Sunday 30 April 2023

For how long should I cuddle my cat?

For how long should I cuddle my cat?
For how long should I cuddle my cat? The short answer is not long. Image: MikeB.

These are my unresearched views on the topic. Please share yours in a comment as I'd be pleased to hear from you.

What do cats do?

For how long should I cuddle my cat? This is a question people ask on the Internet. The short answer is not long (normally, but there are exceptions). How often do you see cats cuddling each other? And if you do see one domestic cat with their 'arm' (foreleg) around the other (which happens) for how long do they do this? To the first question the answer must be rarely if not sleeping together and to the second question the answer must be for a short time (unless sleeping together).

Domestic cats regard us as surrogate mothers. That's why we keep them in a mental state of kittenhood. On that basis, they wouldn't expect to be cuddled, human-style, by their feline mother other than for a short time unless they are sleeping together. That's a point worth making I feel.

Sleeping together

There is probably a bit of an exception here. Sometimes cats can settle down on a cold winter's night with their human and spend hours with the arm of their caregiver around them. A quiet, gentle cuddle. But this is I feel an exception to the general rule.

It is a state of affairs where humans can share their behavior with cats and dogs.

Cat cuddles a dog friend sleeping
Cat cuddles a dog friend sleeping. Image in the public domain.


This is really about a clash of cultures. The human race has a culture of cuddling each other when needed. And it is needed quite often as a form of reassurance and friendship. It can be part of a greeting or a departure. It's a sign of affection indeed love. We know all these things.

Cat greetings and contacts

But domestic cats don't have the same culture. When they greet in a friendly way, they do so with their tail held erect with the end just flopping over slightly (tail-up greeting). They might touch noses having approached each other (the nose touch greeting).

In subsequent interactions they may rub against each other flank-to-flank. One cat's tail made curl over the other cat's back. These behaviours happen quite fleetingly. They are delicate movements.

But as mentioned there can be long-term cuddle contact when resting and sleeping.

Devon Rexes cuddle
Devon Rexes cuddle. Image in public domain.

Human cuddle

The human cuddle is quite a forceful action. There is an element of squeezing in the human cuddle. This is likely to be uncomfortable for a domestic cat even if they have a close bond with their human caregiver.

And of course, the cuddle means that the two parties are in very close proximity. They are in contact. The human is much larger than the domestic cat. We can be intimidating. They live in a land of giants. We need to be sensitive to that.

If we place our head close to their head, they can feel intimidated. If we squeeze them at the same time, it can be uncomfortable as mentioned. These elements combine to make the experience perhaps tolerable but not particularly enjoyable for some cats.

And if it is enjoyed because they become habituated to it as it happens a lot, they'll normally accept it for a relatively short period of time perhaps around 30 seconds.

Body language

In fact, domestic cats tell you when they want to get down or stopping cuddle. They may wriggle a bit or if you are carrying them at the same time as you see in the picture, they may twist their bodies and look towards the ground to indicate they want to get down.

Wild cat ancestor

The answer comes from observing domestic cat behaviour. Domestic cat behaviour is the product of evolution of the African wildcat. This wildcat is solitary. The domestic cat has learned to be sociable within the human environment.

But essentially this solitary character is within the domestic cat and this is the last factor as to why domestic cats will normally accept being cuddled (but not always because it depends upon the individual cat's character) but for a time which is shorter than the human would wish for.

For our benefit

It perhaps is worth reminding ourselves that when we cuddle our cat, we often do it mainly for our benefit. We are seeking reassurance. We are looking for a friend and companionship. So, we do it for ourselves and therefore we can only expect that our cat will accept it rather than seek it.

Cats are individuals

That said, each cat has their own personality as mentioned and therefore sometimes cats will ask to be picked up and cuddled if, in the past, they have learned to understand that it is a sign of friendship from the human caregiver and enjoyable. Cats do pick up on human behavioral traits and some learn to copy them or integrate them into their livestyles.

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