Cat That Doesn’t Like to Be Hugged? He or She Might Be More Affectionate Than You Think

Zoey is actually a very sweet and loving cat…but only if it’s on her terms! No surprise hugging, thank you very much!

June 4th was National Hug Your Cat Day and while it’s a day I rejoice in theory, after all, who doesn’t want to smother their precious kitty with hugs and kisses in a loving embrace, let’s be honest – not all cats like to be hugged. I’ve got seven cats – each with a completely different personality – so it’s pretty easy to substantiate my claim. They run the full gamut – from Peanut who I jokingly refer to as my Robert Palmer cat – she’s addicted to love – to my Zoey who becomes so horrified at the prospect of a hug, if I dare attempt one, she’ll recoil her body like a twisted pretzel and push away from me with such force, you’d think I was holding her down to immerse her in a tub of hot water (but mind you, on her terms, she’s the same cat who sticks to me like glue when I settle on the couch at night to watch TV).

Most fascinating, however, is Rolz. He’s what I refer to as my “T.M.B.S.” cat. Meaning he’ll patiently hang out at all hours on the kitchen counter next to the pantry where we keep the cat food, because “there might be something,” i.e., an opportunity for something to eat and he needs to ensure he’ll never, ever miss that chance. Never mind that he gets three meals a day and is in no way, shape, or form, starving.

I can possibly give him a relatively quick pat prior to giving him food, because yes, his eternal patience always does yield a yummy reward from me, but if I attempt to hold him, or give him extended pats, his body shivers in complete abhorrence—he’s a “you can look, but don’t touch” type of cat and his body literally seems to melt into a pool of liquid cat if I try to impart any sort of physical contact.

While the others nap the day away, Rolz patiently mans his station in hopes of securing an elusive scrap of food or kitty treat!

Like me, I’m sure many of you know enough to take it in stride, but unfortunately, the amount of affection a cat will, or will not allow is often the subject of much debate with cat guardians, and not always in a positive way. Many people wish they had a cat that was more loving – one that would snuggle on their lap, for example, and some cats are even brought to shelters because they aren’t lap cats. It’s a key topic in my Makin’ Biscuits book because it’s such an important aspect of basic cat behavior and I discuss it in detail in the chapter “You Can Pet Me, Just Don’t Touch Me.”

Just like people, cats have different personalities and levels of tolerance for physical attention. That’s why one minute all may seem well, and the next the claws could come out. But just because your cat might not seem friendly, or she lashes out at you, doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate your company. You just need to recognize the unique signs of feline love she’s giving you and respect the boundaries she’s setting at that particular moment.

Mia is not a fan of being held, but she does like to greet anyone who enters whatever room she’s in with a cheerful meow greeting of hello!

For example, following you from room to room like a loyal puppy dog, sleeping next to your computer while you’re doing whatever, or meowing a greeting of hello when you come into a room – all of these are ways she’s letting you know you’re okay in her mind. Or a gift dropped at your feet – you might not be too keen on the live ones, but it’s your cat’s way of saying, “look what I’ve done, aren’t you proud of me, oh, and by the way, I like you!”

But if you aggressively chase her for attention or unintentionally provoke her, if she feels threatened, she’ll react.She doesn’t mean to be mean; it’s just instinctual for her. Follow her lead and work with positive reinforcement. Talk in gentle tones and focus on petting her in small doses and in areas she’ll tolerate. For example, most cats aren’t fans of tummy rubs, so why tease her, no matter how adorable and fluffy her tummy is.

A cat that doesn’t tolerate petting might enjoy some gentle grooming with a brush—not only will it reduce hairballs; it feels good to her and can strengthen your bond. Cats are also drawn to soft blankets and pillows. Try placing one next to you when you sit on the couch, maybe she doesn’t want to snuggle on your lap, but she might not mind settling next to you.

Interactive play can also be fun for both of you—a wand toy with feathers typically entices most any cat. Or a healthy and yummy snack—there are very few cats that won’t turn on the charm for a tasty morsel, allowing you to be her BFF for at least a few minutes. If you establish a daily routine with these types of efforts, it shouldn’t take long before she associates you with good things.

Keep in mind as well your cat comes with history, especially if you found her as a stray or adopted her from a shelter. You don’t always know what kind of life she had and much of her behavior will be triggered by situations from her past. Current circumstances will also dictate what she’ll tolerate—if she just had an altercation with another pet, or has perhaps been startled by something outside, or is wary of visiting company, or whatever else out of her perceived norm, it’s not the time to be experimenting with hugs.

Kizmet had just been introduced to a dog for the first time. His dilated pupils are telling me now is not the time to be picking him up.

If she’s growling, hissing or spitting, with flat, backward ears, dilated pupils, and a twitching or waving tail, she’s telling you to leave her alone. She’s annoyed, frightened, or angry and might become aggressive—this is also not the time to be picking her up. The same if she becomes a “Halloween” cat—ears back and flat against his head, whiskers back, back arched, fur standing on end and tail erect or low.

But if she’s arching her back up to meet your hand when you pet her, with her fur flat, and her tail high, proud, and erect, that’s a signal she’s enjoying your touch! This is often accompanied by chirps and trills, which probably means she wants something from you—such as food or attention.

