When Not a Hug is a Hug for Hug Your Cat Day!

Today is National Hug Your Cat Day and while I find all seven of my feline companions irresistible, wanting to smother their precious kitty floof with hugs and kisses, let’s be honest – not all cats like to be hugged. But no need to frown and fret – just because kitty might not want to be held in your loving embrace, doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you or enjoy your company. As with anything feline related, it’s about understanding and respecting the feline mindset. Once you do that, it’s just a matter of translating other behaviors to what equates to a hug in your cat’s mind.

Here are 10 tips, tricks, and bits of advice in which you can improve the friendly radar with your cat or interpret the ways she shows you love, i.e., a hug:

1. Just like people, cats have different personalities and levels of tolerance for physical attention. If you don’t like your personal space invaded, maybe your cat doesn’t either, so go at her pace and respect those boundaries.

Peanut and Mia are littermate sisters, but Mia despises being picked up and Peanut can’t get enough of it!

2. Look at the signs around you – for example, does your cat follow you from room to room like a loyal puppy dog, sleep next to your computer while you’re doing whatever, or meow a greeting of hello when you come into a room – all of these are ways kitty is letting you know you’re okay in her mind.

Do your cats greet you with a “hello” when you walk into a room? Good! That’s their way of saying they appreciate you and enjoy your company!

3. Don’t aggressively chase your cat for attention or unintentionally provoke her. If she feels threatened, she’ll react and the next thing you know, the claws come out. 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.

4. A gift dropped at your feet (dead or alive) or left about the house is 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!”

A well-placed plush toy dropped at my computer is kitty’s way of saying, “I brought this to you because you are important to me, I want to impress you, and I love you.”

5. Your cat might not want a hug, or to snuggle on your lap, but maybe a well-placed pillow next to you on the couch for him to sleep on while you watch television is his idea of a wonderful feline-human bonding moment.

Kizmet might not want me to smother him with hugs and kisses, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to hug me on his own when he sleeps next to me on the couch.

6. 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.

7. Interactive play can also be fun – for both you and kitty. 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.

All seven of my cats have different levels of tolerance for physical attention, but the one thing they all love is playtime and snack rewards!

8. Keep in mind your cat comes with a 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.

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

With Kizmet’s wide, dilated eyes, he’s clearly saying, “DO NOT PET, DO NOT HUG ME!”

10. If kitty is 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. Or a kitty that flops over, freely exposing her belly with no reservations. Go for it – pet her, love her, and consider yourself hugged by your cat!

Jazmine is clearly saying, “Yup, it’s okay to love and hug me!”


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 Humans 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. Tylan is a unique cat. He LOVES tummy rubs!! Not many cats do, as you mentioned.

    Jewel was a lot more independent. If you pay attention, you can figure out how your kitty says she loves you, even if she’s not particularly affectionate. Jewel used to hang out near us all the time – that’s how we knew she loved us and enjoyed our company. She hated being picked up.

  2. Stephanie says:

    This is such a true thing, Deb! Pilot loves to be close, follows us around, is very sweet and friendly (when he’s not terrorizing the other cats!) but try and pick him up… and it is like we are trying to torture him! He just looks so cuddly, I still attempt it every once and a while!

  3. I met a lovely cat while out walking, and he rolled on the ground and purred, and it was delightful! That is, until I touched his belly, and within milliseconds I was bleeding! My fault entirely…I lost my head. His human came out and we had a delightful chat about Roscoe and her other cats, and I kept my scratches hidden. Reading a cat is very important, and woe betide those who don’t!

  4. jmuhj says:

    Excellent, informative post! My Tarifa loves to hunt and frequently brings her “kills” in to me. They are twinkle balls. She has a purple one that is her favorite and that is the one she usually brings. I don’t know how we’d survive without her generosity and skills! 😉

  5. Do not hug me…no matter what! ~Zoey

  6. Ellen Pilch says:

    Great post. My Emmy leaves me toys at 2 am- I thought she was saying here is a gift for you, now feed me 🙂

  7. Truffle and Brulee don’t really like to be held but a few seconds, but they are always near me no matter which room I’m in.

  8. meowmeowmans says:

    It’s true. All cats are different. Luckily for us, Gracie and Ava both love their bellies rubbed, and like hugs, too. 🙂

  9. That’s so true ! Zorro is a “hug me and rub my belly” cat, and Pixie is a “no hug except chin scritches” cat. Purrs

  10. Andrea Dorn says:

    All excellent tips and they apply especially to retired ferals.

  11. Catwoods says:

    Our Franklin, who once lived feral, may come for a snuggle when he’s in the mood. It’s best not to ask him, but rather to wait until he approaches on his own.