by Soojin Um
We all know the benefits of having cats in our lives. After a stressful day, coming home and petting your cat can help you decompress. There’s also studies showing cats can help lower blood pressure, reduce the risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease, and even reduce the risk of cancer. While not all experts agree with those findings, there’s plenty who do. Besides, it seems logical, doesn’t it?
Well, those are our benefits. What are the benefits to the cats? Do they get something from us as well? It would seem unfair if we were the only ones to gain. It turns out, cats enjoy it when we pet them, and it can improve their health and happiness too. Sounds like a win-win situation all around.
Besides the fact that cats enjoy being caressed and care for, another reason they like being petted is because we are helping to groom them. There’s only so much cats can do themselves. Sometimes, they just want to relax on your lap while you do the work for them. Stroking and petting helps to remove hair, which means that much less they have to lick. This can reduce the frequency of coughing up hairballs, which is never a pleasant thing.
Unless you use a grooming glove or brush, when you caress your cat, you’re also distributing their oils from their skin through their coat. It’s like you’re using their own natural conditioner on their fur to make it healthier and stronger. There’s no extra charge, but maybe your cat should leave you a tip.
When we pet our cats, we’re allowing them to get to know our scent. In fact, we leave behind our scent on them, which cats like because they have our scent around even when we’re not there. It provides something familiar, and that can give them a sense of comfort when they’re alone or scared. In the same way cats mark us with their scent glands by rubbing up on us, we too mark our cats, though maybe unwittingly.
Humans have for the most part moved away from communicating with scent glands. When people greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks, it’s actually an evolved form of smelling for scent. We’re no longer receptive to scents unless they’re pronounced (e.g. perfumes), but we do produce them, and it is believed cats can pick up on it. So when we pet our cats, we’re just doing to them what they do to us. The scent that we leave behind keeps our cats company until we return home. Seems like a fair tradeoff.
Cats have sensitive touch receptors throughout their body which makes them very aware of contact. This is evidenced by their sudden reactions when petted in the wrong place or method. Cats generally do not like a heavy hand when petting them, or being petted too long. It can result in overstimulation which can cause discomfort and irritation. That may explain why cats can suddenly bite or swipe at you when just a moment before they were enjoying being caressed.
To complicate matters, cat fur is susceptible to static electricity. It’s never pleasant, notably in climates with cold, dry winters, when you reach out to your cat and there’s a zap! For you it might be a zap, but for your cat it can be a ZAP! This illustrates just how sensitive cats are to touch. It seems prudence and moderation is key in bonding with your cat.
In the end, love is a two-way street. We get so much from our cats, but so do they from us. When we pet our cats, we become in tune with them. We can perceive when something is not right, and we can discern their moods. The health benefits are not just for us. Our love for our cats can help those who help us. Maybe that’s why they call it the circle of life.
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