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Having a pet cat is cool. They make the place feel lived in, say something about you as a person, provide companionship and really all at pretty low maintenance levels. But has it ever struck you that your feline companion may actually be good for your health? We all know that responsible dog owners get health improvements from exercising their pals – but cats, who don’t drag us round the block?
Well here are some surprising health benefits of cat ownership that are actually scientifically proven and generally don’t require you to move around regularly, sometimes in bad weather :
Having a cat lowers your risk of death from a heart attack by 33%
Perhaps the most impressive, scientifically proven fact, is that having a pet cat or even having one in the past can reduce death by heart attack by 33%. That is a massive and significant difference to non-cat ownership.
The study that came to this conclusion was a 20 year follow up study. The study followed people that never had a cat and those that either had a cat or owned a cat at some time in the past. They adjusted the data for age, ethnicity, body mass index, cholesterol and the such. The study found that after 20 years, 6% of the people who didn’t have a cat or history of cat ownership, unfortunately, passed away from a heart attack. When they checked the sample of those that owned a cat 4% had passed away from a heart attack – a 33% reduction compared to non-cat owners.
Somewhat even more surprising is that the sample who had owned a cat previously but not currently, had a 50% reduction in death from a heart attack – perhaps indicating that early life experiences with cat ownership have a long-lasting effect.
Having a cat decreases allergy risk for children
This study conducted in 2002 was one of the first to indicate that cat ownership might be beneficial from an allergy perspective. The study found that in households with more than one cat, children under one year of age were 66% less likely to suffer from allergies by the time they were 6 or 7 years of age compared to non-pet families. Allergies tested included cat allergies, pet allergies, dust mites, grass and other common allergies.
This 2018 study found such protections from cat ownership were actually dose-dependent – so even having one cat made a difference but having more cats meant more protection!
Cats improve your mental and Emotional State
Us cat owners probably realise this little benefit without been told. Most of us owners will realise cats easily bring you into the moment, their moment, and drag your attention away from everything else – stressful thoughts and poor moods included.
But now science has put some meat on the bones. Specifically, Indiana University came up with a novel method of testing whether cats improve mood and emotions. They got 7000 individuals and asked them about their viewing of internet cat videos and what, if any, effect this viewing had on mood, emotions, energy levels and positivity.
The result was that a large proportion of individuals reported they experience improved positivity and energy levels and decreased negative emotions. The conclusion was that simply watching cat videos, let alone owning a cat, is good for your vibe. If you feel stressed – hit the cat funny videos on youtube…it’s good for your health! See if it works here…
Some cats are lifesavers
You might have heard about those dogs that have superpowers? The ones where they can smell a disease or affliction on you before a doctor or blood test can even pick it up? Or those dogs that are trained to guide blind people about or fetch and carry for disabled persons? Amazing…
But did you know that cats are also capable of some pretty astonishing feats of lifesaving usefulness? You might have heard of the cats that wake up their owners whilst the house burns down around them, or whilst they slowly get poisoned. And if you haven’t, you probably have heard of the nanny cat that stopped a dog attacking the family child? Well here is another story of a cat with real superpowers (and untrained): the cat that can sense an oncoming epileptic fit in its owner and warn everyone before the fit hits!
So there you go, some cats are proven lifesavers, and that is good for your health – science that!
Cats reduce stress
We all know that stress is bad for our health – your blood pressure shoots up increasing the risk of heart attack, your eating habits go to crap which leads to health problems and your sleep can be affected.
Well, we already saw that cats reduce death from a heart attack by 30% in the study mentioned in number 1. We are going to see how cats are also proven to reduce blood pressure and how pet owners reckon they get more sleep – so it is not much of a stretch to suggest that the science proves cats reduce stress.
In this article the scientist, Prof Adnan Qureshi, who made the discovery that cat owners suffer fewer fatal heart attacks, offers his opinion that fewer heart attacks were suffered because cats reduce stress and anxiety in their owners subsequently reducing heart disease and therefore heart attacks.
Cats lower blood pressure
I just said cats reduce blood pressure, and here is the science.
This study was carried out by the State University Of New York, not a big study, but interesting nonetheless. They took 48 stressed out stockbrokers who were already being treated for high blood pressure and had a bunch of them adopt a cat.
Sometime later, they then went to the broker’s homes and put them under stress whilst measuring their blood pressure (the stress was counting backwards from 17 at speed or arguing out of a shoplifting charge!).
What they found was that those who had a cat still suffered a stress-induced rise in blood pressure but blood pressure only rose to 50% of the spike that the non-cat owners endured.
The conclusion was that cat ownership is beneficial to your blood pressure when under stress – even more so than just using medication.
After the trial, the non-cat owners were told the results and a large proportion went out and became cat owners!
The study organisers could not identify the mechanics behind the effect…
Cat ownership cuts risk of stroke by a third
The study we looked at earlier that cut death from a heart attack by 33% also found that current or previous cat ownership cut fatalities from stroke by 33%.
Thought I would slip it in later in the list to keep your interest up! Probably should be reason number two to own a cat from a health standpoint, but there you go, consider yourself informed.
The reasons for this result are generally the same as those for the reduction in heart attacks – cats reduce stress, petting seems to release stress-relieving hormones that chill you out, lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of all sorts of negative events.
