It is arguably the most artistic form of modern portraiture, cuter and slightly less narcissistic than the mirror snaps that dominated at the dawn of the century. The cat hug selfie is the best part of most camera rolls. As adorable as these snapshots of feline-human hugs are, the digital flood of cat hugging selfies on social media leads to inevitable debate. Does kittykind enjoy hugging as much as we do, or are we kidding ourselves when we embrace them for the camera? Does our expression of affection in truth make them anxious? I’ve conducted my own study of the practice using a sample size of two — my own kitties, Ghost Cat and Specter (who, for sciencey reasons, will be known as Feline subject A and Feline subject B).
A little background: Recent online debate about pet hugging was sparked by a Psychology Today column that suggests America’s second favorite pet — the dog — does not enjoy being pulled into the loving arms of adoring humans. A dog psychology expert looked at 250 random internet photos of people hugging dogs and found most dogs photographed looked stressed out. So far (to my knowledge, anyway) there has been no similar work done on cat hug photos.
I might not have a doctorate in psychology, but I do have two cats and a massive amount of cat photos, so I gathered my own feline hug data. I opened up Google Photos, typed in “cat hugs,” and scrolled through the first 250ish photos to populate. Most of the pictures weren’t of hugs, but just of my cats doing cat stuff. The few that did feature a cat hugging a person were notable for two reasons:
My findings were not surprising. Ghosty and I hug it out multiple times per day. When she wants a hug she will jump onto the counter or table and meow at me until I can no longer resist her cute little face. When I scoop her up into my arms she immediately purrs. She loves to be carried around like a human baby. (Specter would rather die than suffer that indignity.)
It’s not only me she hugs, either. Ghost Cat will seek out an embrace from my husband, visiting children — really just about anybody. I do think she saves her best hugs for me, though. Nothing de-stresses me faster than holding her close and smelling her fur. Some people like to unwind with a glass of wine, I like to unwind by sniffing my cat. (It’s totally not weird.)
On the other hand, for Specter — I mean Feline Subject B — hugging is totally off limits. Try to squeeze this velvety tortie and she’ll run so fast you won’t see her go. Specter likes affection on her terms — she wants to sit in my lap and receive pets and compliments, but she doesn’t like to feel enclosed, whether it’s in a human’s arms or in a carrier.
Basically, my data suggests 50 percent of cats love hugs, while the other 50 percent would prefer to run and hide in the basement if the humans get too hug-happy. This might not be surprising information for most cat owners, but I’ve prepared it in advance of the inevitable Facebook fights that photographic celebration of cat love often prompt.
Some people say hugging cats is cruel, others say it’s kind, and my analysis says it’s both. Sure, if I were to give Specter a bear hug just to take a selfie, that would certainly be downright mean — but Ghost Cat is always trying to snuggle up to me anyway, so why wouldn’t I pose for a pic with her?
To my fellow cat huggers, I say post all the selfies you want! Just remember, in hugs — as in all endeavors — the cats are in charge. We simply have to respect our cats’ stance on public displays of affection. If yours is the type to crave a cuddle, get in there and show her some affection. But if you insist on hugging a kitty who’s in the anti-hug half of the cat population, then you deserve to be sporting scratches in your selfies.
Does your cat love — or hate — hugs?