All cat owners know how good their cats make them feel, and they are a constant source of joy for many. But does this positive feeling crossover to mental health? Besides the good feelings that cats give us, is there any evidence that cats can help improve mental health? It turns out that yes, there are some solid studies showing that owning a cat can significantly improve the mental health of the owner.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that most of this research is correlational, meaning that it could simply be that people who decide to get cats in the first place are simply a happy group of people (no disagreements here!).
While simply watching cat videos is enough to bring a smile to almost anyone’s face, there are some verifiable psychological benefits to owning a cat. A 2015 study in Australia involving 92 cat owners and 70 non-pet owners surveyed the participants on factors like sleep, anxiety, depression, and psychological health. Cat owners had significantly higher scores for general psychological health than those who didn’t own cats.
Cats can also help lower stress and anxiety with the simple act of play. There is evidence that playing with cats can help lower blood pressure and relax the nervous system, and the general low maintenance of cats makes them an easier pet to care for and, thus, less stressful than other pets.
Of course, owning any pet can help reduce loneliness, and cats can help provide companionship to those who would otherwise live alone. Not only that but having your feline sleep with you can help provide a sense of comfort, leading to a better night’s sleep overall.
Cats can be great for kids too, and in a survey of 2,200 children aged 11–15, it was found that kids who formed tight bonds with their felines had an overall higher quality of life, feeling more energetic and attentive at school. Dr. Lorna Whittemore, a veterinarian at ExcitedCats.com, agrees with these findings. Dr. Whittemore states, “cats are consistently in the top three favorite pets worldwide, for good reason. The close bond that many people have with their cats gives a mutually beneficial relationship. Care and safety for the cat, and companionship and well-being for the cat guardian.”
Cats and Our Overall Health:
There’s worry among cat owners about parasites, and while this is not an unfounded concern, there’s also some evidence that cats can actually be good for our health. In a 13-year study involving almost 4,500 participants, cat owners were less likely to suffer from high blood pressure and cholesterol, and had a lower BMI overall, which even lowered the risk of heart attacks.
Another much smaller study from the University of Pennsylvania followed 24 new cat owners and surveyed them over the next 10 months. The participants showed a reduction in headaches, back pain, and colds—although these benefits seemed to wane as time went on.
The Healing Power of the Purr:
A cat’s purr is in the 20–140 Hz range, which is medically therapeutic for humans, and it’s even been shown that this frequency assists in bone growth in cats. If this purring can heal bones, it’s not difficult to imagine what it can do for stress, anxiety, and other mental conditions in humans.
Cats as Therapy Animals:
Because of all the above-mentioned positive aspects of cat ownership, cats are a popular therapy animal, with a wide variety of patients and use cases. Cats can help people suffering from PTSD, dementia, and addiction, helping on both a mental and physical level.
Cats are also being used for animal-assisted interventions, and light-hearted interactions with pets are scientifically shown to provide at least short-term relief from stress and anxiety. While this has so far been largely confined to dogs, recent surveys have suggested that cats can be just as helpful too. Interactions with cats provide emotional support and can reduce negative moods so much that they are almost comparable to a human companion. Dr. Whittemore reiterates that “watching a cat’s playful antics or snuggling up together can bring happiness as well as health benefits to cat guardians.”
So, while there’s still a lot left to discover, there is certainly some evidence that felines can indeed help improve the mental health of their owners!