All cat owners know that owning a cat is not just a one-way street. True, cat owners are on the hook for food bills, veterinary expenditures and the occasional catnip toy.
In exchange, though, cat ownership is linked with physical and mental health benefits like lower levels of stress and associated decreases in blood pressure that could add up to a reduced risk for cardiac disease.
The Minnesota Study
A 2008 study conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis found that cat ownership could reduce the likelihood of heart attacks by nearly a third. Principal investigator Dr. Adnan Qureshi and his research team looked at more than 4,000 Americans between the ages of 30 to 70 who had participated in a national nutritional study that had taken place between 1976 and 1980. More than half the subjects had either once owned a cat or owned a cat at the time the initial study was conducted.
Over a ten-year follow-up period, Dr. Qureshi’s team found that cat owners faced a risk of heart attack death that was 30 percent lower than the risk faced by individuals who did not own cats.
Dr. Qureshi admitted these findings were not proof of a causal relationship between feline ownership and heart attack prevention. It could easily be that the desire to own a cat is linked to certain personality characteristics that make individuals less likely to react to stress in destructive ways.
Dr. Qureshi speculated that dog ownership might have a similar effect on longevity following a cardiac event, but unfortunately there weren’t enough dog owners in his sample to test this hypothesis in a rigorous scientific fashion.
The Benefits of Petting
Some veterinarians speculate, however, that canine ownership may be linked to higher stress levels since dogs require more hands-on attention than cats do. Anybody who’s ever just settled down in a comfortable chair only to be confronted by a mournful-eyed canine with his leash in his mouth can attest to the truth of this.
Lawrence McGill, a veterinary pathologist at Associated Regional and University Pathologists (ARUP) Laboratories in Salt Lake City, Utah, notes that most cats when confronted by a human in a comfortable chair will immediately leap up onto that human’s lap and demand to be petted. Petting a fluffy animal may lead to a reduction of stress. In any event, it’s clear that much more research is needed on this subject.