On the fence about getting your first cat? Need a super solid argument to convince a doubting family member that your home needs a cat? Or another cat? Here it is: Cats are good for your health, both mental and physical, and it’s not just cat people who say so. Science agrees.
Some overall correlations
We’re going to be completely honest here and point out a major caveat with this section. While the following is accurate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that having a cat will bring these traits to your personality or life; it could be that people who are already like this are just naturally inclined to have cats. But hey, if you’re here because you’re considering getting a cat, you’re probably a cat person anyway even if you don’t know it yet, so read on. People with cats tend to be more trusting, have strong social sensitivity, and generally like people more. One study of singles with and without cats found that those with cats reported less loneliness in life, and felt fewer negative emotions in general than those without cats. An Australian study similarly found that cat owners were happier, more confident, and less nervous than those without cats, and also experienced better sleep and greater focus, and was able to face challenges more easily.
Again, it’s impossible to say whether cats cause these traits or if better-adjusted people just tend to want cats in their lives, but there’s a clear correlation between these mental health positives and owning cats.
Then again . . .
In a study of Scottish children from 11 to 15 years old, those who had strong bonds with cats at home had higher qualities of life, including stronger self-reported feelings of fitness, more energy and attentiveness, and greater satisfaction in both alone time and during time spent with peers. Since these children probably didn’t choose to have cats in the home, this does suggest, more strongly than the previous studies, that the cats may be influencing these traits. On the other hand, other factors could be coming into play, such as parents who prefer cats (and therefore being happier people as described above) potentially providing more constructive and supportive home environments. It’s impossible to say for sure from these studies alone.
But wait . . . there’s more
While it may not be possible to prove anything from the studies above, another study of YouTube viewers does show more promise. In this study, participants who watched YouTube videos of cats reported less anxiety, less sadness, and less annoyance afterward. They were also found to have more feelings of hope, happiness, and contentment. If simply watching a few cat videos can bring this much improvement to your mood, imagine what spending time with a real cat can do!
Speaking of which . . .
In a study of people faced with annoying situations, like holding a hand in ice water or computing tedious math problems, those with their cats in the room performed better than those with just their spouses in the room or with no one in the room. Even in math! They also reported feeling challenged by the situations rather than frustrated or overwhelmed. The suggestion here is that these people likely saw their cats as nonjudgmental support, reducing stress and improving performance in ways that loneliness or even spouses did not. Interestingly, the cat owners in this study also had lower blood pressure and a lower resting heart rate even before the tasks began.
This leads us back to the big question . . .
Yes, we did lure you here with the question of stress, and we’re going to address it now. The above study doesn’t necessarily demonstrate that cats reduced the stress of their owners; similar to all of the studies we’ve seen so far, it’s equally possible that people with better blood pressure and lower heart are just naturally drawn to cats. But. A 2019 study of people in natural settings found that participants who interacted with cats or dogs for just 10 short minutes immediately had reduced cortisol levels (that’s a stress hormone). This is one of the first solid pieces of evidence that cats physically caused a positive change in human biology in natural settings. Purina highlights a few more of the implications of this study if you’re interested (and you should be!). Literally speaking, this study certainly seems to show that cats do reduce stress. Even better, it had already been demonstrated that petting cats in a lab setting increased serotonin levels in participants after just 15 minutes, so it follows that cats do in fact both reduce stress and promote happiness.
A bonus for your heart
Bet you thought we were going to say something sappy about how having cats isn’t just good for your stress level but will melt your heart and make your home a warmer place. Nope. At least two long-term studies have looked at cat ownership and heart health, and both were promising for purr parents. A 20-year study found that people who had owned cats during that period were 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack, and a 14-year study found that, among people who did have heart attacks, those who owned cats were more likely to survive at least a year after the incident.
Aaaaand, they’ll melt your heart and make your home a warmer place.