You know how much joy your cat brings to your life, but do you know just how much she could also be boosting your wellbeing? To learn more, we've rounded up the latest research and have a true story on how two cats helped their owner recover from a stroke.
1. Owning a cat lowers your blood pressure
Owning a cat can be incredibly rewarding, but there may be even more benefits than you suspected: studies have found a positive link between having a cat and healthy blood pressure. This is good news for all cat owners, as high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems, including heart attacks and strokes. And when asked to do a complicated (and potentially stressful!) maths challenge, cat owners also made fewer errors while their pet was in the room with them. All the more reason to keep your pet close to you!
2. Having a cat can help protect your heart
You probably already know how relaxing it is to snuggle up with your pet on your lap, but those cuddles might be keeping you healthy, too. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that people with cats were less likely to die of serious cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks. And research in 2016 by the American Heart Association discovered that owning a cat, rather than a dog, was closely associated with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, especially among women. The scientists thought it was probably because of the stress-relieving effects of feline companionship.
3. Your cat can reduce your risk of allergies
Although some adults are allergic to cat fur and dander, it's not all bad news because owning a cat early in childhood can actually reduce the risk of allergies and breathing difficulties. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that contact with cats has a protective effect on respiratory health among children. Early exposure to pets strengthens the development of a child's immune system, and lowers the likelihood of them developing allergies and asthma later on in life.
4. Cats may even help to heal bones
As strange as it may sound, purring could help to heal bones and boost injury recovery - rather like a form of vibration therapy, according to veterinary scientists at the University of California. A cat typically purrs at a vibration frequency of 25-150 Hz. Meanwhile, vibrations within the same range have been scientifically shown to have a positive effect on joint mobility and bone density. It's still a theory, but it's another lovely reason to cuddle your cat if you have some aches and pains. Plus, the proven stress-busting benefit (not to mention the comfort) of having your cat close to you is more than enough reason to give this a try.
True story: how one owner's cats helped her recover from a stroke
Margaret has always been a cat-lover and, at 82, she lived a busy, independent life, until she suddenly had a stroke in April 2017. Thankfully, Margaret's love of her pets has helped her immensely on the road to recovery.
'When Mum was in hospital, she had difficulty concentrating,' says Margaret's daughter, Suzanne. 'To remind her of home, I took videos of her cats, Chimmi and Daisy-May, playing in the garden. She remembered their names, and we talked about their escapades. That seemed easier for her to talk about than the humans in her life. She would also ask me every day if they were missing her.
'Mum's cats have definitely given her a good reason to get better,' says Suzanne. 'The routine of looking after them - feeding, letting them out, cleaning the litter tray - is all very familiar to her.'
Suzanne was worried that Margaret might forget to eat when she came home, but Chimmi and Daisy-May have helped there, too: 'Feeding them is a reminder that she needs to eat. It all helps to give each day a sense of normality.'
Margaret's life has inevitably changed because she can no longer drive, and she does everything much more slowly. 'But that doesn't matter to her cats,' says Suzanne. 'Her relationship with them has remained exactly the same: the cats don't complain that she can't leave the house alone, or write a cheque.
'I worried they would trip her up, but they seem to know to give her more space. They never demand attention, either - instead, they sleep in her room, sit beside her and simply act as gentle companions.
But, best of all, Suzanne says that grooming the cats is improving the dexterity in Margaret's weakened hand. 'Both Chimmi and Daisy-May are fluffy cats and Mum brushes them daily. It has always been an important part of their bonding experience, and the cats don't mind that she's not as dexterous as she used to be; they just love being stroked and brushed.
'Of course, it's not all straightforward. They're elderly cats and can need extra care. But Mum's able to clean up after them, and it motivates her to keep her house looking nice. They're just three old toots getting on with life.'
For information on preventing or recovering from a stroke, call the Stroke Association helpline on 0303 3033 100 or visit stroke.org.uk