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Will Petting Reduce Stress in my Cat? Everything You Need to Know!

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a woman's hands petting a cat

Will Petting Reduce Stress in my Cat? Everything You Need to Know!

There has been a bit of research on the effects of petting a cat on humans, and science has shown that petting a cat for around 10 minutes can reduce stress. Because stress is associated with various health problems, owning a feline may make you healthier.

However, there is little research on whether or not the cat gets any benefits from petting. We can tell many cats like being petted based on their behavior. Yet, science hasn’t dived into how petting affects our cats. Luckily, there has been a bit of research on the effects of massage on cats. Because massage is pretty similar to petting, we can assume that the effects are probably similar. However, because massage is more purposeful, its effects are probably greater than petting.

Some of these effects may include things like stress relief. However, it’s also known to reduce pain and help with some chronic conditions. For this reason, massage is often associated with helping control chronic conditions, such as arthritis.

3 cat face dividerThe Effects of Cat Massage

Petting cats can mimic the effects of massage, which are numerous, and science is only just beginning to notice the effects of massage. However, there have been several studies on the subject thus far.

One study found that manipulating soft tissues may affect several body systems, including the nervous system, circulatory system, and muscles. Therefore, it is thought that some techniques may benefit these systems’ conditions. For instance, arthritis, chronic pain, edema, and similar issues are thought to be affected by massage.

Sadly, much of this study is theory and not much testing. It’s designed to be the potential research start but doesn’t include much data. Luckily, some other studies include a bit more data. For instance, one found that massage may affect the sciatic nerves of a cat. Therefore, massage can be used to reduce pain in this area.

Of course, we don’t know how different the effects of petting and massage are. It probably depends a lot on how you’re petting your cat. If you’re petting your feline like massage is often done, the effects will probably be similar. However, if you aren’t, there may be no effects.

petting a cat
Image Credit: Pixabay

Should You Pet a Stressed Cat?

Often, it depends on how well you know that cat. Trying to pet a cat you don’t know well will probably stress them out more. However, veterinary publications often recommend massaging and petting stressed cats. Therefore, if you have to contact the cat, your best bet is to gently pet and massage the cat.

In many cases, it is recommended to let the cat destress and avoid the situation if they want. Don’t force a cat to cuddle with you because it is stressed. That will only stress out the feline further. If you know the cat well, petting may help relieve some stress. We don’t know for sure, and this will likely be extremely situational. Sometimes, petting may cause more stress. Other times, it may work as stress relief.

Due to the variance, we recommend carefully watching your cat’s body language. If they are stressed, try petting very gently and slowly. If the cat relaxes, continue. If the cat gets tenser, you should probably stop. This is one situation where understanding feline body language can be very helpful.

When in doubt, let the cat take the lead. We recommend letting the feline cuddle with you if they initiate the contact. However, don’t pick up a stressed cat—even if you know them well. In many cases, intense handling like holding and cuddling will only stress the cat more. Gentle petting is best, and don’t chase down the cat if they get up and go elsewhere.

woman petting a scared and shy cat
Image Credit: Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock

How Do You Destress a Stressed Cat?

While petting can reduce stress for some cats, there are often other ways to reduce stress too. If possible, you should limit whatever situation is causing your pet stress. If they’re stressed about having many strangers in your home, consider giving them a place to hide away from strangers. Unless your cat really needs to engage with the stressful situation, don’t make them.

However, there are some cases where removing the stressful situation completely isn’t possible. In these cases, we recommend considering encouraging extra exercise for your feline. Exercise often helps cats cope with stress, just like humans. You can do this by playing with your cat more and investing in more toys. For instance, scratching posts and interactive toys can be extremely helpful in improving exercise.

You should aim to keep your cat’s routine as straightforward as possible. Don’t change the routine during stressful periods of change. This will stress your cat out even more. Feed your cat at the same time every day, for instance. If something does need to change, do it slowly if possible.

Many cats hide when stressed. Don’t think of this as an unhealthy way for them to handle the situation, as hiding is natural for cats. Instead, consider putting their litterbox and food near their usual hiding places. This way, your cat can easily access their basic needs without confronting the stressful situation. When possible, we also recommend considering other enrichment activities. Food-based puzzle toys can be helpful, for instance. Just be sure that these enrichment activities lead to less stress for your cat—not more. Now is not the time to take your cat on a cross-country road trip.

You may consider investing in cat pheromone products if things are particularly bad. These products release artificial versions of pheromones that cats naturally produce. These pheromones are undetectable by humans but they lead to calmness and less stress in cats.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to get your vet involved. Stress can lead to all sorts of health problems—not to mention the stress it causes you. Therefore, in some situations, cats may need medication to prevent chronic stress and all the problems that come with that.

However, many stress-fighting medications have side effects and they can be expensive, so it is best to use them as a last resort. Speak with your vet if you feel like your cat may benefit from medication.

a woman's hand petting a cat
Image Credit: Yerlin Matu, Unsplash

yarn ball divider


Most people who are around cats pet them. However, there actually hasn’t been much research done on the effects of petting on our cats. While it may help reduce stress in some situations, it may only make things worse in others. Therefore, paying attention to your cat’s body language when petting them is important.

Sadly, we’ll have to wait for more research to come out on this subject before we know for sure.

Featured Image Credit: biubiubiu23333, Pixabay

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