We’ve long known that there are plenty of upsides to having a pet. They are great companions: fun to play with, adorable to look at and hilarious to watch. But did you know there are actually, real health benefits to having a cat? Yep, being a cat lady (or man) is actually good for you! The benefits range from the physical, to the psychological, but whichever way you cut it, being a cat parent is a big plus.
Having a cat can lower stress levels. That is, if the cat in question isn’t doing its level best to raise those stress levels by constantly walking on your keyboard when working from home! In all seriousness though, it’s no great news to a cat owner that petting one makes you feel better, and more relaxed. And there is scientific backing for this too. A study showed that tertiary students who were provided with cats and dogs to play with for ten minutes displayed much lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in their saliva afterwards. These results were mirrored in a stress test with couples in a home setting. The lack of judgement from a cat can reduce the fear of failure even more than with even a life partner, the study showed.
Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
Going hand-in-hand with the stress factor comes lowered risk of heart disease and stroke. This is due to the reduction in blood pressure levels that cause these conditions to occur, either suddenly or over extended periods of time. In the same study, correlations were made between having a cat and lower levels of cholesterol. The working assumption is that cats are effective in this way as preventative medicine, rather than any kind of cure for a pre-existing condition. In saying that, the lowering of stress is impactful at any stage so you’re never too late to benefit from the presence of a tiny furry tractor. Also, the increased physical exercise that comes from having a cat and playing with it regularly has a knock-on effect on your heart (and everything else) health.
That tiny rumbling motor under that furry exterior is another magic wonder of having a cat. Cats are known to purr to self-soothe, and to accelerate their own healing process when hurt. They also provide this miraculous benefit to the people around them too! The frequency that a cat purrs at is between 20 and 140 Hertz. Their purr is believed to have a positive impact on bone density, as well as encouraging soft tissue repair. One theory is that since cats spend so much of their time sleeping or lying still, the purr allows them to retain bone density. This is for the same reasons that humans are encouraged to lead less sedentary lives, as movement of any kind is good for our bones and bodies.
You’re not alone if you’ve noticed a rise in the number of allergies around in recent years. One of the ways to help to combat this onslaught of sneezing, is to raise children in a home with pets. This lowers the chances of them developing allergies not only to pet dander, but also to dust mites and grass. The risks of asthma, eczema and hay fever are similarly and wonderfully affected. Studies show that it is, in fact, a case of the more the merrier. Where one cat (or pet in general) is good, two is better. The wider the variety of animals that a child is exposed to, the lower the chances of watery eyes and an itchy nose.
While it’s never cool to be woken up by an extended grooming session at about 3am, there are plenty of people who find sleeping with their cat nearby very soothing. A good sleep is crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system, increases the chances of being in a healthy weight range, and reduces (further) stress levels. A survey showed that 41% of respondents deemed their quality of sleep better in the presence of their cat; a number that is much higher than the ‘no change’ or ‘worsened sleep quality’ responses. It makes sense too. Sleeping next to somebody you love is widely considered to improve sleep quality, and no-one ever said that needed to be a human. It enhances the sense of connection, and has the reassuring effect that comes with the presence of another. And that’s not to mention the white-noise machine effect of that purr!
Prevent loneliness (reduce risk of depression)
Moving to the mental health side of things, having a cat, quite simply, decreases the sense of loneliness people who live alone may feel. The presence of a pet allows companionship, interaction, and a sense of purpose, as this ball of fur is relying on you to take care of them. A house seems a lot less of an empty place to come home to when there is a living, breathing, meowing creature waiting there for snugs and treats. The daily playtime that a cat requires also provides structure and activity. It’s pretty near impossible not to have fun when your cat is doing its little hunt and pounce sequence, with those outrageously large and focused eyes! There is also significant evidence to suggest that pet ownership lowers the risk of anxiety and/or depression in people.
Wellbeing (even online)
Cats are good for an all round sense of wellbeing and mood-booster at all ages. Children who grow up with cats in the home can be more active and grow up to be more secure and confident. Children with ADHD benefit even more so, as they have a companion that doesn’t tire easily and doesn’t mind frequent switches in focus. This can be a refreshing break from the expectations of other people. For teenagers, cats are a mainstay that don’t judge them, when they sometimes feel isolated from the rest of the family. And for adults, cats are companions and wards, requiring care and attention daily. It has been shown that even simply looking at cats on the internet (who doesn’t!?) improves mood and sense of contentment.
Also good for your mental health are things that are positive for your financial health. When it comes to the cost of having an animal companion, not all pets are created equal. It costs less than half the amount per year to take care of a cat, on average, than it does to take care of a dog. Now that’s not to say that that is the overriding factor for a choice, but if you’re a bit low on coin and are looking for a buddy, a cat might be a better option for your finances - and your stress levels around bills time.
Okay, I’ll admit it. This one isn’t really to do with health. But it’s still cool. While cat ladies get a bit of grief for their chosen pet (not that any of us really mind, of course), men come out the winner when raising a cat. Men who have a cat are thought to be more intellectual and caring, which is attractive to both women (at least 90% think this) and other men. Other stated qualities that owning a cat projects are responsibility and independence.
For people in their golden years
Cats are considered to be great pets for older people, especially those who live alone. Less exuberant than dogs, and requiring less energy by way of walkies, cats still encourage physical activity by their play-time and grooming needs. They also ward off loneliness, which can be devastating, and give a required routine. And they can be quite talkative, if encouraged! Cats also, importantly, provide affection and are responsive to their pet parents. They’re an all round winner, really!