KITTENS

How to Tickle a Cat: Make Them Happy, Not Angry

A tabby cat really enjoying its chin being tickeled
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Cats love to be tickled; try running your fingertips along their chin, and they will tip their head back to allow you better access. But if you keep tickling the same spot and using the same motions over and over again without injecting variety into your technique, it’ll get tiresome for your cat. To avoid that, you’ll need to learn the proper ways on how to tickle a cat.

With humans, tickling is a great stress-reliever because it allows us to laugh. Cats may not laugh out loud the way we do, but tickling has the same positive effect on them—namely, it relaxes them and helps their brain release endorphins that reduce stress and enhance their health in the long run. Tickling can also be a great bonding exercise that will make your cat love you even more.

Image of a man tickling a cat

We want to help you keep your cat healthy and happy, and that is why we have come up with this comprehensive guide detailing how to tickle a cat. By learning some very simple rules and tricks, you will contribute greatly to your cat’s health. Other than to reduce their stress level, tickling has plenty other benefits to offer to you and your cat. We will explain those benefits in greater detail below.

The Importance of Tickling a Cat

We’ve already mentioned how tickling allows the brain to release endorphins—an important hormone that can greatly improve your cat’s happiness and health. Aside from that, there are some other benefits that support the importance of tickling a cat.

It Helps in Establishing Trust

Tickling your cat helps bring you two closer. It facilitates the building of a bond.

an orange cat playing with her owner

It also allows you to spend some quality time with your cat—a thing that helps establish trust between the two of you.  

It Feels Good to Your Cat

When you hit the right spots with your tickling, often your cat will end up purring. It’s a clear sign that the tickling feels good to them. This will make your cat love you even more.

You Get to Check Your Cat Over

Tickling your cat will make her relax, and this will, in turn, give you the chance to check her body over for any signs of illness or injury. You will then be able to seek help immediately from the vet before things go from bad to worse.

It Helps in Grooming Your Cat

Some cats don’t like to be groomed. My cat, for example, would disappear at the sight of his brush. Knowing I have to get him to relax first before he’ll allow me to groom him, I usually tickle him under the chin.

A person grooming a cat

Once he’s all soft and purring, I can brush him all I want to remove the loose hair and matting, and he won’t even notice what I’m doing.

How to Tickle Your Cat

Tickling a cat is generally simple and perfectly safe. The problem lies in whether the cat allows you to tickle her or not. Tickling involves touching. If the cat doesn’t know you or trust you yet, she won’t allow you to put your fingers all over her and get her in a vulnerable position. If you force her, you’ll just stress her out. That’s why the first steps on this cat-tickling guide will focus on explaining how to get your cat to come to you and open up to you so they will be receptive to a tickling session.

Step #1: Pick the Right Moment

Cats are intelligent animals. She will let you know when she’s ready to take the relationship to the next stage and not the other way around. Let the cat make the first move. When she needs attention from you, she will approach you. Then she may rub against your legs, purr, rub her cheeks and head against you, meow at you, and maybe even sit in your lap.

Once you see any of these gestures, shift your attention towards her. But don’t be hasty. She may not be approaching you for a tickling session. A cat may approach you because she is hungry or she wants to play. One question arises here: how do you know whether the cat is in the mood or not?

A cat lying down looking at the camera

There are some simple rules that you must remember. First, avoid petting your cat immediately after she has eaten as the cat will not enjoy it. She is relaxed after eating, yes, but she is now in the mood to sleep, not for tickling. Second, avoid petting your cat when she is on her back. This is a common mistake. A cat will often roll back on her back when relaxed and hence expose her belly to you. A lot of pet owners take this as a signal to start tickling the cat’s belly. Don’t do this.

