The health and mood-boosting benefits of cats
Cat owners have long been aware of the calming and mood-enhancing benefits of having pets. Only recently has science validated these benefits. The physical and mental health benefits of owning a cat are vast, from stress relief and reducing anxiety to cardiovascular health. Pets can boost your mood, prevent illness, and even add years to your life.
Cats bring joy and unconditional love to your life, which can help to boost self-confidence and reduce anxiety. Scientists have also found that stroking a cat can raise levels of mood-enhancing hormones, such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. This can also help with other types of mental health problems.
Listening to a cat's purr can help to distract people with anxiety from the source of their anxiety. This sound can also help to calm them. Purring releases endorphins (natural pain relievers and mood boosters) in cats but can also induce the same thing in humans. Spending time with a purring cat can lower stress hormones, which is helpful for healing and coping with illness.
Studies have shown that the companionship of a pet reduces feelings of loneliness. This was most evident in a 2020 study by the University of York and the University of Lincoln. Researchers questioned 6,000 people from the UK who had at least one pet about their experiences of the Covid-19 lockdown. More than 90% of respondents said their pet helped them cope emotionally with the lockdown.
HABRI (Human Animal Bond Research Institute), based in America, has conducted further research on the human-animal bond. Their findings show that this interaction can be beneficial in tackling social isolation. This is partly due to a cat being able to fulfil the basic human need for touch.
Owning a cat could reduce the risk of a heart attack by almost one third, found by the University of Minnesota. This reduced risk has been attributed to the human animal bond and the relaxing effect that they have on their owners. Stroking a cat reduces stress and can help lower high blood pressure, which are major contributors to heart problems.
Children with autism
The act of stroking a cat has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. This can be very beneficial to a child that is prone to meltdowns or bouts of aggression. Cats are non-judgemental so allow children with autism to feel relaxed and to connect freely. Spending time with a cat builds a child’s confidence and improves their ability to interact socially with people.
Playing with a pet can foster empathy for both animals and humans. Caring for a pet also helps to develop important life skills like responsibility and routine.
Cats act like probiotics for their owners, which helps to increase bacterial diversity. As a result, it strengthens their immune system and reduces the risk of illness.
According to research published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, early exposure to cats is associated with a lower risk of asthma in children. It is believed that interaction with cats contributes to children's absorption of sialic acid. This acid regulates inflammatory reactions.
Helping the NHS
The Companion Animal Economics report found that pet ownership could be saving the NHS up to £2.45 billion a year. The study looked at the pros and cons of having companion animals, such as pet dogs and cats. These animals have an effect on our mental and physical health, and our overall wellbeing. They can even help to prevent illness.
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