What Does Hugging A Cat Do?

The Psychological Benefits of Hugging Cats

Cuddling and hugging cats has been shown to provide a number of psychological benefits for cat owners. One of the main benefits is the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical.” Oxytocin is produced in the brain and plays a role in social bonding, reproduction, childbirth, and more. Research has shown that when humans interact with their pets, including hugging or petting cats, oxytocin levels increase in both the human and the cat (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8592048/).

The release of oxytocin when hugging a cat can help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Petting cats has been shown to lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress. The comfort and companionship provided by hugging a purring cat can also make us feel more relaxed and peaceful. One study found that oxytocin levels spiked more in women when stroking and talking softly to their cats versus interacting with stuffed animal cats (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8592048/).

In addition to oxytocin release, the act of hugging a cat provides comfort and reassurance. The warmth and tactile sensation of a cat’s fur and purring can be soothing. Cats are sympathetic animals and seem to sense when their owners are stressed or upset. Hugging a cat can provide much-needed feelings of security, belonging, and unconditional love.

The Physical Benefits of Hugging Cats

Hugging a cat can provide several important physical health benefits for cat owners. One of the main physical perks of cuddling cats is that it helps lower blood pressure. Petting and hugging cats has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn lowers blood pressure. One study found that cat owners had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure than non-pet owners, likely due to the calming effects of being around felines.

By lowering blood pressure, hugging cats may also reduce the risk of developing heart disease. High blood pressure puts extra strain on the heart and damages arteries over time, increasing the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. The relaxing nature of petting a purring cat helps keep blood pressure in check, reducing cardiovascular strain.

Hugging cats may also give the immune system a boost. Lower stress from cat cuddles helps keep levels of the immune-suppressing hormone cortisol down. High cortisol weakens the immune system’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. Plus, contact with cats exposes owners to various microbes that may stimulate the immune system and prepare it to fend off illness. One study found that cat owners had fewer annual doctor visits than non-cat owners.

So hugging and cuddling cats provides the heart health perks of lower blood pressure, as well as potentially strengthening the immune system to ward off sickness. Just a few minutes a day of quality cat snuggles can lead to measurable physical benefits for cat parents.

Social Benefits of Hugging Cats

Hugging a cat can provide several social benefits for humans. One of the main social benefits is that it strengthens the human-animal bond. When you consistently hug and interact physically with a cat, you develop a closer relationship and deeper mutual understanding. The cat comes to trust you more through this regular positive contact.

Caring for a cat also teaches responsibility. Feeding, cleaning litter boxes, grooming, and ensuring the cat’s safety all require dedication and accountability. This accountability can provide valuable life lessons, especially for children learning to care for a pet. It teaches consistency, reliability and promotes good ethics and morals.

Furthermore, living with a cat fosters empathy. As you attend to the cat’s needs and try to understand its behaviors and emotions, you practice perspective-taking. You learn when the cat is happy versus stressed, hungry, scared, etc. This builds compassion as you put the cat’s needs first. The empathy developed through pet care can transfer to empathy for people as well.

According to research from the Greater Good Science Center, cat owners score higher on empathy than non-cat owners. Hugging and closely interacting with a cat enhances this empathetic development.

Cognitive Benefits of Hugging Cats

Hugging and interacting with cats has been shown to provide several cognitive benefits, such as stimulating memory and improving mood and alertness.

Petting and playing with cats requires focus and engagement, which can exercise the brain by forcing you to be attentive and reactive. This type of mental stimulation can help sharpen memory, decision-making abilities, and problem-solving skills.

One study found that spending time with pets, including cats, resulted in improved cognitive function in older adults [1]. Cat owners also performed better on memory tests and showed greater improvements in alertness and mood after engaging with their pet cat.

The relaxing nature of hugging or petting a purring cat can also boost mood and alertness by reducing stress hormones and increasing oxytocin levels. This creates a positive emotional state that is linked to better focus and mental acuity.

So if you need a cognitive boost, some quality time engaging with your feline friend through play, petting, or hugging could stimulate your mind in healthy ways.

Emotional Benefits of Hugging Cats

Hugging and spending time with cats has been shown to provide significant emotional benefits for owners. Specifically, cat ownership can help alleviate feelings of depression and loneliness. The unconditional love and affection cats show their owners can greatly boost mood and emotional wellbeing.

Studies have found that spending time with pets, including cats, can help reduce symptoms of depression. The calming presence and physical touch of hugging a cat releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection. This helps combat negative feelings associated with depression (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_science_backed_benefits_of_being_a_cat_lover).

Additionally, cats provide companionship that helps owners feel less isolated and lonely. Having a consistent furry friend that is excited to see you and curl up in your lap can make a significant difference for those struggling with loneliness. The social interaction and responsibility of caring for a cat also reduces feelings of isolation.

Finally, a cat’s natural tendency to show affection through nuzzling, purring, and physical closeness allows owners to experience the unconditional love only a pet can provide. The profound emotional bond between cats and their owners boosts feelings of being loved, supported, and cared for.

In summary, the emotional benefits of hugging cats are substantial. The physical affection, companionship, and unconditional love cats provide have been shown to greatly reduce depression, loneliness, and other negative emotional states in their owners.

Spiritual Benefits of Hugging Cats

Hugging cats can provide numerous spiritual benefits for cat owners. Cats have long been associated with spirituality in many cultures. Interacting with cats mindfully can deepen our sense of purpose, teach us to be more present, and foster appreciation.

Having a cat companion can give some people a greater sense of meaning or purpose in life. Caring for another living being allows us to show compassion and elevates us beyond our own needs. Seeing our cat thrive thanks to our care helps fulfill a desire to nurture. The unconditional love a cat shows us also serves as a reminder that we are worthy and valued.