Most cats are apprehensive about having their belly touched. That’s because it’s a vulnerable part of them, and in the wild, showing one’s belly to the enemy is pretty much an act of suicide. That’s why if you rub your cat’s belly, she will count it as a violation of her personal space. It may even break the trust that you are trying to build. Some cats enjoy belly rubs, but these are the exceptions, not the rule. Thus, it’s important to keep in mind that a cat’s stomach is off limits for tickling.

Step #2: Break the Ice

Your cat has approached you. She’s trying to get your attention. You can take this as a cue that things are progressing in the right direction, but try to take things slow. You still need to break the ice first.

A cat lying in bed waiting to be tickled by his owner

This applies especially if the cat you intend to tickle is new or has just been adopted. She still considers you a stranger, and she’s not sure whether you’re a threat or not. You are about ten times bigger than your cat, so it’s understandable why she might feel apprehensive about being tickled by you.

Be patient since it may take a long time before your cat trusts you fully. To break the ice, try whipping out her favorite toy; spend time playing with her. Just refrain from touching her until such a time when she’s the one who initiates physical contact. This will allow the cat to get more comfortable around you.

Step #3: Find Your Cat’s Spots

Once your cat has trusted you enough to initiate physical contact with you—by rubbing themselves against your hand or sitting in your lap—it’s time to look for the right tickling spots.

A grey kitten lying on her back while is tickled by his owner

Each cat is an individual. This means that what one cat enjoys may not be so enjoyable to another cat. Still, they have some similarities. The tickling spots that all cats generally like include behind the ears, on top of their head, the cheeks, and under the chin.

If your cat is unique and she doesn’t feel good when you scratch her in the aforementioned areas, then you may have to resort to trial and error to find the perfect spot. The process of trial and error involves tickling your cat in different areas and then observing her reaction. If you’ve hit the spot, you’ll generally notice signs such as:

  • Purring

  • Tilting their head or shifting their body to allow you better access

  • Leaning closer to you

  • Erect ears

  • Holding his or her tail up and quivering it

  • Kneading

  • The slow blink

  • The fur on the cat’s coat will be lying flat rather than standing

Step #4: Gently Tickle Them

Now you’ve found the right tickling spots. But even if your cat seems to enjoy the attention you’re giving to those areas, remember to be gentle—especially when you’re tickling the cheeks or the chin.

These areas contain scent glands which allow your feline friend to leave her scent on things—hence helping her mark her territory. These are very important and sensitive spots, so if you rub them the wrong way, your cat may get annoyed with you.

A person gently tickling his cat

Tickling this area usually involves scratching her cheeks from the whiskers back towards the tail. While moving downwards to the tail, make sure to pay extra attention to the base. That’s another favorite tickle spot, and most cats will enjoy the attention you’re giving to that area.

To tickle the chin, simply scratch your cat under the jaw and along the neck. Your cat will tilt her head this way and that to allow you better access. If she tilts her head to expose the right side of her neck, it means she wants you to pay more attention to that one than the left side. Allow your cat to guide you.

Orange cat being tickled by a person

Tickling behind the ears is usually done by gently rubbing the base. You can also use your knuckle to rub the inside of their ear lightly. Always make sure that you are careful. Don’t pull too hard or you might hurt your cat. Start small, and you learn about your cat’s boundaries. Once your cat has gotten used to getting tickled on parts of her body, you can proceed to a full-body tickling.

Step #5: Full-Body Tickling

After you have tickled your furry friend in the safe zones and noticed that she enjoys it, it is time to move on to tickle her full body. To do this, just start at the crown of her head and use your open palm to tickle her lengthwise down the cat’s spine and towards the tail.

Cats love to have their backs scratched and their fur brushed backward. Make sure you always scratch their tail base to help them enjoy the experience even more. Be careful when rubbing the tail base. Do not touch the tail itself; some cats don’t like it.

Two persons tickling a cute cat

Remember, be gentle. Your cat might be comfortable with you, but in case you get too aggressive with the tickling, you may lose her trust. It might look like you are trying to attack her since you are much bigger than your cat.

