Can patting your cat stress them?

Do you enjoy stroking your cat? Perhaps more importantly, does your cat enjoy it?

touching cats
Multi-cat households can live with minimal stress

New research has looked into stress levels of cats living in single versus multi-cat households. It has always been thought, since cats are quite solitary creatures, that multi-cat households would be stressful for our feline friends.

New, collaborative research from the University of Lincoln, UK, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and University of Veterinary Medicine, Austria, however, has found that cats in households of two or more felines were no more stressed than those that were ‘only cats’. In fact, younger cats in multi-cats households were the least stressed of all. A great argument for adopting another cat!

Stress in cats can be measured in a a number of ways. Both behavioural and physiological indicators can be measured. A cat who is stressed may be more inclined to toilet around your home or to avoid confrontations with people or cats but this can be hard to measure. Researchers in this study looked at fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (GCM) measured via enzyme immunoassay. In other words, they measured the levels of stress hormones in cat poo.

That single and multi-cats households have similar stress levels should not be surprising to most cat owners, especially those that live with several amicable cats. Cats in multi-cat households appear to be able to structure their living arrangements to avoid contact with other cats that they may not get along with. Owners can help in this process by giving cats space, feeding them in several locations and having several litter trays available.

I know in my household of 3 cats, they tend to time-share. One cat is always first to be fed, the others wait until he has started eating before they join him. They occupy different seats within my lounge room. It’s first come, last to leave on my bed. Although… in narrow hallways, if looks could kill, I would say goodbye to my cats every time they met. Yet they exist without violence. They have adapted to life in the Righetti household.

Righetti cats sharing a box
Righetti cats sharing a box

What about patting your cat?

Most owners enjoy patting their cat. The majority of cats enjoy being stroked by their owners. Some even solicit a pat from visitors, neighbours or anyone who will oblige. These are the ‘flirts‘ of the feline world!

There are some cats, however, that do not particularly enjoy being stroked. We see them flinch or attempt to move away. Some cats freeze and appear to tolerate your hand movements but no pleasure is apparent.

Well, it turns out that these cats, the ones who are not particularly into the petting zone, are actually stressed individuals. Poor pussies!

With these individuals, we would be better not to pat. I know how disappointing this would be for many owners so I believe it is important, if this is your situation, to gradually introduce your cat to the joys of touch…

Try a little hand feeding of their favourite food or cat treat. As they take the food from your hand (or your lap or the floor if they are completely hand-shy), give one light stroke along their back. You can gradually increase the number and the pressure of the strokes each day. Desensitisation to touch takes time and patience.

More than one food dish may prevent squabbles

It is possible that you are stroking your cat in an area of their body that they dislike. Many animals don’t enjoy their tails being touched, for instance. If your cat dislikes their back being touched or any other area of their body, it may be wise to have a vet check, especially if they previously enjoyed this. Flinching at touch may indicate pain or discomfort in this region.

Cats are all individuals in their likes and dislikes when it comes to interactive touch. The favourite place to be touched is, however, the area above the eye and beneath the ears, around the eyebrow region. Although your cat may be completely different and enjoy a chin scratch or a tummy rub. If possible, get your cat used to being touched all over.

Leo chinrub from Lyle

More reading:

Original study

Hormones as indicators of stress

Feline flirts

Kitten & cat care

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Thanks for reading my blog. I look forward to reading your comments, Jo