Few people who've spent time in the company of cats need to be told this: Cats can improve your mental and physical well-being. The health benefits of owning cats range from lowering stress levels and increasing feel-good hormones to boosting your immune system and reducing allergies. Cats can also form a positive part of development in kids. Even seniors, especially those with smaller social networks, benefit from the presence of cats.
Do cats lower stress?
Petting a cat soothes the nervous system and lowers heart rates and blood pressure. Felines have a calming effect on those who interact with them.
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There's additional research indicating stress reduction benefits too. Using a group of stressed university students as research subjects, researchers found that petting a cat — or dog — for at least 10 minutes decreases the stress hormone, cortisol in saliva. They also discovered the hormone oxytocin, or "the cuddle hormone," becomes elevated when petting a cat while listening to a cat's purr
Oxytocin is another naturally occurring chemical known to reduce stress in humans — which can create a positive effect from feelings of attachment.
Are there psychological benefits of having a cat?
The degree to which cats can cure loneliness specifically isn't definitive. Cats are not as aloof as non-cat people might think. Many people who share homes with cats attest to how much they can communicate with a single "meow". For some people, cats even provide a sense of purpose. Having an animal that needs to be cared for each day can provide a sense of wellness.
While research indicates dogs help reduce social isolation due to their need to be walked, the research doesn't indicate a similar conclusive benefit for having feline friends.
In addition to lowering cortisol levels, interacting with cats also raises both dopamine and serotonin, hormones that improve feelings of well-being. These chemicals are low in people with depression, so there's some suggestion that cats help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.
Health benefits of bonding with cats
Cats are good for our hearts. Anyone who shares their life with a cat can attest to the heart and soul benefits. However, now research has confirmed it: cats can decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases including stroke.
Cats increase resiliency. after a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack — people with cats healed faster. This is likely because petting cats reduces stress and lowers heart rates, especially during soothing purring sessions. Apparently, cats help buffer the heart's reaction to acute stress. Clearly, a cat's ability to lower our heart rates and blood pressure is beneficial to everyone, particularly seniors, reducing the risk of heart attacks.
Cats can lower cholesterol levels. Interacting with cats over time can lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels — both of which contribute to heart disease when they are high. At high levels, they might even impact the likelihood of an individual developing Type 2 Diabetes.
Benefits of cats for children
Any pet has the potential to help a child learn empathy and responsibility. A cat or dog can help them understand the needs of others. But cats are smaller and more delicate than dogs. Therefore, they require extra gentleness and patience — all desirable characteristics to develop to enhance human relationships throughout life. Plus, children learn to regulate emotions since sudden outbursts can easily distress cats.
From a health perspective, there is research indicating early and regular exposure to animals, especially cats, boosts the immune system. This can potentially reduce the development of pet allergies or asthma later in life. Plus, cuddling a cat provides emotional support for children experiencing feelings of loneliness or general life challenges. A cat's soothing purrs can help reduce anxiety and lower blood pressure.
The bottom line
Cats can be great companions and provide many of the same benefits that dog lovers get from their canine companions. Living with a cat provides many advantages, including health benefits. Studies suggest regular interactions with cats lower blood pressure and cortisol levels — positively affecting heart health. Petting a cat elevates feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, making these pets beneficial for mental health. Any cat lover will tell you, time spent in the company of a cat evokes positive emotions — and soothes the soul.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Pet Your Cat to Reduce Stress
- Health Fitness Revolution: Top 10 Health Benefits of Owning a Cat
- Psychology Today: Are Dogs or Cats Better at Curing Loneliness?
- Human Animal Bond Research Institute: https://habri.org/assets/uploads/Top-5-Health-Benefits-of-Cat-Ownership-Infographic.pdf