If your cat feels threatened during the tickling or overstimulated, they may resort to biting or clawing you. Let them get away with it once or twice, and she may end up thinking it’s okay to hurt you. How do you correct this behavior?

Correcting Aggressive Behavior in a Cat during Tickling

You may notice signs of aggression in your cat as the tickling progresses beyond your cat’s comfort zone. The signs you’ll want to watch out for include:

  • Flattened ears

  • Dilated pupils

  • The thrashing of tail in the air or the thumping of it on the ground

  • The cessation of purring

  • Incessant body shifting or twitching

  • Growling or hissing

  • A glare directed at your hand

  • Aggressive meowing

Of course, you should stop as soon as you notice these signs. But sometimes, simply stopping isn’t good enough. Sometimes your cat gets so annoyed that she chases after your retreating hand to bite and scratch you. Times like these, you need to:

Make Sure It isn’t a Health Problem

Sometimes, sudden aggressive behaviors in your cat are a response to pain. Your cat may have an injury that’s difficult to discern. 

an orange cat at the vet control

If you notice that she is totally fine when you are tickling her in some parts of her body but when you hit a certain spot she gets aggressive, take her to the vet immediately. Make sure that the aggression is not caused by an injury or other health problems like arthritis, abscess, dental problems, or worse, rabies.

Make Sure You Read the Cat’s Mood Correctly

As stated earlier on in the article, just because your cat has come close to you, it doesn’t always mean that she’s asking to be tickled. When you misinterpret her moods and tickle her when she does not expect to be tickled, you may end up getting bitten. To make sure that this does not happen, make sure that you interpret the signs that she is giving you properly. Always start slow when you are tickling your cat so you can observe her reaction accordingly.

Always End Your Tickling on a Positive Note

This means that you don’t need to tickle your cat until it gets boring. You should always end the tickling way before she gets sick of it.

The gray cat with green eyes lies on a sofa.

If the cat has lived with you for a long time and you know that it always takes about twenty minutes before she starts getting uncomfortable, make sure you end your tickling after about fifteen minutes. This will leave your cat asking for more, so there will be a next time.

Never Punish Your Cat

Don’t yell at, hit, or chase your cat for biting you. This will only increase the amount of fear your cat feels. Cats do what they feel they have to. She is not biting you because she wants to be mean. She is biting you because that is the only way to communicate to you that she doesn’t want to be tickled anymore.

Stroking your cat will stress it out

Be keen while observing her body language so you will notice when she doesn’t want to be petted anymore. If you have done all you could to keep the cat from feeling uncomfortable during the tickling session and yet she bites you anyway, then perhaps it’s time for some discipline. Discipline isn’t the same as doling out punishments, though. Make sure you know the difference and avoid hurting the cat.

Wrap Up

You will agree with us that cats, just like human beings, love to be given attention. Some cats are more attention-seeking than others, but in the end, even the shiest of cats need their owners to make time for them and show them that they matter. This is why it is essential to learn how to tickle a cat. It is good to note that tickling is an activity that offers quite a lot of advantages—among these is that it helps keep your cat healthy and happy.

Tickling a cat does not have to be hard. With the simple tips listed in this article, you are sure to achieve a very healthy relationship with your cat as you tickle her. The key is to never rush your cat. Learn to read her body language. Cats will always give signals about what she wants or doesn’t want you to do. If you are able to read these correctly, you won’t have to get bitten and scratched at every now and then for petting her in the wrong moment.

Kitten and a woman in the background

Two parts of your cat’s body that are a no-go zone when tickling are the stomach and the tail. We do agree that there are exceptions as some cats seem to enjoy being tickled in these areas, but the majority of cats won’t like it. It’s best to stick to the safe zones.

What’s your cat’s favorite tickling spot? Does she seek you out for tickle sessions or do you usually have to bait her for it to happen? Let us know how your cat reacted to the tickling in the comments section below!

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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