Some Cats Become Stressed By Petting And Stroking, Study Suggests

By Josh Lieberman on October 8, 2013 12:18 PM EDT

angry cat
Some cats become stressed out by their owners' petting and stroking, suggests a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior. (Photo: Flickr: gurusno-studios)

If you're the kind of person who relieves stress by gently stroking your cat, you may be surprised to find that you're transferring stress to your pet. That at least is the finding of a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, which says that cats can become stressed out by constant petting and stroking, with raised levels of hormones linked to anxiety.  

Researchers from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Austria, studied cats living in four different arrangements: cats who lived alone in homes and cats who lived in groups of two, three and four.  

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Stress levels of the cats in all arrangements weren't affected by the number of cats in the group, the study found. But cats less than two years old did have higher levels of stress when they lived on their own rather than in groups. 

"We chose stable households to look into this question and were quite surprised by the results," said Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln and a co-author of the study. "Despite typically living on their own in the wild, we have known for some time that cats come together when resources like food are concentrated in a single area, for example when people feed strays. However, it might be that they do this out of need and it is still stressful for them, because they are not a naturally social species."

Mills added that cats whose owners impose themselves on their pet most are the ones that might end up the most stressed. He suggested that owners can help lower their cat's stress level by making sure the cat controls its own environment and has its own area to eat, drink and go to the bathroom.

Not surprisingly, the Internet, a worldwide computer network which mainly exists to discuss cats and share funny images of them, disagrees that pet cats don't want to be stroked. As several internet commenters point out, when a cat comes up to you and starts nuzzling, it's hard to see that as a sign of stress. Perhaps the best thing to do is simply be cognizant of your cat's mood and behavior, and maybe read up on petting-induced aggression in cats.

READ MORE:

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