BY NICOLE NEMETH
Cute and cuddly isn’t just adorable, it’s also good for your health.
The human-animal bond has been demonstrated to improve human cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, and facilitate social interactions among people who choose to have pets.
“Cat ownership has physical, mental and emotional benefits,” said Dr. Esther Duschinsky, a veterinarian at Cambridge Cat Hospital.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 29 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2008 were a result of cardiovascular disease. Of all cardiovascular deaths, 54 per cent were due to ischemic heart disease, 20 per cent were strokes and 23 per cent were heart attacks.
Owning a cat tends to lower anxiety levels, a key factor in stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure.
“Studies have shown that owning cats reduces blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. There was actually a study which showed that cat owners were 30 per cent less likely to die from a heart attack than people who didn’t own cats. This is thought to be due to the stress reducing effects of petting and interacting with cats,” Duschinksy said.
The results of a study done in 1992 on pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease showed that pet owners had a significantly lower systolic blood pressure and plasma triglycerides than non-owners.
Cat owner Sarah Vance finds her cat, Mookie, very relaxing. “Sometimes he will keep meowing if I don’t give him enough attention, but most of the time he just lays and purrs beside me or on my feet which I think is a relaxing noise.”
Along with physiological benefits, cats offer social benefits as well.
“Sometimes you can feel like no one wants to talk or hang out with you, but no matter what your cat will want to be rubbed and played with. They always want to hang out with you, or at least mine does,” Vance said.
“As a veterinarian, I see single people and childless couples for whom cats play a very important emotional support and companionship role. For these people, their important feline family members reduce loneliness and give them an emotional connection and support,” Duschinksy said.
Many studies have focused on the social benefits cats, and other companion animals such as dogs, have on the elderly, disabled, mentally ill, terminally ill, and even the homeless.
All of these studies have proven that these people, and other people who typically have less social interactions for different reasons, all feel more accepted and have greater opportunities to interact with their peers when they own a pet.
One of the biggest benefits that cats can provide are psychological ones.
The Mental Health Foundation collaborated with Cats Protection in 2011 and completed a study that surveyed 600 people, half of whom described themselves as having a mental health problem. The results from their study showed that 87 per cent of cat owners felt that their animals had a positive impact on their well-being, 76 per cent found that coping with everyday life was easier because of their pets and that stroking a cat was a calming activity.
“Similar to feeling lonely, you can feel like things will never get better or that no one really likes you, but your cat will always love you no matter what and want to spend time with you. They don’t have judgments towards you and can’t hold grudges. All they know is how to love,” Vance said.
Many people who suffer from depression find it’s easier to cope when they have a cat. There are many reasons for this: cats offer an uncomplicated love, the responsibility of caring for a cat adds a new and positive focus in life, and they help you build routine, increase physical activity and offer friendship and social interaction.
While cats do have a positive impact on human health, it’s equally important for cat owners to take care of their feline friend’s health, too.
“We recommend that all cats come in for a health exam at least once a year. During this exam we will discuss weight management, dental care, nutrition, parasites such as worms and fleas as well as any specific health,” Duschinksy said.
The bond between cats and humans is one that has been around for centuries. Many people consider their cats as family members, with health benefits simply being an added bonus.
“I consider him my baby. I feed him, love him, play with him and take care of him. I don’t see how someone could consider their pet not a part of the family,” Vance said.