What’s the Best Way to Pet Your Cat? Squish Them, According to Science
We call it a “smoosh.”
We have the “zoomies,” “blep,” and “chonk” to describe the myriad behaviors and looks of our feline friends. But we need a word for the act of lovingly, tenderly, ever so gently crushing your cat. “Smoosh,” maybe?
Veterinarian wisdom and research suggest that a squeeze can do a cat some good, but there’s a right way to do it.
Why does my cat enjoy being squished?
Some light pressure can feel nice for everyone, not just kitties.
“The idea of using pressure to promote relaxation isn’t a new one,” Kristyn Vitale, a professor of animal health and behavior at Unity Environmental University in Maine, tells Inverse in an email. “Think of a baby being swaddled or the calming feeling of a big hug.” A gentle squeeze can create a feeling of security and coziness.
One 2017 paper suggests that touch can relax through “the release of endogenous opioids,” or naturally occurring painkillers the body secretes in response to pressure. The feel-good hormone oxytocin, for instance, is one secretion that creates feelings of bonding and nurturing. Even just physical contact in the form of petting can “induce physiological relaxation.”
Renowned animal behavior scientist Temple Grandin demonstrated in her 1992 paper that light pressure applied to the body can have a calming effect on both humans and animals. This effect is so notable that in clinical settings, both humans and animals that received a nice squeeze are able to tolerate procedures with lower doses of psychostimulant medications. Her research demonstrates that squishing can promote a sense of well-being and reduce anxiety.
What are the best ways to squish my cat?
Vitale recommends applying gentle pressure simply while petting your cat. “Many cats like pressure around their head and cheeks,” she writes.
If your cat is having a grand ol’ time, he might purr or nuzzle his head against his hand. On the other hand, an unhappy cat is quick to speak up, either with a loud meow or even a warning swipe. Vitale emphasizes that not all cats enjoy this display of affection, and if they’re trying to get away, then it’s best to stop.
Try giving your cat a slight squish today to see if you can unlock a new form of bonding.