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Why Do Cats Like to be Pet? Here’s What Science Tells Us

Ed Malaker

By Ed Malaker

person petting a cat

Cats are some of the most wonderful animals in the world. Breeders have been domesticating them for 4,000 years, and they now come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny Munchkin to the enormous Maine Coon. Cats have many strange behaviors, but the one we get asked about the most is why cats like to be pet. If you, too, are curious about why your cat does this, continueye reading while we look at what science has to say, as well as some good guesses to help you understand your pet better.

The 5 Reasons Why Cats Like to Be Pet:

1. It Likes You

Humans have many ways of showing affection for one another, but cats are much more limited. If your cat is rubbing against you and allowing you to pet it, especially if it’s purring, the cat likes you and enjoys your company.

Petting a ginger cat outside
Image Credit: dashkabudich, Pixabay

2. It Missed You

If you go to work for several hours or spend a lot of time on a different floor than your cat, you will likely experience it rubbing against you and looking for pets when you see it again. Cats don’t have many ways to greet a human, and no one can be sure, but if your cat comes running to see you when you get home and is looking for pets, there is a good chance it missed you.

3. It’s Marking Its Territory

Cats are extremely territorial creatures and will often fight to the death defending their territory in the wild. Cats mark their territory by spreading pheromones, a scent that is undetectable to humans. They spread these pheromones in various ways, including the pads on their feet, through their urine and anal glands, and most importantly for us, through their head and cheeks, and skin. When your cat rubs these parts of its body on you, it deposits these scents that other cats can smell. When you pet the cat, it’s like you are marking yourself as part of its territory.

What Are Pheromones?

Pheromones are hard to understand because we can’t smell them, but we know they are part of the way that cats communicate with each other, and if your cat is rubbing these natural chemicals on you, it’s because it likes you.

cat owner talking to his pet
Image Credit: Piqsels

4. It’s Seeking Attention

Your cat likely sees you as alpha and could be looking for signs of acceptance. When you stop what you are doing to pet your cat, you send a clear message that you accept it and enjoy its company. Many cats will rub on you and let you pet them when they want you to pay attention to their needs, and it’s often a sign that they are hungry or want to go outside.

5. It Feels Good

Your cat has specialized hair on its face, such as the whiskers, eyebrows, and guard hairs that are sensitive enough to detect a change in wind direction, which helps it pursue prey. These hairs also help your cat navigate small openings and provide other functions too. It’s likely that petting your cat’s face or allowing it to rub its face against you feels good to the cat and is a type of massage that helps soothe these sensitive hairs after a long day.

hand petting a cat
Image Credit: Yerlin Matu, Unsplash

Not All Cats Like To Be Pet the Same

You won’t need to talk with many cat owners to find one that tells you that their cat doesn’t like when you pet it. While this might be true, some cats prefer you wait for the right time and place and that you pet them in the right way. If your cat doesn’t appear to like pets, you might need to watch its behavior closely and keep trying at different times to find success.

We have had several cats that only like their head rubbed or under the chin, and it will get up and leave if you try to pet the rest of it. One cat likes to lay on the floor so we can rub its head with our feet, and another prefers to disappear for an hour or two, so it can get excited when you come looking for it. It will then press its head on you and roll on the ground so you can rub its belly. Most people would think that neither of these cats likes to be pet, but the reality is that they both love it when it’s on their terms, and it was easier than you might think to learn what those terms are. Almost all cats have little quirks you learn by spending time with them.

woman cuddling with her cat
Image Credit: Sam Lion, Pexels

Most Cats Don’t Like Belly Rubs

While you can usually find a way to pet even the most aloof cat with patience, and perseverance, you are likely to find that even the friendliest cats don’t like when you rub their belly. They will usually take the opportunity to shred your arm and had with its claws. Some cats will even hold your hand with their front claws and do a bunny kick with their back legs which can quickly cause considerable damage to your arm. This action will make most children cry, so we recommend teaching the child to avoid the belly at all times.

The belly is where your cat is most vulnerable, and it is likely a sensitive area to the touch. It’s also highly defendable, unlike its back.

Summary

We believe that cats rub up against us because they like us and appreciate the home we provide them. They no longer need to hunt for their food or fend off intruders in their territory and are free to lounge around in their favorite spot. They also probably miss us when we are away because we like to give them a lot of attention, and we’re sure that petting them feels good because we can see how they react to it when they allow it. There’s also the science behind pheromones and territory marking, but we never saw a cat avoid us because another has marked us, so we’re not exactly sure what message the pheromones send.

We hope you have enjoyed this short guide and found the answers to your question. If we have helped you understand your cat better, please share our look into why cats like to be pet on Facebook and Twitter.


Featured Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

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