Petting May Be Stressful for Some Cats

kittens, pets
(Image credit: stock.xchng)

If your cats resist cuddling, it may be for good reason. New research suggests petting might stress out some felines.

What's more, cats living a multi-cat home may be better equipped to deal with the strains of domestic life than their solitary peers, the study researchers found.

A group of researchers aimed to find out whether there is any truth to the assumption that cats kept as single pets are more likely to have a better life than cats that share their home with other felines. [Here, Kitty, Kitty: 10 Facts for Cat Lovers]

"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 setup, it is not good for their welfare," Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at England's University of Lincoln, said in a statement. "Our research shows this is not necessarily the case."

Related: Here's the best way to pet a cat, according to science

For their study, conducted in São Paulo, Brazil, Mills and colleagues collected data on 23 single-cat households, 20 two-cat households and 17 households with three or four cats. The owners completed surveys about their pets' personalities and behavior, and they also handed over samples of their felines' feces, which contain telltale traces of a stress hormone.

The cats' stress levels didn't seem to vary significantly as a function of their personality type. (The researchers had the owners rate their cats as bossy, timid or easygoing.) But younger cats (those less than 2 years old) living on their own were generally more stressed than younger cats sharing their home, the study found.

The researchers speculate that even if cats living under the same roof don't seem too chummy, they might be able to organize themselves in such a way as to avoid each other, and thus avoid stress.

"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," Mills added in a statement. The researchers think this finding suggests the cats that don't like petting can avoid the affectionate hand of their owners if there are other cats in the house that enjoy or tolerate petting.

The researchers warned their results should be treated with caution since there were only four cats in the study that disliked petting, according to their owners, while 13 were put in the "tolerating category" and 85 in the "enjoying" lot.

If anything, the researchers say their results highlight the importance of giving individual pets control over their environment, and cat owners shouldn't impose themselves on their pets.

"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 said.

The results were detailed in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.