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How to Pet Your Cat & Find Special Places They Love – Vet-Reviewed Guide

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

child petting the cat on her lap

How to Pet Your Cat & Find Special Places They Love – Vet-Reviewed Guide


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats have quite complex personalities and a combination of several personality traits, with one or more being more dominant. Some cats are incredibly lovable (when they want to be). Each cat can be different, although many have mirroring likes, interests, and means of showing affection. Since your cat may like what most cats like but also have specific preferences, how exactly do you find methods to pet your cat or show them affection that work?

You might love petting your cat, but if it seems like they aren’t quite interested, you must find a love language that works for both of you. In this article, we will explain cat behavior a little more in depth and how you can find the best places to pet them and show them love.

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The Different Types of Cat Personalities

Cats get stereotyped all the time. They get bad reputations and are often portrayed as being mean or not showing any affection. However, this is rarely the case and is not so simple, as any undesirable or aggressive behavior in cats may be a consequence of many factors, including pain, stress, fear, anxiety, frustration, an underlying medical condition, or a behavioral issue.

There seem to be five cat personality types, as suggested by researchers in South Australia and New Zealand who utilized a model that is used to describe personality traits in people.1 Cats’ personalities are generally a mix of these traits, with some being more pronounced than others.

Five cat personality traits include:
  • Neuroticism: Reflects shy, suspicious, insecure, fearful, and anxious traits.
  • Extraversion: Includes being active, vigilant, curious, and inquisitive.
  • Dominance: Describes cats that may bully or express dominance and aggression toward other cats.
  • Agreeableness: Includes traits of being affectionate, friendly, and gentle with people.
  • Impulsiveness: Traits of erraticism and recklessness.

The study was based on measuring 52 personality traits in 2,802 cats, based on the answered survey by their owners. All of these traits may be present in every cat but at varying levels and intensities. Knowing your cat’s personality may help you better understand their needs and reactions, particularly if they are feeling stressed, anxious, or ill.

white cat with the owner
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

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Special Spots Cats Can’t Resist

So, where exactly are the cat’s favorite petting spots? Well, it depends on the cat. They usually aren’t shy about letting you know, so you can figure it out pretty quickly.

Ultimately, here are some cat favorites. If yours has a bad response, you’ll know to stay away next time! And, your cat might be totally unique, having an odd favorite—like the belly.

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Under the Chin and Toward the Neck

Most cats will practically run their chin over your hand. This is a very common feel-good spot for the majority of felines. They may also enjoy you cuddling the upper part of their neck just below the chin, giving them a gentle scratch in this area, and are likely to purr and rub against your hand to encourage you not to stop.

Your cat has scent glands under the chin, which they use to mark certain objects, like people and other pets, as something familiar, which is reassuring for them.

person petting a cat
Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

Top of the Head and Between the Ears

Lots of cats love being scratched right on top of the head. You can pet them between and behind the ears and stroke from the eyebrow area all the way back and they seem to really enjoy this. See what your cat’s favorite spot is.

Your cat has scent glands behind their ears, which release pheromones. This is why you will see a cat “bunting”. It is a way of marking their territory (that’s you!).

Some cats will actually enjoy having their ears lightly rubbed, as long as you do it correctly, but be careful if you’re not sure. They might flick their ears or shake their head, finding the touch irritating. If your cat has an ear infection or mites, it could cause them to flip or shake their heads when you get close, or you may notice discharge or an unpleasant smell coming from the ears. This will need veterinary attention.

Petting a ginger cat outside
Image Credit: dashkabudich, Pixabay

The Back Toward the Base of the Tail

Many cats will enjoy having cuddles alongside their back, from the head toward the base of the tail. But some will find this inappropriate and uncomfortable, and they may move away or show you this is not a place to touch. Be gentle and go slowly, moving from the head down and observing your cat’s body language. Do not go in the opposite direction, as it may irritate your cat and roughen up their well-kept coat. Also, you may cause static electricity if you cuddle them repeatedly.

