The short answer is yes.
Cats use a hugging motion during play and hunting as a way to subdue their “victim” – whether literal or figurative. Cats will wrap their front legs around another cat, prey, or your arm, kicking with their hind feet, and usually while biting. If the subject of their attack is not prey (or a territorial feline opponent), they will likely kick and bite lightly – a form of playful affection.
But this isn’t the only time cats give hugs.
Why do cats give hugs?
We will likely never know all of the reasons why cats hug outside of hunting and fighting, but they definitely do. One could guess that a mother cat hugging her babies is trying to calm them and protect them from harm, and two older cats snuggled together may be conserving warmth or guarding each other, but why do they hug humans?
In many ways, cats hug for the same reasons we do. They hug to show affection, to protect, and to feel protected. It’s another way they show trust, and an excuse to be as close to you as physically possible.
Years ago, I rescued a cat from a difficult situation. She had never met me before, but when she was handed to me, she wrapped her paws tightly around my neck and buried her face in my shoulder. She was looking for security, and trusted me to give it to her, without even knowing who I was. Twelve years later, she still comes to me for hugs – she will stand on her hind legs with her front paws wrapped around my thigh, and when I pick her up, she again clings to my neck to be cuddled – often licking my cheek at the same time, giving rough kisses. I have another cat – formerly feral – who likes to lay on the arm of my easy chair, and will wrap his paws around my forearm and nibble at my fingers. He’ll fall sleep like that for hours, holding tight to me as he does.
Most cats I’ve met seem to prefer to be doing the hugging, rather than being hugged themselves. While they like to be secure, and some like to be held, actually holding them tightly restricts their movement and generally makes them uncomfortable (like everything, there are some exceptions to this – some cats love to be swaddled). Cats also love to knead to show contentment. This is something they begin as kittens, and it serves multiple purposes, including stimulating milk production in their mother, marking their territory through scent glands in their paws, and making their sleeping surface more comfortable.
Hugging with both paws – as opposed to simply draping an “arm” over another cat or human family member – seems to be a trait that cats have learned from us. Through millennia of sharing our homes, it would be difficult for any creature as smart as a cat not to pick up a few things. Hugging, of course, isn’t the only thing they have begun to mimic from humans. Meowing is also a trait reserved for communication with humans, and they have even learned a little of our own language.
Even in a multi-cat home, each cat typically learns their own name quite quickly, along with a few basic words. It’s really not much different than with humans – imagine yourself in a foreign country for years on end. Even without formal education in the country’s language, eventually you will begin to associate particular sounds with specific objects, people, or activities. The difference with cats, of course, is that they lack the biology to mimic our speech – otherwise I’m sure we’d be having full conversations with them in whatever language is spoken around the home. Cats often don’t choose to be as “trainable” as dogs, but it isn’t for lack of intelligence – they just seem to prefer to make up their own minds.
The best thing about cat hugs is the effect they have on us. Being hugged by a cat, or even just having one lay next to you and purr, is great for human mental health, stress management, and even – in some cases – physical health (there is a great deal of evidence that the frequency of a cat’s purr can aid in healing). Hugging your cat is beneficial to you both, and strengthens the bond between you. Just keep in mind that if your cat begins to struggle, it’s wise to set him down – for his safety, and yours.