Feeling anxious? Hang out with your cat. "Researchers have found that spending time with a cat can reduce an owner's heart rate and systolic and diastolic blood pressure," says Kristyn Vitale, Ph.D., an expert on cat-human interaction and a professor at Unity College in Maine. "Your cat can help you relax."
The key to unleashing these therapeutic powers is to be proactive and engage with your furry friend. "It's not just about having a cat in the house," says Monique Udell, Ph.D., an animal behaviorist and a professor at Oregon State University. "There's a lot of evidence showing that petting a cat can lead to stress reduction. Performing caretaking behaviors and training or playing with your cat can also help."
You'll benefit emotionally from the process, and chances are, your feline will too. "Many people underestimate the importance of social behavior for cats," says Vitale. "But our research indicates that cats seek interaction from humans." In fact, the relationship they form with us is similar to the one between infants and parents, says Udell, whose team has studied the subject. (Related: These Benefits of Having a Pet Will Have You Adopting a Furry Friend Before You Know It)
Here's more on the benefits of having a cat, according to science — so the next time a dog person acts all high and mighty, you can counter with these facts.
The Key Benefits of Having a Cat
1. They boost your mood
In a 2012 survey, 87 percent of cat owners said their feline had a positive effect on their well-being, and 76 percent felt like they coped with life better. Studies have found that "interacting with your cat can improve negative feelings, like fear or anxiety," says Vitale. "Other research shows that cats can be a source of comfort."
You can even get your feline fix — and the benefits of having a cat — online. In a study, people reported feeling more positive and energized after just watching cat videos. (FYI, you can get the benefits of nature just by looking at photos, too.)
2. They give definition to your days
"Having a creature that depends on you for their feeding and care can help create a routine and a sense of purpose," says Vitale. So focus on strengthening the bond. "Just like humans, cats have different preferences," says Vitale. "Some like being petted, while others prefer spending time next to you. Play with your cat using toys, pet her, brush her, or just talk to her, and see what she likes most." You'll both score the feel-good effects. (Good news: You can even take them with you on vacation to these pet-friendly resorts.)
3. They provide a sense of connection
Research shows that having a cat can help alleviate loneliness, says Vitale. That makes sense: A cat offers companionship, even if she's just lying in the room with you while you work. Her presence also can give us a feeling of security, according to research. "We have learned to value the relationships with our pets more now," says Udell. "During the pandemic, people have appreciated the little joys cats bring to their lives."