Why does my cat like being petted so much?

Purr.... what? by rogerimp on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.

This is not my cat. (rogerimp/Flickr)

Because it feels good, dammit. And here’s why it feels good.

Our skin is chock full of nerve endings for different things — pain, heat, pressure, even itch. Sometimes different receptors can work together: it’s believed that light stimulation of the pain and touch receptors equals tickling.

According to researchers at CalTech, mice also have special nerve cells that fire only when gently stroked. These cells, which are only present in hairy skin and have endings that spread out over relatively large areas, have been known about for some time. But they flummoxed researchers because they didn’t react to the usual tests used to discover nerve cells’ triggers.

Now using a combination of genetic engineering and behavioral science, the researchers have found that these cells seem to produce pleasant or calming sensations when turned on by light touch.

Whether other social animals — like us, cats and dogs — also have these petting receptors remains to be seen, but the search is on.

ScienceNOW’s Elizabeth Pennisi tells the whole story, including how the research might affect people:

In addition to helping to identify similar cells in people, the findings could “lead to a drug or lotion that might make you feel better,” suggests study leader David Anderson.

Here kitty kitty….

This is my cat.

This is my cat.

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3 responses to “Why does my cat like being petted so much?

  1. Every time I pet my cats I think of this blog! I never gave it much thought as to WHY they liked to be pet so much – now I know!

  2. I wonder how this relates to sensory integration disorder in humans? When our daughter was little we practiced a therapy regimen that involved brushing her arms and legs with a soft bristle brush.

    • Interesting thought, Patrick. You’re also the second person to mention sensory integration disorder to me in the last week, and I’d never of it before. I think I’ll have to look into it.

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