Let me preface this by saying, this article will in no way disparage dogs. I know a lot of these types of, "Cats are great," articles tend to do that. Not this one. Nope. I won't get into the whole, "cat people vs dog people," debate. Why? Because it's weird. Dogs are fantastic! However, I'm assuming some of the folks who wander here are likely dog people. They may be wondering why anyone would ever want to own a cat. Maybe not. Maybe you're thinking of getting a kitten and need some encouragement. Maybe you and you're kitty aren't seeing eye-to-eye and you need a reminder of why you love him. Perhaps you just need to reaffirm your crazy-cat-ladyhood. Whatever the case, here are the top four benefits of owning a cat.
Cats Make You Physically Healthier
Kitties are hairy little critters that like to touch everything with their grubby little mitts. I mean... everything. So how can there be health benefits to owning a cat? Well, to start let's mention the obvious. They are sometimes incredibly funny, and other times calm and comforting. Simply put, they help to reduce stress. Elementary stuff, right? But the fact is, a reduction in stress means a whole lot of biological good-stuff is happening. For instance, stress has a negative effect on the immune system, interrupts normal sleep patterns, messes with heart function, decreases mental sharpness and increases mood disturbances. So if a purring feline can interfere with all of that business, I'd say it was pretty good medicine. Wouldn't you?
Speaking of a cat's purr, some studies have shown that the hypnotic vibration that emanates from your kitty may, in fact, have a therapeutic effect. To start, it has that all-important stress busting effect - often a result of either lowering blood pressure or easing the symptoms of dyspnea; however, it's thought to do so much more, such as healing swelling and infection, as well as mending soft tissues such as ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The major thing to note, though, is that frequencies between 25-150hz can help with bone healing and general strength. This is pretty much the exact range of a cat's purr. Spiffy, huh?
Finally, if you have little kids about the house, cats do a lot more than provide a tail to tug on. According to the National Institutes of Health, children exposed to cats at a very young age were less likely to develop allergies. And you may be thinking, "...but just allergies to cats, right?" No, not so! In fact, kids who spend a lot of time with felines often develop an immunity to all sorts of allergens, like ragweed, grass, and dust mites. Not only that, but they also help reduce incidences of respiratory infection by boosting the immune system. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply to adults.
Cats Make You Mentally Healthier
I'm going to sound like a broken record here, but cats reduce stress. Yep. I said it. And while their stress-reducing qualities can have a whole slew of benefits for the body, the mind may also benefit from the calm. Part of the reason for this is that house cats, despite their sometimes aloof demeanor, are dependent on you. Sounds like it would add on to the pressure, right? In actuality, spending time focusing on the needs of your kitty companion - and let's be square, this applies to pretty much any type of pet - takes the focus off you and any problems you may be facing. Furthermore, when your furry friend shows appreciation for your efforts, say a voluble purr or grateful rub on the leg, you're likely to develop some pretty positive emotions, like pleasure, satisfaction, or a real sense of purpose.
Next, they can decrease feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and sadness. The loneliness part makes sense - simply having another living creature around can help to fill in the need for companionship. I mean... cats listen. They may not get what you're saying, but you can be sure they heard you.
As for sadness and anxiety, that's a bit more complex. In addition to the elements of re-focused attention and general, joy-giving entertainment, some studies have shown that short batches of time - about 15 to 30 minutes - spent petting your cat can raise the level of serotonin in your body. As you probably know, serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter and chemical that helps to regulate a lot of things, such as social behavior, sleep, memory, and, of course, mood.
During your vigorous petting session, you'll also find that your cortisol levels drop, thus reducing - again - stress, and relieving anxiety. Finally, the benefits of touch have been widely researched, and oxytocin seems to come up quite a bit in research findings. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "Cuddle Hormone," plays a key role in bonding as it enhances feelings of calm, decreased physiological reactivity, and, I'll say it again, a reduction in stress. Although dogs show up in more studies than cats, some studies have shown that a quick cuddle with your kitty can release this hormone, thus reducing anxiety and bringing you all the closer to your feline.
Cats Make You More Sociable
Your sweater is covered in cat hair, and for some reason you jingle every time you take a step. (...I mean, if not in your shoe, then where else is your kitty going to hide his ball?) You would think that owning one of those crazy little fur balls wouldn't lend to conviviality. However, the social benefits of owning a cat are very real. To begin, we'll go back to the virtues of dependence. Or, more accurately, personal responsibility. Psychologically speaking, the simple act of taking responsibility for anything - and especially a living being who depends on you - helps to build your self-esteem. Furthermore, the success of helping another creature not only live, but thrive, leads to a consistently reinforced sense of your own capability to love and care for someone else.
In the midst of a party, nothing breaks ice better than that story about your cat trying, and failing, to jump to the top of your bookshelf. Once that ice is broken, though, cat owners may very well have an easy time attracting and keeping human companions. For instance, one British poll stated that single women were more likely to be attracted to single men who kept pets, and that those who owned cats seemed "nicer." Furthermore, cat people are generally seen as trustworthy, sensitive, intelligent, and open minded. Of course, these are just stereotypes, but by opening up about your kitty obsession, you give yourself the opportunity to let others know your true, beautiful personality!
Cats are Excellent Helpers
So they help improve our health... and our mood... and our social life. But cats are pretty helpful in other ways. To begin, raising your child with any pet helps him to learn some pretty important things, like empathy, kindness, and gentleness. However, cats present a different challenge than their doggy counterparts. In order to interact with a cat, one must learn to be patient. One must learn the importance of personal space and boundaries. And finally, one must be aware of and respectful toward both the beauty and the biteyness of nature.
Next, in addition to helping fend off disease, cats may also be able to detect it. Although there hasn't been a lot of research done on the matter, the fact is, there are many accounts of cats saving the lives of their sick humans. Like dogs, cats have a very good sense of smell. In theory, like a dog, our kitty companions have the capability of smelling any of the unusual chemical changes that happen in our bodies when illness occurs. They are also quite sensitive and are aware of changes in routine, mood, or behavior, which may make them more alert to things being awry in our systems. Regardless of research or reasons, cats always seem to know when something is amiss - sometimes even dangerously so - and make a habit of trying to help.
Finally, cats are masters of the little things. Bugs may make you squeamish, but they don't bother your kitty - not one bit. Feeling kinda crabby? Your cat knows how to make you laugh. Have to write an exceptionally long, complex report? No you don't. Your cat needs to be scratched. Now. No... now!
As you can see, the benefits of owning a cat are both numerous and compelling. But if those reasons weren't enough, let me give you one more:
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