Had a bad day at the office? What about getting a cat to de-stress? Owning a cat may even benefit your heart, according to a 20-year “feline lifeline” study by researchers at the University of Minnesota Stroke Center.
Examining data on 4,435 adults, the researchers found that the relative risk of death from heart attack was 40 percent higher for those who had never owned a cat. Specifically, 3.4 percent of cat owners died from a heart attack during the course of the study versus 5.8 percent of non-owners.
Many cat owners would certainly agree to these findings. And many vets aren’t that surprised either. As many pet owners would testify, pets help ease stress and anxiety. They can provide comfort and security and distract people’s minds away from their worries. And in cardiovascular health, the social risk factors such as stress and worries are often underestimated, even overlooked.
However, it is not clear whether it is the cat itself that gives the health benefits or it is because cat owners have certain personality traits and lifestyles that lower their risk for cardiovascular disorders. This is the question that future studies have to address.
According to an animal behaviour expert, a cat owner would tend to be a “nurturing, low-stress individual.”
“If this relationship is real, then, unlike other preventive measures such as angioplasty or medications, this seems to be very low risk and may not need to be evaluated like other medical interventions,”
according to lead researcher Adnan Qureshi, a cat owner himself.
But many heart experts are skeptical. For one thing, cats can cause more allergies which can weaken the immune system. Immune response plays an important role in heart attacks, according to one cardiologist.
Now what about having a dog?
A previous study on the benefits of pet ownership reported that dog owners have better chances of survival after a heart attack than cat owners.
Advocates of the cat theory believe that a cat can reduce stress better because it is a lap animal. “When being petted, the stress level of the pet and owner goes down, as well as heart rate and blood pressure in most cases” according to Lawrence McGill, technical vice-president and veterinary pathologist at ARUP Laboratories in Salt Lake City. Besides, cats require less hands-on attention than dogs and make less noise that can add to the stress levels.
However, dog owners have the benefit of being obliged to do a daily walk, thus avoiding a sedentary life.
Pet owners don’t really care much about what the experts say. They have firsthand experience of the benefits of having pets, whether it is physical, emotional, or psychological.
The Healing Power of Pets by Marty Becker, cat lover and vet