If your cat stiffens into a furry yet adorable statuette every time you run a hand down his back, chances are he might not be too fond of your affectionate petting. Meow-ouch!
A new study from an international team of researchers published in the Journal Physiology and Behavior had the rather modest goal of understanding how felines and their domesticated humans socialize underneath the same roof. Researchers representing universities from the United Kingdom to Brazil examined the stress levels of cats in four different living situations: Those that lived alone (i.e. no other cats), those that lived in pairs, and those that lived in groups of three and four. Researchers measured the cats' levels of stress hormones in order to gauge their responses to human attention.
The results were surprising.
Cats that were the sole recipient of their owners' touch displayed much higher levels of stress than cats surrounded by other cat friends. PhysOrg explains:
Although the number of cats in the home did not predict background stress levels, the researchers found that younger cats (less than two years old) living on their own were more stressed than younger ones living in the larger groups.
Evidence was also found to suggest that the owner's urge to pet their cat may be a stressful experience.
Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioral Medicine at the University of Lincoln, said: "We chose stable households to look into this question and were quite surprised by the results." [PhysOrg]
Why were young kitties living solo exhibiting measurably higher levels of emotional stress than their peers? Researchers think it may be a strength in numbers thing: Cats — which are "not a naturally social species," adds Mills — that had their humans' undivided attention were always on alert, whereas animals that could hide behind a more human-tolerant cat were more likely to be left at ease.
Don't fret too much about stressing out Sir Whiskers Wigglesworth III, though. If you're worried about your cat's everyday disposition, the scientific remedy appears clear enough: Get another cat. Or four.
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