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Why Petting a Cat is Good for Your Health

 
By MarĂ­a Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. October 6, 2020
Why Petting a Cat is Good for Your Health

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The first thing you might think about petting a cat is the physical experience. As very clean animals, cats keep their coat in premium condition. This not only benefits their hygiene, but it keeps their coat soft to the touch. Petting them simply feels great. However, there are many hidden benefits of petting a cat for both cat and owner. In fact, you may be unaware of how beneficial petting a cat can be for your health.

In this AnimalWised article, we look at why petting a cat is good for your health and for the health of the cat. We also provide some tips on how to pet a cat to ensure you provide the ultimate benefit to both of you.

You may also be interested in: Do Cats Have a Good Memory?

Health benefits of petting a cat for cats

Cats enjoy being petted as much as we like petting them. That they are solitary and independent animals is a myth. Although all cats will have their own personality, most cats will enjoy being petted and will seek out affection. They may not always be in the mood, but if they feel comfortable within certain boundaries, they will be happy to interact.

Cats seek out and allow contact with us because of the relationship we share. As the figure which provides care, looks after their well-being and gives practical support, we are in some ways a mother figure for our cats. To understand this, we need to look back to the time after they are born. A mother cat routinely licks her kittens when breastfeeding them. This maintains hygiene, keeps them warm and encourages an important bond. It is one of the reasons we see a cat lick our hair.

When we pet our cats, it is reminiscent to them of their mother's tongue. Our hand reminds them of this experience and assures them they feel safe. Cats meow at us similarly to how kittens meow at their mother. They see us in a similar way and will actively seek out our affection. This is one of the reasons why socializing cats properly is such a vital task.

For more information you can reference our guide to socializing an adult cat.

The benefits to the cat of being petted often stem from this feeling of kinship. Even if the cat is adult, the process of domestication means they will in some way always remain a kitten. They don't have to hunt for survival and we provide what they need to maintain well-being. Notice when you pet a cat, you will often see they raise their tail and keep it rigid. This is a behavior of kittens with their mother and is actually an invitation to examine their genital area. Instinctively they know their mother, in this case us, wants to take care of them.

Physical contact between person and cat often triggers purring. Although a cat's purr and other sounds they make have various meanings, when petting them, the purring means they are happy and at ease. Purring is a behavior which also dates back to infancy as it begins when they are a week old. It is a signal to their mother than everything is fine.

Cats enjoy being petted when they feel healthy and when their relationship with their human guardian is strong. The cat can relax which helps to avoid stress, something which can negatively impact both the physical and mental well-being of the animal.

Health benefits of petting a cat for humans

Research has shown that living with cats benefits people's health to the point it extends their life expectancy[1]. It can also improve the quality of life, although this is dependent on many factors. The following positive effects have been shown in people who share their lives with cats:

  • Prevention of the development of allergies in children.
  • Reduction in potential respiratory infections.
  • Mood improvement from stress reduction via lowering cortisol levels and relaxation.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Protection of heart health, reducing the risk of death from heart attack.
  • Drop in blood pressure.
  • Increase in oxytocin, a hormone related to love and friendship.
  • Helps to establish and maintain social relationships, since it encourages the approach to other people who also live with cats in the veterinary clinic, the supermarket, etc.
  • The feeling of loneliness is lessened.
  • Helps children to socialize and learn responsibility.

In short, the benefits of petting a cat for just a few minutes a day are not solely in the imagination of feline guardians. The physical contact improves health in a similar way to the benefit of cats. It reduces daily stress and helps us to enter a state of relaxation. This state of relaxation intensifies when the cat begins to purr.

As a consequence the reduction of stress is beneficial to our heart health. It helps to lower blood pressure, essential for our health. Not all cats will want to be petted, but some won't want to because we haven't yet established a bond of trust. Other cats may have a reason to be stressed or unhappy which can harm our bond. Take a look at our article on how to make your cat happy if you want to learn more.

The understanding of the health benefits of petting cats has led to many therapists using it as a type of therapy. For those with compromised mental health, petting a cat can improve their overall health and well-being.

Why Petting a Cat is Good for Your Health - Health benefits of petting a cat for humans

How to pet a cat properly

If you don't pet your cat correctly, you will have a stressed animal and the health benefits of petting will be negated. Not only should we know how to pet a cat, but we need to know where and when to do it. Firstly, it is important to pet a cat when they are receptive so that it may have a positive effect. This means a time when the cat is in a good disposition.

We should not grab the cat at any time and force them to be petted. We should wait until the cat is at rest and receptive to petting. Ideally, the cat should be the one to initiate. We also should not prolong the petting session if they try to leave or force them to be petted.

Although the cats we share our homes with are usually affectionate, all are individuals and we need to respect their boundaries. To help promote good interactions, we should know where the best places to pet them. They most often welcome being petted between their ears, on their cheeks or along their spine to the base of their tail. Although some cats may show their belly to you, the majority will not enjoy having their belly petted. Start in the places shown above and only move to other parts of their body if they are receptive.

If you try to hold onto the cat and force them to be petted, pick them up when they don't want to or in any other way make them feel uncomfortable, it will be very counterproductive. Not only will the cat not want to be petted, it can harm your overall bond and make them stressed. This will have negative effects on both the cat's health and your own.

Take a look at our video below on where to pet a cat to know more:

If you want to read similar articles to Why Petting a Cat is Good for Your Health, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

References

1. Quereshi, A. I., et al. (2009). Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study. Journal of Vscular and Interventional Nurology, 2(1), 132-135.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3317329/

Bibliography
  • Morris, D. (1988). Observe your cat. Barcelona: Janés Square.

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