Cat ownership helps children to learn responsibility and develop a greater capacity for empathy at an early age. In addition, pets provide unconditional love and acceptance, which can help children through difficult times.
Improved Immune Function
Cats also offer protection against certain physical conditions. If adopted before or shortly after a child is born, owning a cat reduces the risk of developing animal allergies, asthma, and possibly other illnesses as well. One study found that children living with pets were 13-18% less likely to miss school due to illness than children without pets. Researchers who measured the salivary immunologobulin levels of young pet owners found that their immune function was less likely to be in the sub-normal range than that of non-pet-owners. Additionally, cats can provide particular therapeutic benefits for children with conditions such as autism, especially those who suffer from motor coordination problems.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits
Pet ownership reduces the risk of many physical and mental health problems for adults as well. Stroking a cat reduces blood pressure, and cat owners tend to have lower triglycerides, which reduces their risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease.
Pet ownership has also been shown to boost the levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. As such, pets can reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other negative states.
Pets also reduce the likelihood of suffering from physical problems, which is evident in the fact that pet owners require fewer visits to the hospital on average. Studies conducted in Germany and Australia found that those with companion animals visited the hospital 15% less often than those without pets. In China, pet owners saw even greater benefits, with 20% fewer hospital visits.
Reduced Risk of Heart Attack
Elderly people are particularly likely to benefit from the health-protective effects of cat ownership. Those with cats are less inclined to suffer heart attacks, their blood pressure is lower on average, they report less tension and stress, and they live longer overall.
A University of Minnesota study of 4,435 people found that those who did not own cats were 30-40% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, even if they owned dogs. Researchers are unsure as to why dogs did not provide the same cardiovascular protective benefits as cats. However, dogs provide many other benefits including improved psychological health and reduced doctor visits, as well as encouraging their owners to get regular exercise.
The health benefits that cats and dogs can offer have become widely recognized in recent years. As a result, many pets are being put into service as therapy animals, helping to improve the psychological and physical health of children, the elderly, and those who suffer from medical problems. This growing field is proving to have many potential applications, and cats have even been used to aid in the rehabilitation of prisoners.