If it’s an unfamiliar cat, don’t automatically reach out and start petting. Let her become familiar with your scent first by extending your index finger. This way she can sniff it, in the same way cats engage in nose-to-nose sniffing. If she rubs against your hand or comes closer, she’s probably comfortable with being petted. Keep watching her body though because it could change.
Learn the Cat’s Petting Preference
Typically, cats enjoy being petted on the top of the head, between the ears and down the back of neck. Many cats also enjoy getting lightly scratched under the chin or rubbed along the side of the cheek (just be sure to stay away from those sensitive whiskers.) If you’re unfamiliar with the cat, don’t move your hand directly over her face, but rather, come in from the side so you don’t appear threatening. If the cat backs up or leans away from you, immediately stop petting. She’s letting you know she’s not ready.
Cats are Social
Some cats enjoy being petted down the back all the way to the tail. Others find that unpleasant or even painful. If you attempt to pet those areas, watch the cat’s body language very carefully. Petting along the back or near the tail can even trigger an unexpected aggressive response.
Leave The Stomach Alone
As a rule, the one place to stay away from when it comes to petting is the cat’s stomach. No matter how tempting and soft it looks, a cat isn’t a Golden Retriever asking for a belly rub. Petting a cat’s stomach will likely trigger an immediate defensive reaction where all claws, and maybe the teeth, connect with your tender flesh. Keep in mind that if you happen to have a cat who thoroughly enjoys a tummy rub doesn’t mean other cats you encounter will automatically appreciate those special massages. Be safe and stay away from the belly. Even if you’re quick enough to pull your hand away if the cat reacts negatively, you don’t want to turn this into a bad experience for the cat.
The Right Touch
Unless you know for a fact that your cat enjoys being petted vigorously, stick to gentle, light petting and head scratching. When stroking, go in the same direction the fur grows.
Watch for Changing Signals
Some cats enjoy long periods of being petted. They may serenade you with purrs and then maybe even fall asleep. Other cats might get too aroused if petted for an extended time. If you’re lucky, the aroused cat will just move away when she has had enough. If you’re not so lucky, that cat may bite or scratch.