Is having a cat good for your health? Cat owners will tell you "YES," but what about science?
Turns out, science says yes, too. Here's what you need to know about the proven benefits of having a cat.
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Do cats relieve stress?
Short answer: Yep.
Longer answer: According to Purina, "15 to 30 minutes of quality time with a cat can calm your nerves and boost your mood." But there are reports supporting cats as stress relievers from people not in the cat business, too. Pets in general help reduce stress, so this information tracks.
There haven't been a ton of other official studies into the anxiety-reducing impact of cats, but according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a survey of pet owners showed that 74% reported mental health improvements from pet ownership, and 75% reported a friend's or family member's mental health had improved from pet ownership.
This one isn't about owning cats specifically, but a study by Indiana University Bloomington recently found that just watching cat videos on the internet boosts viewers' energy and positive emotions and decreases their negative feelings. So if just watching a cat on YouTube can help your mood, being with one in person has to be even better, right?
What happens in our brains when we pet a cat?
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that spending time with animals boosts your oxytocin levels. Oxytocin, known colloquially as the "cuddle hormone," is the feel-good hormone your body releases when you're in love and it increases your general sense of well-being. Playing with your cat has also been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine levels, both of which help in regulating mood disorders like depression. (The same thing happens in our brains when we pet a dog.)
Cats help with depression and anxiety.
As we mentioned above, playing with your cat has been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine levels, which helps regulate mood disorders like depression.
A 2016 study showed that owning a pet can help provide both emotional and social support for people dealing with long-term mental health problems and other studies have shown that pets help their owners get to know people and make friends.
Cats reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack.
Owning a cat isn't just good for your heart in the metaphorical sense—they're also good for your actual, beating heart. Like, as in the organ that keeps you alive. Studies have shown that owning a cat leads to a decreased risk of death across all cardiovascular diseases, including stroke.
In another study, researchers at the University of Minnesota's Stroke Research Center looked at 4,435 people between the ages of 30 and 75 years over a 20-year period and found that those who had never owned a cat were at a greater risk of dying from a heart attack. In fact, they were 40 percent more likely to die from a heart attack (and this was a benefit for anyone who had ever owned a cat — not just current cat-owners).
Cats can help kids with autism.
Cats can also be a big help to kids with autism. Studies have shown that interacting with cats can help improve social behavior and development of children on the spectrum.
Cats can heal your muscles by purring.
We already know that listening to a cat purr can be soothing for the soul, but it can also be soothing for your body, too—your kitten's purrs might have the ability to help heal human bones and muscle.
Seriously. Here's how it works: A cat's purr creates vibrations at a frequency of 20-140 HZ. Some studies have shown that frequencies between 18 and 35 HZ can positively impact joint mobility after an injury. BOOM. Science. Next time you hurt your knee running, just hang out with your cat. (Just kidding—still go see your doctor, but also spend time hanging out with your cat).
Cats help you sleep better.
What's more, many people even said they prefer sleeping with a cat to sleeping with their partner. This effect isn't just for cats, but for pets in general (at least to an extend). According to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine, 41% of the people say they sleep better because of their pet. By contrast, only 20% said sleeping with a pet disturbed their sleep.
Cats make you more attractive.
QUICK: Add a cat to your Tinder profile picture because there is actual research that shows owning a cat makes your more attractive—to women, anyway. The research shows that women were more likely to be attracted to men with pets in general and that 90% of single ladies think men who own cats are nicer and more caring than men who don't. No word on if ladies think the same things about other ladies they're interested in when a pet cat is involved, but let's just assume yes.
Cats can have health benefits for all children.
Do babies and kids live in your house? Get a cat. Research has shown that having pets (including cats) leads to a lower risk of allergies among babies. The respiratory benefits of cats for kids don't stop there. There is also some evidence that suggests living with a cat can help prevent asthma in children.
So next time someone suggests they don't understand "cat people," point them in the direction of this data, and tell them you're going to enjoy your long, healthy, cat-filled life.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.