All it takes is a cute kitten photo or sweet cat video, and we automatically want to cuddle up with the nearest cat. Feeling the murmur of a purr beneath our fingers and holding a furry warm companion close, brings instant contentment—no wonder the experts say petting a cat is a stress-buster.
But sometimes cats want their space and snuggle time seems like an impossible dream. If cuddling a cat is your ultimate goal (and it should be), here are 12 steps you can take to make sure kitty returns your affection.
Gentle, Gentler, Gentlest
All cats are tigers at heart but feel more like bunnies under our fingertips. Unlike dogs, who can take a roughly affectionate hand, cats are delicate friends, requiring a more feathery touch. Kittens and senior cats especially have fragile bones and should be handled with extra doses of TLC. Pretend your hands are wrapped in fluffy mohair mitts, petting the dandelion-downy texture of a baby chick.
Practice With The Plush
Get your hands accustomed to a gentle stroking motion by practicing on a plush stuffed toy. Yes, your cat may secretly, or openly, laugh at you, but patting a fave teddy bear or stuffed kitty will get you in the right touch-mode for cuddling your feline friend. This rehearsal is purrfect for petting Fluffy, who will be eager to elbow Winnie the Pooh aside and move into line for some serious stroking.
Support a kitten like a newborn baby, holding his head and bottom with gentle hands, stroking his tummy with a single finger, or right-side up, cradling his belly and hindquarters, never squeezing or clutching. A grown cat can be held the same way, but may prefer a little more wiggle room to choose the ideal cuddling position. Your cat may nestle against you, or decide to sit regally on her own while you imitate a massage therapist, rubbing magic hands on her head, chest and sides.
No Tailgating Zone
Cats are extra-sensitive about anyone touching their tails, which are part radar, part rudder, and all business. Fluffy may tickle you with her tail, wrapping it possessively around your leg or arm like a friendly snake, but if you take hold or rub at it, she’ll lash it in annoyance or pull it out of your reach. While some longhaired cats enjoy having their plumy tails petted, most domestic shorthairs like their tails untouched—so they’re free to intercept secret signals, or tickle your ankles.
Like their canine compatriots, some cats adore having their bellies rubbed when they’re resting on their backs, paws in the air. Go for an end-to-end motion, pausing occasionally to rub your fingertips in a small circular route near the tummy’s middle section. Keep in mind that some cats are ticklish in this area, so use a light touch and short duration. Your cat will tell you when he’s had enough, so beware of a sudden swat from an impatient paw.
Every cat, from big jungle cats like lions and cheetahs, to the teeniest of newborn kittens, enjoys having his chin stroked. Watch his eyes close in bliss and hear the purr thrum loud and strong. When you see your cat trying to chin the windowsill or kitchen counter, he’s hinting, telling you that these artificial surfaces are okay for now, but there’s no substitute for that ahhhh so good feeling of a human touch in his sweet spot. The velvety chin is one area cats themselves cannot reach, so they must rely on a kindly hand to do the honors.
Sing a Silly Song
Make up a funny song about your cat’s name, or substitute your own nonsensical lyrics to a tune like Pharrell’s “Happy” or “Mama Mia!” and croon to your kitty while caressing her coat. You’ll see your cat’s ears flick and tail twitch at the happy riff. Cats love the soothing sounds of a musical beat, and hearing their own name styled with rhythm and motion, is almost enough to get them dancing.
Stroking a finger along your cat’s backbone may bring her to attention as she arches in pleasure to grab more of that good cuddly feel. Great for the grooming groove, working your hands along her back gives a cat an allover relaxation reflex, just like a backrub does for humans. Most cats bliss out during a back-patting session, but some sensitive kitties set their own time limits, feeling too over stimulated to fully relax.
Holding your cat on your lap is the ultimate joyous feline experience. Place one arm around your cat, reaching back to front, and use the other to trace her markings or stroke her chin, head, back and sides. Some cats are natural lap accessories, eager to claim their fave space, but others dislike being picked up and will resist if you keep trying. Instead, let her choose to make the lap leap when she’s ready. Respect your cat’s choice and she’ll always pick the right seat.
Don’t Fumble That Feline!
Never grasp your cat as if she’s a football. You’re not a running back and she’s not an NFL official product. If you’re tempted to tuck Kitty under your arm and head for the sofa, remember that all cats dislike being grabbed tightly around the middle and pulled too close. Fussy cats who don’t like being handled will go stiff with dislike, imitating a large turtle and protesting with their version of a 15 yard penalty, claws included.
While You Were Sleeping
Napping cats enjoy gentle stroking, which may up the volume of their sleepy-time purr, and if you decide to join Fluffy for a refreshing catnap, you’ll soon be snoring in synch. And you may wake with a cat firmly planted on your back or stomach, flexing her whiskers and gazing into your sleep-filled eyes. You can softly snuggle a sleeping kitten, but be cautious about wrapping your arms around a sleeping adult cat. Grown cats can become grumpy at the subconscious surprise of being hefted for a hug.
Polish those cat cuddling skills with a wider, always-appreciative audience. Stroking adoptable cats at a shelter or rescue group will give those kitties hope and happiness, socializing them in the process. Grown cats who’ve been surrendered or are shy and skittish will find reassurance in a friendly human hand. Kittens eager for affection will unleash the world’s loudest purrs. Share the love with multiple felines who lack an official cat cuddler of their own and bask in the instant glow of their gratitude. This generous use of a kindly touch will make you even more expert when it comes cuddling up to your own cat.
Kathy Blumenstock is owned by cats, loved by dogs, writes about both, and still longs for a horse.