London - If you really love your cat, don’t stroke it.
Researchers say that the pets become stressed if they’re constantly petted.
Animal behaviour experts discovered that cats released hormones linked to anxiety when they were handled by humans.
In fact, the tests appeared to show that no cats enjoyed being stroked.
Some were prepared to tolerate it – but they were the individuals that showed the highest levels of distress.
The researchers concluded that genuine cat lovers should avoid constantly petting their feline friends to spare their feelings.
Professor Daniel Mills from the University of Lincoln said: “Our data suggests cats who tolerate, rather than enjoy or dislike being petted, seem to be the most stressed.”
The findings come from a study that looked at how cats cope living alongside humans in the same household.
Scientists from the university, in collaboration with Ceva Animal Health, examined cats living alone, in pairs and in groups of three or four in the home, assessing levels of stress hormones on four occasions.
The research also dispelled the popular belief that cats are solitary creatures who struggle to live happily together in groups.
Although the number of cats in the home did not predict background stress levels, the researchers found that younger cats - under two years old - living on their own were more stressed than younger ones living in the larger groups.
Professor Mills added: 'Many people keep groups of cats in their home and some people have argued that because this is an unnatural setup, it is not good for their welfare.
“Our research shows this is not necessarily the case.
“It seems even if they are not best friends, cats may be able to organise themselves to avoid each other without getting stressed.”
He continued that cats who disliked being petted were also able to avoid it if they lived with a cat, or cats, who were able to tolerate it.
“It seems that those cats on whom the owner imposes him or herself are the ones we need to be most concerned about.
“The results also reinforce the importance of ensuring that you give all individuals control over their environment.”
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.
The project involved teams from the University of Lincoln, the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil, and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Austria.
The research has been published in the Journal Physiology and Behavior.
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