5 Positive Impacts of Cats on Mental Health
A Guide to the Mental Health Benefits of Owning a Cat
Despite the Crazy cat lady stereotype, cat owners may well be some of the most well-adjusted people on Earth. This is because owning a cat comes with many emotional and physical benefits. When thinking about emotional support and pets, generally, owning a dog comes to mind first. However, any cat parent will tell you that emotional support is not limited to dogs. In fact, cats can offer a different kind of emotional support, and often require less rigorous daily care on the part of their owner, making them ideal pets for those who suffer from depression or lack of energy.
Lower Stress and Anxiety
Because cats are relatively self-sufficient, they require less attention and rigorous care than other types of pets. This fact alone means less stress for the owner. Cats also have built-in calming mechanisms that provide owners with soothing stress relief and anti-anxiety benefits. Lap cats offer similar benefits to a weighted blanket, which is ideal for anyone who suffers from anxiety. A cat's purr is also designed to be soothing and comforting, which aids in stress reduction to their owners. Petting a cat has also shown to be incredibly effective at stress reduction. All of these factors combine to create a soothing experience which aids owners' mental health in significant ways.
Cats can fill a void in their owner's life by creating companionship and reducing loneliness. Cats are excellent listeners. Some cats will even meow back to "converse" with their owners. They also engage in regular eye contact with their owners which is key in human interactions. This creates a sense of connection, which mimics that of a human relationship. Cats will also regularly initiate contact with their owners. This registers well in the human brain as a sign of love and affection.
Improved Sleep Quality
Studies show that sleeping with a pet in your bed at night leads to increased sleep quality, possibly even more so than sleeping next to a partner. While this factor will be dependent upon your cat's level of nocturnal activity, having a cat who sleeps in bed with you can create a sense of comfort and aid in overall sleep quality.
Increased Sense of Purpose and Reward
Those who deal with depression symptoms know the power of having someone to care for. Knowing that this small creature is dependent upon you for support can help people overcome mild depressive symptoms. This sense of purpose, paired with the reward of love and affection, creates a positive cycle of productivity. This, paired with the relative ease of caring for a cat, allows for a steady recovery and maintenance process when managing depressive symptoms. Even individuals who don't suffer from depression can benefit from this cycle of increased purpose and reward through the natural release of dopamine that comes from the reward pathway in the brain.
Studies show that individuals who own cats are likely to have higher self esteem than non pet owners. This may be because cat owners are able to face rejection and other daily struggles with the help of their pet as a nonjudgmental support system. If you have ever looked at your cat and thought at least you love me, then you probably know this feeling. Cats are a great buffer for the pain in the outside world and their unconditional, and sometimes sassy, brand of affection makes for a good self-esteem boost.
Cats are amazing and beautiful creatures. They make us laugh and smile, they sit with us when we cry, and they offer support beyond that of any human being. So, go give your cat a big hug today and maybe a little extra cat nip because, whether you realized it or not, your cat might actually be helping you stay sane.
About the author
I am a graduate student of Mental Health Counseling in Cambridge, MA. I strive to combine my mental health knowledge and my love of writing to explore all topics related to the human experience. I am also a dedicated cat mom and home cook.