Cats will be cats and that’s why we love them. They are fun and quirky. Cats are particular about a lot of things and especially exactly where you can pet them. You accept your own cat’s oddities, but did you ever ponder why they might be?
Cats can interact with other familiar cats through the use of allogrooming. This mutually beneficial grooming behavior serves to solidify their bonds with their friends. In the book, Welfare of Cats, Penny Bernstein reported that 48% of cats prefer to be petted on their face and head. 1 Cats are often observed rubbing the sides of their faces on each other. This custom seems to be because of the presence of scent glands located between the eyes and ears and on the cheeks. The cats appear to enjoy the tactile stimulation and also may be promoting the mixing of their own individual scents. When these glands are stimulated by rubbing, they release a pheromone hormone marker. This marker probably serves to label individuals and objects as accepted or safe.
The same chapter from Welfare of Cats reports that only 8% of cats preferred to be touched on their stomach. There are no scent glands located on the abdomen so it would stand to reason that this would not be natural grooming site among cats. It seems rather foreign to her to be touched in this area.
Our cats like to treat us like elite members of their social group and because of this, they apply the same preferences that they might apply if another cat was engaging in allogrooming with them. Cats usually show you what they like by closing their eyes and leaning into the movement and when they don’t, sometimes they will run away or even bite you.
Your cat’s preferences are natural to him based on his own anatomy and his desire to bond with you and mark you as a safe and familiar member of the gang.
- Bernstein, P.L. (2007) The human-cat relationship. Chapter 3: The Welfare of Cats, Springer Press. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, pp 47-89.