A sure sign from Jazmine that you can pick her up is when she flops over like this. It’s her way of saying, “I love you, but could you please also give me a snack because I’m so irresistibly adorable?”

Just pay attention to the signs she’s subtly (and sometimes not so subtly giving you) and it will help you determine what is, and isn’t working as you build your loving relationship!


Feline behavior is a fascinating subject and how it ties to the environment they live in and the relationship they share with us is equally fascinating. I did significant research on the subject when I wrote Makin’ Biscuits – Weird Cat Habits and the Even Weirder Habits of the Human Who Love Them. If you would like to learn more about the how’s and why’s of what our cats do, I highly recommend you check the book out! Not only is it entertaining, it’s educational, too! For more information, please click here.

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  1. mariodacat says:

    You are so right Deb on all scores. We’ve had only 4 cats in our lifetime, but each one has been different on what they like and don’t like. But then I guess all people are different too, so why should we expect all cats to behave the same. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Two French Bulldogs says:

    You are precious
    Lily & Edward

  3. Great post! Our two cats weren’t socialized much before we adopted them, since the people knew they would be adopting the kittens out and pretty much ignored them! They don’t like petting much, but we humans have figured out that stroking them while their four feet are on the ground works wonders.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you with your patience with your adopted kitties! I wish more people would understand that socializing is a process…

  4. jmuhj says:

    Your Zoey and my Tarifa must be behavioral clones 😉 . I never would have imagined such a tiny cat could kick with such force and resist so vehemently as Tar does when I pick her up! She’s left furrows in my skin with her strong back claws, too. But she’s here on my lap, after having kneaded, purred, and told me at length all about how much she loves me and wants to be with me. She is Ms. Affection. But don’t dare try to pick her up.

    *Gosh, it’s not OUR fault they were made small, warm, furry, and cuter than anyone else on the planet, is it?!!*

    • Deb says:

      Oh my goodness jmuhj!! You had me in stitches with your description of trying to hold Tar!! She and Zoey are two peas in a cat-pod!

  5. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    guyz….boomer could knot bee picked up fora proper hug; dai$y izza ewe hug me ewe will die
    kinda gal; me…tuna; eye take afturr gram paw dude; ask me my mood furst…..then allz well; and
    sauce wood take hugs 24/7 ~~~~~~~ ♥♥♥♥♥

    • Deb says:

      We have a mixed bag at our house, too, da tabbies! But I think tuna’s advice about asking about the mood first makes sense! Unless your Zoey, then, like your dai$y, you put your life in your own paws if you dare tempt fate…

  6. All of us are different in the ways we want attention. That’s what makes each cat so unique!

  7. As I said for your book, Brulee hasn’t always liked to be held. As a kitten, she would squirm like crazy. She is becoming more affectionate at 6 years of age, but still on her terms.

    We are slowly reconnecting with our friends since Mom Paula retired and hope to see you more often.

    Truffle, Brulee, and Mom Paula

  8. Ellen Pilch says:

    Very true, they are all unique like humans. Most of mine like to be hugged and loved, but some do not.

  9. Zorro is a big baby, he likes to be hugged and held ; I don’t like it at all ! If someone tries to pick me up, I always try to climb on his shoulder or on his head, or try to escape. Purrs, Pixie

  10. Mary Nielsen says:

    I love your cat Rolz 😀

    My cat is the same.. He spends most of his time near the dining area just to “make sure” no food goes by without him inspecting it.

    I loved this text! There are so many factors to consider before just labeling your cat as not interested in petting with you. Their history, breed, personalities and their mood will all determine how interested they are in playing with you.

    I found it that as you said, brushing cats really does help them feel better and relieve them from stress. It is a great bonding experience if done properly. You should be gentle and caring and look for signs when your cat is trying to say “it is enough”.

    Once you learn the personality of our cat and get adapted to it, you are going to be much better at deciphering their feelings and current emotional states which will, in turn, help you find the best petting time and know when it is the time to let your cat off of the lap! 🙂

    • Deb says:

      Thank you so much for stopping by to comment Mary. You’ve made some excellent points. And the other thing about our feline friends, is often with time, age, and patience, once was a cat who did not enjoy cuddling or laps, is now one who can’t get enough of it! That happened to our Zee right around when he turned 7 years old! Now he’s obsessed with either snuggling in my lap, or Dan’s!

  11. I love this. It took me YEARS to figure out that Kitty truly did love me. I was a teenager and I thought she’d cuddle. When she was 10, I realized that she was in the same room with me almost all the time. When she started mousing at age 9 … she brought them all to my room. When she was a playful kitten … she’d play in my room all night – leading to me closing her out. The signs were always there. I was hers. She loved me. She just had her own way of showing it. Sometimes I miss that now. In all honesty, I wasn’t a big cuddler either until Bear came along and I realized he needed a lot of physical contact (literally, I’m sure he could feel me tense up at first when he had to be on me all the time … I knew he needed it, so I went beyond my comfort zone and changed myself to give him what he needed). Bear is very cuddly and expressive – but I’ve come to appreciate the other side as well.