I enjoy spending my evenings snuggled up on the couch, watching television with a warm blanket and hot tea. Allie, my feline companion of ten years, has also made it her ritual to wait until I am settled in this position, crawl into my arms and rest her head on my left shoulder. I pet her to sleep as she purrs loudly letting me know life is good. Little did I know this ritual is good for me too.
Recently, there has been a popularity increase in pet therapy, especially in assisted living environments; while cats aren’t the only animals used as therapeutic pets; they are among the most popular. They may be used to keep Alzheimer’s patients “in the now”. Some patients with dementia are able to enjoy a bond with cats. Cats can help to create a positive environment through social interaction, by bringing people out of isolation, and by fulfilling the human desire to touch and be touched.
The lead investigator and executive director of the Minneapolis, Minnesota based Stoke Center, Dr. Adnan-Qureshi reports, "We know that stress and anxiety are factors leading to cardiac disease. If a pet can ameliorate stress and anxiety, clearly having a pet is beneficial. In the past, studies have considered dogs but never cats. This is only one study, but it's a start." While Dr. Qureshi cannot explain why his study, which unlike others, was not able to show any protective value in owning a dog, he says, "Perhaps petting a cat is even more helpful than we thought."
Since cats not only purr as a sign of contentment, but often purr when in pain or close to death, which is considered to be a form of self-soothing, is it possible that humans respond to the purring of a cat in a similar manner? Dr. Qureshi is considering this possibility and remarks, "If cats are able to self-soothe through purring, maybe the purring soothes humans in some way we don't understand."
Make sure to take time out for you and your cat. A few pets a day keeps the doctor away!