Here’s How Stroking Can Cause Signs Of Stress In Cats, According To Science

We all love to pet our kitties, but could we be doing more harm than good? Research suggests those little cuddles could cause signs of stress in cats!

signs of stress in cats
Lisa Yarost / Flickr

As a pet lover, the very last thing you want to do is see your kitty looking anxious. When we notice any minor signs of stress in cats, we often end up taking them to the vets to be checked over. And we’re right to worry. Emotional distress can be just as harmful to the feline species as it can to us humans. When your pet is stressed out like crazy, it can quickly lead to a whole host of other medical issues.
So, what should we do?

The first thing you can do is notice the symptoms of stress. If your cat displays any of the following behaviors, you may well have cause for concern:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting (or persistent hairballs)
  • Isolated behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Hiding away (or, indeed, running away)
  • Continual meowing or crying

When you notice any of the above, you should take action. One of the best and most effective things we can do as cat owners is try to identify the cause of our kitty’s distress. We already know that cats don’t like changes to their environment or lifestyle, but what if something else is to blame? According to a recent study, there could be a rather unexpected cause for your pet’s mental state.

Here’s the scientific bit:

The research was completed by a team at by University of Lincoln. The original aim was merely to find out something we’ve all wondered from time to time. That is, how felines cope when they have to live with other cats and humans. Along the way, though, the researchers there claim to have found that stroking your cat too much could be the reason they are anxious.

While most of us believe that cats enjoy being stroked, the fact of the matter is that some just ‘tolerate’ this experience. According to Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, this is the reason they become stressed. In short, tolerating the constant petting process gets tiresome and starts to annoy them!

“We chose stable households to look into this question and were quite surprised by the results. 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,” explains Professor Mills. “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.”

So, since cats aren’t ‘social’ when they are out in the wild, the fact that they have to adapt to being so could be enough to make them anxious. The researcher went on to explain that it is not the cats that dislike being petted who become the most stressed. Instead, it is the cats who ‘tolerate’ it.

“Many people keep groups of cats in their home and although they might seem happy together, some people have argued that because this is an unnatural set up, it is not good for their welfare. Our research shows this is not necessarily the case. It seems even if they are not best friends, cats may be able to organise themselves to avoid each other without getting stressed. Also, and I think very intriguingly, our data suggests that cats who tolerate, rather than enjoy or dislike being petted, seem to be the most stressed,” says Professor Mills.

Should you stop stroking your cat?

The short answer is no. After reading this study, you don’t have to immediately stop petting your cat forever. That would be a little extreme. However, as a cat owner, it’s important to be aware of whether your cat wants to be stroked. You should pay close attention to their body language and how they act when you touch them. These things will indicate whether they enjoy the process or not. It’s all about not ‘imposing’ yourself too much on your kitty.

“It seems that those cats on whom the owner imposes him or herself are the ones we need to be most concerned about,” explains Professor Mills. “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.”

So, do you pet your cat too much? Are you seeing signs of stress in cats? Or do you think you should stroke them more? Let us know in the comment section! We’d love to hear what you have to say!

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