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Don't Touch Kitty: Petting May Stress Out Your Cat

Update Date: Oct 07, 2013 02:12 PM EDT
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Cat bites can lead to hand infections that require hospitalization. (Photo : wackyvorlon/Flickr)

People with pet cats should think twice before petting their feline friends, according to animal experts. New research reveals that some cats get stressed when exposed to human touch. 

Researchers found that cats who reluctantly allow their owners to stroke them get more stressed out than those who carefully avoid being petted.

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British scientists from the University of Lincoln analyzed the levels of stress hormones in different cats before petting them to various degrees. The findings revealed that none of the cats in the study enjoyed being constantly touched. However, some cats were prepared to tolerate it. Researchers found that cars who tolerated human touch had noticeably higher stress levels.

Researchers said that the findings suggest that cats who reluctantly let their owners stroke them are more stressed than those who avoid being touched altogether.

"Our data suggests cats who tolerate, rather than enjoy or dislike being petted, seem to be the most stressed," researcher Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln said in a news release.

In the latest study, researchers looked at how cat deal with living alongside humans and other felines in a single household.

Researchers observed cats living alone, in pairs and in groups of three or four in the home. Researchers then assessed levels of stress hormones on four separate occasions.

"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. 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 said.

Mills and his team found that while the number of cats in the home did not predict stress levels, younger cats under two years old were more stressed living on their own than those living in larger groups.

"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," Mills said.

"Our research shows this is not necessarily the case. It seems even if they are not best friends, cats may be able to organize 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," he explained.

"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," Mills added.

The findings are published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

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