The Mysterious Reason Behind Your Cat’s “Pet Me” Dance


Have you ever wondered why your cat walks back and forth rubbing against you when you pet them? This peculiar feline behavior often leaves cat owners scratching their heads. While it may seem like random restless pacing, there are actually some specific reasons why cats do this funny “walk and rub” when being petted.

Cats Love Being Pet

Cats generally find petting very pleasurable and soothing. When cats are petted, it stimulates the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin is associated with positive emotions and bonding, and acts as a natural sedative for cats. Studies have found that when cats are petted, they get a rise in oxytocin levels, which makes them feel calm, secure, and content. Petting can even lower stress and anxiety in cats.

According to a study titled “The Effects of Petting on Cats” by Karen Fazio (, when cats were petted, their heart rates decreased while their oxytocin levels increased. This led the cats to feel more relaxed and have decreased anxiety. So cats often seek out petting from their owners because they find it enjoyable and it positively impacts their mood. The rise in oxytocin from petting makes cats feel bonded and attached to their owners.


Too much petting can overstimulate cats and cause them to feel conflicting emotions ( Cats often enjoy being pet initially, but after some time they can become irritated and overstimulated. The signs of an overstimulated cat include swishing tail, ears back, skin rippling, biting, scratching, dilated pupils, and sudden aggression (

When a cat is overstimulated, they experience contradictory urges to stay close to their owner while also wanting the petting to stop. This conflict causes them distress and unpredictable behavior like attacking and running away ( Learning the signs of overstimulation and limiting petting sessions can help prevent cats from becoming aggravated.

Marking Territory

Cats have scent glands on the pads of their paws called interdigital glands [1]. When a cat kneads or scratches objects, it releases pheromones from these glands which marks the area with the cat’s scent. As territorial creatures, cats use scent marking to claim objects and areas as their own.

When being petted, cats will often walk back and forth while treading their paws. This deposits their scent from the interdigital glands and allows them to mark their territory on the person or surface they are walking on [2]. So some of the pacing behavior while being petted may be linked to a cat’s instinct to scent mark and claim ownership.

Affectionate Response

Many cats will respond affectionately when being petted by walking back and forth. This behavior often shows that the cat is enjoying the attention and doesn’t want the petting to stop.

Cats have scent glands located around their face and head. As they move their head during petting, they are marking their human with pheromones as a sign of affection. By continuing to walk back and forth, they are spreading their scent and mutually marking their bond with the human.

“Cats have different ways of showing their enjoyment of being petted. Some signs that a cat may be enjoying being petted include purring, leaning into the petting, and rubbing on the hand that is petting them.” (Source)

So when a cat moves around while being petted, it’s often a sign they are responding affectionately and don’t want the positive attention to end.


Kneading with front paws is an affectionate gesture cats often exhibit when being petted. This behavior is tied to movements cats made as kittens while nursing, when they would push against their mother’s belly to stimulate milk flow1. Adult cats continue this rhythmic pushing motion on soft surfaces, alternating between left and right paws, when feeling safe, content, and bonded with their human2.

Kneading and purring usually go hand-in-hand when a cat is expressing affection. The combined behaviors demonstrate the cat is in a calm, trusting state. So cat owners can take kneading as a sign their pet is happy, comfortable, and feels a close connection with them.


Petting can excite and energize cats, causing them to want to move around. When a cat is feeling excited by being petted, they may start walking back and forth or in circles. The stimulation of petting triggers their natural prey drive and provides an energy boost, so they feel compelled to expend this energy through movement. This is supported by the fact that cat chatter is often accompanied by rapid movement of the jaw and tail, both signs of excitement in cats according to Cat Behaviors Explained: Their Weird Secrets are Revealed. The excitement of being petted can simply make cats eager to move and release pent-up energy.

Individual Personality

Cats often have unique personalities and behavioral quirks that can seem eccentric or unusual to humans. One such quirk that perplexes many owners is when cats walk back and forth repeatedly while being petted. This pacing or treading behavior is likely just a reflection of the cat’s distinctive personality.

Researchers have identified several common cat personality types including “neurotic”, “extraverted”, and more laidback or ” Agreeable” cats. But ultimately each cat is an individual with their own preferences and idiosyncrasies. Some cats simply tend to be pacers when they get overstimulated or excited [1]. This is just part of their unique personality.


In summary, cats often walk back and forth when being petted due to a variety of reasons. Cats can pace as a sign of affection and enjoyment of the petting. However, they may also pace when they become overstimulated or stressed by prolonged petting. The behavior can mark their territory while interacting with their owner. Some cats pace due to excitement, kneading instincts, or simply their unique personality. While the pacing may seem odd to humans, it is normal feline behavior in response to petting.

To recap, the main question examined why cats walk back and forth when petted. Through analyzing the various causes, the reasons include showing affection, overstimulation, territorial marking, excitement, kneading, and individual personality differences. Understanding the motivations behind this unique cat behavior can help owners better relate to their pet.

Further Reading

For additional information on understanding cat behavior, check out these recommended resources:

The Secret Lives of Cats by Anne Moss ( – An in-depth look at the complex world of domestic cat behavior and psychology.

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Cat by Sarah Heath ( – Explains common cat behaviors and provides tips for addressing behavioral issues.

ASPCA’s Virtual Pet Behaviorist ( – Articles and advice from certified animal behavior experts on various cat behaviors.

Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Mojo ( – cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy’s website with videos, articles, and webinars on cat behavior topics.

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