Is stroking good for pets? © Getty Images

Is stroking good for pets?

The good news is that stroking is as much fun for our pets as it is for us. It's the way many animals maintain relationships and care for each other.

Asked by: Michelle Rayner, Liverpool

Advertisement

Yes. Stroking is the equivalent of grooming and grooming is the way that cats, dogs, monkeys, and many other animals maintain their relationships and care for each other. They enjoy it, as well as being a means to keep clean.

But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – grooming has to be consensual. Animals approach each other cautiously, gaining permission to groom or asking to be groomed. We have to do the same. If you hate being touched in the wrong way by a stranger or by someone you dislike, then you can imagine how a dog or cat might feel if unexpectedly stroked. A recent study measured levels of stress hormones in cats and found that the most stressed were cats that didn’t like being stroked but still tolerated it. The results were widely misinterpreted as meaning you shouldn’t stroke your cat, but this was not what the study showed. Lots of cats love being stroked. The real lesson is that stroking is an intimate activity and pet owners need to treat it that way.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.