In a study published in the June 2014 issue of the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine, researchers found cats who were not petted during their first 10 days in an animal shelter were 2.4 times more likely to develop URI than cats who were petted during this period.
The petted cats also had lower rates of shedding and other infections.
Additionally, cats who responded aggressively to attempts to pet and soothe them were petted by a tool, and by the end of day 6 were no longer showing aggression.
From the study abstract (paragraph breaks added to improve readability):
In this study, 139 cats rated as anxious upon admission to an animal shelter were allocated to either a Gentled or Control group. Cats were gentled four times daily for 10 min over a period of 10 days, with the aid of a tool for cats that were too aggressive to handle.
The cats’ mood, or persistent emotional state, was rated daily for 10 d as Anxious, Frustrated or Content.
Gentled cats were less likely to have negatively valenced moods (Anxious or Frustrated) than Control cats (Incidence Rate Ratio [IRR] = 0.61 CI 0.42–0.88, P = 0.007).
Combined conjunctival and oropharyngeal swab specimens were tested by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (rPCR) for feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1), feline calicivirus (FCV), Mycoplasma felis, Chlamydophila felis, and Bordetella bronchiseptica.... Onset of upper respiratory disease was determined by veterinary staff based on clinical signs, in particular ocular and/or nasal discharge.
Control cats were 2.4 (CI: 1.35–4.15) times more likely to develop upper respiratory disease over time than gentled cats (P < 0.0001).
It is concluded that gentling anxious cats in animal shelters can induce positive affect (contentment), increase production of S-IgA, and reduce the incidence of upper respiratory disease.
The complete study can be read, or purchased for non-subscribers, at the link below.
Nadine Gourkow, Sara C. Hamon, Clive J.C. Phillips, Effect of gentle stroking and vocalization on behaviour, mucosal immunity and upper respiratory disease in anxious shelter cats, Preventive Veterinary Medicine, Available online 20 June 2014, ISSN 0167-5877, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.prevetmed.2014.06.005.