Stress and Petting Your Cat, What Pet Parents Should Know
Research suggests that petting your cat or dog can help lower your blood pressure and make you feel calmer, but the effect on your pet, at least your cat, may be different. According to an international team of specialists, stroking your cat may be stressful for your feline companion.
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People who have cats usually recognize that these feline creatures can be mysterious, finicky, independent, and generally full of surprises. Cat pet parents also are often aware of how stressed out a cat can get when they introduce another cat into the house or when cats are made to live in a multi-cat environment.
If your cats seem stressed, your natural tendency may be to want to comfort them by petting or stroking them, but is this the best way to handle the situation? The results of the new study suggest the answer may be no.
In fact, if you have a cat who seems to tolerate being petted, he may actually be experiencing more stress than a cat who runs away to avoid being stroked. The animal behaviorists also observed some other interesting things about cat behavior in their study, which involved noting the behavior of cats who lived in homes either as the only cat, in pairs, and in groups of three or four and evaluating stress hormone levels. For example:
- Cats younger than 2 years of age--but not older ones--were more stressed than their age peers who lived in larger groups
- Even when cats living in pairs or more are not best buddies, they may be able to make adjustments so they can “avoid each other without getting stressed,” according to Daniel Mills, one of the study’s authors and professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln, UK.
- Cats who do not like to be stroked may be able to experience less stress if they live with another cat who likes to be petted or tolerates it
In a 2010 study from Wales, the investigator noted that cats who undergo surgery can be calmed by music played during their recovery period. Yoga meditation music was found to be the most effective in restoring calm, and even seemed to improve breathing.
Most important message
Perhaps the most important message from this study is that cats should be allowed to have control over their environment—and that includes you too! As Professor Mills explained, “It seems that those cats on whom the owner imposes him or herself are the ones we need to be most concerned about.”
Another aspect of kitty control is their right, when there are several cats in the house, to have their own special places where they feel safe to eat, drink, use the litter box, and sleep. Based on the findings of this study, we need to add petting and stroking to that list too!
Ramos D et al. Are cats (Felis catus) from multi-cat households more stressed? Evidence from assessment of fecal glucocorticoid metabolite analysis. Physiology & Behavior 2013; 122:72