It makes us feel good. Well, now a study by Australian vets has found that it can actually help to boost immunity in cats as well.
The study was conducted at a cat shelter, where animals that were admitted were given a programme of regular, gentle stroking with soothing noises, four times a day for ten minutes, over a period of ten days.
Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers found that the emotional state of the cats they studied improved, while the cats that weren’t given attention were more likely to appear anxious or frustrated.
But they also measured the amount of antibodies produced by the cats, the amount of disease-producing bacteria and viruses that they shed, and the signs of disease they showed, and this is where it gets interesting.
Cats who had been petted and soothed were shown to produce more antibodies, particularly if they responded positively to the attention by rubbing themselves against the experimenter or going to their food bowl and eating. By contrast, those that appeared anxious or frustrated had much lower levels of antibodies.
Cats who had not received attention shed significantly more pathogenic viruses and bacteria that those who had, and as a result were more than twice as likely to develop signs of respiratory disease – a common problem in cat shelters.
It’s a useful reminder that despite all the advances medicine has made, attending to basic physical needs remains a vital part of care.
In humans, a number of studies have shown how important touch is to our sense of wellbeing, and petting an animal has been shown to increase our own levels of stress-reducing hormones.
Now we know that it’s mutually beneficial there’s no excuse not to, is there? Although I suspect that if you’re a pet owner, you probably knew that already!