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How to Pet a Cat


If you’re dealing with your own cat, learn her limits so you can end well before the first sign appears. Don’t even let it get to the point where she must give you a warning sign. Stop way before she begins to get tired of it or gets too stimulated and this way you train the cat to enjoy future sessions of being petted.

If you’re petting an unfamiliar cat, keep in mind that you don’t know her tolerance level so stop while it’s still an enjoyable experience.

Signs that a Cat May be Reaching Her Tolerance Level

Every cat is an individual but here are general guidelines:

  • Skin rippling
  • Tail twitching
  • Tail lashing or thumping
  • Vocalizing (meow or low growl)
  • Lowered ear position
  • Body shifting
  • Head lowering
  • Cessation of purring

Petting-Induced Aggression

As I mentioned earlier, some cats can only take a certain amount of petting before they get too stimulated or find it uncomfortable. Some cats though, become extremely reactive in a way that seems to come out of nowhere. Your cat may absolutely enjoy being petted and then suddenly, out of the blue, violently attack your hand. Understandably, this behavior is upsetting to cat parents because it seems totally unprovoked. You think your cat is enjoying the affection and then she turns into an attack cat. What is happening in most cases is that the cat is getting too stimulated. Some cats can only handle a limited amount of physical contact. In other cases, you may be petting too much on areas of the body that are causing stimulation or even discomfort.

If your cat is known for displaying petting-induced aggression, pay attention to the warning signs listed above that indicate she is reaching her tolerance limit. Most times, cats give warning signs but some people don’t always pay attention to them and that causes the cat to eventually react violently.

If your cat never gives any visible sign that she’s reaching her limit before she attacks, then reduce the length of time you pet her. If you know that after two minutes of petting she bites or scratches then only pet her for 30-45 seconds. Leave her wanting more and end the session on a positive, relaxed note.


  • Don’t startle a cat just to pet her
  • Respect the cat’s personal space
  • Announce yourself (by extending your finger)
  • Observe the cat’s body language
  • Pay attention to petting preferences
  • Watch for changing signals
  • Don’t pet the belly
  • End on a positive note

quote from dr. haug


Need More Information?

For more specific information on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett, including the latest release, CatWise. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book seller and also here on our website.