Cats Can Help Decrease Anxiety, Study Says · The Wildest

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Have a Big Ol’ Case of Anxiety? Studies Say a Cat Can Help

Believe it or not, that little ball of energy is actually your answer to stress relief.

by Savannah Admire
May 28, 2024
Woman snuggling her gray cat at home.
larisa Stefanjuk / Shutterstock

Cat parents know that living with and loving their pets is kind of the best thing ever. You get snuggles, companionship, and a camera roll full of photos of your pet adorably sleeping, sitting, or just existing. Honestly, what’s better than that? 

Well, how about the fact that cat parenthood is actually good for you? Researchers have found that cats in particular may offer some potential mental health benefits to humans. While the science isn’t definite, a 2021 study found that pet parenthood in general may be linked to fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. In other research, cat parents have been found to laugh more frequently and spontaneously, were 36 percent less likely to report loneliness, and reported that their pet had a positive impact on their mental health.

Let’s face it: You’re going to snuggle them anyway. And as you take care of them, they’re also taking care of you. We chatted with experts in the fields of animal research and human psychology to find out just how your cat can act as your own personal therapy animal. 

The link between cats and mental health

If you’ve ever gotten to pet puppies or kittens during finals week in college or during a stressful work day, you’re probably well aware that a cute, fluffy face can cheer almost anyone up (even if you still had to take that stats final). In fact, a Washington State University study found that petting or cuddling with a cat for just 10 minutes relieved stress and improved students’ moods. It’s no wonder many colleges and universities turn to cats and kittens for much-needed stress relief for students dealing with hard tests. Cats can also work as therapy animals in hospitals and nursing homes because of their ability to bring delight and comfort to people. 

“There is evidence from scientific studies that interactions with a companion animal, whether a pet or a therapy animal, can provide physical and mental health benefits to people,” Seana Dowling-Guyer, associate director at the Center for Shelter Dogs at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says.

Dowling-Guyer notes, however, that the research isn’t yet conclusive, primarily because not enough studies have been completed on how cat parenthood affects mental health. “In all likelihood, there are probably benefits to pet ownership when a person wants to have a pet and has a good relationship with their pet because of the regular, positive interactions and companionship,” she says.

Cuddles and companionship

Snuggling your cat can make them happy (hence the purring), but cuddling a kitty can help reduce the levels of cortisol, aka the stress hormone, in your body. Some studies suggest that just spending time with your cat can even lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Cat parenthood may even help some people manage long-term mental health conditions.

Dr. Gregory Kushnick, a psychologist in New York City, notes that simply having a pet in the home “lowers your heart rate, combats loneliness, and increases mind and bodily experiences associated with attachment bonding.” 

The power of purring

A cat’s purrs can be cute, but they can also be healing. The frequency of their purring falls between 25 and 150 Hertz — the same range as vibrational and electrical frequencies that are used in clinical settings to treat pain and injuries. Many experts believe that cats purr as a self-soothing mechanism, and they may be able to pass that calming effect on to you. 

That’s right: Your cat’s purrs could help reduce your stress and lower your blood pressure. So, settle in for some snuggles, and enjoy the benefits of their sweet purring, even if it sounds like a lawn mower is running inside your house.

Finding purpose in caring for your kitty

A cat can help reduce feelings of loneliness while also providing the stability of a routine. Having someone else to take care of can give your life a sense of focus and meaning, even in the smallest ways. A 2017 study found that cat parents reported lower feelings of depression, and 44 percent of them felt their cats gave them “a sense of safety.” 

“Cats offer a lower-maintenance version of companionship,” Dr. Kushnick says. “They are often self-sufficient enough that you don’t have to accommodate your schedule to meet their needs.”

Still, just like dogs, cats can offer support that can be beneficial to those suffering from anxiety symptoms. “Cats lower our anxiety by making us feel loved, giving us a sense of calm and closeness, and allowing us to self-soothe through petting, sharing moments together, and listening to them purr,” Dr. Kushnick adds. “They make us feel less alone.” 

In a study where researchers interviewed cat parents, they found that most activities people did with their cats increased feelings of enjoyment and provided feelings of purpose. Caring for a cat helped people lower levels of stress, better manage their emotions, and even increased their ability to handle difficult life circumstances. 

Cats are often seen as aloof or distant, especially compared to their canine counterparts, but they get a bad rap in that department. They can actually be pretty wild for affection and be your 24/7 purr-and-cuddle machine. Whether playing, cuddling, or cleaning out the litter box (OK, maybe not that last one), just remember: a cat a day (or just the same cat every day) keeps the doctor away. You know, unless you’re allergic — then you’ll need that doctor’s allergy shots.

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Savannah Admire

Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.

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