A pet cat can reduce cholesterol levels
Did you know that owning a cat can reduce your cholesterol and triglyceride levels? Of course, we all know the current thinking on cholesterol is that elevated levels are bad for you. Well here is the science that says get a cat and reduce your cholesterol levels.
This study took about 6000 Australians and checked out their lifestyles which they found to be comparable in terms of smoking, weight, exercise etc. They checked their blood pressure and cholesterol and found that pet owners had reduced blood pressure and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood than the non-pet owners.
They found that the male respondents who owned a pet seemed to get the greatest results but women pet owners also benefited from lower blood pressure and reduced triglycerides (which is generally the really bad bit of cholesterol from a female perspective).
Heal bones and soft tissue quicker
Owning a cat could heal broken bones and damaged soft tissue quicker than normal – wow, sounds like an outlandish claim! Here is the science.
What this study shows is that exposure to vibration in the 18-35 hz spectrum can help heal bones and tissue.
They tested the idea on a 76-year-old patient with impaired ankle motion and ulcerated blood vessels and managed to improve motion by 16 degrees and 19 degrees in ankles accompanied by the healing of venous ulcerations in legs after just 10 days of treatment. They then achieved similar results with a further 6 patients just to confirm initial results.
Now cats purr vibrations are measured at 20 – 140 Hz which happens to include the spectrum successfully tested. This suggests that having a cat may help recovery from injury in humans. It might also give rise to the old veterinary adage: Put a cat in a room of broken bones and the bones will heal – interesting!!
Can help you sleep better
Everyone knows that getting a good night’s sleep is vital – it improves concentration, promotes healing, reduces stress and inflammation levels, and just makes you feel good. Well here is the thing, did you know that owning a cat might actually help you sleep better?
Here is some interesting evidence. Now the study wasn’t very big but seemed to have some significant findings.
Basically, seventy-four pet owners were asked about their sleep habits and how they got on when their pet was in the bedroom. They didn’t specify where the pet was in the bedroom, could have been on the bed or just in the room somewhere.
The response was interesting – 56% allowed their pets to sleep in the bedroom, 20% of pet owners said their pets disrupted their sleep but 41% of pet owners found their sleep was either undisturbed or higher quality when the pet also slept in the room.
The takeaway is that if you are a pet owner who keeps your cat out of the bedroom for hygiene reasons or such, you might find you sleep better if the cat is allowed in the room. If you sleep poorly and don’t have a cat then a cat might help improve your sleep – stress reduction, purrs and all that!
Can help prevent Alzheimer’s
Did you realise your cat might help prevent Alzheimer’s in later life? No, nor did I. But here is the thinking. This study, unfortunately, found that loneliness seems to be a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer’s in later life, however, it is not the only cause.
We all know that a cat can provide companionship that can alleviate loneliness and therefore, you could say that owning a cat might contribute to warding off Alzheimers.
Some among you might think that is a bit of a stretch – you just took some random idea and linked cat companionship with it to come up with a positive result!
Ok, fair cop – but then check this study out – in this study over 11000 Japanese people over the age of 65 were questioned on the pet ownership experience.
They found that elderly people who were specifically cat owners, reported higher levels of social interaction with neighbours, less social isolation and more trust in their neighbours – basically cat ownership somehow made them more outgoing, felt less lonely and gave them something to talk about.
When you put study one with study two you could make a good case that cat ownership may help prevent you from developing Alzheimers in the future….
Can make autistic people more communicative
If you live in a household where one member is autistic, you might be interested to learn that having a pet can make autistic children more socially interactive.
Obviously, I think you should go for a pet cat, but studies completed by the University of Missouri have found that autistic children where the household has a pet – any pet (even spiders!) – do better at social interaction than those households that don’t have a pet.
The University is not suggesting that the child communicates better with the pet or whilst the pet is in close proximity – they are saying that overall in life the child does better if the household just happens to have a pet. Something about having a pet in the family has a positive impact on autistic children.
And the kicker is that the longer the household has a pet the better the level of social skills the autistic individual develops. Cool.
Read more about it here.
Reduce dermatitis by 20%
For you, it may be too late, but for your children? This study from Japan was carried out between 1995 and 2001. 35,552 children were involved in the study – so it was big.
The study was essentially a massive question and answer session regarding pet ownership, passive smoking and allergies covering the potential interaction between all three.
What the study managed to find and isolate was that children who specifically owned/kept a cat had a 20% lower prevalence for suffering from atopic dermatitis, a 29% reduce prevalence for suffering from allergic rhinitis and a 19% lower prevalence for suffering from Japanese cedar pollinosis.
All told the kids with cats seemed to do pretty well compared to kids with no cats – could this result be replicated in adults?
You will end up visiting the doctor less often…
And for our final proven benefit of cat ownership, and a big one at that, proof that cat owners are more healthy than non pet owners because they just use the doctors less often – 15% less often in fact.
This German and Australian longitudinal study found that pet owners (dogs and cats) visited their doctors less often than non-pet owners. In fact, the study found they visited the doctor 15% less often than non-pet owners per year.
And just to emphasise the point, this American study found the same and actually put a cost saving to the medical visits prevented by pet ownership.
So….if you want to improve your and your families health get a cat or two – the benefits are proven and significant.