Misinterpretation of study: Anxious cat owners can carry on stroking their four-legged friends without worry

Oct 16, 2013
Stroking can still be enjoyed by cats and their owners. Credit: Doris Sallaberger / Vetmeduni Vienna

In a study published recently in the journal Physiology & Behavior an international team of researchers examined whether cats living in multi-cat households are more stressed than cats housed singly. Many media outlets responded to the study with an incorrect interpretation of the results and published such as "Cats Hate to be Stroked". The co-author Rupert Palme of the Institute of Medical Biochemistry at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, explains: "As a matter of fact, the majority of the cats enjoyed being stroked. Only those animals that did not actually like to be stroked, but nevertheless allowed it, were stressed."

The actual aim of the study was to find out whether are more stressed when they live in large groups together or, whether the strict hierarchy of larger groups reduces . Neither could be confirmed in the present study. The number of cats per household had no influence on the stress of the . Rather, stress in depends more on the socialization of the animals, on the relationship with humans, on the space available to them or on the access to food.

Every cat feels and reacts differently

The researchers studied 120 cats in 60 Brazilian households. These were divided into three different categories: group I: 23 single-cat households, group II: 20 multi-cat households with two cats; group III: 17 multi-cat households with three to four cats. The cat owners were asked to classify their pets as "bossy", "timid" or "easy going" in order to assess the personality. Furthermore, the reported how much each cat liked to be stroked. The researchers measured the stress levels of the animals by analysing the stress hormone metabolites (glucocorticoid metabolites GCM) in the collected faecal samples.

The majority of the cats like to be stroked

85 out of 120 cats were considered by their owners to "enjoy" being petted. There were only four cats in the category "disliking" being stroked. Those cats probably avoided the "stroker". The remaining 13 animals "tolerated" the stroking and were more stressed than the others. "Precisely these 13 animals led to the misinterpretation of the study" explains Palme, "Cats are in no way generally stressed when they are stroked. It depends much more on the situation and the character of the individual animal."

Explore further: Biologists use unique tools to investigate squirrel sounds and gestures

More information: Ramos, D. et al. Are cats (Felis catus) from multi-cat households more stressed? Evidence from assessment of fecal glucocorticoid metabolite analysis, Physiology & Behavior. www.sciencedirect.com/science/… ii/S0031938413002771

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User comments : 16

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Moebius
1.5 / 5 (8) Oct 16, 2013
Yes cats enjoy petting, sometimes. So what? People pet cats for their own pleasure, not the cat's. Most are blissfully unaware of when they don't like it and just keep doing it. Some people do it constantly, they are completely ignorant. They are people that wonder why cats bite and scratch sometimes. Cats aren't toys, they are animals and there is a reason for the things they do.
cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (13) Oct 16, 2013
I wonder if cats would be more stressed if they were targets for skeet shooters? We need a study!
Mr_Science
2.3 / 5 (12) Oct 16, 2013
Hey, PETA check this guy out ^

I have found a good rule of thumb for cats is to wait until they come to you to pet them. Dogs on the other hand will run a couple of miles just to get good scratch behind the ears at almost any time. Maybe that is why they say dogs are "man's best friend" and not cats.
cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (14) Oct 16, 2013
PETA= People Eating Tasty Animals! Cats on the other hand don't taste good, as such they're only use is target practice.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (6) Oct 16, 2013
pet them without worry
Well they need to worry about such things as t gondii and cat scratch fever, and tic-borne diseases, and the fact that they use their tongue to clean their rectum as well as their fur. And they should consider also the millions of songbirds cats enjoy killing annually, for the fun of it.
baudrunner
2.2 / 5 (13) Oct 16, 2013
cantdrive85: I'm sure that studies of your type of personality reveal that the same attitude applies to your appreciation (or lack of it) of humans.

Cats are just little people in cat suits. They have personalities and demonstrate character. They deserve the same respect afforded to people. Actually, generally speaking, they probably get more respect overall, when you think about it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.8 / 5 (5) Oct 16, 2013
cantdrive85: I'm sure that studies of your type of personality reveal that the same attitude applies to your appreciation (or lack of it) of humans.

Cats are just little people in cat suits. They have personalities and demonstrate character. They deserve the same respect afforded to people. Actually, generally speaking, they probably get more respect overall, when you think about it.
I see they have trained you well.
cantdrive85
1.2 / 5 (17) Oct 16, 2013
Cats are just little people in cat suits.

That's funny right there! I guess you're right, I detest cats because they remind me of people like you.
What's the difference between a cat and a speed bump?
I slow down for speed bumps.
barakn
3.2 / 5 (9) Oct 16, 2013
Cantdrive85 exhibits some characteristics of a psychopath.
VendicarE
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 17, 2013
"Cantdrive85 exhibits some characteristics of a psychopath." - barakin

I have never seen him express any social conscience or empathy.
VendicarE
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 17, 2013
"They have personalities and demonstrate character. They deserve the same respect afforded to people." - Baudrunner

All animals have their own character. Even insects. Each has it's own heuristic parameters for it's internal states and behaviors.

I have seen cats spontaneously and without training, claw at the hand of their owner, and then rub their own ears to indicate that they want the owner to rub their ears.

Then again I've seen a cat attack it's own leg for kicking itself in the head.

http://www.youtub...xUIXWWJQ
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (16) Oct 17, 2013
"Cantdrive85 exhibits some characteristics of a psychopath." - barakin

I have never seen him express any social conscience or empathy.

Yea, but that speed bump joke was pretty good.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 17, 2013
"They have personalities and demonstrate character. They deserve the same respect afforded to people." - Baudrunner

All animals have their own character. Even insects. Each has it's own heuristic parameters for it's internal states and behaviors.

I have seen cats spontaneously and without training, claw at the hand of their owner, and then rub their own ears to indicate that they want the owner to rub their ears.

Then again I've seen a cat attack it's own leg for kicking itself in the head.

http://www.youtub...xUIXWWJQ
Ahaahaaaa dr strangecat
http://www.youtub...a_player

-Animals may have their own personalities but natural selection eliminates many of the ones that human cultures actually select for and encourage.
Sinister1811
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2013
PETA= People Eating Tasty Animals! Cats on the other hand don't taste good, as such they're only use is target practice.


I do hope you're joking. Pretty sure there are big fines handed out for that..
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (7) Oct 19, 2013
I'm like Bob Barker, helping to control the pet population by spade, neuter, and shooting cats. There are no fines, I'm performing a community service.
Moebius
1 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2013
Here is an amazing fact: cats like to be stroked when they like to be stroked. Even more amazing, they don't like to be stroked when they don't like to be stroked. No need to spend money studying this strange phenomena.

If anything study the strange human behavior that makes some people completely oblivious to a cats mood no matter how long they've had one.

And to can'tdrive85, just keep in mind that some people might have a tendency to want to kill someone that hurts a member of their family, like me for instance.