By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 April 2011)
A 10-year study of 4,435 people aged 30-75 in the United States has found that owning a cat may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 30%. The study, conducted by Qureshi et al., followed two populations: cat owners and those who had never owned a cat. At the end of the 10 years, researchers found that cat owners had a significantly reduced risk of dying from heart attacks and strokes compared to those without cats.
How do pets provide these health benefits? The link between stress and illness, particularly cardiovascular disease, has been well-established. Pets tend to have a calming effect (studies have shown that stroking an animal can reduce blood pressure and heart rate).
ARUP Laboratories veterinary pathologist Lawrence McGill has speculated that cats may have an edge over dogs when it comes to health benefits for owners because they provide extra stress relief when they sit on people’s laps or next to them, offering continuous petting opportunities. He also suggests that because dogs are more labour-intensive to maintain, the stress associated with their care may mitigate the stress-relief they provide to some degree. However, Qureshi believes that dogs probably provide similar benefits, noting that there hadn’t been enough dog owners in the study to include them in the statistics.
Of course not everyone agrees that there is a direct causal link between cat ownership and reduced risk of dying from heart attacks. Critics have pointed out that cat owners may have personality factors or make lifestyle choices that have protective effects against disease. For example, cat lovers may cope with stress better, exercise more, or eat healthier food.
For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- CBC News. (22 February 2008). “Something to Purr About: Cats Reduce Heart Attack Risk.”
- Paddock, C. (25 February 2008). “Cat Owners Have Lower Heart Attack Risk, Study.” Medical News Today.