Petting a cat is not always a simple matter. Some cats like it, and some don’t. Some cats like it at times, and want to be left untouched other times. How can you tell? Ask the cat.
The safest way to tell if a cat would like to be petted is to ask them. You do this by slowly and smoothly presenting the back of your hand. If the cat leans into your hand, as shown in the above photo, then you can rotate your hand and pet her. Of course, if you know your cat likes to be petted, you may be able to initiate petting with a brief scratch of the head.
Just because a cat wanted to be petted doesn’t mean she wants it as long as you might. The best way to tell how long a cat wants to be petted is to ask her. First, stop petting the cat. Then, move your hand an inch or so away. If she leans into it again, she is up for more. If not, remove your hand.
Why the back of the hand?
Some cats have had bad experiences with human fingers. People may have petted her past her tolerance level. Or people may have grabbed her to pick her up when she wanted to be left alone. The back of the hand is less threatening, because the fingers are not involved.
But I want her to learn to let me pet her longer.
Whether working with people or animals, they are more apt to want something they like. And what is very well liked by both people and cats is CHOICE. So, although it may seem counter-intuitive, removing your hand an inch or two after a brief petting will make a cat more apt to want to be petted. And leaving a cat alone if that was enough, again, will make the cat more apt to want to be petted by you in the future.
If you want to read more about how to interact with your cat, you may also enjoy reading about how your mood affects your cat.
Patience Fisher owns Patience for Cats LLC, a cat behavior business based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is Associate Certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She holds a Bachelor’s in Biology, a Diploma of Feline Behavior Science Technology, and is a certified veterinary assistant. Check out her humorous YouTube video at her Patience for Cats channel. Visit her on Facebook at Patience for Cats.