Do Dogs and Cats Like to Be Hugged?


By Linda Cole

To us, a hug is a natural human reaction that shows affection. We don’t hesitate to throw our arms around the neck of a special friend or family member we haven’t seen in a long time. Unfortunately, our pets aren’t human and probably have no understanding of what a hug means. When we give our dogs and cats hugs, it won’t ruin a friendship but we might have just ruined the moment for them. Hugs can be a touchy situation for most pets.

Cats and dogs use body language to interpret the intentions of other cats and dogs. Dogs understand social order in the pack and which actions signal dominance and aggression. When one dog puts a leg over the back or shoulder of another dog or mounts him with both legs on his back, this is showing that the dog on top has dominance over the other one.

There’s a similar social order for cats, but it’s defined more by the sex of the cat and reproductive status. A pregnant female has a higher social rank than a neutered male. It’s also more complicated than the dog hierarchy because it can change depending on where the cat resides. For cats who live with humans, we are seen as the alpha if we are providing for their care. The one who cleans their cat pan and feeds them, as far as they are concerned, is the boss. However, cats and dogs view hugs in about the same way.

Cats can be more standoffish than dogs; that’s just their independent nature. Like dogs, cats feel threatened by other cats and even their human standing over them, especially if eye contact is being made. In both the dog and cat world, eye contact can mean aggression and most cats become uncomfortable when we stare at them. When we wrap our arms around our pet’s neck to give them hugs, most pets would prefer that we didn’t, if they had a choice. That’s one area where dogs and cats do agree.

Like dogs, most cats don’t like the confining feeling that comes with one of our loving embraces. A cat will react in the same way as a dog when we drop our hand down toward their head. It’s seen as an aggressive move on our part. A cat will generally let you know when they want attention, and it’s usually on their terms. Plus, very few cats or dogs like to be held down against their will which leaves them with a feeling of no control over the situation.

Of course we want to give dogs and cats hugs, and some pets do seem to enjoy them. The more pets trust and respect us, the more apt they are to “allow” us to wrap our arms around them in an embrace. But since there are no hugs in their world, they are confused about what it is or how they should respond to one. So they react accordingly.

Children should be taught to never hug dogs or cats they don’t know. When hugging a family pet, they need to be careful not to squeeze the pet too hard. For most dogs, the shorter the hug, the better. Like us, they need their space, and when we wrap our arms around their necks, we are violating their space. We don’t like having someone standing with their face close to ours during a conversation and that’s how it likely feels to a dog. You know your dog better than anyone else. It’s up to us as pack leader to help our dogs understand that hugs are not threatening and that we mean them no harm. Dogs and cats who trust their owners are more likely to tolerate hugs.

There’s nothing wrong with giving your dog or cat a loving embrace. I hug mine all the time. Some pets do seem to enjoy a hug now and then as long as we don’t get carried away with our affection. By all means, hug your pet! Just keep it short and sweet because even though we enjoy hugging our pets, for the most part, it’s not their favorite way to spend time with us.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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11 thoughts on “Do Dogs and Cats Like to Be Hugged?

  1. My cat loves hugs and kisses as well. He will come up and smash himself as close as he can get to me, right up by my neck. Once he he has had enough squeezing and kissing, he will go on his way, but always stays close by. Never had a cat like that before.

  2. my cat insists on getting his hugs and kisses. He will push himself on you until he gets enough hugs then will go on his way.

  3. Exactly how long is short and sweet? First off lovely article! It was a good read. It has a lot to do with the individual animals. I personally enjoy hugging my dog for 5 minutes every half hour. I find he enjoys the feelings of confinement and entrapement. He’s recently stopped talking and I think it’s a good sign! :) He rarely leaves his cupboard and only comes out to ask me how many dogs are in Manhattan!

  4. It has a lot to do with the individual animals. I have a an old cat who is like a big teddy bear. He’ll crawl into bed and let me wrap both arms around him. He just purrs and goes to sleep. My other cat is about two years old and she likes petting and she likes to sleep on my lap but doesn’t like being held. My 1 1/2 year old American Bulldog loves all the hugs he can get. Him and my oldest cat often sleep together on a large pet bed. In fact they’re doing that right now.

  5. Yeah, a lot of this is conjecture, and universalized. All depends on the personality of the pet, the particular mood, situation, etc…

    Sometimes we’ll look into the eyes of a pet, and they’ll stare back, with no aggression. Eyes are a good place to read another. Note that human like staring into each other’s eyes, depending on the circumstances.

    Same with hugs.

  6. Some of our cats actually enjoy the cuddling and hugging. When I’m in the kitchen one of them will jump on the counter to get my attention for me to pick him up and hug him. When I do he softly pushes his head into my neck in response. His sister also likes her hugs. She licks me on the face when I hug her and rubs her face into mine. I believe that pets learn from humans.

  7. Different strokes for different folks, I guess! My 2 year old pit bull loves to be hugged. He drops his big ol’ head on my shoulder and leans in for it. I wrap my arms around him and hold him tight and he just gives me a big ol’ wet kiss. My little terrier actually stands up on my lap and puts his head on my shoulder for a hug. I was surprised to read it’s not welcome from most dogs.

  8. It took me a long time to convince my son that staring into the dogs eyes was a sign of aggression. As for hugging my dogs don’t like them, but they are very calm with lying on their backs and having me rub their throats, complete submission and trust.

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