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Does Petting Reduce Stress in Cats? What Science Says

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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We know petting cats brings us extraordinary health benefits, but do those same pats and snuggles have benefits for your cat? Petting cats has been studied since the 1970s, and there is evidence that it can reduce stress in your pet. Let’s take a look at how petting a cat may help keep them calm and content.

How Petting Calms Cats

Petting triggers the release of oxytocin in both humans and cats.1 This hormone is associated with stress reduction and relaxation. When we pet a cat, their muscles begin to relax, their breathing becomes more regular, and their heart rate slows down. All of these factors contribute to the calming effect of petting cats.

person petting a sick cat
Image Credit: Alexander Andrews, Unsplash

Stress in Cats

Cats are naturally solitary creatures, but they still require human interaction to stay healthy and happy. If a cat is not given the affection and attention it needs, they can become overwhelmed with anxiety and stress. Stress can have damaging effects on cats such as increased aggression, overgrooming, inappropriate urination, and changes in behavior.

What Does Science Say?

Studies have found that cats who are petted often experience less stress than those who do not receive regular affection. Petting releases oxytocin which helps to reduce the physical effects of stress on cats and helps them feel more relaxed.

Petting a ginger cat outside
Image Credit: dashkabudich, Pixabay

Types of Petting

Not all petting is the same for cats. As with humans, some cats prefer light and gentle strokes while others love to be scratched and massaged. Experiment with different pets to see which your cat enjoys the most. You may also find that certain areas of their body are more sensitive than others, so use caution when petting them in those spots.

Signs of a Calm vs a Stressed Cat

When a cat is in a relaxed state, you will notice their body language. Their eyes may be half-closed, and they may purr or knead the ground with their paws. On the other hand, when cats are stressed, their eyes will be wide open and their tail may be tucked between their legs. They may also be shifty and have a general nervous appearance about them.

person petting a cat
Image Credit: Nitiphonphat, Shutterstock

Cat Petting FAQs

Q: Should I pet my cat every day?

A: Yes, if your cat enjoys being petted. Try to set aside time each day to give them some quality one-on-one affection. You’ll both benefit from it!

Q: How can I tell if my cat likes being petted?

A: Cats will usually show signs of pleasure when being petted, such as purring or kneading. If your cat seems to be uncomfortable or agitated, stop petting them immediately and try again later.

hand petting cat
Image Credit: Pixabay

Q: How long should I pet my cat?

A: It depends on your cat’s preference. Many cats enjoy being petted for 5-10 minutes at a time, but some may want more or less.

Q: Where should I pet my cat?

A: Cats usually like being petted on the head and neck, but some may enjoy it more when you scratch their back. Experiment with different areas to see what your cat prefers.

Q: What if my cat doesn’t like to be petted?

A: Some cats may not enjoy being petted, and that’s okay. Respect their wishes and try offering them other forms of affection such as brushing or playing with toys.

tabby cat sleeping on owner's lap
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Q: Is petting good for cats?

A: Yes! Regular petting can help strengthen the bond between you and your cat, as well as reduce stress and create a calmer environment. So don’t forget to give your furry friend a pat or two every now and then.

Q: Is petting cats good for me?

A: Absolutely! Petting cats can be quite therapeutic for humans as well. It triggers your body to release oxytocin which helps reduce stress and promote feelings of well-being, so take some time to give your cat a good petting session today!

Q: Are there any potential downsides to petting cats?

A: While petting cats can be beneficial for both parties, it is important to do so in a way that is safe and comfortable for your cat. Some cats may become overwhelmed or overstimulated if they are petted too often or too vigorously, so pay attention to their body language and take breaks if necessary.

two kids petting a cat on the street
Image Credit: Luidmila Kot, Pixabay

Q: Should I pet my cat if it’s sick?

A: Yes, if your cat is comfortable with being petted and it doesn’t cause them any distress. Petting can be a calming activity that helps to reduce stress in cats, which may help them recover faster. However, make sure to check with your veterinarian before attempting any form of physical contact with a sick or injured cat.

Q: Will petting my cat affect my allergies?

A: Yes, unfortunately. Petting cats can cause dander and fur to become airborne, which can trigger or worsen allergies in some people.


Overall, petting cats is a great way to show them love and care. Regular affection can help strengthen the bond between you and your cat, as well as reduce stress for both of you. With proper technique and understanding of your cat’s preferences, petting can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved. So go ahead and give your furry friend some extra pets today! They will thank you for it.

Featured Image Credit: Alina Troeva, Shutterstock

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