The base of the tail is a very unique spot. Some cats love cuddles there, while others utterly dislike it. Be careful and very gentle before you establish if this is an area you need to avoid. The tail is often off limits, but it depends on the cat.

The Sides of the Body

Not all cats will enjoy cuddles on the sides of their body (more toward their ribcage than the belly). Some do, though, particularly if they are laying down in your lap and snoozing. Purring and lazy blinking may be a sign they are enjoying this area being touched. If they are tense or move away, this is not the spot to touch. 

Avoid the belly while touching their sides, as many cats will not enjoy it. However, if your cat is rolling on their back exposing their belly to you, they may tolerate being cuddled there, but it may also be a call for play, so watch your fingers.

Bengal upside down, showing off belly.
Bengal upside down, showing off belly. Photography ©Ingus Kruklitis | Getty Images.

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Common Areas to Avoid

Everyone has places they don’t want to be touched—and your cat can be extra particular. While not all cats will have issues with these areas, most felines prefer you steer clear of these no-no spaces.

owner petting a hissing angry tabby cat
Image Credit: AnnaKraynova, Shutterstock

The Belly

Have you ever tried to touch a cat’s belly and then lived to tell about it? It seems that anytime someone tries this maneuver, they’re going to get their flesh torn by a pair of murder mittens. The belly can be a very sensitive and vulnerable area for any animal, especially a cat.

Dogs might roll over and show you their belly as a sign of submission, but cats will rarely do this. Some cats are less sensitive to belly touches than others, and some might even prefer it, showing you their belly often and inviting you for cuddles and play.

But the majority of cats absolutely prefer having this area avoided and will very quickly get up and run away or flip back over in a frenzy if you dare poke the bear.

The Legs and Paws

If you have ever wanted to closely admire your kitty’s toe beans up close and personal, you might have been rejected. But why? Everyone wants to tickle those little tootsies. But this can make them feel vulnerable and they might not want you to get close.

It’s not unusual for a cat to pull away when you touch their feet. This is just not something they are used to. So, just know that even if you’re having trouble resisting, your kitty might not be into it—and that’s okay! You’ll know better next time.

The Tail and Sometimes the Base

woman-petting-a-cat at base of tail
Image credit: Christin Hume, Unsplash

We all know that when you stroke a cat down their spine, they always pop their little tushes up in the air when you get to the base of their tail. There are tons of nerve endings at the base of the tail that drive a cat crazy!

It is such a sensitive spot, in fact, that some cats might shy away or “duck” this kind of affection because it’s simply too much! Some may absolutely hate having the tail base touched, while others will enjoy an occasional rub there. Your cat will show you which are their preferences when it comes to this area. 

Certainly avoid touching the tail itself, and never pull on it. Teach your kids never to do this, as they may harm the cat and get scratched and bitten in the process.

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How to Tell Your Cat Isn’t Enjoying Being Petted

Respect is huge with cats, so make sure they are comfortable with the way it’s going. Most cats enjoy gentle pressure and a little rub.

If your cat starts to pull away, resists, or tries to scratch you, these are all signs that they don’t want to be petted right now or they just don’t want to be petted in that particular spot. If they’re showing any type of discomfort, don’t force them to interact with you. Try to pet a different spot they will enjoy, or just try again later when your cat is more in the mood to be petted.

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Final Thoughts

So, now you know a little more about how to pet your cat. Each cat will be different, but there are some very strong preferences among felines. Keep in mind that the amount your cat lets you pet them, and where they let you pet them, will probably have a lot to do with your cat’s overall character.

If you notice any hotspots, sore spots, head shakes, skin wounds, scabs, or areas that seem painful, smelly, or have a discharge, always mention it to your vet. There could be an underlying issue that creates discomfort and needs veterinary attention.

Featured Image Credit: Karpova, Shutterstock

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