Cats and Your Wellbeing - How Cats Can Help You Feel Good

You hear it all the time. That having a cat is good for your health and well-being. That 15 to 30 minutes of high quality time with your cat is calming, that it boosts mood and serotonin levels, decreases cortisol levels, helping to lower blood pressure and cardiac health issues. Maybe you've heard that a twenty year study found that people who were cat owners were forty percent less likely to pass away from a heart attack. So, is this anecdotal nonsense cooked up by the cat toys industry or is there anything to support this?

Understanding Why Pets Are Genuinely Good for People With High Blood Pressure.

Fighting high pressure typically starts with changing your diet, increasing exercise and slimming down. Your doctor may also elect to prescribe medication. But, according to social psychologists, adding a pet to your household could also be beneficial.

A recent study by the State University of New York at Buffalo, discovered that wall street professionals with high blood pressure who adopted a new dog or cat enjoyed less hypertension during high stress events than their pet free associates.

The study focused on forty eight male and female traders, known to be taking medication for hypertension. All were high earners, averaged over $200,000 per year, had lived by themselves for at least five years and were highly stressed by their jobs.

Prior to launching the study, the researchers asked the study's participants to engage in a theoretical argument about not having engaged in shoplifting or to count backwards quickly, starting with the number 17. These exercises gave rise to significantly increased blood pressure readings among the participants, in most cases far above what the researchers typically deemed, "high blood pressure."


Anti-Hypertensive Drugs, New Pets & Lower Blood Pressure.

At the study's start, brokers were given prescriptions for lisinopril, an anti-hypertension drug. 1/2 of the participants were assigned the duty of adding a new cat or dog to their households. After 6 months, the researchers went to the participant's homes to conduct tests measuring blood pressure levels. While all of the test's participants continued to see increases in stress related blood pressure, the increase amongst those who had adopted a pet was half that of those who still lived pet free. The pet parents enjoyed average systolic pressures (the 1st of the two numbers used in blood pressure reading,) falling within what's considered a healthy, normal range. The stress related increase seen in diastolic pressure (The 2nd of the two numbers used in blood pressure readings) were also lower among those with pets. Predicated on these results, the test showed conclusively that while the prescribed drug had some effect, pet ownership was a more powerful impediment to stress induced blood pressure peaks.

After the study, many of the participants who still had no pets elected to adopt. People with less than ideal social networks (Real living people, not posts,) can enhance their quality of living significantly through pet ownership. What's astonishing is that the actual reason why pets can help in lowering blood pressure is yet to be genuinely understood. Among many current theories is the idea that having someone non-judgmental in your corner creates a psychologically beneficial atmosphere.

How Does the Cat or Dog Benefit, if at All?

Ok, so we know that people can benefit from having a pet. That it can lower a person's blood pressure, that older people with pets tend to remain healthier, longer. Pet's are even used in therapy with autistic children. But, do cats and dogs feel reciprocated? Do they get a psychological boost from our company or are they just in it for the snacks?

Turns out that petting your cat or dog isn't just good for you. It also has medical benefits for your pet. The Cornell Feline Health Center conducted a test attaching a small pressure cuff to a cat's leg, checking its blood pressure during different points of the session. 5 minutes of human stroking allowed the cat's blood pressure to drop by 25 points, demonstrating the cat's less stressed, calmer demeanor.

At the Honolulu Zoo, a researcher measured the cortisol (stress induced hormone) levels of cats. High, long term cortisol levels can significantly weaken the immune systems of people and animals, making them far more prone to illness. All the cats involved were highly social and known to find being stroked relaxing as opposed to being stressful. They were separated into two groups: the 1st group received fairly normal levels of petting and attention, while the second group was virtually deprived of standard human interaction. Both groups of cats were fed normally throughout the trial. The second group experienced increased cortisol levels, indicating that a lack of human interaction was experienced as a negative.

In a different test, cortisol levels in cats were scrutinized after a psychologically and physically stressful procedure, where upon 3 groups of cats had catheters inserted into their legs. Well socialized cats who were petted throughout the procedure experienced virtually unchanged cortisol levels. However, unsocialized cats and cats who were not stroked during the test experienced higher cortisol levels. This demonstrates the concept that cats also enjoy non-judgmental, social petting and interaction.

That being said, remember that all cats are individuals and you should observe your cat's body language to better sense the kind of stroking your cat enjoys. Some cats like their tummies rubbed, some prefer being stroked behind the ears. Let your cat's reaction be your guide.