Cats, like people, thrive on affection, although it’s often on their own terms! It appears that pats and cuddles don’t just make your cat feel good, but can help to protect them from respiratory infections.
Respiratory infections are a huge problem in animal shelters; they can make cats very sick, can be costly to treat and spread through a cat population very quickly. Anything that can help to reduce the incidence of these infections would be welcomed.
The results of a ten-day study into respiratory infections in shelter cats has emphasized the importance of human interaction and petting in keeping the cats well. The study involved almost 100 cats, which were divided into two groups. One group was petted, played with and groomed four times a day for ten minutes at a time. The other group had a human stand in front of their cage and look away for the same amount of time. Each day, the cats were assessed with respect to their emotional state – were they content, anxious or frustrated? They also had their mouths and eyes swabbed to check for the organisms involved in respiratory infections in cats. Lastly, the amount of Immunoglobulin A that they produced in their bodies was measured – this is an antibody that plays a major role in fighting respiratory infections.
The outcome of the study was very interesting. Cats that were petted by humans were more likely to be assessed as feeling content and less likely to appear anxious. A larger percentage of the cats that weren’t petted showed infectious organisms over the course of the study when compared to those that were fortunate enough to be cuddled regularly. The main finding was the fact that the cats that were petted secreted more of that wonderful protective Immunoglobulin A than the cats that just had a person stand in front of them.
This means that for shelter cats, it’s important that they are petted and cuddled at least daily, and that people do whatever they can to make sure their feline friends are content. It may take a little time but it will potentially save a lot of money in veterinary bills. Cuddling and playing has the added advantage that it alleviates boredom and encourages cats to interact with people – this can help their prospects for adoption. One thing that needs further investigation is the role of familiarity. In the study, petting and cuddling was provided by the same person so it’s possible that part of a cat’s contentment was due to knowing the person who was providing the affection. It would be interesting to see if the results of this study could be repeated if a different person was cuddling the cats every day.
Pet cats can also benefit greatly from this research. While they are usually at less risk of respiratory infection than shelter cats, there are still benefits to be gained from regular cuddling and stroking. Apart from the increased antibody production, cuddling makes a cat feel good and enhances the connection between a person and their feline companion. Not only that, but cuddling a pet is good for our mental health, too. It’s definitely a win-win situation.