Petting animals can be incredibly relaxing and stress-relieving for both human and their pets. For many, it’s one of the best parts about owning a pet. However, not all animals like the same kinds of physical human contact. Click through for tips on how to best handle some of the most common pets.
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No two cats are the same in temperament, appearance or petting tolerance. For cats that relish in human contact, there are a few key spots that will get your furry friend purring. Lightly scratching a cat’s head or under its chin are two approaches that almost all cats love. Long strokes down a cat’s back and then lightly down its tail are safe bets as well. In most cases, you should not attempt to pet or scratch a cat’s stomach, even if it rolls onto its back. Most cats have an impulse to bite and scratch your hand in this position.
Perhaps the most petting-tolerant pet of all, dogs like almost any human contact they can get. If a dog approaches you or looks eager for contact, try petting long strokes down the dog’s back to start. Most dogs welcome petting on their backs, shoulders and chest, but dislike contact on their tails, legs, paws and muzzles. In addition, patting on the head or its sides is uncomfortable for most dogs. That being said, petting is a chance for you to get to know what a particular dog likes, and it'll likely lean into you if you find a good spot. Spending some extra time with and remaining gentle on your dog’s favorite spots will calm it down, and might even lull it to sleep.
You must be extra cautious when petting a horse, starting with the initial greeting. If it’s a horse you don’t know well, start by first asking the owner if it’s OK, and then approach casually from the front. Don’t ever approach a horse from the back or the side. Horses are easily spooked and can kick with tremendous and potentially deadly force. They also have large, powerful jaws and teeth, and can do some serious damage if you come on too strong. Allow the horse to sniff your hand. If it bumps its muzzle against your hand, then you can try lightly stroking its face. If the horse seems to enjoy and welcome this contact, increase the pressure and give the animal a good scratch. You can try moving to its neck and shoulder area. Again, every horse is different, so it’s important to keep an eye on its body language for clues as to whether it’s enjoying the petting or getting agitated.
Just like horses, rabbits are easily spooked and can bite. Luckily, you’re not running the risk of being killed or seriously injured by a rabbit. Still, you must approach a rabbit slowly, from the front and a little to either side so it can see you. Allow the rabbit to sniff you. Once it’s clear that the rabbit is open to contact, start at the rabbit's forehead and run your hand over its ears and down its back. Make sure these movements are slow and gentle; rabbits are delicate animals, and may not appreciate rougher petting.
It’s all about making the rat feel secure when you pet it. Start by holding the rat with two hands so you can support its lower half. Put the rat feet down on your chest, and start with long, gentle strokes down its back with your fingers or whole palm. Rats also love a good scratch. Try this down the length of the rat’s tail or on its ears and cheeks. Most rats don’t like their bellies scratched or petted, so avoid that area unless your rat is an exception to the rule.
Petting a bird is often a tricky venture, as most birds don’t get the kind of human contact that other pets do. However, if you’re brave enough or have the trust of a bird, there are a few places they like to be petted by humans. Start by lightly rubbing its head with your fingertips. If it tolerates or enjoys that touching, try move down its back. It’s best to train a bird while it’s quite young (2-6 months) to accept being held and touched. It's much more difficult to introduce petting to an older bird. If you want to try, consider starting with protective gloves.
Believe it or not, snakes don’t really enjoy petting as much as other domestic pets. In fact, too much petting and handling by humans can actually cause stress for the animal. Some minimal petting, about 30 minutes a day, is OK. Start by washing your hands. This will keep bacteria and other germs from affecting the snake, and will prevent it from accidentally mistaking your fingers for food. Restrict petting daytime hours when snakes are most lethargic, but give it some space on feeding days. Finally, make sure you wash your hands after handling, because snakes also carry their own germs that you don’t want to ingest.
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Guinea pigs are fun to pet, but you must first take the time to earn their trust enough to handle them. Much like a rat, a guinea pig prefers to be placed on your chest or stomach for a petting session. Once the guinea pig is placed on your chest or stomach, start by gently stroking from its head to its rump. It will bump your hand away with its head if you get too high on its head. A guinea pig will emit little squeaks or purrs to let you know whether its enjoying you. You should come to understand your guinea pig's reactions to your touch as you start to interpret its various squeaks, clicks, squeals, etc.