Owning a cat comes with so many amazing experiences. The morning purr and snuggle session over coffee. The impromptu play sessions break up a long workday. The fresh air of an adventurous walk together. But have you ever stopped to wonder about the benefits of owning cats and mental health?
When I run my fingers through Yoda’s snuggly fur, I feel the stress of daily life melt away. I definitely know I’m not the only one to feel this way either. Through chatting with our amazing community and fellow feline parents, we know that our cats can help to make us feel that much calmer and happier.
And it got us thinking, is there proof that cats are good for mental health?
Isn’t that amazing?
And yet, in the same survey, most owners agreed that this relationship between cats and mental health isn’t really understood by wider society. If you think about it, most people tend to associate quality of life and therapy animals with dogs, right?
It may be because of the old stereotype that cats are aloof, or don’t care about us humans beyond being fed. However, we all know this is definitely not the case with our kitties. And we’d be…correct!
Studies have shown that cats form incredibly strong attachments to their owners, just as dogs do.
Cats offer a unique and super-special bond. One that has a demonstrable benefit for our mental health and overall quality of life.
But it’s one thing saying “of course there are mental health benefits of having a cat” and actually investigating research to substantiate this claim.
That’s why in this blog we’re going to dive deep into the ways cats help our mental health. We’ll investigate the science behind the positive effects they have on our lives by looking at the ways cats…
- Boost our mood and reduce stress
- Provide structure and purpose
- Support our quality of sleep
- Offer us satisfaction
- Invite social connection
- Provide companionship
- Support recovery from trauma
- Help with depression and anxiety
- and boost our overall physical and mental well being
What we found blew us away, and reminded us just how special our furry feline friends are. So let’s get into it.
Are Cats Good for Mental Health?
A healthy body can be the foundation for a healthier mind. And studies are now finding that one of the best ways to improve our mental state is through positive lifestyle choices. Whether that’s more vegetables, more exercise or more cats – seriously, that last one is true!
We’ve already covered it in a longer post here, but the physical health benefits of cats are downright phenomenal. Cat ownership is associated with…
- better immunity
- lower blood pressure
- and better heart health (to name just a few!)
Their gentleness, playfulness and rumbling purrs are the perfect soul-soother for us humans. In fact, as well as being a sign of happiness, purring alone has practical health benefits too.
Cat’s purr as a way to heal themselves and soothe their injuries or fears. Watching this, sharing it, and experiencing it, has an incredible effect on us as owners.
So are cats actually good for our mental health?
As well as offering physical health benefits, our wonderful feline friends are amazing for our mental health too. Because believe it or not, cats can have a direct effect on our psychological wellbeing too.
Here are some of the incredible ways cats help mental health:
1. Mood Boosting Effects
We all LOVE a cat video right? (I mean, who doesn’t?)
Cat videos are one of the highest viewed categories on YouTube, stretching into the billions. And scientists finally discovered why!
A study found that people were…
- more energetic
- more positive
- and had fewer negative emotions
…after watching cat videos. It just goes to show that these little pockets of joy are incredible in breaking up a long day or providing some light relief.
If this is what we can get from a video, then imagine what your own cat is doing to your mood every day. Their antics might just be lifting you up that little bit more each time, so enjoy every moment when they perform those hilarious acrobatics.
2. Structure And Responsibility
The daily structure that having a pet provides can be a real comfort.
For example, the responsibility of having to empty that litter tray can be a great way to refocus and give purpose to a difficult day. It can be the one thing that gets you moving again, when you feel like your battery has been totally drained dry.
We have always found looking after Yoda is such a great motivator, even when we aren’t feeling our best.
A huge report into pets and wellbeing supports this, finding this was one of the main benefits of having animals in our lives.
The great thing about cats? They ask very little of us.
Yoda wants to be fed and played with, of course, but he’s also so happy stretching out on his bed for hours on end. He likes the occasional walk, but he doesn’t need one every day.
It goes without saying, those struggling with severe mental health issues may find any responsibility simply too much. However, our feline friends have such a self-reliant, self-led nature that they can provide some gentle structure and responsibility without demanding too much.
That can be really important for those who might be too elderly for dog walking, for example, or struggling with getting outside their own safe space.
Cats offer the quiet companionship and structure of a pet, with the gentle, quiet, and unobtrusive nature that only felines possess.
