Here Kitty Kitty

By Anna Sachse

Posted February 25, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

I admit it—I like to sniff my cat. Something about immersing my nose in Aslin’s warm fur and breathing deeply fills me with an unparalleled, if perhaps fleeting sense of peace. I can’t really explain it, because mostly he smells like a combination of wet sweater, dust and the perfume in his cat litter. It just makes me happy.


And, according to a recent study by the University of Minnesota, simply owning my gray poofball means I’m 30 to 40 percent less likely to die of heart attack or stroke than people who don’t own a feline. The results held true even after the researchers took into account other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including age, gender, race, blood pressure and smoking, and they found that even those who no longer owned a cat still benefited from its “protective effects.” (I laughed out loud at the seriousness with which they said this.) That said, they still aren’t sure why. Scientists suggested that stroking a purring pussy may reduce the stress and anxiety, thereby keeping blood pressure down. But they also needed to look further at whether the kind of people who opted for a cat in the first place may have a lower risk of heart attack. 


Regardless, it’s worth noting that researchers found no similar protective benefits for people who had a pet dog. Again, the lead study author wasn’t sure why, but due to the significant difference for cat owners, he said the discrepancy was likely not a coincidence. Hah-hah, all you Kitty Haters.


But it doesn’t really matter, as plenty of other studies out there have found numerous health benefits to owning a cat or a dog. 


For example, a growing number of studies have suggested that children growing up in homes with “furred animals” will actually have less risk of developing allergies and asthma later on down the road. James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, compared babies born into homes with dogs, to those who were not. One year later, the babes with pooches showed less evidence of pet allergies, were less likely to have eczema and showed signs of stronger immune function. “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system,” Gern said in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.


Another study, conducted at the UCLA School of Public Health, found that owning a pet may reduce the likelihood that men with AIDS will suffer from depression. The same researchers had previously found that pet ownership decreases visits for medical care among the elderly, increases longevity among heart attack survivors and is associated with improved health among persons with disabilities.


It pretty much goes on and on. Basically, unless you hate animals or are wildly allergic to them, owning a pet can function like hairy Zoloft, Zyrtec and aspirin, all in one. The CDC sums it up by stating that Bowser and Snowball can decrease your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure and feelings of loneliness, while increasing your opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and socialization.


Which leads to a reason Fido stands out. Having to walk a dog will get you outside in the sunlight for some waistline-whittling exercise and a little mood-enhancing vitamin D. You can then take your improved physique and cheery spirits to the dog park, where you are more likely to meet new friends or, better yet, make a love connection. Talking about your mongrels is way healthier than bonding over a cigarette.


Puppy/kitten season is almost upon us. Save two lives—an animals and your own—by contacting your local Humane Society.


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