Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It’s long been understood that cats and other pets can reduce stress in their human caretakers. Yet, there has been little understanding of how our affections toward our feline companions affect them.
That is until now.
A new study says that slow petting and stroking that is so beneficial to humans could be absolutely nerve-wracking to the animals on the receiving end. Researchers from Austria, Brazil and the UK say they were surprised to find that cats that avoid being touched were healthier than those who allowed this interaction. In fact, this study also suggests other commonly understood behaviors of cats may be incorrect, such as their desire to live solitary lives without feline companionship. The results of this study have been published in the journal Physiology and Behavior and were presented during a conference held in Portugal, Spain last month.
Ceva Animal Health sponsored the study, which has found that petting could be an incredibly stressful event for cats. Health care professionals have often hailed animals like cats as great stress relievers and, while this may be true, this action could be harmful to the receiver. In fact, it had been accepted that a greater source of stress for cats was living in a large group within cramped quarters. The international group of researchers now says cats are quite comfortable living in groups this way. More often, it’s their interaction with humans which causes them stress. After analyzing stress hormone levels, the researchers say cats that lived alone were more often stressed than those cats that lived in groups.
“We chose stable households to look into this question and were quite surprised by the results,” explained professor Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln, UK.
“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,” he added.
Cat owners have long argued that cats do not enjoy living in large groups and note that multiple cats often don’t get along with one another. According to Mills, cats that live in groups might not be “best friends,” but they are able to structure themselves in a sort of hierarchy in their environment with little stress.
Any cat owner would readily admit, of course, that there are some cats who do appreciate being stroked by their humans and even beg for this interaction. Mills says his research shows younger cats that live on their own are most likely to be stressed because they have no place in a community. Furthermore, these cats are more likely to be stressed because those cats that do not enjoy being touched have nowhere to hide themselves. Cats that live in houses with other cats tend to have lower stress levels, especially when one cat enjoys being stroked and another does not. In these instances, the cats that doesn’t mind the human interaction can be comfortable in this position while the cat that prefers to be left alone can find somewhere in the house to hide itself.
In a closing note, Mills says cat owners who force their love on their cats are doing the most harm.
“It seems that those cats on whom the owner imposes him or herself are the ones we need to be most concerned about. The results also reinforce the importance of ensuring that you give all individuals control over their environment, so if you have several cats you should give them the choice of sharing or having their own special areas to eat, drink and go to the toilet.”