Your sitting on your couch with your feline bestie curled up beside you, belly up. The temptation is just too much: you reach over and tickle that furry belly. Your cat reacts instantly, either with purring and a few “meows” or a swift swat. What gives? Are cats ticklish?
Plenty of pet owners wonder about this exact thing. Humans can be ticklish, so why not cats? Pet cats are capable of a lot of cute behaviors. Is being ticklish one of them?
It may be surprising to learn that cats and kittens are, in a way, ticklish. But it’s a different kind of ticklishness than you’ll find in humans. Here’s a look at those differences, along with info about where and how to pet your cat. You’ll also learn some places to avoid when giving your cat some affection.
Info For Pet Parents: Are Cats And Kittens Ticklish In The Same Way That Humans Are?
Are cats ticklish? They are, but not like you might think. There are actually two kinds of ticklishness. One is what causes laughter in humans. The other is a sensation that’s more comparable to itching, such as how you feel after an insect bite.
Two Types Of Ticklishness
The kind of ticklishness that makes you laugh out loud is known as gargalesis. It only occurs in humans and primates, such as gorillas and chimps. One theory as to why this happens is that it is simply a way to bond socially with a little light-hearted laughter. 1
Others believe gargalesis is a way for youngsters to develop their ability to defend themselves. When they engage in tickling sessions with others in their group, they hone the reflexes they need in order to defend their ribs, neck, and other vulnerable areas during an attack by a predator. 2
The other form of ticklishness, known as knismesis, doesn’t evoke any sort of humorous response. It’s actually more of an annoyance. This is the type of ticklishness cats experience. When a cat flicks an ear to get rid of a bug, this is an example of knismesis. 3
Mixed Signals: If Cats Don’t Like To Be Tickled, Why Do They Show Their Bellies?
Sometimes, your cat will roll over and show you their belly. There’s a fair chance that, as a cat parent, you’ve seen this behavior. And, as in the scenario mentioned earlier, you’ve given in to the temptation to rub or scratch their kitty belly. You might’ve also elicited a not-so-pleasant response from your feline. No, you’re now sporting a lovely new claw mark or scratch on your hand for your trouble.
Why, then, will a cat show you their belly? Your dog loves a belly rub, right? Why doesn’t your cat? Isn’t this an invitation to tickle your pet? There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but when it comes to cats, wanting a belly rub isn’t one of them.
One reason is that your cat trusts you, or is feeling playful. But it could also be a defense mechanism. A cat in this position will not only be able to bite, but also claw with all four paws. 4
Given these potential mixed signals, beware. If your cat rolls on their back but seems upset, definitely don’t touch their stomach.
What Are The Best Places To Pet A Cat?
Even though you shouldn’t pet most cats in the belly area, there are other spots that will usually send them into absolute bliss. Here are just a few.
- The chin – What cat doesn’t love a gentle stroke underneath the chin? Just in case yours doesn’t, watch their face closely for any signs you might want to consider petting another area instead.
- The ears – The base of the ears is a popular petting spot for cats. One possible reason is that it’s where a lot of scent glands are located. Your cat can release their scent onto you, making them feel more comfortable.
- The cheeks – This is another spot that contains scent glands. That makes it a good one to pet.
- The back – Cats also tend to like being petted on their back. Some of them, however, have a problem with being stroked on their tails.5
Signs Your Cat Likes (Or Dislikes) It When You Pet Them
Most cats will let you know whether they like you petting them. Pay attention to the signs, and make sure your pet is at ease. Your cat is probably enjoying the petting if:
- They purr and knead your skin with their front paws.
- They gently move their tail back and forth.
- They have a relaxed posture.
- They nudge your hand when you stop petting them.6
Cats will likely let you know really quickly if they’re not enjoying petting. These clues will tell you it’s time to stop. Your cat is probably not enjoying the petting if:
- They continually shift or change positions.
- They lick their nose, shake their head, or begin vigorously grooming themselves.
- They swipe at you with a paw.
- They blink excessively or flatten their ears.7
Note: Always approach your cat gently when you start to pet them. A cat, just like any animal, could act aggressively if they feel threatened.
Is Your Cat Overly Sensitive To Affection? You Might Need To See The Vet
Whether you’ve had a cat for a while or you’ve just brought one home, your pet might have an unusual or funny cat reaction when you show affection. As it turns out, there could be a medical reason why this is happening.
For example, some cats develop a condition known as hyperesthesia or abnormally sensitive skin. This is also sometimes referred to as “twitchy cat syndrome,” and with good reason. You’ll notice that the skin on the backs of cats with hyperesthesia will often ripple if you pet the area. They may also twitch their tails or experience muscle spasms.8
There are other signs as well. These include biting or chasing their tail as well as the sides of their body. Some cats will start meowing loudly, or they will hiss. In some cases, cats with hyperesthesia may pluck their own hair or chew their leg. See your vet if your cat exhibits unusual behaviors like this.9
The Bottom Line: Are Cats Ticklish?
Cats and dogs aren’t ticklish in the same way humans are. But that doesn’t mean they’re not sensitive to touch. Always remember to approach your feline gently when showing affection and to respect your pet’s boundaries.