Stressful Petting? Researchers Say Its Okay To Touch Your Cat
October 16, 2013

Stressful Petting? Researchers Say Its Okay To Touch Your Cat

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

A research team who released a study last week claiming petting could be stressful for cats is now saying many media outlets reported the story incorrectly.

While many used headlines with the theme of “cats hate to be touched,” the international team that conducted the study says most cats prefer to be stroked. The main point of the study, according to the researchers, was to examine how cats get along when alone or with other felines.

The researchers from Austria, Brazil and the UK are even going one step farther, saying a majority of cats do enjoy the touch of their human counterparts. Those cats who prefer to be left alone, on the other hand, might be more stressed during a petting session.

“Only those animals that did not actually like to be stroked, but nevertheless allowed it, were stressed,” said co-author Rupert Palme of the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

The international team says they wanted to understand how cats get along in larger groups, how hierarchies form in multiple cat households, and if cats who live alone without a community of kitties are more stressed than others. The “cats hate to be touched” stories missed the point, they say.

RedOrbit covered the story with the headline “An Unstroked Kitty Is A Happier Cat, Says Study,” but reported correctly that it is the cats who live alone and do not enjoy being touched that are more likely to be stressed.

While the study suggested cats living in multi-cat households might be less stressed, the researchers are now saying they couldn’t confirm this hypothesis, noting “Every cat feels and acts differently.”

Cats that avoid being petted and also live alone are the most likely to feel stressed when it comes to stroking time, but they usually allow it anyway.

The study observed 120 cats in 60 Brazilian homes. The researchers separated these cats into three groups; cats that lived alone, cats that lived with one other cat, and cats that lived with two or more cats. The owners were asked to describe their pets’ general attitude using words like “bossy” or “easy going.” It’s from these surveys and corresponding fecal samples that the researchers deduced some cats that live alone become stressed when they’re touched.

All told there were only four cats in the study which wholly disapproved of petting, while 13 animals were observed to go out of their way to avoid being touched. These 13 cats led the researchers to hypothesize that cats that live alone and don’t like being touched are more stressed than others.

"Precisely these 13 animals led to the misinterpretation of the study" said Palme. “Cats are in no way generally stressed when they are stroked. It depends much more on the situation and the character of the individual animal."

A story by one news publication ran the story with the headline “Cat lovers urged not to stroke their pets as it can cause them stress.” The first line of that story suggests all felines hate to be stroked, a statement the research team says is untrue.