Why Do Cats Purr For Your Touch? The Science Behind Feline Affection


What’s better than coming home after a long day to a furry friend who’s excited to see you and ready to snuggle? For cat owners, petting or playing with their favorite feline can be one of the best parts of their day. Although cats have a reputation for being aloof, research shows petting actually triggers several positive instincts in cats.

In this article, we’ll explore why cats enjoy being petted so much. We’ll look at how petting releases “feel good” hormones like oxytocin, lowers stress for both you and your cat, promotes bonding and trust, and taps into your cat’s natural instincts. Understanding why your cat loves to be pet so much can help you form an even closer relationship.

Releases Oxytocin

Studies have shown that when cats are petted, it causes the release of oxytocin in their brains. Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “love hormone” or “cuddle chemical” and is known to promote bonding behaviors as well as feelings of pleasure and relaxation (Johnson et al., 2021; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8592048/). This release of oxytocin when petted helps explain why cats often appear content and affectionate when being stroked by their owners.

Oxytocin induces positive physiological effects in cats such as lower heart rates, lower blood pressure, and reduced stress. It also makes cats seek more social contact and interaction with their owners (Johnson et al., 2021). The oxytocin release essentially rewards and reinforces cats for accepting human touch and being petted. Over time, this forms a strong social bond between cats and their owners.

Lowers Stress

Petting has been shown to help lower cats’ stress levels by reducing the production of the stress hormone cortisol. A study conducted at the University of Minnesota allowed participants to pet cats and dogs for 10 minutes, and analyzed their saliva before and after. The results showed a significant decrease in cortisol levels after spending just 10 minutes petting the animals 1.

Other research has demonstrated similar stress-reducing effects from petting cats. In one study, college students who pet cats for 10 minutes per day had lower cortisol levels and reported feeling less stressed than non-petting control groups 2. The researchers concluded that short daily cat-petting sessions can lead to meaningful reductions in stress.

By lowering cortisol, petting provides cats comfort and contentment. The physical contact and tactile stimulation offers cats a pleasant calming effect. Petting is an easy way for cat owners to help relieve their cat’s anxiety and provide soothing relief from stress.

Social Grooming

Petting mimics the social grooming that cats naturally do with each other. Licking and grooming are important social behaviors for cats that strengthen their relationships. When cats groom each other, it releases bonding hormones and pheromones that provide comfort and familiarity.

As a social species, cats use grooming to reinforce social structures and relationships within their groups. It is a sign of acceptance and trust. When a cat grooms a more dominant member of their group, it signals peaceful intent and deference. Dominant cats may groom subordinates to indicate protection and care. Grooming between equals affirms friendship and affection.

By petting your cat, you become part of this social structure. Petting takes the place of allogrooming and satisfies your cat’s innate need for social bonding. It demonstrates that you accept your cat and want to cement your relationship. Your cat returns the affection by leaning into your touch and purring. This exchange of grooming promotes attachment, trust and contentment between you and your cat.


Cats have scent glands located in areas like their cheeks, forehead, and neck which produce pheromones. When a cat rubs up against a person or object, it is depositing its scent and “claiming” it as part of its territory [1]. Petting a cat allows the owner’s scent to transfer to the cat’s fur, which the cat perceives as being marked by the owner. This can signify affection and a sense of belonging between a cat and its owner.


Petting provides a light massage to a cat’s muscles and joints, which physically feels good to them. Studies have found that petting releases endorphins in cats, creating sensations of pleasure and comfort.1 The rhythmic strokes of petting act like a massage on a cat’s body, stimulating blood flow, loosening muscles, and relieving aches and pains.2 Petting along the spine from head to tail gives a full back massage. Massaging the head, chin, cheeks and base of the ears brings relaxation. Full hand strokes down the legs give a leg massage. For senior cats or cats with arthritis, petting can bring much needed physical relief from muscle stiffness and joint pain.3


Petting provides cats with positive attention and affection from their owner, which is very rewarding for them. As social creatures, cats crave attention from their human companions. Petting helps satisfy this need and makes cats feel valued and loved. When an owner takes the time to pet a cat, it signals that the human cares for the cat’s wellbeing and wants to bond with them. Cats view petting as quality one-on-one time with their owner. It’s a form of focused attention that makes them feel special. According to Wildheart NOLA, petting releases oxytocin in cats, also known as the “love hormone,” which enhances feelings of affection and attachment.


Many experts believe that cats enjoy being pet because it satisfies their instinctual need to be stroked and groomed. In the wild, cats would receive grooming from their mothers and other cats in their social group. This grooming behavior strengthened social bonds and helped keep their coat clean and free of parasites. Petting from humans activates similar innate grooming needs in domestic cats.

Since petting mimics natural social grooming behaviors, it appeals to the instinctual nature of cats. The stroking motion helps satisfy cats’ urge to be groomed, even when humans are providing the petting instead of other cats. It’s an innate behavior they are biologically programmed to find comforting. So when owners pet a cat in the right way, it fulfills the cat’s built-in need for touch and grooming.


Petting reinforces the human-cat bond in a powerful way. When a human pets a cat, it causes the release of oxytocin in both the human and the cat (Source). This hormone is known as the “love hormone” and promotes feelings of affection, trust, and well-being. As this hormone is released through petting, it strengthens the bond between a cat and its human.

A strong human-cat bond leads to a better behaved and happier cat. Cats that have regular positive interactions with their human caretakers tend to be less stressed, more confident, and more sociable. The human-cat bond satisfies the cat’s social needs for companionship and affection. A bonded cat is secure in its relationship with its human and thus exhibits less negative behavior like aggression or inappropriate elimination outside the litterbox. Frequent petting sessions are an easy way to maintain a close bond with a cat.


In summary, there are many reasons why cats enjoy being petted by their owners. First, petting releases oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” which creates feelings of affection and pleasure. It also lowers stress and anxiety levels in cats. Petting is similar to social grooming behaviors that cats do with each other. It’s a way for them to bond with their humans and mark them with their scent. The massage-like motion of petting feels good to cats and relaxes their muscles. For some cats, they simply love the attention and interaction. Lastly, the instinct for touch and bonding is inherent in cats, just as it is for humans.

The benefits of petting are mutual for both cats and their owners. Pet owners feel a sense of satisfaction bonding with their furry companions, while the cats feel contentment, affection, and reduced stress. Although our pets can’t speak, their purrs and leaning into our hands shows how much they enjoy this special time together. Petting and caring for our cats strengthens the human-animal bond.

Petting is one simple way we can enhance the lives of our feline friends. Understanding why cats enjoy being stroked helps us better provide for their social and emotional needs.

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