Studies have shown people who own pets generally have better health than those who don’t. Cats can be beneficial to both physical and psychological health. Some rental properties do not allow pets but cafes with resident cats are starting to open up in Australia, following a trend in some overseas countries.
Psychological health benefits Owning a cat can help your psychological health and make you happier. Cats have been found to provide comfort while reducing stress and loneliness. Stroking a purring cat often reduces anxiety and depression. Cats also boost self esteem and confidence. Felines, especially kittens can get up to some funny antics and make you laugh.
A kitten fascinated by a bath can make you laugh. Image:Marie Vonow
People who own a cat have something to care for and this can motivate them to adopt better health habits. Children who have a cat in their home learn nurturing skills, responsibility and develop empathy. This helps their interactions with other people. Owning a cat unites family members and gives them something enjoyable to talk about, taking the focus off stressful topics.
Even watching cat videos on the internet can reduce anxiety, sadness and aggravation levels. Research conducted by the Indiana University Media School, involving 7,000 participants, found many people felt more positive after watching cat videos. They reported a decrease in feelings of sadness, irritation and anxiety.
A study carried out at Hiroshima University with 136 students found performance in regard to concentration, motor skills and reaction times improved after looking at photos of a variety of baby animals, including kittens.
Cat therapy has its benefits for nervous air travellers too. British Airways consulted experts at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home for information about benefits of pet ownership to make an in flight channel dedicated to helping passengers relax. It airs programs featuring dog and cat programs.
Physical health benefits Owning a cat has benefits for physical health. Pet owners are likely to need fewer visits to the doctor. When admitted to hospital they often recover more quickly.
Owning a pet strengthens the immune system. Babies are less likely to develop asthma or eczema if there is a pet in the home as this triggers immunity.
Research has found cat ownership lowers the risk of having a fatal heart attack or a stroke by up to 40%. People who have had a heart attack are likely to survive longer if they own a pet.
The sound of a cat purring has therapeutic benefits. The frequency of purring varies from 20 to 140 HZ, the range which stimulates the healing of muscle injuries, infections, and fractured bones. Frequencies between 25 and 50 HZ are believed to be the best for healing bones.
The purring of a cat lowers blood pressure. It also reduces the symptoms suffered by people with dysponea, a condition which causes pain when breathing.
Aged care facilities have realised the benefits of cats for their residents’ health for some time. Some have a cat wandering around the facility for residents to stroke. Others have pet therapy sessions where animals are brought in for the residents to touch and cuddle. Cats can help lower the anxiety level of those with Alzheimer ’s disease. Research shows care facilities which offer cat therapy spend less money on medication.
Cat cafes However, some people are not able to have a cat because their rental agreement does not allow it. Others can’t afford all the costs associated with responsible pet ownership or their job requires them to travel frequently.
Overseas, in countries such as Japan and Taiwan, cafes with resident cats have become quite common. Some have been set up with the aim of finding new homes for rescue cats. People have the opportunity to interact with a cat before adopting it. Other cafes just provide an opportunity to cuddle a cat. Australia is starting to follow the trend with cat cafes currently in Melbourne and Sydney.
Cat cafes allow people the opportunity to stroke, play and interact with cats. Bookings may be necessary and there may be rules so the cats do not become stressed. Council laws may restrict the foods and beverages which can be served to protect the health of patrons.
Health warnings Although cats are generally good for people’s health there are some things to keep in mind. Hands should be washed after handling any pet. Some people are allergic to cats so close contact is unwise as it is likely to result in reactions such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing, red itchy eyes, hives or a rash.
Cat scratches can become infected by bacteria so any scratch should be cleaned carefully with soap and warm water. If lymph nodes become swollen or painful a doctor should be consulted.
Pregnant women are advised to always wear gloves when gardening to avoid possible contact with cat faeces. The faeces may contain parasites that cause toxoplasmosis which can cause birth defects. For the same reason it is advisable to avoid changing a cat litter tray when pregnant.
Although there can be problems with handling cats in a few situations, by and large the health advantages far outweigh any disadvantages.