Why Do Some Cats Like to Sit on Shoulders?

Shoulder cat cropped for tease only.
Aristotle the shoulder cat
Aristotle seems very happy about his shoulder perch. acunamatata4619/imgur

Maybe you've seen one or maybe you have one. Sometimes cats like to go shoulder riding, vaulting atop their owners to check out the view from on high. Some felines do it in the comfort of their home while others take in the sights while out for a walk on city streets.

Shoulder Cats Are Cute but Uncommon

But shoulder cats aren't all that common, Atlanta-based certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson, CCBC, tells MNN.

"Typically it's a young agile cat that can maintain the posture for awhile. Generally it stems from attention-seeking behavior," she says. "If people like it and they think it's cute, they're going to praise them, pet them and before they know it, the cat's going to do it on command. But I think those cats are few and far between."

Leaves the shoulder cat
Leaves loves being a shoulder cat. abaffell/imgur

Some cats might not like to be held, but they don't mind snuggling with their owners at shoulder level. The appeal for the cat is typically height, Johnson says.

"Cats love height and height gives them a sense of security and gives them the ability to survey a lot of space from one vantage point," she says. "When they're being restrained, they tend to want to wiggle away. But being able to perch on the shoulder without being restrained, I can see why that's appealing to a lot of cats."

Crab Bait the shoulder cat
Crab Bait looks like a super villain. caresawholeawfullot/Reddit

For some cats, jumping to their owner's shoulders is a natural thing, while other cats have to be trained to make the leap.

Johnson says one of her cats would climb on her shoulders as a kitten when she would scoop the litter box. But as she got bigger, it became more difficult for her to perch.

"It got more cumbersome and harder for her to stay up there and balance, so she stopped," she says. "She does all kinds of tricks on command — rides a skateboard, gives high-fives — but doesn't do that anymore."

San Francisco cat on woman's shoulder
This woman is often spotted in San Francisco out and about with her shoulder cat. FaFaFlunkie585/Reddit

Be Careful With Your Shoulder Cat

As far as taking your cat shoulder riding in the great outdoors? Johnson says she wouldn't recommend it. But if you insist on doing it, make sure your cat is on a leash and harness.

"I would be very cautious," she says. "You have to have an animal that isn’t going to get spooked when the UPS truck goes by or the garbage truck goes by. If they're scared, the cat's going to bolt."

cat lounging on man's shoulders
This cat is more of a lounger than a sitter. Connie Ma/flickr

Remember: If you train your cat to leap to your shoulders from the floor, there's also the chance she'll vault to your shoulders from her kitty condo or the top of the dresser from across the room.

"Some cats will start to launch from wherever they are in the house onto your shoulders and you can't anticipate it," Johnson says. "It can startle you and create a negative experience for the cat. If you're going to train your cat to do it, they can literally launch from anywhere in the house."

So is it a bad idea? Johnson emphatically says no.

"I would never deter it; I think it's precious."

Editor's note: A smart commenter reminded us of a famous shoulder cat we didn't mention here. Bob the street cat transformed one man's life, and there's even a book about them. If you want to know more, read Meet Bob: Street cat, lifesaver, book phenom

Shoulder Cat Photo Gallery

While you ponder if you and your cat are up the training, here are more shoulder cats for your viewing pleasure:

shoulder cats Louie and Max
Louie and Max like to hang out together. Lilnoo/Reddit
shoulder kitten
This kitten, named Panda Bear, has picked out the perfect spot. Russell Bernice/flickr
George the shoulder cat
George (the cat) likes the view up high. Brix_in_my_head/Reddit
Bowie the shoulder cat
Bowie and his owner look like they are auditioning to be villains in a movie. RobNoxious/Reddit
Presley the shoulder cat
Presley doesn't care if someone's not really a cat person. ChelseaSchreiber/Reddit
white, angry shoulder cat
This cat looks like he doesn't want to be removed from his perch. bachner/imgur
man with shoulder cat on Paris metro
A shoulder cat takes a ride on the metro in Paris. Ian McKellar/flickr
man with shoulder cat in Brooklyn
Shoulder cat spotted in Brooklyn. Timothy Krause/flickr
Eli the shop cat as a shoulder cat
Hanging out with Eli the shop cat. Andrew Butitta/flickr