Cats can teach us mindfulness, presence, and peace. Observing a cat relaxing and living in the moment allows us to appreciate the value of slowing down. Petting a purring cat soothes our nerves and brings us to a calm, meditative state. Listening to a cat’s purr has even been shown to provide physical healing benefits.

Having a close relationship with a cat can foster gratitude and appreciation for the simple joys in life. Watching a cat find delight in a sunbeam or play with a piece of string reminds us to take pleasure in little things. A cat’s wholehearted enjoyment of life’s basic gifts inspires us to follow their example.

Drawbacks of Hugging Cats

While hugging cats can provide many benefits, there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of. Some of the main cons associated with hugging cats include:


If you are allergic to cats, hugging them could trigger an allergic reaction. Cat allergies are caused by a protein called Fel d 1 found in cat saliva, skin, and fur. When a cat sheds or drools, this allergen can get transferred to clothing and skin during hugging and cuddling. Common cat allergy symptoms include sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, runny nose, and skin rashes. Those with severe cat allergies may experience shortness of breath or asthma attacks from hugging cats.[1]


While hugging, a cat may get spooked or irritated and scratch the person holding them. Cats have sharp claws that can cause cuts, scratches, and abrasions on the skin. The areas commonly scratched include the arms, chest, legs, and face. Cat scratches, even minor ones, can become infected since their claws harbor bacteria. Seek medical care for deep scratches or ones showing redness, swelling, oozing, or warmth.[2]


Some cats may bite due to feeling frightened, stressed, or restrained while being hugged. Cat bites can pierce deeply and transmit bacteria into tissues, leading to infections. Puncture wounds, redness, pain, swelling, and fever can arise. Cat bite infections require antibiotic treatment and professional wound care. Bites near joints or tendons can be especially problematic.[3]


Cats can harbor intestinal parasites, fleas, ticks, and ringworm fungus on their skin and fur. During close contact like hugging, these parasites can spread to people and cause infections. Roundworms, hookworms, fleas, and ticks pose the highest risk. Regular flea, tick, and deworming treatments can reduce this risk.[4]

How to Hug a Cat Safely

When hugging a cat, it’s important to put their comfort first. Here are some tips for safe cat hugging:

Let the cat approach you. Don’t force yourself on the cat or pick it up suddenly. Allow the cat to rub against you and initiate contact at its own pace. This helps the cat feel in control.

Start with chin scratches. Gently scratch under the cat’s chin and around its cheeks. This is a sensitive area cats love having scratched. It can help relax the cat before attempting a hug.

Avoid restraining the cat. Don’t hold the cat tightly or restrict its movement. Maintain a loose grip so the cat can freely escape if it wants. Forcing a hug will only stress the cat.

Watch for signs of annoyance. If the cat squirms, tries to get away, hisses, swats, or flattens its ears back, stop hugging immediately. The cat is setting its boundaries.

By putting the cat first and respecting its signals, you can give it a hug that’s pleasurable for both of you.

Choosing the Right Cat for Hugging

When choosing a cat for frequent hugging and cuddling, some breeds are naturally more suitable than others. In general, you’ll want to select calm, people-oriented breeds that enjoy physical affection. Some top choices include:

Ragdoll: One of the most affectionate and laidback cat breeds, Ragdolls love to be held and cuddled. Their sweet, gentle nature makes them ideal lap cats. As the name suggests, Ragdolls become limp and relaxed when picked up. Studies show Ragdolls consistently rank as a favorite for families seeking an affectionate feline companion.

Persian: With their sweet, docile personalities, Persians thrive on human interaction and lap time. Their beautiful long fur makes them extra cuddly and pettable. Persians often solicit affection from their owners and are happy to receive plenty of hugs.

Kittens and cats from early Kittenhood also adapt well to frequent handling. On the other hand, stray or feral cats who are unused to human contact tend to dislike hugging and restraint. Seeking out a breed dispositionally inclined towards snuggling, or raising a kitten with ample positive cuddling, are your best bets for having an affectionate, huggable cat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about hugging cats:

Is it okay to hug my cat?

It’s generally fine to hug your cat for brief periods, as long as you read their body language and respect when they want to be released. Avoid squeezing them too tight or restricting their movement. Let them go if they start squirming or acting distressed. With patience and care, many cats learn to enjoy hugs in moderation from their trusted human companions.

Do cats actually like being hugged?

Some cats do enjoy hugs, especially when bonded with their owner, but most merely tolerate them. Cats are not as openly affectionate as dogs and don’t always understand the purpose of hugging. Respect your cat’s boundaries and give them hugs only when they seem receptive. Never force interactions.

How do I know if my cat wants a hug?

Signs your cat wants a hug include approaching you, rubbing against you, purring, kneading, or giving headbutts. A receptive cat will stay relaxed and not pull away when you initiate a hug. If your cat squirms, struggles, hisses, swats, or acts agitated, take the cue to stop hugging them.

Why doesn’t my cat like being hugged?

For cats, hugs can feel constraining, overstimulating, or threatening. Their prey instincts make them wary of restraint. They also don’t comprehend hugging as a social bonding behavior. Give your cat time to warm up to hugs slowly. Don’t take it personally if they never learn to enjoy them.

Are there safe ways to hug a cat?

Yes, you can safely hug a cat by supporting their hindquarters, keeping their front legs free, avoiding squeezing their abdomen, letting them initiate and end the hug, and paying close attention to their body language. Brief, gentle hugs are safest when the cat is receptive.

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