The majority of studies investigating responses of thalamocortical neurons to tactile stimuli have focused on the whisker representation of the rat thalamus: the ventral–posterior–medial nucleus (VPM). To test whether the basic properties of thalamocortical responses to tactile stimuli could be extended to the entire ventrobasal complex, we recorded single neurons from the whisker, forepaw and hindpaw thalamic representations. We performed a systematic analysis of responses to stereotyped tactile stimuli − 500 ms pulses (i.e. ON–OFF stimuli) or 1 ms pulses (i.e. impulsive stimuli) − under two different anesthetics (pentobarbital or urethane). We obtained the following main results: (i) the tuning of cells to ON vs. OFF stimuli displayed a gradient across neurons, so that two-thirds of cells responded more to ON stimuli and one-third responded more to OFF stimuli; (ii) on average, response magnitudes did not differ between ON and OFF stimuli, whereas latencies of response to OFF stimuli were a few milliseconds longer; (iii) latencies of response to ON and OFF stimuli were highly correlated; (iv) responses to impulsive stimuli and ON stimuli showed a strong correlation, whereas the relationship between the responses to impulsive stimuli and OFF stimuli was subtler; (v) unlike ON responses, OFF responses did not decrease when stimuli were moved from the receptive field center to a close location in the excitatory surround. We obtained the same results for hindpaw, forepaw and whisker neurons. Our results support the view of a neurophysiologically homogeneous ventrobasal complex, in which OFF responses participate in the structure of the spatiotemporal receptive field of thalamocortical neurons for tactile stimuli.