Sharing a space with cats is as entertaining as it is fascinating, and it seems they love to surprise their human friends with how clever they can be, though they certainly all have distinct personalities. I recently moved in with extended family, a home to four cats and counting. I'm quickly learning the ropes as a new member of a cat household, and so far, I'm realizing boundaries and understanding their body language are important to living in harmony. Still, I have tons of questions. What goes on in their mysterious brains? Do they realize how incredibly cute and loved they are? Then, an even more pressing question arises after hours spent petting my fluffy friends: are my cats ticklish? I spoke to two experienced veterinarians to find out.
Are Cats Ticklish?
"It's hard to say if cats are ticklish in the same way humans are since they don't burst into laughter like we do, but they do enjoy being loved on," said Dr. Anthony Hall, DVM, MPH, the medical director for an animal clinic in Dallas and an expert vet at AirVet who's been a practicing vet since 2013. "The purrrrfect spot differs from cat to cat, but they will generally press that body part harder into your hand to indicate it feels good. Some spots may feel better than others, and the most common feel-good areas tend to be the shoulder, head/face, and right at their backs right at the tail base. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and they will let you know when they've had enough tickle time."
Nicole Davis, DVM, a supervisory public health veterinarian with the USDA, has come to a similar conclusion: "I definitely believe that some cats are ticklish, similar to people. My own cat, Cleo, likes it when I tickle her belly. She may not laugh like a person would, but she has her own way of laughing: she rolls around and acts like a little kid."
How Do You Know When Your Cat Has Had Enough Tickling?
For humans, being tickled can be enjoyable, but at some point, it can feel unbearable. Same goes for cats — you just have to be able to recognize those signs. Dr. Davis looks to her own cat for an explanation. "Two common signs that Cleo would do to let me know that she had enough are tail flicking (when the top of the tail moves quickly side to side) and ears pointing backward. This is common in most cats, but every cat is different."
It's important that cat parents respect their boundaries, and cats have many signals to let you know what they're into. "Cats tend to be more independent, so they aren't as starved for attention as dogs stereotypically are," Dr. Hall said. "Effectively reading a cat's language becomes very important when it comes to physical touch. Common signs that mean 'I've had enough' are avoidance of your touch, knocking your hand away, and walking away. The more serious signs not to be taken lightly are ears pressed back, growling/hissing, fur standing on end or puffed out, and biting/scratching."
Although cats won't attack without being provoked, it's a responsibility of ours to read and understand their body language to look for any warnings of agitation. "Being able to clearly pick up on these will help you maintain a good bond with your cat and respect their boundaries," Dr. Hall said. And it will ultimately lead to more cuddle time, too.