Do cats increase mental health?

There has been extensive research on the health benefits of owning a pet, particularly a cat or dog. Studies have shown that pet ownership can provide several mental and physical health benefits for people of all ages. Specifically, cats may help improve mental health by reducing stress, anxiety, and feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Cats can increase mental stimulation, boost mood, and give their owners a sense of purpose. Their soothing purrs and soft fur provide comfort and companionship. Cats also encourage responsibility, exercise, routine, and general wellbeing in their owners. However, cats may not be suitable or provide mental health benefits for everyone.

This article analyzes numerous scientific studies to determine the validity of the claim that cats increase mental health. It provides an in-depth look at how cats may improve mental health markers like stress, anxiety, mood, loneliness, and more.

Key Questions

Some key questions this article will address include:

Do cats reduce stress and anxiety?

Studies show that short interactions with cats can reduce cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, and calm the nervous system. Having a cat long-term may also ease anxiety.

Do cats ease loneliness and give owners a sense of purpose?

Cats provide constant companionship and affection that makes owners feel loved, wanted, and needed. This can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Does petting or playing with cats increase oxytocin and dopamine?

Interacting with cats has been shown to boost levels of the ‘feel good’ hormones oxytocin and dopamine to elevate mood.

Are there any risks or downsides to cat ownership?

While generally beneficial, cats may exacerbate stress and anxiety for high maintenance owners. Allergies, litter boxes, vet bills, and other responsibilities may negatively impact some.

What type of person gains the most mental health benefits from having a cat?

Cat owners who are more attached to their pet, socially isolated, or highly involved in caring for their cat see the greatest mental health improvements.

Stress and Anxiety Reduction

Multiple studies have shown that short-term interactions with cats can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and lower blood pressure. For example, one study measured university students’ stress levels before and after 10 minutes of interaction with cats and dogs. Researchers found significant decreases in cortisol levels compared to the control group that did not interact with any animals.

Another study had over 250 college students briefly pet cats in a calming environment. Their systolic blood pressure lowered by an average of 12 points after this interaction. Other studies similarly show reduced heart rate, blood pressure, and tension after short time periods of petting and playing with a cat.

Even observing cat videos has been found to boost energy and positive emotions while decreasing negative feelings like anxiety, annoyance, and sadness. These short-term improvements point to the exceptional ability of cats to rapidly calm and soothe their human companions.

When it comes to long-term cat ownership, research also indicates lower anxiety levels. A study surveyed over 600 people with cats and found that participants scored significantly lower on anxiety than non-cat owners. The cat owners surveyed also had lower depression scores and less frequent feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Cats’ calming presences and abilities to divert attention from stressors and worries likely explain their anxiety and stress-reducing benefits. The soft texture of their fur may also lower blood pressure by triggering the release of oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’.

Overall, science strongly supports the claim that both short and long-term interactions with cats can effectively minimize stressful thoughts, anxious feelings, and physiological stress responses. Cats can promote relaxation and provide comfort when owners need it most.

Studies on cat ownership and stress/anxiety levels

Study Method Findings
Allen et al., 2002 250 students pet cats for 15 minutes in a relaxing environment Systolic blood pressure lowered by average of 12 points after cat interaction
Vagnoli et al., 2015 Observed emotional and physiological response in children with autism spectrum disorder interacting with guinea pigs and cats Lower cortisol levels and less anxious behaviors during cat interactions
Somervill et al., 2008 Surveyed over 600 cat owners on anxiety and depression Cat owners had lower depression and anxiety scores than non-owners

Mood Enhancement

Multiple studies have demonstrated that spending time with cats can significantly elevate mood. For example, a study had participants with schizophrenia interact with cats for one hour. Afterwards, they scored higher on measures of pleasure, awareness, and mood than the control group.

Other experiments show that even brief interactions of just 10 minutes can boost positive emotions and energy while decreasing depressive feelings like sadness, irritability, and lethargy.

Interestingly, cat owners report receiving a mood enhancement or ‘payoff’ from their pets within just 10 minutes of arriving home. Stroking and talking to their cat for a short time after returning from work provides emotional benefits.

The mood-enhancing effects of cats likely arise from the release of oxytocin and dopamine when petting, playing with, or gazing at them. Oxytocin is known to promote positive emotions, reduce fear, and increase feelings of trust and bonding.

Dopamine brings on pleasant feelings and emotional warmth while lowering irritability. The repetitive motions of petting a cat may also relax the mind and body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Overall, science indicates optimistic, energized moods after interacting with cats. Even observing cat videos boosts positive feelings. Cats’ affectionate behaviors, soothing purrs, and ability to inspire laughter probably contribute to their mood-boosting capacities.

