

In addition to oxytocin, petting may also cause the release of endorphins in cats. Endorphins act as natural pain relievers and can give a mood boost. Gentle pressure from petting may have a massage-like effect for cats, releasing endorphins that make them feel relaxed. The combined impact of oxytocin and endorphins is likely why many cats solicit petting from their owners and appear blissed out when being stroked.

Individual Differences

Cats have distinct personalities and preferences when it comes to petting and affection. Some cats are very social and crave constant human interaction and petting. According to the ASPCA, around 35% of cats are “lap cats” that seek frequent petting and cuddling. Other cats are more independent and aloof. They may only want occasional petting on their own terms.

A cat’s early socialization as a kitten can impact how much they enjoy physical affection later in life. Kittens that are frequently handled and positively reinforced with petting often grow up to solicit more petting as adults. Shy, poorly socialized, or feral cats are less likely to appreciate physical touch.

Breed can also play a role. Breeds like Ragdolls, Maine Coons, and Siamese tend to be highly affectionate and people-oriented. Breeds such as Bengals and Sphinx cats also tend to enjoy physical interaction. On the other end, more independent breeds like Turkish Vans may be less receptive to petting.

Ultimately each cat has unique preferences for the type, location, and frequency of petting they enjoy. Paying attention to your cat’s body language and response is key to understanding when and how they like to be touched. With patience and positive reinforcement, even standoffish cats may learn to enjoy human touch.

Where Cats Like to Be Pet

Cats have certain spots they especially enjoy having petted and scratched. These common favorite spots include:

  • Under the chin – Most cats love having the area under their chin scratched. This mimics grooming behavior from their mothers as kittens and releases endorphins.
  • Behind the ears – Scratching behind a cat’s ears is another sweet spot that can release calming pheromones.
  • Along the cheeks/side of face – Gently stroking along the sides of a cat’s face and cheeks simulates social facial rubbing behaviors.
  • Along the back – Long strokes down a cat’s back imitate allogrooming between cat social groups and packs.
  • Base of tail – The area right above the tail often appreciates a good scratch, but avoid the actual tail.
  • Underbelly – Some cats enjoy gentle belly rubs, but others may become overstimulated.

Avoid petting near the tail, legs, paws, or sensitive areas. Let the cat guide where it likes to be petted. Every cat has unique preferences!

How to Properly Pet a Cat

When petting a cat, it’s important to pay attention to the amount of pressure you use, the motion of your hand, and the cat’s signals. According to experts, you’ll want to use gentle pressure when petting a cat, avoiding excessive force (1). Use a soft touch and be mindful of stroking against the direction of the fur. Scratching behind the ears or under the chin is often appreciated.

In terms of motion, stick to gentle pets down the back or sides, as well as chin or cheek rubs. Avoid quick, sudden movements which may startle the cat. Also refrain from patting their head. Move slowly and let the cat lean into your hand when they want more pets (2).

It’s also key to observe the cat’s signals while petting them. If they start swishing their tail, pulling away, or acting agitated, take your hand away to avoid overstimulation. Pay attention to subtle body language cues to discern when your cat has had enough. Cats will indicate when they want more pets by nudging your hand or leaning into you.



When Not to Pet a Cat

While most cats enjoy being petted in moderation, there are times when it’s best not to pet a cat. Cats can become overstimulated or annoyed by petting in certain situations. According to experts, you should avoid petting a cat when:

They are eating or drinking. Cats prefer to focus solely on their food without distractions or overstimulation. Petting during mealtimes may cause them to walk away from their food.

They’re using the litter box. Cats see this as private time and don’t want to be interrupted. Petting a cat while they’re using the litter box can startle them.

They’re sleeping or resting. It’s best not to disturb a sleeping cat. Gently petting may be fine for some cats, but others prefer uninterrupted naps.

They displaying signs of overstimulation like swishing tail, ears back, skin rippling, or aggressive behavior. These are cues the cat is feeling annoyed or over-aroused by too much petting.

They are showing signs of illness or injury. Petting could cause pain or stress.

They’re a new cat or haven’t warmed up to you yet. It’s best to wait for the cat to initiate contact first before petting.

They appear scared or anxious. Petting could elevate stress levels.

Overall, it’s important to pay attention to a cat’s body language and respect when they don’t seem to want more petting. Ceasing petting to allow the cat to re-set helps maintain a positive experience.

Cats May Seek Less Petting

Unlike dogs, who often crave constant human interaction and petting, cats tend to be more independent creatures. In fact, research has shown that the majority of cats only want to interact with their owners for short bursts of time before needing solitary time to themselves.1 This is likely due to their ancestral solitary hunting behaviors, where prolonged social interaction was not evolutionarily advantageous. As a result, most cats only seek a moderate amount of petting and human attention per day compared to the near-constant affection that many dogs desire.

Additionally, due to their independent natures, some cats may initiate petting less frequently than dogs. However, this does not necessarily mean they dislike physical affection from their owners. Rather, cats often communicate their desire for attention through subtle behavioral cues, like gently head-butting their owner or rubbing against their hand. Owners must learn to recognize these signals to provide their cats with desired amounts of petting and interaction. Ultimately, cats enjoy petting, but in more measured doses than their canine counterparts.

Benefits of Petting for Cats

Petting and stroking cats can provide numerous benefits for felines. One of the primary benefits is stronger bonding between cats and their owners. Petting allows owners to provide physical affection while also checking their cat’s body for any abnormalities. This regular handling and interaction strengthens the bond between pet and owner. It helps establish trust and security in the cat-human relationship.

Petting also provides exercise and stimulation for cats. It flexes their muscles and joints through the motion of being stroked. The rhythmic pattern can be mentally stimulating as well. Cats that receive frequent petting tend to be more playful, active and alert. For older or sedentary cats, petting gives needed activity.

In addition, petting has proven stress-relieving effects for cats. A study by the University of Wisconsin found that cats produce reassuring pheromones when stroked by their owners. These pheromones provide a calming influence. Cats also derive comfort from the warmth and pressure of hands during petting. Petting produces endorphins that relieve anxiety, lower heart rate and normalize blood pressure. The reassuring purr that often results is beneficial for cats as well.

Overall, daily petting provides enriching bonding, activity and relaxation for domestic cats. It is an easy way for owners to enhance their cat’s health and wellbeing. Most cats seek out petting from their favorite humans. They will indicate preferred stroking spots and duration through their body language and reactions.


In summary, cats can enjoy being petted and stroked, but their preferences vary based on the individual cat. Cats seek out petting for comfort, social bonding, and because it releases endorphins that make them feel good. However, petting should be done properly by following the cat’s cues, focusing on areas where the cat seems to enjoy touch the most, and avoiding overstimulation. Moderation is key, as cats may sometimes seek less petting depending on their mood or environment. With proper care and attention to the cat’s signals, petting and stroking can be an enriching experience that strengthens the bond between cats and their owners.

Scroll to Top