By Dr. Becker
All you female cat lovers out there (including me) can breathe a great big sigh of relief, because according to new research, we’re not nuts! Crazy Cat Ladies unite! Per NBC News:
“… [A] recent study published in the journal Psychological Medicine found no link between cat ownership and any sort of psychosis later in life.”1
How the Crazy Cat Lady Legend May Have Started
According to NBC News, the whole crazy cat lady thing might have got its start with witches and their ever-present black cats. Or it might have been the long-standing myth that toxoplasmosis — a parasite found in cat poop, among other sources — could make sufferers lose their minds, apparently especially female cat owners.
Fortunately, a team of researchers in the U.K. has debunked that myth in a study titled “Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort.”2
The researchers set out to prove/disprove the hypothesis that 1) a congenital or early life toxoplasmosis infection can trigger schizophrenia, and 2) that having a cat during childhood could be a risk factor for toxoplasmosis, and therefore, psychosis. It will come as absolutely no surprise to feline fans that the researchers concluded the following:
“While pregnant women should continue to avoid handling soiled cat litter, given possible T. gondii exposure, our study strongly indicates that cat ownership in pregnancy or early childhood does not confer an increased risk of later adolescent PEs [psychotic experiences].”
Could It Be Crazy Cat Ladies Are Actually Healthier Than Non-Cat Owners?
Christina Heiser, writing for NBC News, believes the cats we share our lives with are doing the opposite of making us crazy, and in fact, they may actually be improving our health. For starters, “The sound of your cat’s purr can calm your nerves and lower your blood pressure,” says Heiser. Six ways your cat obsession is making you healthier, according to Heiser:
Cat lovers may be smarter and more sensitive
A 2014 study revealed that people who identified as cat lovers are more introverted and sensitive than dog people, and more open-minded.3 According to study researcher Denise Guastello, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the differences in personality between dog and cat people probably correlate with the types of environments the two groups prefer.
The study also found that cat lovers scored higher on intelligence than dog lovers.
They help us stress less
Petting your cat releases oxytocin, the bonding hormone that can make you feel less stressed, says Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of “The Stress-Proof Brain.”4
They're good for your ticker
A study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology established a link between cat ownership and a decreased risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.5
They keep loneliness at bay
One of the best gifts our kitties give us is companionship. “People are a little more disconnected these days,” Greenberg says. “And research shows that loneliness is a big factor for all kinds of diseases.” One study linked loneliness to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.6
If you frequently feel lonely, isolated or wish you had a few more friends to rely on, you might want to consider adopting a kitty companion. If you have the time, resources and desire to add a furry family member to your home, and you happen to be in a lonely place, it could be time to head over to your local animal shelter.
They may prevent allergies
A 2011 study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy followed over 550 kids from birth to the age of 18, and regularly gathered data from the children's families about the presence of indoor pets.7 At the end of the study, blood samples were taken to test the study participants for allergies to cats and dogs.
Kids who had a cat at home during their first year of life were 50 percent less likely to be allergic to cats than the children not exposed from birth to one year. Researchers concluded exposure to pets at later ages didn't make much of a difference.
It was exposure during infancy that was important, leading study authors to conclude, "The first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats influences sensitization to these animals."
They're less expensive than dogs
In addition to the benefits of cat ownership to your mental and physical health, as an added bonus, cats tend to be easier on your bank account as well. According to a list of average pet care costs compiled by the ASPCA, cat ownership is from a few hundred to several hundred dollars a year less expensive than dog ownership.8
Of course, none of this comes as a surprise to those of us who share our lives with a kitty (or several). Most “crazy cat ladies” know without a doubt their kitties are good for both their physical and mental health.