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Why Cats Make Us Feel Better

Annie and Eddie wrestle for warmth 5

Annie and Eddie keeping me company while I work

The Evolution from Pet Owner to Pet Parent

The relationship between people and animals dates back thousands of years,  but it is a relatively recent development that we humans began to pamper our household pets with health foods, pet strollers, designer clothing and more. New health care for your feline might even include massage therapy, acupuncture or aromatherapy.  More often than not, pet owners are referred to as pet parents, which at first blush might seem like a marketing term, but the use of the word parent makes an important distinction.  The substitution from owner to parent, changes the pet from property to a member of the family.

Perhaps the reason for indulgent pet parenting is that cats and dogs offer a predictable, simple and steady relationship during challenging  times. Some propose that people are turning more towards a pet to feel less lonely and isolated in this era of online interaction. But the attachment to our pets is much stronger than just to mitigate loneliness.  The love for a pet is so strong that many people will risk their own lives to assure their animal’s safety.

Studies show that 48% of domestic violence victims stay in an abusive situation out of fear of what would happen if they left their pets behind and more than 70% of pet owners who enter shelters report that the abuser has threatened, injured or killed family pets. This love and attachment for  domestic animals led to the Urban Resource Institute and Nestle’ Purina joining forces to initiate New York City’s first program to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets.   We also see time and time again, the heartbreak and sometimes joyful reunion of pet parents when they are forced to separate from their pets during a natural disaster. Some refuse to leave their pets behind putting their own lives at risk.

Annie and Eddie close up

Eddie and Annie

Why would we risk our own safety to save our pets?  There is a growing amount of scientific evidence that our domestic pets actually keep us happier and healthier.  Studies have proven that just the presence of a cat lowers blood pressure, raises survival rates after a heart attack, and facilitates social contact.  Pets are effective in reducing loneliness, anxiety and depression.  Elderly pet owners report less psychological distress and fewer doctor visits than those without pets, and this is true even when they do not live alone.

The Cat Connection

The Pet Connection: An Attachment Perspective by Pat Sable, Adjunct Professor, School of Social Work, University of Southern California, discusses the ethological-evolutionary framework of  attachment. The paper includes findings from neuroscience that proposes a relationship with a pet, especially a cat or dog, reflects certain dynamics of attachment that might account for the feelings of affection and devotion directed to them.  Attachment theory is based on the premise that humans, like many animals, are biologically predisposed to seek out and maintain physical contact and emotional connection to selective figures with whom they have become familiar and rely on for psychological and physical protection.

Cats Provide Constant Companionship Through Life’s Ups and Downs

cat reaching for moon quote

Sable discovered the significance of pets in the attachment-based study interviewing 81 women widowed one to three years. This study looked into variables related to adjusting after the loss of their spouse. The strongest statistical finding was that women who lived with a cat or dog reported significantly less loneliness.  Bereaved spouses complained that social support was there at the time of the loss, then quickly dissipated. But the pets were still there, a constant companion during the months of mourning.

Simply Stated, Cats Make Us Feel Better

Neuroscience findings confirm components of pet attachments by showing the link between underlying attachment processes and brain activity in both animals and humans.  Just looking at a cat, petting or talking to her, can trigger oxytocin, a hormone that triggers feelings of pleasure and eases stress.  Oxytocin is known to reinforce one’s immune systems, lower the production of stress hormones and diminish feelings of fear and danger.

From an attachment perspective, affectionate relationships serve as a lifelong source of security and comfort, unique in their ability to reduce stress, regulate affect, and restore emotional balance. Cats and dogs are readily available, attuned and responsive to their parents’  moods generating positive feelings of comfort and connection.  So simply stated, pets make us feel better.

Sable, P. (n.d). The Pet Connection: An Attachment Perspective. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41(1), 93-99.

Sable, P. (1991). Attachment, loss of spouse, and grief in elderly adults. Omega, 23, 129–142.

  • Yvonne Graf

    Love my kitties. I love them so much I foster more of them and they mean as much to me as my resident cats do. They make the day melt away and make me smile every day with their silliness. My favorite saying is “God made the cat and smiled…”

  • katsrus

    Really good post. My cats mean everything to me.
    Sue B

  • catchatcaren

    this was a most glorious post and so true. I have derived so much comfort and joy from both of the cats who I am blessed to have spent (and am currently spending) my life with. The picture and quote is just fantastic.

  • Ann Richter Hickox

    I have often claimed over the last few years that if I hadn’t had my cats to take care of, there was a time when it would’ve been very easy for me to not be here any longer, things were that bad. Coming home to their happy mrrrts and purrs, and being in their calm presence made all the difference, and even today, when I am better, I am grateful that they are here, and that they love me, as much as I love them. I also wanted to say that those pictures of Annie and Eddie are so adorable and made me go Awwwwww out loud, even though my cats and I are the only ones here (now they’re looking at me like I’m crazy… serves them right for that staring at nothing and freaking me out thing :P). I love reading everything you post, thank you again for including all of us in your journey. <3

    • PsychoChick966

      I can so very much, relate to what you wrote. Without my cat to take care of, and to come over and what attention, it would have been easy for me to have given up. My cat makes me move, even when I don’t want to… and that is really a big deal for me. I suffer from chronic pain and fatigue, and I would never get up if it weren’t for having to feed her and take care of her (well, and go to the bathroom, lol). She makes me smile every time I look at her… even when I am miserable with pain. I love the hell out of that little beast. I’m so glad we all have little beasts in our lives to get us through whatever it is we need to get through. :-)

  • dmricciardi

    I so agree that pets make us feel better. I have 11 cats — all adopted or rescued, and there is no greater feeling in the world than coming home from work to a warm, loving welcome!

  • Jean Shea

    Oh, that image of the cat against the moon is just beautiful. Actually brought tears, but then I’m feeling a bit emotional as the arrival of my new kitty nears. It sort of closes the era of the Tux, but I’m also thinking of his family members who are letting him go. I know he loves them so much. I just hope he understands we are doing this because we love him.

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