Consent in Cats – When Does Your Cat Want To Be Pet Or Picked Up?

Cats and humans have many things in common. For instance, we both love to express affection through touch. But cats, unlike humans, have more touch receptors on their skin, thus are more sensitive. They are also independent and remarkably particular about when to be pet, where to be pet, and how many times they like to be pet. One could say they have different moods, and they will let you pet them as the mood dictates. It is one of those things that make cats a favorite for many.

If you are planning to adopt a kitten from a rescue home, we can help you to learn how to tell her mood, approach her in the right way, and ask for consent. We’ll also help you learn how to read cats’ body language so you can tell when to pick her up, or if she would like to be pet.

Photo by Humberto Arellano on Unsplash

Understanding her body language

Since we cannot speak ‘cat’, the parent should know what to look out for, understand what it could mean, and respond correctly to the body language.

 Many people are familiar with the startled cat look thanks to Tom and Jerry. But cats have many other gestures which they use to communicate to their species and beyond.

Catvills explain that some gestures are subtle, like a slight movement of their whiskers, or turning away her head. Others are obvious, like when she rubs her entire back against you, or the startled cat look. Either way, by understanding her body language, you stand a better chance of knowing when to pet her or pick her up.

Her genes and upbringing matter

Breeds such as the Bengal cats just don’t like being picked up. But they love playing and would cuddle up next to you after a tiring session. Other cats, especially kittens from rescue homes, don’t like being pet or being picked up because they may have mental trauma from their previous parents. Rescue centers often take cats from bad caregivers. It’s not a surprise that such cats associate being pet with bad experiences.

 If you have a Bengal, or your cat associates petting with bad experiences, her body language will let you know. So you must start by seeking consent.

Seeking consent is an art

Cats are sophisticated and very particular. If you want to pet her, it has to be under her terms. She should be in the mood, and you must wait until she gives you a nod.

To ask for consent, slowly extend the back of your hand towards her while facing away. As the hand approaches her face and neck, look out for the following gestures that say “No,” or “I don’t feel like being pet!”

  • A yawn
  • Turning her head away in a disinterested manner.
  • Licking her lips and turning her attention to something else.
  • If she starts to groom or do another activity ignoring your offer.

However, you could proceed and gently begin to pet her if she shows these signs:

  • If she leans into the back of your hand.
  • If she gives you a “why?” look when you stop rubbing her neck.

What if you want to pick her, change position, and continue petting her while she’s in your arms? Look for signs that it’s okay to pick her up.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Picking her up is up to her

Like petting, the best time to pick up a cat is when she wants you to. Her body language will let you know if she’s in the mood. Look out for these gestures:

  • A cuddly rub.
  • Licking.
  • A playful tail.

These signs tell you that she’s happy and wouldn’t mind being picked up. So you can go ahead.

On the other hand, if you hear a disgruntled sound, or feel her squirm when she’s in your arms, let her go. If she’s scared or in a tense mood, don’t pick her up. Cats are independent and still retain some of their wild instincts. Being picked up is not one of their favorite activities.

Reading the signs wrong, and when to stop

Sometimes she may give signs that seem to say it is okay to pet. But when you do it, it turns out that you were wrong. For example, when she playfully rolls on her back, showing that she trusts you, and you pet her tummy. She could lash out at you because many cats don’t like being rubbed on their tummies. But some seem to enjoy it. The key is knowing how to seek consent and doing it with finesse.

Final thoughts

Your cat will generally let you know when to stop petting, or when to put her down. She could walk away, or try to leap off from your arms. If she’s from a rescue home, she could take a little longer to learn that petting feels awesome. Don’t give up on her. Follow these steps and pet her briefly. Then give her a treat so that she associates petting with nice things.

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2 thoughts on “Consent in Cats – When Does Your Cat Want To Be Pet Or Picked Up?

  1. retrodee says:

    When holding my cat sometimes I wait for the “death glare” which means “Put me down now or pay the consequences” 😀 I know she wants to sit in my lap at the table when she comes around the chair and rubs against it, mewing. She has pretty good communication lines going. She’s not shy to express what she wants.

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