My Cat Hates Being Petted. Can I Change That?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, helps a kitten owner with tips to getting a cat comfortable with being held.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

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Q: We have four indoor cats and a dog. We can't resist holding, cuddling and kissing the 10-month-old Ragdoll, Jobey (He has an account on CatChannel, it's under Jobey the Royal Prince). The problem is that he growls at us and tries to scratch us in the face when we hold him. After a minute or so of holding him, he starts growling. I'm afraid someone in the family is going to get hurt. We have tried claw caps but he pulls them off. We are worried that one of our children will get an eyeball injured from a claw. It takes most of the pleasure out of having a pet if you cannot ever cuddle or give him a kiss.

A: Who can resist an adorable, fluffy kitten or young cat? Cute and affection-magnets as they are, not all cats and kittens enjoy being cuddled, kissed and hugged. And other cats enjoy only limited amounts of affection from their people. The ways people approach cats also influences how they respond to attention. In their efforts to interact with cats, sometimes children and adults pick up cats and/or handle them against their will. Many cats respond by growling, scratching or biting, others avoid contact with their people.

The best approach for winning a cat’s affections is not insisting he interact with the family. Instead, encourage him to want the contact. Don’t corner, pick up or cuddle a cat against his will. Start at the basics, by greeting your cat in a way that allows him the choice of interacting with you.

With your kitten a few feet away from you or across the room, crouch or sit so you are not high above the kitten. Extend your finger toward your kitten at cat-nose level. Do not approach him. If your kitten chooses to fraternize, he will come up to your finger and touch it with his nose. Then he will turn his head until your finger is on his cheek. This is an invitation for gentle petting and strokes. If your kitten responds well to the attention, put your hands around him as if you are going to lift him up.

At the first sign that your kitten does not want to be held or stroked, stop interacting with him. If he is relaxed while your hands are in position, reward him with a tiny treat he adores. Gradually increase the criteria until you can place him in your lap without holding on to him. While he is standing or sitting in your lap, reinforce him for the behavior with small pieces of treats. That way he will start associating laps with positive experiences. After a while, start holding him for a second or two — always reinforcing him when he’s relaxed. At the first sign that he does not want to be held or stroked, either safely place him on the floor or release your hold on him. With time and the cooperation from all of your family members, including the children, your kitten might accept gentle affection.

Every cat has his and her own personality. Some show their feelings toward their people by following them around and sitting near them, others enjoy hugs and cuddles. Even though Jobey might be a cat who prefers minimal handling, he still is adorable, with his own way of showing his affections to his favorite people.
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Reader Comments

jackie    Gardner, MA

12/20/2013 3:52:28 AM

My cat is 2 1/2 years old had him since he was 12 weeks old always gave him love and attention because I absolutely love cats. Id hold him and kiss himbut he'd always get mad and not want anything to do with affection. Can't hold him, can't cuddle him, can't pet him. I figured as he got older he'd want the attention but boy was I wrong! I've never had a cat like this before. And also his behavior is awful. Scratches the couches to threads and I've tried everything every suggestion. I don't know if these things are related or not but its annoying I just wish he would be more loving!! Is he going to be this way for ever?? I thought of getting another cat to make him jealous would that work??? Lol

Nancy    new britain, CT

8/2/2013 9:23:15 AM

When I had my Siamese when she was young she came to me rarely only after she was about5 yrs old she was super affectionate she followed me everywhere always sat by my side and wanted to be pet. SHe was quiet not like Siamese are known to be very vocal.Mittens passed away when she was 22 yrs old!Now my Exotic Shorthair Kiki Chanel is very different she likes to be pet in the morning and before bedtime. I love my Mittens & my Kiki Chanel so different but equally loved ANd Spoiled!!!!

Phyllis    West Haven, CT

3/8/2012 1:22:01 PM

Patience is the key. It took months, possibly a year, before my cat would let my husband pet her. Now she'll even jump up on his lap. She was a ferel cat I adopted at 11 mos old and holding by anyone is limited. She loves to curl up on a lap and nap though, if it's her choice :o)

Alicia    Hollister, CA

3/8/2012 1:08:04 AM


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