National Hugging Day: Should You Hug Your Pet?

First introduced by Kevin Zaborney on January 21, 1986 in Michigan, National Hugging Day is a holiday meant to encourage people to spread the love through warm hugs. So whether you’re a side hug, back hug, or bear hug kind of person, make sure to celebrate the day with open arms and give everyone you love a big hug!

Speaking of loved ones, we know that you won’t let the day pass without pulling your pet in for a tight embrace. Why would you, right? It’s one of the best ways to de-stress after a long day and show your furry friend that you love them.

However, our pets may not always see the act of hugging the same way we do. Some of them may even (secretly) hate it. So before you wrap your arms around your little pal this National Hugging Day, let’s find out how animals really feel about hugs.


Do Pets Like Hugs?

National Hugging Day: Should You Hug Your Pet?While most pet owners would argue that their furry family members love getting hugs, that not always the case. From an animal’s perspective, having someone wrap their arms around you can feel constraining—scary, even.

Yes, your pet knows that you mean no harm—years of domestication has taught them that. However, to most animals, hugs can feel a lot like being caught by a predator. And oftentimes, this causes stress and anxiety without owners even knowing about it. So to answer the question: do pets like hugs? Well, as it turns out, not so much.

Animal experts Dr. Stanley Coren and Cesar Millan—both of whom have years of experience studying animal behavior—strongly discourage owners from hugging their pets. By observing the non-verbal signals that animals send out when receiving hugs, they were able to establish that hugging our pets can actually make them feel stressed, anxious, fearful, or just downright uncomfortable.

(To learn more about it, you can read Cesar Millan’s blog here, and Dr. Coren’s blog here.)


How Can I Tell If I’m Stressing Out My Pet?

National Hugging Day: Should You Hug Your Pet?

With animals, it’s all about verbal cues. If you know how to read your pet, you can easily make adjustments to make them feel more at ease. When it comes to hugging, you’ll know that the enjoyment is one-sided if your pet:

  • Tries to wiggle out of your arms
  • Turns their head away
  • Shows the whites of their eyes
  • Stiffens their body
  • Pulls back their ears
  • Cries, whines, or barks
  • Yawns (sign of anxiety)
  • Scrambles away from you the moment you put them back down
  • Growls, scratches, or bites

However, if your pet displays a relaxed posture (ears up, mouth open), wags their tail, and/or purrs, then it most likely means that they’re happy to be in your arms!


Hug-Free Ways to ‘Hug’ Your Pet

Hugging may not be the best way to celebrate National Hugging Day with your pet, but it certainly isn’t the only way to do so. If you think about it, why do we hug our pets in the first place? To show them that we love them, right? Well, lucky for us, there are plenty of other ways to do exactly that without making our pets feel uncomfortable. Read on and take your pick!


National Hugging Day: Should You Hug Your Pet?Hugging may not be an option, but no one said anything about cuddling! Unlike hugs, cuddles don’t make pets feel too restrained because it (usually) doesn’t involve getting squeezed between someone’s arms. You can simply let your pet put their head on your lap or lie down beside you on the couch. That way you’ll both be able to relax and just enjoy your time together.

Pets and Belly Rubs

Almost any domesticated animal will gladly accept gentle pets and belly rubs! That’s why they’re great alternatives to hugging. You’ll still be able to come in close contact with your pet without causing them feel stressed or anxious—if anything, you’ll be helping them alleviate those negative feelings.


What pet doesn’t like playtime? If your furry friend isn’t much of a lap cat (or dog),  and has high levels of energy, then an excellent way to show them love this National Hugging Day is to extend their playtime sessions!

If you want to make the day extra special, consider taking your pet out on an outdoor adventure and explore new areas together. Who knows? Your little pal may even let you give them a hug as a way to say “thank you” afterward!


Of course, we can’t forget about treats! No matter the day or occasion, pets are always down for tasty snacks. So to celebrate National Hugging Day, why not pick up a few treats for them from the pet supply store or better yet, whip out something delish! Your pet will love you for it.


So how do you plan on  observing National Hugging Day?