Sleep is so important for our mental health. On a scale of 1 – cranky as heck, if I don’t have enough sleep I start climbing that scale! But I swear that Yoda helps me get those all important zzzz’s.
So I looked it up, and it’s true!
The Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine found that 41% of people slept better when sharing a bed with a furry friend.
I totally believe that having a cat nearby when you sleep, even just in the same room, can make humans relax and drift off so much easier.
If you’re someone who struggles with whirring thoughts preventing you from sleep, and your cat naps in the same room, why not try a little bit of mindfulness…
Concentrate on their quiet purrs, their little whistling breaths, and let all those other thoughts take a backseat for a short while. It may be the very thing that sends you off to snooze land!
It can be hard to sit still when there seems to be so much to do and so much that needs our attention!
For many, worry and stress can snowball when they feel unsatisfied, that they haven’t “done enough” or aren’t where they thought they should be in life. Pets can bring us down to earth in the most special ways in these moments.
When I’m worried, Yoda will curl up on my lap and suddenly the worry evaporates.
This was why we were super interested to find a study that suggests pet owners were more satisfied with their lives than non-owners.
They teach us that seeking affection during the day is ok. That rest is just as important as exploration. Most importantly, they teach us that patience and practice make for the best leaps, reaching our destination exactly as we should.
5. Social Connection
There’s something about owning a pet that makes you more open and able to connect with people.
(I mean look at us…we started this blog!)
As a community, it gives us a common passion – our pets – as we share stories of their personalities, quirks, and experiences with our cats.
We are building whole new communities based on our mutual affection for our pets, in a world where connection has definitely been lacking.
Science has shown this too, with pet ownership being positively associated with: “social interaction, favor exchanges, civic duty engagement, perceptions of neighborhood friendliness, and sense of community.”
Cat owners have also been shown to have higher levels of trust in others, being more socially sensitive and attentive too.
I find it incredible that our furry pals have such a profound effect on us, and our wider community too. Thank you to furballs everywhere!
For those who may struggle with social interactions, cats step in like the furry superheroes they are.
For those in a hospice care study, cats provided a reduction in loneliness and a sense of comfort. Another study found that, particularly for those living alone, a pet can offer beneficial companionship.
They even provide a barrier against those bad days at the office too, as one study showed that just looking at a cat picture can improve any feelings of social rejection.
If relationships with others are difficult or hard, at least for the time being, cats really can offer that unconditional loving presence.
Recovering from trauma, whether it’s something physical or emotional, can take heaps of time and lots of support.
Science is now beginning to discover that pets can play a significant part in this healing process.
So not only can cats help us feel better during our day-to-day lives, but they will be there for us in the toughest periods of our lives too.
Can Cats Help Anxiety & Depression?
Do cats help with depression? What about with anxiety? These questions are becoming increasingly common in our busy, stressful world.
We definitely believe that cats can help with all manner of mental health issues. And we’ve written about the reasons why.
(Yoda shows us unconditional love, for example. He calms us by stroking along our legs. And is a constant comfort. He never forgets to wake us up with a purry-alarm clock at the same time for his breakfast every day!)
But when deciding to look into some of the science behind our theories, we were blown away to find how much research backs it up:
- This study found that cats can help decrease anxiety in children with autism
- Another study found that elderly cat owners rated their depression symptoms the lowest
- Amazingly, this study found that following a serious medical diagnosis, pet ownership equated to lower levels of depression
The Final Scoop – Cats And Mental Health
There’s still so much more research to do, but a lot of the current studies show exactly what we feel about our cats isn’t just “made up”. You only have to ask a fellow owner about their feline friend, and you’ll see them light up!
Cats are a furry buffer against all kinds of worries and anxieties. They show us we are loved, needed, and appreciated, exactly when we need them most.
In fact, many cat owners are now taking initiative and training their cats as therapy pets too. For some, dogs or horses (the more usual animal therapy candidates) are just too big, or too scary to feel comfortable around.
Cats are smaller, enjoy sitting on warm laps, and are often an easy starting point for those who may not be used to animals in their space. Perfect for anyone who might need a quieter environment, or someone with limited movement.
Organizations like Pet Partners can even help get your kitty into volunteering, so they can make a difference in all kinds of ways as an emotional support animal.
Has your cat helped your mental health and wellbeing? Have they got you through tough times? Do you think your kitty could be an emotional support animal? Get in touch!
We’d love to know how your life has transformed because of your furry pal.
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