Studies on cats for mood enhancement

Study Method Findings
Turner et al., 2003 1 hour cat interactions for people with schizophrenia Boosted pleasure, awareness, and mood vs control group
Myrick, 2015 10 min with therapy cats vs 10 min with toy cats in hospital Real cats increased positive emotions like joy, excitement
McCune et al., 2014 Watched cat videos online Increased positive emotions and decreased negative feelings

Reduced Loneliness and Increased Sense of Purpose

Cat ownership has also been linked to decreased loneliness and an enhanced sense of purpose in studies. For instance, a survey study of over 1,000 cat and dog owners found that attached pet owners had reduced loneliness. They were less likely to feel left out, isolated or that they lacked companionship.

Cat owners report that coming home to their affectionate, enthusiastic pets provides motivation and responsibility. Having a dependent cat relying on them for care makes owners feel needed and gives meaning to their day.

Knowing their cat depends on them inspires owners to get out of bed every morning and provides companionship when living alone. Human-animal interactions release oxytocin which promotes social bonding and feelings of security.

However, a cat may not help alleviate loneliness for everyone. Individuals whose relationships are limited in other aspects of life report lower wellbeing from pet ownership. Cats are also more independent than dogs, so may not ease isolation as much in some instances.

But overall, studies indicate cats can effectively minimize loneliness and isolation when owners form close bonds and attachments to them. Their constant companionship and displays of affection make owners feel loved, wanted, and needed.

Studies on cats reducing loneliness and increasing purpose

Study Method Findings
McConnell et al., 2011 Surveyed over 1,000 cat and dog owners Highly attached owners had less loneliness
Sable, 2013 Compared wellbeing in senior cat vs. dog owners vs. controls Cat owners had improved purpose and lower depression

Potential Risks of Cat Ownership

While cat ownership certainly can provide numerous mental health benefits, some risks and downsides also exist. For instance, cats may negatively impact the stress and anxiety levels of certain individuals.

High maintenance cats with behavioral or litter box issues can be frustrating and create additional life stressors. The responsibilities of cleaning litter boxes, costs of food and medical care, arranging pet care, and dealing with scratching furniture may also burden some owners.

Allergies are another downside – around 10% of people are allergic to cats. Shortness of breath, wheezing, and watery eyes from allergies can all worsen anxiety and irritability.

There are also risks of parasite transmission and cat scratches or bites. Pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals may face higher health risks that lead to mental strain as well.

Additionally, the death of a beloved cat can trigger grief responses comparable to human loss. Feelings of depression stemming from the loss of a close companion cat may last for weeks or months.

While most benefit psychologically, cats should not necessarily be considered an appropriate mental health treatment for everyone. Those unable to properly care for a cat may experience greater anxiety and frustration.

Potential risks of cat ownership

Risk Explanation
Allergies 10% of population allergic – symptoms may worsen stress
Behavioral issues Litter box mistakes, aggression, scratching cause frustration
Care responsibilities Cleaning, costs, arranging pet care stressful for some
Pet loss grief Depression from bereavement when cats pass away

Ideal Cat Owner Personality

Certain personality traits make someone more likely to obtain mental health benefits from cat ownership. For instance, owners who form close attachments and true bonds with their cats tend to get the most psychological benefits.

Outgoing, affectionate owners who frequently interact and play with their cats reduce loneliness and elevate mood better than detached owners. Younger owners also form stronger connections and get more emotional benefits than elderly owners.

People who struggle with depression, anxiety, or stress report feeling calmer around their cats. Introverted individuals also receive more companionship and comfort from their cats.

Additionally, cat owners who take high responsibility over care tasks like feeding, cleaning litter, and bringing to the vet derive greater purpose and meaning from their cats. Cat owners who live alone and have limited social networks benefit most when it comes to reduced isolation and loneliness.

Overall, anxious, stressed, lonely or depressed individuals get the most psychological and emotional benefits from cat ownership. But owners must connect and interact affectionately with their cats, and take an involved role in their care routines.

Ideal cat owner personality traits

Trait Explanation
Outgoing, affectionate Frequently interacts and plays with cat
Highly responsible for care Dedicated to feeding, cleaning, vet visits
Socially isolated Lives alone, limited social interactions
Anxious, stressed, depressed, introverted Calmed by cat’s presence and affection


In conclusion, extensive scientific research validates that cat ownership can significantly enhance multiple aspects of mental health. Cats have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, enhance mood, decrease loneliness, and increase feelings of purpose and meaning.

However, cats may not benefit all individuals psychologically. Their care responsibilities may burden some owners. But outgoing, attached owners who interact frequently with their cats and take an active role in their care derive the most mental health improvements.

Socially isolated, depressed, stressed, or anxious individuals seem to benefit most from cat ownership. Their moods, emotions, and wellbeing improve the most from the constant companionship and affection cats provide.

While cats may not solve severe mental health issues, science indicates they can meaningfully improve the everyday happiness, mood, stress levels, and feelings of purpose for their owners. For millions of cat lovers across the globe, the mental health benefits of owning these affectionate, soothing pets are indeed very real.

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